By Dr. Simon Adams, president and CEO, Center for Victims of Torture
Around the world, torture survivors and their families gather today, along with international civil society and human rights defenders, to mark the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. We do so on 26 June in recognition of the historic moment in 1987 when the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a crucial legal instrument in the fight against torture, came into effect.
Torture is universally recognized as a crime, illegal everywhere and in all circumstances. There are no exceptions. Despite this global prohibition, over the last year we have seen sickening evidence of how torture continues to be inflicted on people as a matter of state policy.
Today, we express our deepest solidarity with all torture survivors, their families and their communities throughout the world.”
In March, the UN Human Rights Council’s Group of Experts on Nicaragua warned that the authoritarian Ortega government may have committed crimes against humanity in the small Central American country, including politically-motivated persecution, sexual violence and torture. The report was published one month after CVT provided urgent mental health and psychosocial support services to 222 Nicaraguan political prisoners who had been stripped of their citizenship and deported en masse from the country. CVT continues to support these survivors as they rebuild their lives and seek change for their country and their families back home.
Another example is Ukraine. I recently had the honor of meeting with Andriy Kostin, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, who spoke about how his office is currently investigating more than 75,000 cases of war crimes perpetrated by Russian occupation forces since they invaded his country. Thousands of these cases involve the systematic infliction of torture on Ukrainian civilians and captured soldiers, with more than 25 improvised torture facilities discovered in the Kharkiv region alone. Through the work of his office, justice is being pursued. But healing is needed as well. CVT is working with the Prosecutor General’s office to provide resilience training for their investigative staff as they confront these atrocities and try to find a path to international justice.
We will continue to work with those who have endured the unimaginable, and we will continue to speak out against the unspeakable, until the last dungeon is empty and the last torturer faces justice.”
At a time when more than 110 million people around the world are displaced by persecution, conflict and atrocities, care for torture survivors and other vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers remains at the heart of CVT’s work. In Kenya we provide clinical services to refugees and LGBTQ+ asylum seekers who have fled deadly persecution in their home countries. In Ethiopia, we continue to work with Eritrean and South Sudanese refugees, as well as traumatized civilians displaced by the recent armed conflict in the Tigray region. In the United States, CVT not only works with resettled refugee torture survivors, but also with asylum seekers, including traumatized families who have fled the Taliban’s brutal rule in Afghanistan. In Iraq and Uganda our programs include work on transitional justice and resilience building for people who have experienced extreme human rights violations. While in Jordan we continue to help survivors of Syria’s decade-long conflict to rebuild their lives.
Wherever we work, we believe that all survivors deserve equal access to justice, healing and hope. Every day we see how healing is possible. Every day we advocate for justice and stand with those who have survived.
That is why, on this International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, CVT calls on all political leaders and governments to reaffirm their commitment to universal human rights and to protect the norms and laws that safeguard humanity. That should include joining the more than 60 states, and 30 civil society organizations from around the world, who have called for the United Nations to negotiate a new international torture-free trade treaty. No country should be allowed to trade in goods that have no use other than torture. And no one, companies included, should be able to profit from the torture of another human being. Now is the time to end this iniquitous trade in human misery once and for all.
Today, we express our deepest solidarity with all torture survivors, their families and their communities throughout the world. Our message and mandate remain the same: We will continue to work with those who have endured the unimaginable, and we will continue to speak out against the unspeakable, until the last dungeon is empty and the last torturer faces justice.