Survivor Engagement

Survivor Engagement

Survivor engagement can be defined as the process by which survivors of traumatic experiences actively take part in activities related to the anti-torture movement that go beyond the receipt of individual treatment. It’s a process that empowers survivors to control, not merely be consulted on, their own rehabilitation, and can be considered as operating at three levels: Personal, Community, and National and in three key areas: Governance, Health, and Human Rights Advocacy.

Examples may include, but are not limited to: participation in peer support groups; becoming volunteers or paid staff members to provide services to other survivors; giving insights from lived experience and expertise to service providers or governments in order to shape service provision and improve access to justice; advocating with politicians and other key decision makers to eradicate torture.

The aim of survivor engagement initiatives is determined by survivors themselves. Some seek to engage with their wider networks as part of their healing processes; others want to share their experience to help others; some seek justice in a more direct manner.

Developed and implemented through a Steering Committee of five member centres with experience in integrating survivor engagement as a component of rehabilitation, the Special Project is one of the goals the IRCT has set itself under its Strategy 2022-2025.

Survivors Speak Out

Shyhrete Tahiri-Sylejmani, Kosovo

Ahmed, Syria

Osvaldo Rodriguez, Mexico

‘Fatima’, Palestine

Manar Shweiki, Palestine

Police Torture in Putin’s Russia

“It was not an easy process to go through, but you must believe the rehabilitation can help you re-establish your life.”

Botan Ali, Kurdish Iraqi torture survivor in Denmark

What does it take to survive torture and then use your experience to support others and take the lead in the global anti-torture movement?

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 that survivors who can and want to should be the principal agents in their own healing journey, and that their experiences of overcoming often unimaginable hardship can serve to improve rehabilitation services for themselves, and others.

Torture damages the physical and psychological well-being, and the socio-economic and legal situation, of survivors and their families, as well as their communities. Not only does it violate their personal integrity in these ways, but, according to survivors, it also deprives them of two of the most fundamental forms of human agency, which are essential to rehabilitation: their right to livelihood, and their ability to speak out about what happened to them.

The IRCT will support its members to create more safe and inclusive spaces where survivors can share their experiences, take ownership of their rehabilitation and exercise their rights, including to participate in the fight for justice. The IRCT network will continue to serve as a platform to represent the experiences of survivors and work to amplify their voices in our advocacy.

Credit: ASSAF, Israel

Yohannes (an alias) was kidnapped,  tortured and held for ransom by criminal gangs on his journey as a refugee from Eritrea to Israel. Like many survivors, it has taken him years to even begin speaking about his experiences. And though he wants his story to be known, he also wishes to remain anonymous.

Photo credit: Tree of Life

IRCT’s Global Standards on Rehabilitation

Standard 9: Victims’ Participation in Rehabilitation

Promote the meaningful contribution of victims in service design and delivery, research, decision-making, and governance processes of rehabilitation services through recognition of victims’ experience in service development and recruitment processes, open consultative and feedback processes, and other participatory methods that are contextually and situationally appropriate.

The Survivor Engagement Steering Committee:

In 2022, the IRCT established a Survivor Engagement Steering Committee composed of the five members with a systematic approach to survivor engagement:

The role of the Steering Committee is to develop best practices and tools for survivor engagement and to provide technical and advisory support to the broader membership on how to implement these. To establish an evidence base for how to do this, each Steering Committee member received a sub-grant to support the piloting of new approaches, production of tools and the sharing of knowledge on improved Survivor Engagement with IRCT’s global membership.

KRCT Kosovo hosted a three-day workshop in November for members of the Survivor Engagement Steering Committee.

“Empowering survivors and giving them a platform to speak out is essential in the global fight against torture. This is how we equip the sector to better fight torture and the injustice lived by survivors.”

Natasha Nzazi, Freedom from Torture, UK

“The narrative of torture survivors is powerful, but the survivors have been silenced by the perpetrators. Rehabilitation helps them regain their dignity and humanity and helps them speak up again.”

Dr Boris Droždek, Psycho-trauma Centre, South Netherlands

Natasha Nzazi and Kolbassia Haoussou from the Survivors Speak Out Network at IRCT UK member Freedom From Torture.  Credit: Freedom From Torture