Monday, 18 January 2021

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UN experts urge governments to do more to help torture victims and their families

Photo ID 546723. 02/04/2013. El Fasher, Sudan. UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran

Governments must do more to fulfil their obligations to ensure that torture victims and their families can obtain redress and rehabilitation for the suffering they have endured, UN human rights experts* have stressed in a joint call.

To mark UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June, the independent experts are highlighting the fact that traumatised victims too often struggle to obtain the physical and mental rehabilitation, justice and compensation to which they are entitled.

"Torture unfortunately continues to be practised in many countries, made possible by the dehumanization of the victim, torturer and society at large," said Claudio Grossman, Chair of the UN Committee Against Torture which last November issued a landmark definition on the right to reparation for victims (General Comment no. 3 on Article 14 of the Convention).

Victims have the enforceable right to reparation that includes fair and adequate compensation and access to as full rehabilitation as possible. States must also ensure victims are not exposed to further risk of ill-treatment and ensure violations are investigated and punished.

The Committee's stance was reinforced in March by Human Rights Council resolution 22/21 that called on States to not only provide redress for victims of torture but to ensure that victims are fully involved in the process to help them rebuild their lives and reintegrate into society.

"A victim-centred approach requires individual assessment of the victim's needs and treatment that goes beyond the short term," said UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Méndez. "A holistic approach is crucial to ensure professionals work with, rather than on, a person who has been tortured."

Another key duty on States, the experts stress, is to tackle impunity and strengthen judicial proceedings to prevent torture from continuing.

"Effective redress is not possible without States addressing impunity," said Pablo de Greiff, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. "In addition to receiving reparation, it is crucial for victims to be involved in truth-seeking exercises, and in judicial processes to ensure effective and impartial investigations, prosecutions and judgements that reflect the gravity of the offence. It is also central for societies to put institutions and mechanisms in place to prevent future violations," he said.

Rehabilitation of victims is key not only for the individuals affected but for society as a whole, according to Malcolm Evans, Chair of the Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture which conducts field visits to places of detention. "Wherever and whenever torture and ill-treatment occur, a meaningful prevention implies prevention for the victims and their relatives. Our committee has learned from direct experience the central role that rehabilitation occupies in the cycle of prevention," he said.

Helping to rebuild lives

The focus on a victim-oriented approach also highlights the need for properly resourced rehabilitation centres, the experts say.

Every year, the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture supports hundreds of such centres to give humanitarian, medical and legal assistance to victims and their relatives.

It is estimated that the Fund assists annually between 50,000 to 70,000 victims and their relatives, including Syrian refugee Sabeen, who was kidnapped, repeatedly raped, and saw family members killed in front of her. Sabeen, 24, fled to Jordan where her mother took her to a centre that receives a grant from the Fund to provide therapy and support for torture victims.

(Read Sabeen's story here...)

The Fund, which relies on voluntary contributions from governments, the private sector and individuals, has seen its donations drop 30% since 2008 to $8.4m in 2012. Its donor base has also shrunk from 38 donors in 2008 to 22 in 2012.

"Too many governments are cutting back on this in the light of economic problems," said Mercedes Doretti, a forensic anthropologist who chairs the Fund's Board of Trustees. Ensuring prompt and proper treatment for victims of torture can reduce the financial cost to the state, she noted.

"We strongly hope that this renewed focus on victims' redress and rehabilitation will translate into more resources being made available to respond to thousands of torture victims," said Ms Doretti.

(*) The joint statement was issued by the UN Committee against Torture, the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, the Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence and the Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.

Read about the work of the Fund here:

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