21 Sep 2018
UN anti-torture body issues landmark decision on rehabilitation for torture victims

In a recent decision, the UN Committee against Torture has taken an important step forward in protecting torture survivors from expulsion to countries where rehabilitation services are not available.

UN anti-torture body issues landmark decision on rehabilitation for torture victims

Public session of the UN Committee against Torture, US Mission Photo / Eric Bridiers, used under CC BY-ND 2.0 / Cropped from original

In the case, A.N. v. Switzerland regarding expulsion of a Eritrean national to Italy, the Committee established two essential elements of protection and support for torture survivors. When states return torture survivors to a country where they will not have access to rehabilitation, they disregard their obligation to prevent ill-treatment or even torture. Therefore, States need to ensure that appropriate rehabilitation services are available and accessible before they return torture survivors to third countries regardless of whether they are being individually persecuted in that country.

The decision is of key importance to torture victims and the IRCT’s global membership of rehabilitation centres because it helps ensure that the survivors we support can rebuild their lives in safety and with assurances that expulsion cannot happen if it will jeopardise their rehabilitation process. The decision is also a landmark in how torture trauma and its continuing effect on victims is understood by judicial mechanisms. Rehabilitation practitioners have known for decades that the torture act itself is only a beginning: victims continue to suffer physically and mentally, and it often gets worse if they don’t receive adequate support. Therefore, sending victims to places where this support does not exist risks causing harm that is similar or worse than the original injury.

“The understanding of how denial of rehabilitation may constitute ill-treatment or torture was first developed by experts in IRCT member, Freedom From Torture, based on their decades of experience with supporting torture survivors seeking asylum in the United Kingdom. We are extremely pleased to see the UN Committee against Torture endorse this analysis and look forward to working to make this new standard reality for torture victims. The eradication of torture demands addressing the pain and suffering it causes: Torture is not over until the victim has rebuilt her life”, said Asger Kjaerum, Advocacy Director at the IRCT. 

In the decision, the UN Committee against Torture found that an Eritrean torture victim could not be returned to Italy as otherwise permitted by EU law. Based on his need for psychiatric support to overcome past torture trauma and the risks of irreparable harm if the support was discontinued, the Committee found that returning him without ensuring that appropriate rehabilitation services are available and accessible would deny him his right to rehabilitation. The Committee further found that the denial of rehabilitation would create a situation that in itself constitutes ill-treatment, which might escalate torture depending on the specific circumstances. A similar decision was reached by the European Court of Justice in April 2018 ruling against the expulsion of a torture victim from the United Kingdom to Sri Lanka.

As a global association of rehabilitation centres, the IRCT has extensive knowledge about the availability and accessibility of rehabilitation services around the world. We know that in most countries in the world, appropriate rehabilitation services are not available and accessible at a scale where all victims can get the support they need. In this context, the Committee’s decision is a welcome acknowledgement and reminder that to truly eradicate torture, we must help victims deal with the pain and suffering it has caused.

For more information

"The eradication of torture demands addressing the pain and suffering it causes: Torture is not over until the victim has rebuilt her life”

- Asger Kjaerum, Advocacy Director, IRCT

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