International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims

BL: What is IRCT?

IRCT: The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) is an independent, international health professional organisation which promotes and supports the rehabilitation of torture survivors and works for the prevention of torture worldwide. The IRCT functions as an umbrella organisation representing 142 torture rehabilitation centres and programmes in 73 countries and a global Secretariat headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark.

BL: What is IRCT’s background?

IRCT: The medical response to the problem of torture began in 1973 with the launch of a campaign by Amnesty International (AI) to help and diagnose torture victims. The first AI group to begin this work was founded in Denmark in 1974. It quickly became evident that – in addition to documenting cases of torture for use in potential legal proceedings – it was also critical to identify methods to treat and rehabilitate victims of torture. In 1979, members of the Danish medical group obtained permission to examine torture victims at Copenhagen University Hospital. Three years later, in 1982, the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims (RCT) was founded by Dr Inge Genefke as an independent institution with its own premises. In response to a growing need for global support and assistance in the rehabilitation of torture victims, the IRCT was founded in 1985, initially as the international arm of the RCT. As demands continued to grow, the IRCT was established as an international and independent organisation in 1987.

BL: What practical activities do you, as an organization, undertake?

IRCT: The IRCT seeks to promote and support new and existing torture rehabilitation centres and programmes, and to initiate, develop and implement prevention and emergency intervention projects. Recent examples include setting up torture rehabilitation services in Iraq and Algeria, training health and legal professionals to gather forensic evidence to document torture allegations for court cases, and working with the media to speak out against torture. Our member centres provide direct medical and psychological treatment to torture survivors and their families.

BL: The 26th of June was the United Nations Day Against Torture, what did the IRCT do to mark the occasion?

IRCT: In Copenhagen, the IRCT mounted an exhibition of photos and testimonies of torture survivors and treatment providers, called Faces of Survival (a portion of which is available online). IRCT members throughout the world also marked 26 June through numerous events, such as press conferences, candlelight vigils, parades, performances and picnics.

BL: What do you see as being the main challenges you face going forward?

IRCT: Worldwide, there is a significant lack of resources available for rehabilitation of torture survivors, which leaves many centres struggling to keep their doors open and many survivors unable to access appropriate care. Likewise, there is a serious challenge related to the global discourse on torture – many people, particularly in Western countries, see torture only in relation to treatment terror suspects. But this is only a tiny fraction of torture cases; the majority of persons tortured in the world today are women, men and children who come from marginalized groups (minorities, refugees, the poor, detainees, etc.) and lack a voice to speak out against such treatment.
BL: Do you feel that that the UN Convention Against Torture is as strong as it could be?

IRCT: One of the major challenges with the Convention is that some State parties have ratified UNCAT but chosen not to implement the Convention to the full extent, such as by failing to enact national legislation that criminalises torture or adopting the definition of torture contained in the Convention. This leads to legal loopholes and a climate of impunity for perpetrators of torture. And while the Convention guarantees the rights of victims to obtain reparations, there is a serious lack of political will in many signatory countries to bring torture cases to trial.

BL: Can international lawyers in Brussels help IRCT?  

IRCT: The IRCT believes collaboration between the health and legal professions is crucial to torture prevention and the struggle against impunity. We encourage lawyers to become trained in using the Istanbul Protocol, a set of guidelines for the effective investigation and documentation of torture that can produce evidence useful in court proceedings. Many IRCT member centres offer legal support to torture survivors, and welcome assistance. Since many torture survivors in Europe are refugees or asylum seekers, lawyers can also help us to speak to international and regional bodies on the importance of early identification of these persons by border/immigration authorities and ensuring they receive appropriate treatment and support – and not be subject to detention.

BL: Are there any other ways to help or participate?

IRCT: Of course, financial support to the IRCT and its member centres goes a long way to help torture survivors and keep treatment and other support services functioning. We also encourage all forms of activism – speaking out against torture in political fora, petitioning governments to ratify and abide by international conventions, attending events sponsored by local human rights groups.

BL: Good luck.  Thank you for your time.

Other features dealing with related issues:

Indra Van Gisbergen, Globalization of Justice Project Officer at Avocats Sans Frontières

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