What is torture?
The IRCT follows the UN Convention against Torture definition of Torture, which states that “'torture' means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”
A Heinous Act
Torture is never legitimate or justified. Yet, it is often used to punish, to obtain information or a confession, to take revenge on a person or persons or create terror and fear within a population. Some of the most common methods of physical torture include beating, electric shocks, stretching, submersion, suffocation, burns, rape and sexual assault. Psychological torture may be inflicted through a variety of methods such as threats of violence, sensory overload and deprivation or mock executions. While some seek to justify torture by pointing to the fight against terror or fictional situations such as the “ticking bomb” scenario, there is clear evidence that torture is ineffective in this or any other context.
Torture has devastating consequences for its victims, their families and the broader community. Its severe physical and psychological effects disrupt victims’ life and often prevent them from continuing their life plan. Furthermore, the physical and psychological damages from torture can last for decades and affect several generations. It may be a struggle for victims of torture to build interpersonal relations, pursue professional goals or simply continue with their personal development, which is essential for a person’s enjoyment of life. While this is not a rule, many torture survivors suffer from psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, withdrawal and self-isolation. They also struggle with cognitive symptoms, including confusion, flashbacks and memory lapses; and neurovegetative symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia and recurrent nightmares. The most frequent psychiatric diagnoses are posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression. Although the psychological consequences of torture are often more persistent and long-lasting than the physical effects, a large number of torture survivors also suffer from chronic physical pain years after their abuse. The physical and mental after-effects of torture often place great strain on the entire family and society. Children are particularly vulnerable. They often suffer from feelings of guilt or personal responsibility for what has happened to their parent.
Torture Does Not Discriminate
Anyone can be a victim of torture. The one thing all torture victims have in common is the notion that they must be subdued, punished or threatened, and the entity supposed to protect them –the State authority- is either behind those actions, or allows for them to happen. While children as well as adults, religious as well as atheists, intellectuals and the uneducated alike can be targets of government-endorsed violence, torture often works in contexts of historical discrimination that affects particular groups, communities and populations, or in detriment to people living in poverty. Persons deprived of liberty are among the groups that are particularly at risk of being subjected to torture and ill treatment, which is why there are many efforts to enable the preventive approach in such settings. Another group at great risk is health care providers who work with torture victims. Like all human rights defenders, this group is often seen by the perpetrating individuals as threats, and is therefore particularly exposed to reprisals.
Not A Thing Of The Past
Most people connect torture to the Middle Ages or to the dictatorships of the last century – believing it is a thing of the past or only happens to a few. The truth is, however, that torture persists in over 140 countries and that it happens to thousands of people every day. The IRCT network of torture rehabilitation centres treated more than 100,000 victims of torture according to its last census.
Rehabilitation helps victims rebuild their life after torture through a combination of services including medical, psychological, legal and social support. It is a process that recognises the victims’ agency and empowerment and takes into account their individual needs as well as the cultural, social and political background and environment in which they live. All victims of torture and ill-treatment have an explicit right to rehabilitation. Unfortunately, only a few among the hundreds of thousands of victims in the world receive the support they desperately need. This is because rehabilitation services are often not available where the victims are, lack the necessary quality, or are not accessible to all or certain groups of victims. In many countries, rehabilitation support is provided by nongovernmental organisations that are not adequately funded to support all the victims who come to them for help. Rebuilding your life after your dignity has been attacked takes time. Victims need to be able to trust and have confidence in health professionals and other caregivers and they need to know that support will be available for them whenever and as long as is needed. We believe that rehabilitation should be:
- Available, appropriate, accessible and provided in a way that guarantees the safety and personal integrity of the victims, their family and their caretakers
- Provided at the earliest possible point in time after the torture event, without a requirement for the victim to pursue judicial remedies, but solely based on recommendations by a qualified health professional
- Provided in close consultation with the victim and tailored to meet the specific needs of each individual victim
- Adequately funded by national governments