Weathering Uncertain Times using CVT’s Mission as Guide

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What will happen next in Washington?

This seems to be the question on everybody’s mind with the eyes of the world on our nation’s capital. Our President said what? Our President signed what? Can he do that? Regardless of your proximity to D.C., this fledgling presidency has been marked by uncertainty and chaos. But a little uncertainty and chaos is to be expected. It wouldn’t be Washington without it, according to city insiders.

But for the rest of us in these stressful, seemingly erratic times, it is encouraging to turn to trusted voices.

“It’s important to remember that in a year where there is a presidential transition there are always going to be certain degrees of uncertainty,” says Annie Sovcik, director of CVT’s Washington office. 

While one will encounter the Center for Victims of Torture healing torture survivors in places such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and Jordan, another arm of CVT operations can be found in Washington, D.C. This indefatigable team of three lawyers works to effect change in policy concerning torture and the refugee crisis.  Alongside Annie is Melina Milazzo, who handles CVT’s national security portfolio and is the resident expert on Guantanamo Bay prison, indefinite detention and post 9/11 U.S. torture. Rounding out the group is Marie Soueid, who focuses on issues of transitional justice and is the lead author of CVT’s recent report on enforced disappearances in Iraq.  

“Right now in Washington, we are dealing with a situation where we have an administration who - through the actions they have already taken or through actions they're threatening to take - put us in very defensive posturing on the issues that we work on,” continues Sovcik, breaking down how her team navigates the choppy waters of our current political situation.  The group focuses their work on four major issue areas: ending torture in a post-9/11 world, advocating for increased access to high quality trauma rehabilitative services for survivors of torture, seeking to ensure that the United States offers safe haven to refugees fleeing persecution and advocating for the integration of mental health and psychosocial support principles into transitional justice efforts to ensure survivor- and victim-centered approaches to healing. These focal points inform how the organization communicates, creating awareness of policy implications, legislative action and executive orders.

Curt Goering, CVT’s executive director, and Pete Dross, CVT’s director of external relations, joined Annie and her team in Washington at the end of January, meeting with donors, organizational partners, bipartisan allies and keen political observers.  “Part of what we were trying to do was to enrich our thinking and planning by talking to people who are plugged in to the transition process,” says Pete.

CVT’s mission is to end torture worldwide, and much of the work being done toward that end in the Washington office is working in coalition with other like-minded partners such as the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Watch and members of Refugee Council USA to safeguard against a return to the use of torture and to resist Trump administration’s actions that threaten refugees and survivors of torture.

“We work very closely with coalition partners and our coalition partnerships are important for information-sharing purposes, engaging in strategy, divvying up work and leveraging different groups' contacts as much as possible,” says Annie. “Then we always look at our work as: what’s unique to CVT? We try—to the extent possible—to keep advocacy work grounded in CVT's experience with clients.”

During these uncertain times, supporters of CVT can be certain that the team in D.C. is doing everything in their power to preserve the headway made in the human rights field using our healing history of three decades and expertise to influence the hearts and minds and votes of politicians in the capital city. 

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