Imagining a World Without Torture | The Center for Victims of Torture

Imagining a World Without Torture

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Curt Goering, CVT executive director, gave this speech at the CVT Restoring Hope Breakfast – October 3, 2018.

Good morning everyone. I’m Curt Goering, CVT executive director.

Yesterday I woke up to the news that our government was moving unaccompanied migrant children in the middle of the night—2,000 so far—and sending them to tent detention facilities in the Texas desert, where they are held indefinitely, without access to education. That same report said some will struggle to recover from this trauma for the rest of their lives.

How many of you heard that story?

A few days ago it was the lowest number of refugees admitted to the U.S. since the resettlement program began. The day before that, it was that millions of dollars were being redirected from FEMA to build detention facilities for asylum-seekers and migrant children.

Every day, we wake up to a seemingly endless barrage of disturbing news, crises and further difficulties our clients must endure.

It seems every day we hear about policies of cruelty. Policies of discrimination. Policies that continue to undermine fundamental human rights.

CVT is fighting back with all we can. For one, for the first time in the organization’s history, CVT opposed presidential nominations because of their involvement in the CIA torture program – Steven Bradbury, who provided legal cover for the use of torture, and Gina Haspel, who was confirmed as CIA director despite her direct involvement in the program’s grisly day-to-day operations, and then destroyed the evidence.

CVT also fought back against the Muslim Ban, when the Supreme Court turned a blind eye to the religious discrimination that so obviously motivated the president's actions. Clients at CVT projects in Africa and the Middle East were affected. Some were not allowed to resettle. Many lost hope that they could ever be reunited with loved ones in this country.

Our clients here in the U.S. are deeply affected, especially by the unbearable waiting period – up to five years – for asylum cases to be heard and resolved. They wait for reunification with family. For the chance to restart academic and career goals. For the chance to rebuild their lives.

As one client said, “Life just feels even more uncertain during these times. It makes it so hard for me to have hope for the future when I don’t have any confidence that the government of the United States cares about me or my family.”

And CVT fought back against the disgraceful family separations at the border: We’ve all seen some of the children who were wrenched from their parents and detained for months on end. We heard the haunting recordings of anguish and despair as they cried for their parents. We heard about parents being deported.

But what we didn’t see was what drove them to walk for months in the hope they’d find protection. What we didn’t see was the fear they felt. The fear of abuse. The fear of torture. The fear for their lives. At CVT, we know only too well the horrors that asylum seekers are fleeing, and we know the excruciating pain and long-lasting psychological and even physical effects of family separation.

As if fleeing persecution is a crime. As if seeking political asylum is illegal.

This kind of cruelty and discrimination has become commonplace. Even the norm.

These are not Democrat or Republican issues. These are issues of basic human decency.

We are tired, and yes, even angry as we listen to the constant barrage of terrible stories.

So how do we cope? How do you cope? We’ve all had to find a way. Some tune out for a while. Some let go. And yes, some of you may even turn to Alexa. “Alexa, turn on some good news!”

Sometimes I turn to music. The other day I turned to John Lennon’s “Imagine.” It took me back to a time post-9/11 when I was working at Amnesty International. Yoko Ono, John Lennon’s wife and fellow musician, gave the rights to re-record that song as part of an effort to emphasize human rights and peace in the post 9/11 environment:

“Imagine all the people living for today.”

What a poignant message. Its message of unity and hope. Its call to action. The song became the unofficial anthem of the international human rights movement and its message is as relevant today as it was 40 years ago. In fact, it has perhaps never been more relevant than in these times – these chaotic times – we are living in:

“Imagine all the people living life in peace.”

And so, this morning, I invite you to imagine dreams of a peaceful world, a world where there is no war or suffering; to imagine a world without torture.

A world where human rights for all are respected. A world celebrating unity and our common humanity, even as we celebrate our differences.

We must continue to be unwavering—in our devotion to our principles and the mission of this organization to heal the wounds of torture on individuals, their families and their communities, and to end torture worldwide.

That is why this year our work is more important than ever before.

We must persevere.

We must step up and provide moral leadership. Together.

And we have proven we can do it. Last year, we restored the hope of nearly 22,000 survivors and family members at our projects in the U.S., Africa and the Middle East. Our policy advocacy generated federal funding for our work, touching the lives of 200,000 survivors and family members around the globe.

No other organization in the world has this reach and impact on the lives of survivors of torture and other gross human rights violations.

This year, we need to do even more. And with your help, we will. A few days ago our Board approved our budget for Fiscal Year 2019. It’s larger than ever because CVT must grow to meet the growing global crises. But it is not extravagant, and it’s not enough.

We try hard to be good stewards of the always too-scarce resources; we try to do more than is reasonable with what we have. But try we must. And we can’t do it without you.

“Imagine all the people sharing all the world.”

“You may say I’m a dreamer,” Lennon wrote. But he’s not the only one.

We here today—all of us—are dreamers. All of us.

We dream that every human being will be treated with dignity.

We dream of an end to torture and the violence of war.

We dream that every human being will be treated with equality and respect.

At the end of our time together this morning you’ll be asked to consider a contribution. This morning we hope to raise $500,000.

So now, as you hear the unforgettable journeys of survivors, I ask you to please consider the ways in which your gift, multiplied by those at your table and throughout the room, will heal the wounds of people who have suffered in similar, but unimaginable ways.

These are the people you’ll help, through your generous support. There is a very real and direct connection between your decision to act and our ability to heal.

All of us here today dream for a better world. But you here this morning are doing more than dreaming about it. You have a chance to make dreams come true.

I hope one day you’ll join us. I hope today you’ll join us. By giving as generously as you can. Every dollar you give helps to makes a dream come true.

Let’s do what we can today to create that day when the world will be as one, and truly will live as one.

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