Dr. Jan Ole Haagensen, Director, International Department Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims (RCT) Denmark made the following speech at a national seminar.
First and foremost I would like to use the opportunity to address the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights and give my heartiest congratulations on organizing a National Consultation on ”Testimony to improve psychosocial wellbeing and promote advocacy for survivor of torture and organized violence”. Both as an individual and official representative for RCT I can say that I am truly grateful to be a part of this event.
The background for this event is in fact sinister because it relates to the practice of torture. If there were no torture then we could attend to other businesses. But torture exist also in India and we are today getting a fuller view – thanks to among others the Study funded by the EU and Frederich Neuman Foundation undertaken by Indian organizations under the leadership of Peoples Watch - and the view is in fact disturbing. Torture and organized violence in India is many-sided and used in different settings and by different social actors.
A rough categorization could be to differentiate between the uses of torture in relation to open ongoing violence in contested geographical areas and communal violence - but what is – perhaps – most disturbing is the sad fact that within the police force, torture appears to be looked upon as a standard operating procedure in investigations of crime. Yet there are no excuses for torture. It is a barbaric practice not permitted according to UN HR Declaration nor as a rule of customary international law, and the recognition of the prohibition of torture as a peremptory norm of general international law, binding on all states whether or not they are parties to treaties which contain the prohibition. And the results of using torture are poor vis-à-vis other more humane police techniques which in Europe sometimes comes under the heading Good policing. Finally, one could question whether these colonial practices are befitting a country with a long democratic history and on the path of rapid modernization.
Torture is considered so common that it even is depicted in the world famous movie ‘Slum Dog Millionaire’ showing scenes from a police station in Mumbai. Even though this is merely fiction the storyline is sadly enough not far from reality. This reality will have to alter.
India signed the UN Convention Against Torture in 1997 yet more than 10 years later the same is still to be ratified and this is despite the fact that India is a member of UN Human Rights Council. In its UNHRC pledge letter India made no specific references to UNCAT or the critical issue on how to reduce torture in India. According to a source in the Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs the reason for not ratifying UNCAT is – and I quote ‘due to the extra burden of reporting’!
At the domestic level, there is no legislative definition of torture, nor is there a law identifying torture as a crime in India. There is neither a system for victim and witness protection.
The only statutory remedy in India is to raise a complaint with the Human Rights Commission; however the national Human Rights Commissions are being criticized for often being politically biased and inefficient. The fact remains that India does not have the appropriate mechanism in place to deal with the problem of torture.
India is a country with a population of more than .1.2 billion people that is finding its due role in the world, and in this new role torture does not tally. USA another big democracy is these days going through a painful exercise of cleaning up after torture practices permitted by the past president. The practices have cost US a lot morally in the country itself and in the world. The practices have to be stopped and removed at once – otherwise history shows they will spread like cancer to the whole society.
Throughout my time working and researching in India I have had the privilege of meeting many organizations that do an amazing piece of work in relation to advocacy and rehabilitation. Even though the many challenges and barriers in India, I would like to say that seeing the great work these organizations I fell comfortable that things will improve and the decision makers will give the area a higher priority. I feel honored to have gotten to know more about these organizations and I truly hope that we will have the opportunity to work more closely together in the future. Let me share with you a bit of the organization where I come from.
RCT has since 1982 worked for freedom from torture through treatment, training and prevention. We are Danish non-profit, private organization independent of party politics which treats refugees exposed to torture and subsequently and been granted asylum in Denmark (among these there have been several Indians as well). Furthermore, RCT accompany with technical and financial support national organizations in areas where people suffer from torture and organized violence. Most often, the working relationships are partnerships that stretch over several years. It is a long struggle.
The development activities of RCT are currently being implemented in 14 countries covering Africa (Sierra Leone, South Africa, Zimbabwe), Asia (India, Bangladesh, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Cambodia), Latin America (Ecuador, Honduras, Guatemala), the Middle East (Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Areas) and Europe (Albania). In its development programme RCT works through local partner organizations using a rights-based approach in relation to rehabilitation and prevention. This includes capacity development, and support to advocacy and service delivery.
The international fight against torture is a key priority in the Danish foreign policy since torture is one of the gravest human rights violations. Therefore, RCT gets funding from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for its international work including research and knowledge generation. Much more knowledge is needed to fight torture and rehabilitate torture survivors. Nevertheless, in the Danish context we undertake advocacy as well to ensure that Denmark constantly is in the forefront in relation to the prevention of torture and not sidelined due to other political motives. Torture does not fit to the values and standards of the modern world.
Any attempt to prevent such gross violations of Human Rights and to promote and improve psychosocial wellbeing and promote advocacy for survivor of torture and organized violence, is a great service to humanity. In the cooperation with PVCHR psychotherapeutic treatment to survivors of torture is provided. One of the methods being used is testimonial therapy, which has been rather successful in other countries. For instance victims treated with testimonial therapy demonstrated significant improvements in World Health Organization indicators for human well being (WHO 5). All of them expressed their satisfaction with the process, especially the public delivery ceremony. Survivors treated that by recording their stories and externalizing their private pain, survivors reframed their experiences to take on a social meaning within the context of human rights affirmation, and thereby regained their self-esteem and dignity. Therefore, what makes this method particularly interesting for human rights organizations is the fact that it integrates the preventive aspect with the therapy –it is healing, empowering, and it advocates for justice.
Together with PVCHR and Indian version has been developed. It this meeting several organizations will present their experiences with testimonies both as advocacy and healing. And I look forward to hear more about these and the following discussions.
I sincerely hope that this national consultation can contribute to the grand efforts that organizations around in India are doing, and I believe many positive things will come out of this consultation and new connections will be made.
Once more I am grateful to be here and see you all here. Thank you.