Remembering a Young Torture Survivor on the Declaration’s 70th Anniversary | The Center for Victims of Torture

Remembering a Young Torture Survivor on the Declaration’s 70th Anniversary

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Darlene Lynch is head of external relations, CVT Atlanta.

In 1993, I met a young man I will call Ahmed. He had escaped to the United States after being imprisoned and tortured in not one, but two, countries in the Middle East. I remember he told me he came to the U.S. because “this is the only place where I can live as a free person, where people have rights.”

70 years ago, after the end of World War II, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations to safeguard the inalienable rights and essential dignity of every human being and to prevent the barbarous acts of the war from re-occurring. Printed on a single page, it contained 30 short articles that set out the core human rights deemed worthy of universal protection.  Among these was Article V, the right never to “be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

25 years ago, I met Ahmed, for whom the protection of Article V had been denied. This was before I joined CVT, when I was doing pro bono asylum cases while working as a litigator in Atlanta. Ahmed had been tortured on account of his perceived political beliefs, and as a result he had a metal plate and four screws in his arm where the bones had been shattered. He had scars on his wrists and toenails that hadn’t grown back properly. He couldn’t sleep and worried constantly that there was something wrong with him internally because of the dirty water and rotten food he had been made to eat. 

I helped Ahmed get medical attention, find work and pursue his legal case, but back then, I didn’t appreciate the psychological wounds that he had suffered or know how to get him the help he needed.  Although I understand that Ahmed is doing well now, I regret that he never received the mental health care that could have eased his pain.

Today, I am head of external relations for CVT Atlanta, and I understand the great benefits of psychological care and counselling for torture survivors like Ahmed. This care provides survivors with the tools they need to combat the nightmares, anxiety, depression and other hardships that torture leaves behind, and I’ve personally witnessed the way survivors rebuild their lives after accessing rehabilitative care. And, knowing that as high as 44 percent of refugees living in the U.S. have survived torture, I’m grateful that care is available.

I’m also glad to help CVT combat torture and uphold human rights around the world and right here in Atlanta. On November 1, CVT will join the Center for Civil and Human Rights to present Article V: We Stand Against Torture, a free evening program celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the right to be free from torture. This special event will be an opportunity for each of us to recommit to the ideals set forth in that one-page document 70 years ago, and a chance for me to honor Ahmed, the young man I met, 45 years later.

 

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