FROM HORROR TO HEALING:
Remembering torture victims and their families on June 26, 2016
THE INTERNATIONAL DAY IN SUPPORT OF TORTURE VICTIMS AND THEIR FAMILIES
STATEMENT BY CSVR:
On 26 June in 1987, the United Nations Convention against Torture came into force. On 12 December 1997 the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 26 June the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, with a view to work towards total eradication of torture, and promoting the Convention against Torture.
On 26 June each year, the world honors victims and survivors of torture. On this day we recognize that torture is one of the most horrific human rights abuses, and it affects millions of individuals and their families around the world. The trauma that torture victims experience reaches far beyond the direct victims and in some instances, it also affects families and dependents of the victim, the community where the torture takes place and entire societies.
The theme for World Torture Day 2016 is “From Horror to Healing”, a befitting theme that highlights the horrific effects of torture on victims’ lives and the lives of those closest to them; and the urgent need to channel resources towards dealing with the devastating physical and psychological consequences of torture and ensure healing for victims.
The International Day in Support of Victims of Torture reminds us that torture remains a global problem which leaves millions of broken lives and individuals across the globe. With reports of wars, conflict and instability in some countries, torture is often committed against citizens who are unarmed and therefore unable to defend themselves. Torture is also committed in more peaceful countries where there is political order and stability, again against citizens by law enforcement authorities as they carry out their safety and security duties. One thing is common whether in peace or in war; torture victims suffer immensely as their self-worth is often eroded during the torture experience and will need assistance to rebuild their lives and livelihoods.
Torture is a crime under international law. According to all relevant human rights instruments, it is absolutely prohibited and cannot be justified under any circumstances, even during conflict or in a state of emergency.
In South Africa, torture victims and survivors are quite a diverse group of people –apartheid era torture victims, refugees and asylum seekers who experienced torture in their countries of origin and have fled and sought refuge in South Africa, and current torture victims including suspected criminals, detained persons and sometimes innocent bystanders at the wrong place at the wrong time.
All torture victims have a guaranteed right to rehabilitation under international law. Providing holistic rehabilitation to survivors of torture and trauma can help heal the effects of torture. South Africa as one of the countries bound by the United Convention against Torture, has a duty to provide victims with rights to reparation and rehabilitation, as reflected in Article 14 of the Convention against Torture. Victims of torture are too often denied opportunities to secure physical and mental rehabilitation, and the justice and compensation to which they are entitled. We see this in South Africa where torture victims are only able to access redress through the courts to claim compensation and damages for their torture experience. The court process is usually a difficult, expensive and a long process which often further traumatizes torture victims, increasing their vulnerability and trauma, instead of redressing it.
The International Day in Support of Victims of Torture is an opportunity to reinforce our understanding that torture is an assault on humanity and human dignity. As CSVR, our long-standing work with torture victims including apartheid era torture victims, refugees and asylum seekers, and current victims – we acknowledge that recovery from torture requires prompt and specialized programmes that prioritize the needs of torture victims, taking into account their experiences, contexts and various beliefs. Our psychosocial work including provision of rehabilitation services to torture victims and their families, continues to demonstrate that torture victims can indeed make the transition from horror (brought about by the torture experience) to healing.