The IRCT exists because of and for its members. As a membership organisation, engagement by members is the driving force and democratic basis of the organisation.
IRCT’s Statutes make clear that collective responsibility for rehabilitation, standards, and knowledge sharing is the basis on which our 160 members in 76 countries agree to work together. The digital revolution, fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic, means almost all members have now integrated online connectivity into their everyday work. The opportunities to learn from each other, and connect to survivors, are almost limitless.
Our platform for members only has two main purposes: Learning and Knowledge Sharing. The E-Learning site is the central hub for all the E-learning material and experiences that IRCT and its members are offering. The section on webinars promotes upcoming webinars, hosts past recordings for those who could not attend, and has a forum for members to continue the conversation. There are also sections for IRCT online courses on the Global Standards on Rehabilitation and upcoming on the updated Istanbul Protocol. What Are Other Members Doing was created to promote a sense of community and connect members. In this section, members can share a short video presenting their work, centre, or experiences. There is also a section to share events that members are hosting, such as webinars or trainings.
Over 1,000 people join IRCT’s demand-driven thematic webinars each year. The success of our webinars is down to a simple formula. First, we listen to what our members tell us they want to know more about. Then we source speakers with the relevant expertise from other centres or the wider torture rehabilitation community. Finally, we create an easy-to-use format for registration and attendance. Each webinar consists of time- limited presentations by speakers followed by an open question and answer session. For members who are not able to attend, webinars are posted in full on the E-learning Fabo page, while selected webinars are edited down into public videos of around 15 minutes that highlight and contextualise the key insights, published as IRCT Insights.
The fight against Communist rebel groups. A so-called War on Drugs. Red-tagging political opponents as terrorists. The return to power of the family of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Working to prevent torture and fighting for healing and justice for survivors is uniquely challenging in the Philippines. Here, IRCT’s two long-established torture rehabilitation centres in the country give their insights into the current human rights situation.
The UN Convention Against Torture obligates States to investigate “wherever there is reasonable ground to believe an act of torture has been committed”. In practice, the huge majority of cases of torture are never investigated by the States responsible, and so it is IRCT member centres who fulfil this duty towards survivors. The Istanbul Protocol provides the internationally agreed best-practice for investigating and documenting torture. But what does this essential human rights work actually look like in practice? IRCT Insights series explores the subject with two member centres who are leaders in their regions of Africa and the Middle East: ACTV in Uganda and TRC in Palestine.
Dr Uju Agomoh, founder of IRCT member centre in Nigeria, Prisoners Rehabilitation and Welfare Action (PRAWA), has been appointed to the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture, Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the UN’s top expert group on how to stop torture. In an interview with IRCT’s Communications Lead, Hugh Macleod, Dr Uju discusses her pioneering work with prisoners and police in Nigeria, her background in psychology and law, and how working to change hearts and minds of officials in Africa’s most populous country gives her insights into how the UN can persuade more Member States to comply with the Convention Against Torture.
Dr Pau Perez-Sales, Clinical Psychologist, Editor-in-Chief Torture Journal explores how the impacts of war and torture are related. How do children experience the trauma of war and what are the symptoms? What is the best clinical approach for treating children with war trauma? How to document torture in children following the Istanbul Protocol? And do children recover from the violence of war and torture? All questions sadly all too relevant to today’s world in which a quarter of the global population live in conflict-affected areas.
The Istanbul Protocol is the internationally agreed set of best-practice standards by which medical and legal professionals should evaluate torture survivors in order to document their case, and produce quality evidence. As such, it is one of the bedrocks on which the IRCT operates. Featuring a range of experts from IRCT’s professional network, this Q&A introduces viewers to the history and purposes of the Istanbul Protocol, as well as the major questions practitioners need to understand in order to use it easily and effectively.
Kathi Anderson co-founded Survivors of Torture, International in San Diego, USA, in 1997 and has led the organisation for the past 25 years. As STI prepares for new leadership, its founder reflects on a long career of care and commitment, and the lessons learned in the fight for healing and justice for torture survivors. San Diego’s location, just 30 kilometers from the border with Mexico, makes it a hub for refugees fleeing violence. But back in the 1990s, the city had little or no services for those many refugees left traumatised by torture. Anderson saw the need, and so with two co-founders set up a torture rehabilitation centre that has now helped thousands of survivors rebuild their lives.
Nigeria ratified the Convention Against Torture, known as CAT, in 2001. But for two decades, the country refused to be reviewed by the Committee Against Torture in Geneva. In November 2021, the Committee went ahead anyway, and IRCT member PRAWA was there. So, for the first time, were Nigerian officials. Find out what they talked about, why torture is still so prevalent in Africa’s most populous nation, and what PRAWA is doing to help the State end the impunity of its security forces, and provide healing to survivors.
Mexico’s ongoing 15-year ‘War on Drugs’ has unleashed terrifying police violence. Tens of thousands of Mexican citizens have been tortured with impunity. As well as providing rehabilitation to survivors, IRCT member the Collective Against Torture and Impunity (CCTI) trains independent experts to document torture using the internationally agreed Istanbul Protocol. “The only accountability mechanism we’ve had is to evaluate official reports. And that’s been quite a challenge because the official experts’ reports try to hide that torture is something that is still happening here in Mexico,” says CCTI’s General Coordinator Cristian Urbalejo Luna. Accurately documenting torture to challenge official cover ups is thus a crucial first step in Mexico’s long road to healing and justice. Hear from Cristian how the CCTI is at the forefront of this effort, and how the updates to the Istanbul Protocol will help the CCTI and others in Mexico better document its many torture survivors.
The IRCT’s international network of health professionals are global leaders in the medical science of torture diagnosis and treatment. In 2009, the IRCT established the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) in order to apply this medical expertise to legal accountability for perpetrators of torture. In this video one of the founders of IFEG, Professor Dr Djordje Alempijevic, explains the role of forensic experts in substantiating allegations of torture, and his work on cases from Belarus. Contrary to the official narrative, a forensic examination of evidence from Belarus demonstrates conclusively that peaceful protesters were systematically beaten by police after they had been arrested and restrained, a punitive and disproportionate use of force which is torture.
What is ‘conversion therapy’ and how is it torture? So-called conversion therapy is a set of practices that aim to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It can range from psychotherapy to violent physical acts such as beatings, rape, and electrocution. IRCT experts have documented how conversion therapy violates the global prohibition against torture. In this video, we profile some of the inspiring human rights defenders standing up and speaking out to demand an end to conversion therapy, including a Chinese LGBTQI+ activist who underwent conversion therapy by electrocution, but later fought and won his case in a Beijing courtroom; a women’s rights advocate from Ecuador on the shocking treatment of lesbians in prison; a Kenyan campaigner on the pervasive cultural attitudes that often drive conversion therapy; and a leading figure from the UK working on inter-faith dialogue to address religion’s role in the physically and psychologically damaging practice.
Afghans in Crisis:
Treating Trauma, Past and Present
Afghans have suffered 40 years of war, but many say the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021 has been the most traumatic experience of their lives. Despite promising peace, the Taliban are hunting and executing perceived opponents, causing Afghans inside and outside the country to experience direct and indirect severe mental and physical pain and suffering. Hear from four experts working on the frontlines of trauma rehabilitation on what can be done to help people in need.
Supporting Survivors Through Covid
Covid-19 had a massive impact on the ability of IRCT members to help torture survivors rebuild their lives. Some centres were forced to close; staff and clients got infected and died; fundraising events were cancelled; grants were withdrawn. How did centres cope, and what lessons were learned?
War on Ukraine:
IRCT’s Crisis Response
IRCT members across Europe and beyond have mobilised to bring their expertise in torture, trauma and PTSD care to assist refugees from Ukraine fleeing the Russian invasion. Hear from a selection of members about their priorities.
A Year in Webinars:
- Interviewing Torture Victims: Techniques and Tips
- Prison Monitoring: Practices and Tools for Achieving Progress
- Survivor Engagement: Different Approaches for Different Contexts
- Working with Torture Survivors Self-Identified as LGBT+
- Afghans in Crisis: Treating Trauma Past and Present
- Integrating Livelihoods: Towards a Holistic Rehabilitation Approach
- Torture Rehabilitation in Times of Covid-19
Credit: WeStock Productions
Hailed as a gamechanger by some and a threat to medical ethics by others, the increasing adoption of telemedicine or telehealth – the provision of health care services, including rehabilitation for torture survivors, through telecoms rather than in-person – has been a crucial experience for many IRCT members through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Credit: Tree of Life
For Tree of Life in Zimbabwe, Covid lockdowns precipitated a complete change to their model of working, from bringing survivors together in a community-based approach to retraining staff in counselling individuals over the phone. Although successful, with all 300 clients contacted, former director of Tree of Life, Lynn Walker said the adoption of telehealth would not fundamentally alter their in-person, group therapy approach.
A similar conclusion was reached by Mima Dahic, Coordinator at Vive Zene, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The centre was established in 1994 to care for women and children traumatised by war, torture and violence during the civil wars in former Yugoslavia. Elderly clients often did not have computers, so the centre provided mobile phones to set up Viber groups. But ultimately, said Dahic, the staff could not work from home, and had to venture out to meet survivors in-person.
In Chile, massive social protests triggered by the State’s response to the pandemic were met by excessive police violence. IRCT member CINTRAS in Chile cares for survivors of torture from Augusto Pinochet’s two decade military dictatorship, and those tortured at the hands of police today. Jose Miguel Guzman, Executive Director of CINTRAS, said they experienced a surge in demand, prompting the centre to introduce online group therapy sessions and group workshops to address practical concerns. Interestingly, the online sessions were particularly focussed on participants moving, rather than sitting still. At first the move online was rejected, but then it was quickly accepted, said Guzman. But in very serious situations CINTRAS continued to make home visits.
Enforced remote working due to continuing COVID-19 lockdowns spawned not only innovations in telehealth but also the opportunity, through necessity, to conduct online forensic examinations of torture survivors. This has the potential to create ground-breaking changes, ensuring more equal access to justice for torture survivors because physical proximity to high-level forensic expertise will no longer be a determinant. As the leading global expert on documenting torture, the IRCT is developing an international best practice standard for such remote evaluations.
“All our work is based on direct contact. Our task is to be with the people. Most of our survivors don’t have computers so we asked donors to buy smartphones for them. The lesson that we learned is that for people who survive war and trauma it’s important they feel that they are not alone.”
“Although remote working and tele counselling really helped us to get through and stay in touch with our clients it was only an interim measure and we needed to get back into the community as soon as we could. It’s a really good alternative where we’re struggling to gain access to remote clients and communities so we would definitely keep it in our toolbox for the future.”
IRCT’s Global Standards on Rehabilitation
Standard 13: Share knowledge
Disseminate information about torture and its effects to professionals in healthcare and other relevant fields who may come into contact with torture victims. Information should include available and possible approaches to rehabilitation, the specific needs of torture victims (including early identification, assessment, and timely referrals), trauma-informed care, documentation procedures according to the Istanbul Protocol, and regarding the value of providing rehabilitation to facilitate life after torture. Where security considerations allow, the dissemination of this information should be considered a critical moral and social responsibility for centres assisting victims of torture.