30 Nov 2016
IRCT Symposium: How to deliver on the promise of the right to rehabilitation

The consequences of widespread torture and enforcing the legal right of victims to rehabilitation is the focus of the IRCT 10th International Scientific Symposium ‘Delivering on the promise of the right to rehabilitation’, which will be held in Mexico City from 4 to 7 December.

IRCT Symposium: How to deliver on the promise of the right to rehabilitation

When the event kicks off on the evening of 4 December, it will be in the presence of over 300 participants - 70% of whom are clinical professionals from 80 countries, with many working at one of the IRCT’s more than 150 member centres. They will be in Mexico City to exchange experience and research on developments in the rehabilitation of survivors of torture.

During the three-day event, presentations will cover more than 100 topics connected to delivering on the promise of the right to rehabilitation. These include widespread torture in Syria, the refugee transit camps of southern Europe and elsewhere, the plight of Central American migrants, and a trio of talks on the US detention centre opened in 2006 at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The Symposium could not come at a more relevant time. Torture continues to be rampant in large parts of the world and in the past five years, Amnesty International has documented cases in more than 140 countries. Although all torture victims have the right to rehabilitation under international law, only a small percentage of them have access to rehabilitation services.

The Symposium is the first global event to look in detail and across disciplines at how to deliver on the right to rehabilitation guaranteed under the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

“States have a duty to provide rehabilitation but many countries do not live up to that obligation,” says Secretary-General of the IRCT, Victor Madrigal-Borloz. “The rehabilitation of torture victims is essential to allow them to return to as full a life as possible. Rebuilding these shattered lives takes time and requires long-term material, medical, psychological and social support,” he explains.

Speakers at the event include rehabilitation service providers, researchers, clinicians, lawyers, funders and policymakers who will present case studies and research results from around the world.

Among them are US human rights lawyer Christy Fujio who has worked with doctors and lawyers in Syria for more than three years documenting torture and other atrocities that have happened during that country’s six-year civil war.

Ms. Fujio is part of a committed group of human rights investigators gathering medical documentation of torture to build a strong, credible body of evidence to launch prosecutions when the conflict ends.
In her presentation paper, she reports that of all the challenges involved in documenting torture in hot conflicts, the most important and difficult one is ensuring the psychological wellness of all participants, including trainers and staff.

“There are many strategies to help monitor mental health and mitigate the risks associated with documentation of torture in hot conflict,” she says, “and it is incumbent upon NGOs to implement measures to safeguard the health and wellness of the people they are training and supporting to do field work.”

Another presentation will be on the CIA victims and the denial of rehabilitation to survivors at Guantanamo Bay. Mustafa al-Hawsawi has been a prisoner at the US detention centre of Guantanamo Bay since 2006. Two members of his defence team – Dr. Mitch Robinson of the US Department of Defense and Prof. Jess Ghannam, University of California, Berkeley – will report to the Symposium on the brutal torture suffered by their client, detailed in a 2014 report by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

The Symposium also boasts a number of high profile keynote speakers. Among them are human rights activist group Women of Atenco and Professor Carlos Beristain, who was part of the Interdisciplinary Group that investigated the case of the 43 missing students of Ayotzinapa in Guerrero, Mexico.

“Centres worldwide involved in torture rehabilitation tend to work in isolation,” says IRCT Secretary-General Victor Madrigal-Borloz. “This event is intended to help galvanise a sense of community, to develop an understanding within this inter-disciplinary field of the need to move forward together.”

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