23 Mar 2020
Women of the IRCT: Sana Hamzeh

To mark the 2020 International Women’s Day (8 March), IRCT wants to celebrate the achievements of the many women in the anti-torture and rehabilitation movement. These amazing women dedicate their lives to ensure that torture survivors can be healed and obtain a meaningful life after torture. Over the next weeks IRCT will feature some of these women and ask them what this movement means to them and what's it's like being a woman in the anti-torture sector.

Next in the series is Sana Hamzeh. Sana is a Psychotherapist, has a Psychology Doctorate in Grief Counseling and is a Clinical Advisor for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma survivors Restart Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture, Tripoli & Beirut, Lebanon.

Women of the IRCT: Sana Hamzeh

Why do you think working in this sector is important?

"Working in a field whereby torture survivors’ voices that were once silenced are now heard can be politically controversial. Concealing crimes that were conducted by authorities with political power, crimes that wouldn’t have been heard about without actively searching for them, is a crime in and of itself. Therefore, I think it is not just important, but essential, to raise our unified voice against violations at national, regional and international levels. Each and every individual has a moral and social obligation towards actively making this world a better place. I am not exempt from this obligation, so why not actively strive towards challenging the long-standing (and unfortunately ongoing) practice of torture?"

Why do you think these problems exist?

"As long as there is a lack of awareness about the consequences of torture and about the evidence that confirms that torture does not lead to true confessions, and as long as there is a belief in the just-world fallacy (i.e. that evil actions must be punished), torture will continue to exist. Moreover, if perpetrators are not punished for their crime, they will continue to believe that it is absolutely safe and easy to inflict torture on others. Changing ongoing rituals and beliefs, and putting an end to a culture of impunity, is not easy. Yet, witnessing what they can lead to and doing nothing to stop it is ‘humanly’ impossible. Therefore, human beings are left with no other option but to courageously face these malicious rituals and beliefs and strive towards changing them, one step at a time."

Do you think your work addresses the cause of the problem?

"Our work at Restart Center not only focuses on “rehabilitation”, but it also considers “protection” and “prevention” as essential ingredients needed to complete the bigger picture. Our service model is tailored to the needs of these victims. Through our holistic rehabilitation approach, we strive towards transforming their perception from “victim” to “survivor”. “Protection” efforts at Restart largely stem from the services that are provided in the Forensic Unit at the Palace of Justice in Tripoli, North of Lebanon (founded by Restart Center in 2017). In this unit, cases of alleged torture and ill treatment are documented (according to the Istanbul Protocol), and medical services (including psychiatric and laboratory services) are provided. Lastly, “prevention” is done through Restart’s advocacy strategy to influence policy and practice change related to torture, by actively engaging all stakeholders. Through bilateral dialogues and trainings that we provide to security institutions, government officials, judges and lawyers, we seek to advance and improve conditions for prisoners and victims of torture and ill treatment."

How did you become involved in this type of work? What inspired you to continue working for social change?

"Oblivion is humanity’s greatest enemy. Keeping one’s eyes, ears and heart open to victims’ muffled voices is difficult, but keeping oneself isolated – when s/he knows that fear and despair have triumphed over these voices – is far from easy. As a child, my home was facing a police station in Al Tal area of Tripoli. I used to hear people screaming inside, screams that escalated gradually until eventually no sounds were heard.  These agonizing sounds reverberated through my dreams every night. As I grew older, I reached a stage where I couldn’t keep on blinding myself to what was going on behind these concrete walls.

The year 1995 was the turning point of my career; it was the year in which I attended a conference in Copenhagen in 1995 (through which I had met Inge Genefke, Founder of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims ‘IRCT’). It is Inge that made me more convinced to embark on this novel path. Inge’s advice to create a specialized center for victims of torture in Lebanon was turned into reality through the establishment of Restart Center in Tripoli, in 1996 (and eventually in Beirut, in 2007).

Today, I can confidently say that I am thankful for this opportunity. Working with torture and trauma survivors and hearing their horrid stories has shaped the person whom I am today. It is these individuals who have made me realize that even if a vase is broken, it can be sealed back to become stronger and more durable than ever before. Dr. Maya Angelou has a quote that is so dear to my heart. She says: “I have learnt that people will forget what you did, people will forget what you said, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. I know how true this is for every torture survivor. I know also how they feel after breaking their silence."

What are some of the approaches and methods you use in your work?

"It is an illusion to think that one type of therapy works for all victims of torture. I personally use an integrative approach, which combines different therapeutic models depending on the victim’s needs. Based on my experience working with this target population, I noticed that short-term, evidence-based, and client-centered approaches are the most effective approaches to treatment. I also observed that supplementing individual therapy with Restart’s family therapy model – a model that is uniquely tailored to the needs of torture and trauma survivors – is essential. This family therapy model was presented nationally and internationally – in Mexico City, Georgia, Denmark and Tunisia – in order to promote best practices for working with these vulnerable populations."

What are some of the problems you face in your work as a woman?

"Whether it is through my missions to Erbil, my visits to detention centres and forensic units in Lebanon, or my every day work with torture and trauma survivors at Restart Center, it may feel natural to think that this is not a “woman” job. In the MENA region, women are oftentimes less represented in the work place. Accordingly, cultural norms of the typically “docile” woman could conflict with the active role that I, and every woman human rights activist, would portrays in her work. But, again, who decides on whether a job is for women or for men? Who decides on whether torture is justifiable? It is humanity itself, you and I, who dictate how tomorrow’s world can and shall become."

What do you like best about this work?

"Seeing survivors evolve from individuals who could only see the world as pitch-black to individuals who could picture a better tomorrow, is what gives me the most satisfaction in my work. Witnessing the evolution in their symptoms and their commitment to see the world from a different angle inspires me the most. The worst part, however, is realizing that torture has no bounds; perpetrators continue to find “innovative” ways to inflict pain and suffering on others. Using creativity in a wicked sense makes me ask myself: “How can we filter out the bad creativity and nurture the good creativity that the world needs more of?”"

What are ways that young women can take effective action for change in the community?

"Change, in any form, is not sustainable if it were to be wiped out by ignorance. Sustainability of our efforts to wipe away torture can only be assured if we raise awareness and educate younger generations to promote a philanthropic-based culture, intolerant to torture and ill treatment. Educating women means changing the world – not just the lives of these women. Although barriers to becoming educated still persist in our world today, particularly for women, access to education could be the first and foremost weapon to overcome these obstacles. Education can lead to women empowerment which, in turn, can lead to positive change in our movement. "

What role do you think women can play in the type of work your organization does?

"Women can play any role that they choose (and are qualified to do) at Restart Center. We consider passion and dedication – irrelevant of gender – to be key ingredients to success. "

For more information

International Women's Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women's equality.

International Women's Day (IWD) has occurred for well over a century, with the first IWD gathering in 1911 supported by over a million people. Today, IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. IWD is not country, group or organization specific.

To read more, please visit: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/

"Educating women means changing the world – not just the lives of these women. Although barriers to becoming educated still persist in our world today, particularly for women, access to education could be the first and foremost weapon to overcome these obstacles. Education can lead to women empowerment which, in turn, can lead to positive change in our movement."

-Sana Hamzeh, Restart Center

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