As a membership based organisation, one of our main goals is to strengthen the capacity of each of the centres across the globe through peer-to-peer training, supported through the coordination of the Secretariat and our academic partners. These are a few examples of the programmes and collaborative efforts within this area of our strategy.
Torture rehabilitation cannot be conducted through a narrow “one size fits all” approach or as a stand-alone activity; for example, health-based rehabilitation has little value if the victim has no food on the table. Our members – from over 6 countries around the globe – have a unique experience and knowledge of taking generic rehabilitation approaches and tailoring them to local socio-economic and cultural contexts. As a result, the TT-VC seeks to improve the capabilities and performance of our members to provide holistic rehabilitation through the facilitation of sharing experiences, knowledge, and skills across regions.
To do so, selected staff members of one centre travels to another centre and participates in the day-to-day operations to develop new perspectives, skills, and knowledge. Their new understanding is shared through regional and/or thematic workshops.
Staff that work for our members work in very difficult conditions and there is a high risk of burnout. In addition, staff may be exposed to a number of other stressful situations, including threats to the personal safety of themselves and their families. The Secretariat and exchange programmes seek to facilitate care for caregivers’ measures to meet this need, including the adoption of clinical supervision systems.
The provision of high-quality medical documentation of torture cases is a key mechanism for fighting impunity, ensuring reparation for victims, and supporting prevention. Such documentation requires close collaboration between health and legal professionals that possess specialised skills and knowledge on the appropriate legal and medical procedures. This combination of capacities is rarely available because most legal and medical schools do not provide courses on the documentation of torture. The Istanbul Protocol has been endorsed by the UN General Assembly, monitoring bodies and some national governments as the standard for medical documentation of torture.
Because the Istanbul Protocol is such a crucial tool for doctors and lawyers who engage themselves in cases of torture, our Secretariat will continue to promote its use throughout the duration of our new strategy.
These are among the few ways in which the TT-VC serves to strengthen the capacity of the entire global membership of more than 25 torture rehabilitation centres. Through our collective knowledge, experiences, expertise, and skills, we share, exchange, and improve our ability to provide holistic rehabilitation to torture victims.
The TT-VC uses its position – as one of the membership based anti-torture organization in the world, with more than 25 member centres serving hundreds of thousands of torture survivors each year – to advocate and influence policy at the state and international level.
The global pool of funding that is available for torture rehabilitation is far from sufficient to meet total needs. The challenge is greatest in countries where torture is ongoing and torture rehabilitation services are provided solely by civil society organisations that are dependent on these funding sources. As such, our Secretariat advocates on behalf of our membership for increasing the global pool of funding that is available for torture rehabilitation. This will include appealing to OECD governments, the European Commission and private foundations to initiate or increase funding to torture rehabilitation.
Right to Health
Acts of torture violate the right to be free from torture but also the right to “the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”, e.g., as enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Therefore, governments should ensure that a torture victim’s right to health is respected by including access to rehabilitation in their national health care plans.
Our Secretariat will highlight torture victims’ right to health and work to convince governments about the importance of providing (directly or indirectly) health care for torture victims. Among others, this will include working with the World Medical Association to raise awareness with national health professional associations regarding the health consequences of torture and treatment methods.
Owing to the political nature of torture, torture rehabilitation is a very sensitive issue. This is especially the case in countries where torture is still practiced, and torture victims and rehabilitation service providers may be under threat. Our Secretariat constantly receives calls for support and protection from our members, where staff or clients have been put under pressure, received threats (including death threats), arrested, abducted, and tortured. In other cases, premises are vandalised and confidential data is stolen or destroyed. In order to ensure that our members can work, and hence victims can access the treatment, our Secretariat and members will advocate to governments, international agencies and local organisations about the need for them to ensure the protection of our members and the individuals (staff, clients, and other people that we train/support) involved.
In order to eradicate torture, all States must commit to the absolute prohibition by ratifying the international conventions, particularly the UN Convention against Torture (UNCAT), its Optional Protocol (OPCAT) and the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and including them in national law. This will only deliver change, however, if all States fully implement the provisions of the conventions and ensure that their national legal framework (regulations, institutions, and practice) is shaped accordingly; in many instances, this will require that governments implement activities such as criminalizing torture in the penal code, enhancing complaint and investigation procedures, providing redress for victims, training law enforcement officers, reviewing detention procedures, and allowing independent experts in courts´.
One of our most significant endeavors has been our strategy through sharing knowledge. The TT-VC seeks to become a global hub of knowledge, data, and documentation on the global movement to prevent torture and rehabilitate the victims of torture. To do so we engage in multiple ways with professionals – medical, legal and political – in the field of human rights and torture rehabilitation, the wider public audience and global supports, and key international and national government stakeholders.
For example, through our Secretariat and the wider TT-VC network, we coordinate to publish reports and manuals on issues ranging from a new manual for forensic teams on missions to document torture, to information on care for caregivers to prevent burnout of rehabilitation centre staff. Furthermore, for the last 3 years we have published Torture Journal, a thrice-yearly academic journal on rehabilitation of torture victims and the global movement to prevent torture. Many of these reports are also used to advocate on behalf of our network to key international bodies, such as the United Nations and European Union. As a result, our strategy to share knowledge extends to these legislative, government, and international bodies to keep the issue of torture and rehabilitation on the agenda.
The TT-VC also capitalises on internationally recognised campaigns and events to spread the message that torture survivors need our support. For example, each year TT-VC members commemorate 26 June – the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture through activities such as conferences, parades, readings, performances and more. Similar events take place annually on 10 December, Human Rights Day. The TT-VC uses such occasions to highlight the importance of rehabilitation in rebuilding torture survivors’ lives and to work for the prevention of torture worldwide. We also encourage others to get involved in the struggle against torture by producing campaign materials that anyone can download from the TT-VC website.
Our awareness-raising efforts also extend to reaching out to the broadest audience possible through various media channels. The TT-VC participates in interviews, and submits commentaries to radio, television, medical journals, local and international newspapers, magazines and blogs. In addition, you can connect with us through social media – on Facebook and Twitter.
The TT-VC has limited capacity to carry out urgent actions, and thus is only able to take action regarding direct threats to persons affiliated with TT-VC member centres and programmes. However, there are other non-governmental organisations and international treaty bodies that have urgent procedures designed to assist persons who face an imminent risk of torture or ill-treatment, or of other serious violations of human rights.
NGO’s undertaking emergency actions include:
(OMCT) has the capacity to conduct urgent appeals through its SOS-Torture Network. It sends urgent information to NGOs as well as intergovernmental and regional organisations liable to take action and intervene in a situation.
FORENSIC DOCUMENTATION or
Medico-legal documentation of torture
Impunity is still one of the most serious impediments to the prevention of torture. Perpetrators are seldom brought to court; and torture survivors rarely receive any kind of redress. In a climate of impunity, perpetrators of torture can continue their crimes without risking arrest, prosecution or punishment. Besides adding to the suffering of the victims, such a situation leads to a general lack of trust in justice and the rule of law. Consequently, few complaints are brought forward and few actual prosecutions are made.
Torture often takes place in secrecy, and many torture methods are designed to be as painful as possible without leaving physical marks. A key purpose of documentation, in a word, is to make it impossible for perpetrators to deny their crimes. Documentation enables victims to prove the veracity of their allegations and thus increases the pressure on states to fulfil their obligations under international law for prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigates of all allegations of torture and provide redress including reparation to victims. It also has a significant deterrent effect on would be torturers if they know that victims will be able to document their crime.
For this reason, the TT-VC has for years, through training, advocacy and awareness-raising, worked to promote the value and use of medical documentation of torture according to the international standards contained in the Istanbul Protocol.
- Individual cases
Within our previous work, the TT-VC facilitated direct medical support and high quality forensic documentation to more than 20 strategically selected torture cases at national and regional courts and tribunals. With the IFEG, a group of more than 30 eminent forensic experts from 16 countries, we shall continue to review individual cases. This shall include issuing medico-legal documentation in cases where there are allegations of torture; review of current reports to ensure such documentation is done in accordance with the Istanbul Protocol; and issue expert statements on thematic issues when relevant.
- Istanbul Protocol
With our local partners and the members, the TT-VC will coordinate activities to design frameworks for the domestic implementation of the Istanbul Protocol. Such frameworks will outline steps for states to take to ensure victims’ access to high-quality forensic documentation of torture.
- Training and capacity development
The TT-VC will continue to support activities to train and develop capacity of key actors, such as judges, prosecutors, lawyers and health professionals, among others, in conducting examinations and produce high-quality medico-legal documentation of torture, and how to read and understand documentation for use in judicial proceedings.
Children – Torture’s hidden victims
A widespread but overlooked crime
Torture is a detestable crime under any circumstances. But the need for action is particularly critical when it is committed against children. And the stark reality is that although we do not often hear much about it, each day countless children are targets of torture or affected by the torture of a loved one.
The absolute prohibition of torture is specifically mentioned in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. But whilst the question of violence against children is increasingly debated and attended to globally, generally there is little focus on and awareness about the specific needs and rights of children with regard to protection from torture and access to rehabilitation and redress. This is especially concerning given that torture tends to have even more severe and long-lasting effects on children than on adults, often leading to the interruption of the process of normal psychological, emotional and social development.
The TT-VC takes action
So far, few statistics and little systematic documentation exist on the subject. To address this gap – and ultimately to put a spotlight on the fact that children are tortured and to enhance support to child survivors – the TT-VC has decided to make children and torture a key thematic focus of its work.
Concretely, this entails a range of initiatives to ensure that our rehabilitation services are reaching tortured children, to help them regain their right to joy and dignity in life, and to conduct preventative action to protect vulnerable children from torture in the first place. For this purpose, we initiated a baseline study, and an advisory group of experts in our Council and network will provide input to the scientific debate by conducting research and establishing best practice examples on the issue. Moreover, we will enhance our collaboration with child rights organisations and advocate in international, regional and national human rights fora to raise the global awareness of these hidden violations and to promote the rights of children to be free from torture.
Women and girls torture survivors
In 2003, researchers questioned a random sample of almost 400 Liberian women living in refugee camps in Sierra Leon. About 74% reported they had been sexually abused prior to their displacement. More than half responded that they had been sexually abused during their displacement.(1)
While this may seem like an extreme example, it echoes the reality for many women and girls around the world. Rape and sexual abuse have been common weapons of war in the more than 100 armed conflicts that occurred between 1989 and 1997.
And in the aftermath of armed conflict, women are continually targeted, exploited, and abused – from life in refugee camps, the post-war collapse of justice systems, or the absence of healthcare facilitates to adequately treat the survivors of sexual violence.
In coordination with our five-year strategy, the TT-VC wishes to focus on particularly ‘hidden’ victims of torture – in this case, the women and girls who have faced sexual violence and torture both during conflict and in peacetime.
With the help of a generous donor from Spain, we have been able to provide grants to 6 member centres around the globe. Their geographic diversity is a testament to the widespread problem of sexual violence. However, their range of activities – from holistic psycho-social rehabilitation to livelihood programmes – demonstrated a passionate range of partners that are ready to address variety of needs of women and girls who are victims of sexual violence.
We will continually update this you with news, information, and new reports that address the issue of sexual violence and torture.
Please join us in continuing to highlight this global crime against marginalised women and girls, and highlight the work of our member centres and partners who offer their rehabilitative services.
Asylum seekers, refugees and internally displaced persons
Every year war and conflict, together with ethnic, religious and cultural persecution, forces millions of people to flee their home country. Today there are approximately 11.4 million refugees worldwide of concern to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). (1) Roughly 26 million persons are displaced internally within their own borders. (2) For the vast majority, fleeing their homes is not a choice but a matter of survival.
Who are today’s refugees?
Refugees come from every continent and in recent years have included people from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon Burundi, Rwanda and the Caucasus. Many refugees want to return to their home when it is considered safe to do so. Many, however, cannot return. The 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees states that a refugee is a person who: “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country…”
Torture and displaced persons
Because torture is a covert practice and its victims are often unable to report the crime, no comprehensive statistics exist on the extent to which refugees and other displaced persons have experienced torture. However, health professionals and researchers commonly estimate that between 4-35% of refugees worldwide have been subjected to torture. (3) These figures demonstrate that this is not a marginal problem of a marginal community, but a substantial problem that must be duly addressed.
Role of the TT-VC
Over the past several years, the TT-VC and its member centres have undertaken interventions in support of victims of torture and trauma among refugee and internally displaced populations. For example, we have seen trained doctors in Kosovo and Pakistan, some of whom were themselves refugees, to offer rehabilitation services to torture survivors in refugee camps. Following conflicts in East Timor and Georgia, the TT-VC assisted local health professionals to conduct psychosocial needs assessments of internally displaced persons, which fed into targeted rehabilitation efforts.
As a member of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), the TT-VC collaborates with other organisations working on behalf of refugees’ rights in Europe. Through our Liaison Office in Norway, we have worked with key EU institutions to influence relevant legislations, such as the EU Receptive Directive. For asylum seekers to have their full case heard and to eventually receive asylum and rehabilitative treatment for their torture, it is imperative that asylum authorities to have documentation of the torture. As such we have developed training guidelines and promoted the use of the Istanbul Protocol, an internationally recognised guideline to document torture, in the asylum process.
The documentation of incidences of torture and trauma among refugee and internally displaced populations has proven to be an important instrument for promoting the rebuilding and reconciliation of a post-conflict society, and for understanding the special needs of asylum seekers and refugees from conflict areas.
“There are many different types of torture survivors, such as persons suspected of having committed a crime or an act of terrorism, opponents of repressive regimes, members of racial, religious or sexual minorities. But in the overwhelming majority of all cases of torture worldwide, torture is a privilege of the poor. Most of the victims and survivors of torture belong to the poorest and most disadvantaged sectors of society.” – Manfred Nowak, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and TT-VC Patron
As Nowak describes, poverty is both a cause and effect of torture. The poor are desperately vulnerable to becoming a victim of torture due to their position in society. They may become easy targets for police, who may torture them to confess to a crime they did not commit. The poor also cannot bribe their way out of detention or pay for legal assistance. Socio-economic status is highly related to vulnerability to torture.
Furthermore, for those who are tortured, poverty is a likely outcome following the incident. They may be tortured in order to extract a bribe, depriving them of much needed resources. Torture may cause them to lose their livelihood or ability to sustain them due to the physical and psychological damage.
As a result, the TT-VC has recognized poverty as a correlating feature of torture and will thus focus on it through our strategy. In 2011, during our annual Council Meeting, the TT-VC drafted the Yaounde Declaration on Poverty and Torture, which described the relationship between socio-economic status and vulnerability to poverty. We intend to make this a focus of our work in the years to come, through, for example, advocating for recognition of a right to rehabilitation – that all victims of torture have a fundamental human right to access holistic rehabilitation, which includes psycho-social and medical treatment, access to justice and reparations.