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Notes from the Ground

CVT World, Dec. 2023

Published December 14, 2023

Welcome to CVT World, CVT’s periodic compilation of the latest news, stories and public activities from our team.

Thirty Years of Progress and Growth: The Legacy of Pete Dross, 1993 through 2023

After more than 30 years at CVT, Pete Dross, vice president of external relations, is making a transition away from his full-time role. While he will continue in an advisory capacity, Pete’s daily influence, guidance and hard work will be sorely missed.

Photo: Pete Dross (left) with Juan Méndez, former UN special rapporteur on torture.

Read here about his history and legacy at CVT and hear from colleagues who have appreciated him over the years. Curt Goering, former CVT executive director, said about Pete’s contribution to the organization’s strategic growth: “I would say probably no single individual has had a greater impact on that trajectory than Pete. He’s just been a critical lynchpin for so many initiatives, some of which have been transformational.”

A special edition CVT Eclipse Award was presented to Pete Dross in honor of his three decades of tireless work on behalf of survivors of torture and his enormous contributions to the work to end torture. Read the press release here.

Toward UDHR 100: How Do We Reduce Global Displacement and Uphold Human Rights?

As we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Dr. Simon Adams, CVT president & CEO, considers where we need to be for the 100th anniversary. He wrote this article, noting that today “we are in the midst of the greatest refugee and asylum crisis since the Second World War.” But we can change this. He writes, “Reversing these trends and halving the global displacement number in time for the UDHR’s centenary in 2048 is possible, but will require fresh approaches to multilateralism.” The article is available in Amharic, Arabic, Spanish and Tigrigna.

His article originally appeared in this essay collection titled “The Next 25: A Collection of Essays on the Future of Human Rights,” as part of a Human Rights Day initiative by human rights organization Article 3. CVT was proud to partner with them as they commemorated the UDHR 75th anniversary with a special event at which their prestigious Human Rights Global Treasure Award was presented to Vivek Maru, founder and CEO of Global Namati.

Calling for Accountability for Human Rights Violations in Pakistan

As concerns are raised by U.S. lawmakers about human rights abuses by Pakistan, Yumna Rizvi, CVT senior policy analyst, wrote this opinion article calling for accountability. She notes that as the U.S. takes steps to limit assistance to Pakistan in light of reports of abuses, including torture by police, accountability must take place.

A Panel: Opportunities for Reparations for Victims of Sexual Violence

Islam Al-Aqeel, CVT resilience programming trainer, spoke on a panel as part of the launch event for a new study titled, “Syria Study on Opportunities for Reparations for Victims and Survivors of Conflict-Related Sexual Violence.” Islam spoke about her training for partner organizations on integrating trauma-informed approaches to work with survivors. She also shared gifts made by survivors as part of their projects. Check out photos from the event here.

Standing Against U.S. Congress Proposed Cuts to Asylum System

As negotiations began in the U.S. Congress on a proposal that would have disastrous impacts on the asylum process, CVT and coalition partners took actions to push back. “Access to asylum isn’t a trade chip that can be negotiated away; it’s a fundamental human right—enshrined in both U.S. and international law,” said Scott Roehm, CVT director of global policy and advocacy, in this statement. In addition, CVT participated in several actions:

Access to asylum isn’t a trade chip that can be negotiated away; it’s a fundamental human right—enshrined in both U.S. and international law.” 

Scott Roehm, CVT director of global policy and advocacy
  • CVT joined more than 190 organizations in this letter to President Biden, expressing deep concern about proposed budget changes that would devastate the U.S. asylum process. The authors write, “We urge you to fulfill your promise to “restore our asylum system” and affirm U.S. global leadership on refugee protection by ensuring processing, welcoming and adjudication services are robustly funded while publicly rejecting policy and funding proposals that would impose even greater obstacles to equitable access to asylum for people arriving in the United States.”
  • Refugee Council USA, of which CVT is a member, issued this statement on the proposed cuts, noting that proposed policies violate international law. And in this coalition letter to U.S. Congress, the authors write, “A smart funding package should not expand detention and deportation, but instead devote funds to supporting a humane asylum system that provides access to safety for all who need refuge.”
  • As a member of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, CVT signed onto this letter to President Biden, calling for asylum system protections. The authors write, “Our communities are stronger because of the generations of immigrants and refugees who have come to the United States seeking safety for themselves and their loved ones.”

Healing and Breaking the Cycle of Violence

“We need dialogue so that no child is exposed to conflict anymore, so no mothers cry and live in sorrow anymore,” writes Medhanye Alem, psychotherapist/trainer, CVT Ethiopia, in this article about the team’s work to bring trauma-informed care to clients. In the aftermath of conflict in Ethiopia, the team considers all aspects of healing so that peace can be sustained. Medhanye writes, “My hope is that this generation will be the last to have witnessed, to have lived through, what violent conflict looks like, and that we’ll be able to resolve any disputes at the table in a peaceful manner.”

Supporting Policy Work for Immigrant Mental Health in Georgia

Asian Americans Advancing Justice Atlanta published this report titled, “Expanding Mental Health Care Access for Immigrant Youth and Communities in Georgia,” which features quotes from Darlene Lynch, head of external relations, CVT Georgia.  The authors note they took “a special focus on immigrant youth: a population for whom care and services remain largely inaccessible despite the recent substantial investment in the state’s mental health care system.”

Comment on Use of Torture by Governments

Simon Adams was quoted in this article from Inter Press Service News Agency on the topic of torture by left-wing and right-wing governments. Simon notes, “Unfortunately, if history teaches us anything it is that most governments are capable of perpetrating torture, regardless of their political complexion.”

Breaking Down Stigma and Stereotypes: CVT Ethiopia

As the CVT Ethiopia team brings healing to people who have survived torture and violence, they also engage in ongoing activities to break down stigma and barriers to mental health care, including stereotypes surrounding masculinity. This year on Int’l Men’s Day, CVT Ethiopia celebrated contributions and commitment to survivors, as well as the ways that the men on the team are challenging and reshaping societal norms. Sandra Githaiga, clinical program director, said, “Your dedication has undoubtedly brought about transformative change, and your continued commitment to their well-being is deeply appreciated.” Click here to check out photos and messages from the CVT Ethiopia team.

Standing in Remembrance of Protesters in Iran

CVT’s clinical team in St. Paul shared a statement of support with partners in the Minnesotan-Iranian community on Nov. 18, for a commemoration of protesters who’ve lost their lives in Iran. The statement reads in part, “At the Center for Victims of Torture, we are well aware what happens to communities when torture and mistreatment are used against the people: People are silenced. People fear for their lives. In the face of this treatment, we applaud the people of Iran for continuing to stand and call for change, and we join in solidarity today to ensure that those who’ve lost their lives will never be forgotten.”

At the Center for Victims of Torture, we are well aware what happens to communities when torture and mistreatment are used against the people: People are silenced. People fear for their lives.”

Focusing on the Rights of Children in Conflict – Ethiopia

Sandra Githaiga gave a talk titled, “Healing the Heart, Mind and Body: Unveiling the Impact of Trauma on Children,” as part of a roundtable discussion on the rights of children during conflict. She was joined by members of the Ambassade de France en Éthiopie et auprès de L’Union Africaine, Alliance Ethio-Française d’Addis-Abeba, and Lycée Franco-Ethiopien Guebre-Mariam high school. Check out photos here.

CVT’s New Research Study on Massage Therapy for Survivors

CVT has been awarded a grant from the Massage Therapy Foundation for a new three-year research study. Dr. Jennifer Esala, senior evaluator and researcher, is leading the study, which will examine the acceptability and efficacy of a trauma-informed and culturally responsive approach to massage therapy for survivors of violent conflict and torture. Click here to watch an introductory video by Dr. Esala and read the press release.

Working in Partnership to Prevent Genocide in Darfur

As the civil war in Sudan continues, thousands have been killed and millions displaced. CVT joined this Call to Prevent Genocide in Darfur, organized by the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. The authors write, “Under international law, there is a duty to act and prevent genocide as soon as the serious risk is known. That threshold has been crossed. That duty has been triggered. We now know, and must act.”

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