05 Jul 2018
A major human rights defender turns 80

Dr. med.h.c. Inge Genefke turns 80 years on Friday, July 6th. Having dedicated the majority of her life to supporting torture victims, she is one of the big pioneers of our movement. And she still continues her efforts every day.

A major human rights defender turns 80

It is not easy to fill Inge Genefke’s shoes. Those are shoes that travelled the world over, many times, seeking to find victims of torture wherever they would be: deeply hidden in cells of solitary confinement, tied up and chained to be forgotten in the psychiatric wards of hospitals or claiming asylum in any country that would have them. Shoes that stood in front of perpetrators – ministers, generals and presidents, and demanded the release of victims and the end of violence and discrimination. Shoes that, during last year’s long winter, made the trip to the seat of the Eastern High Court in Copenhagen every day, to follow the trial of in the Iraqi case, which Inge strongly – and vocally – supported as part of the work of her foundation, the Anti Torture Support Foundation.

When I was appointed Secretary-General of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) – of which Inge is one of the founders - in 2013 my first action, after meeting the Board and the staff, was to visit Inge and her indomitable husband, the great Bent Sørensen, in their luminous flat in Skodsborg where they held court since their retirement.

Among stacks of old and new newspaper clippings and medical reports on torture, that day I got to hear first-hand the story of the birth of our movement. As a qualified doctor and neurologist, Inge was horrified by her findings on the pain and suffering of Chilean torture victims living as refugees in Copenhagen. Inge therefore founded together with three other Danish physicians Amnesty International's first medical team. The idea of the team was to ensure proper care for victims of torture, and to ensure that their cases would create accountability for perpetrators.

It was the beginning of a formidable change in the way the world sees victims of torture. They went from being stigmatized objects of fear or pity to being agents of their own dignity. As their rehabilitation unfolded, so did the knowledge of the doctors about how the damage produced by torture could be documented and used in Court.

In 1982, the work in the Amnesty medical team led to the establishment of the RCT (Rehabilitation Center for Torture Victims). At the same time, Inge and many peers who admired her cause – including, first and foremost, Bent – traveled the world over finding keen souls who would do the same in their countries: create rehabilitation centres and programmes.

In 1985, the international interest proved so big that Inge was one of the initiators of the International Rehabilition Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) where Inge became the first Secretary-General. Today, the movement is a strong sector and the IRCT an organization having over 160 member centres located in all regions of the world. Every year, it is estimated that over 100.000 victims receive rehabilitation thanks, in no small measure, to Inge’s pioneering work. This was most recently expressed when Inge lost her Bent last year. The outpouring of support from all corners of the world was quite moving, and a testimony to her lasting legacy.

All Inge’s prizes and awards – that she has received during the years – are now kept at the IRCT Secretariat at Vesterbrogade in Copenhagen, Denmark. There are dozens of them: the Right Livelihood Award, the Legion d’Honneur, the Ebbe Munck Prize line up with the commendation issued by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet to thank Inge for all she had done for her compatriots in their time of despair. I dare say that Inge has done her fair share in Denmark building up since the 80ies a reputation as a human rights champion and as a leader in the global fight against torture.

As she turns 80, Inge would deserve to kick off her shoes and relax. Yet every day she puts them on to go to court, or to tend the business of her foundation. Each once in a while I get a call from her, and she asks what she can do to help the IRCT to fulfil its mission. That fills me with admiration, and makes me convinced that there is no greater strength than believing in an ideal as pure as justice.

The torture rehabilitation movement comes together to wish her long life, in deep gratitude for her enduring work.

San Jose, 1 July 2018

Victor Madrigal-Borloz

Secretary-General of the IRCT and United Nations Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

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