Credit: Swedish Red Cross, Malmo

Healing

Torture has the aim and consequence of profoundly damaging a person’s physical and mental health, their identity, and their socio-economic relationships with family and community.

Many torture survivors suffer from chronic physical pain years after their abuse, and psychological symptoms such as anxiety, withdrawal and insomnia. The most frequent psychiatric diagnoses are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression. 

Not only does torture violate personal integrity in these ways, but, according to survivors, it also deprives them of two fundamental forms of human agency: their right to livelihood; and their ability to speak out about what happened to them. 

As the world’s largest source of knowledge on the health-based consequences of torture, the IRCT’s first mission is >Improved Rehabilitation services to torture survivors globally,  ensuring they receive the best possible medical treatment to become healthy again. 

Knowing healing is incomplete without a restoration of agency, the IRCT also supports survivors to develop >Better Livelihoods in order to access a stable income and the space and time that affords. And through working to improve >Survivor Engagement we aim to defeat torture stigma and silencing by amplifying the voices and demands of survivors in safe and inclusive environments. 

Healing

noun
‘the process of making or becoming healthy again.’

Improved Rehabilitation

The IRCT’s membership represents a significant proportion of the existing worldwide capacity to provide rehabilitation to torture survivors. Current needs far outstrip available human and financial resources. Victims have a right to rehabilitation, but systemic underfunding of the sector limits the ability of IRCT members to assist victims. We overcome some of these limits to improved rehabilitation by upgrading the standards and expertise within our existing capacity. The IRCT does this through adopting >Global Standards on Rehabilitation, through dissemination of academic knowledge on rehabilitation in >Torture Journal and through sharing best practices and increasing partnerships among our global network through >E-Learning.

Rehabilitation

noun
‘the process of making or becoming healthy again.’

IRCT’s Global Standards on Rehabilitation (GSR) are the world’s first comprehensive set of internationally agreed best-practice standards aimed at ensuring survivors of torture can receive the best possible rehabilitation wherever they are.

The IRCT is rooted in the scientific study of torture. Now in its fourth decade of publication, IRCT’s Torture Journal is the world’s leading academic source for peer-reviewed research and debate from the medical and legal frontiers of torture rehabilitation and prevention.

The IRCT exists as a knowledge sharing network for its members. The diversity of IRCT members’ knowledge, gathered together in solidarity for the shared purposes of healing and justice for survivors of torture, represent the organisation’s greatest strength. The digital revolution, fuelled by the Covid-19 pandemic, means the opportunities to connect are almost limitless.

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.’

“Healing is an act of resistance.”

Frank Cohn, Executive Director, VAST, Canada

Rehabilitation is a Right

States are not only obliged to prevent torture. They must also act to help heal those who have suffered it. Under Article 14 of the United Nations Convention against Torture (CAT), torture survivors have an internationally recognised human right to “as full rehabilitation as possible”. The obligation to fulfil that right falls first and foremost on States. 

The IRCT believes that rehabilitation should be:

  • Holistic, taking into account all aspects of the individual’s existence

  • 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

The IRCT and the International Centre for Health and Human Rights (ICHHR) have produced a step-by-step Guide in order to assist States on what they must do to implement the right to rehabilitation.

Implementing the right to rehabilitation

Healing and Justice

Torture is a criminal offence requiring legal remedy. It is also a hugely damaging assault on health and well-being. Without healing, most survivors cannot recover the physical and mental life they had before torture. Without justice, survivors cannot be restored to the legal and socio-economic position they were in before torture. Without justice, healing is incomplete. And without healing, justice is superficial. For the IRCT, Healing and Justice for survivors of torture are thus inter-dependent and mutually reinforcing.

Victim or Survivor?

The IRCT’s name refers to ‘victims’ of torture. This is because the term has legal consequences: Article 14 of the Convention Against Torture obligates a State Party to ensure the ‘victim of an act of torture’ has an enforceable right to as ‘full rehabilitation as possible’. However, the IRCT now routinely refers to ‘survivors’ of torture, in order to better express in non-legal language the resilience we find in so many of those we work with. 

Better Livelihoods

Credit: ACTV, Uganda

Did you know that half of all torture survivors treated around the world also live in poverty? Indeed, poverty can be seen as the leading risk factor for torture: Being poor makes you more likely to be tortured; being tortured makes you more likely to be poor. IRCT members consistently report that 50% of their clients live in poverty. IRCT’s Livelihoods project is an effort to break the link between poverty and torture.

Livelihoods

Survivor Engagement

What does it take to survive torture and rebuild your life? The IRCT’s ‘Survivor Engagement’ project aims to put the answer to that question at the centre of our work on healing and justice. We believe survivors can, and should, be the principal agent in their own healing journey, and that their experiences of overcoming often unimaginable hardship can serve to improve rehabilitation services for themselves, and others.

Survivor Engagement

“ I support this psychosocial approach to torture rehabilitation, as practiced by IRCT member centres, focussing not merely on the normative discourse of human rights standards – has a violation occurred? – but more on the uniqueness of the person, the context and complexity of the event. Complexity is the overlooked casualty of torture.”

Professor Renos K. Papadopoulos, Department of Psychosocial and Psychoanalytic Studies, University of Essex