From Prison Focus Issue 46
On June 26, 2015, designated the International Day to Support Victims of Torture, a webinar was presented by the US Human Rights Network and chaired by
Juan E. Méndez, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture. It invited viewers to submit questions and comments before and during the webinar, and provided a unique o-opportunity to hear experts discuss their work.
The event featured an impressive list of panelists in addition to Mr. Méndez, including Gerald Staberock, from World Organisation Against Torture, Carla Ferstman of UK hu-man rights organization, REDRESS, which helps survivors of torture obtain justice and reparation, and holds torturers accountable, Rev. Laura Markle Downton, Director of National Religious Campaign Against Torture’s U.S. Prisons & Policy Program, and Annie Sovcik, of Center for Victims of Torture which has offices in the United States, as well as in the Middle East and Africa.
Following are some interesting points that were presented:
● Definition of torture given by Mr Méndez: ‘the systematic taking of dignity’; the definition given by Annie Sovcik: “the intentional inflicting of pain on an-other.”
● Not all people who are tortured are “nice.” That doesn't matter. It is not a justification. Civil society must be mobilized against torture. There must be universal moral condemnation, we cannot afford double standards.
● Karla Ferstman noted that torture is about silencing dissent. It is allowed to flourish when there is no visibility.
● It is important to present the human face of torture victims in order to minimize the dehumanizing effects and influence on public opinion.
● In a survey of thirty-nine countries it was found that 35% of the population actually believed torture was justified after 9/11.
● Question raised: What happens to a country when it allows torture into the world’s bloodstream?
The webinar was moving, and well received. It was heartening to listen to these articulate committed people speak up on this issue.