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The Issue

What is torture?

What is Torture?

According to the United Nations Convention Against Torture:

“…any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions.”

UN Convention Against Torture, United Nations, 10 December 1984

The Human Costs of Torture

Countless individuals across many countries of the world have been psychologically tortured by intimidation and threats and / or physically tortured by horrific means to further the goals of governments or because a government does not or cannot intervene to prevent it. Many of the tortured have been civilians.

As political upheavals continue to rage across parts of the world, torture doesn’t usually happen in isolation, as one discrete event. Torture most often involves a series of threats, periods of intimidation, and frequently involves beatings.

Some individuals are tortured in jails. These individuals may spend years of their lives locked away from society, only to find, when he or she is finally released – the world as they as they knew it before – is in chaos with family members dead or missing… homes destroyed… places of work or worship demolished… or taken over “under the color of law”. Nothing they knew as constant before exists.

The Repercussions of Torture Persist

  • Survivors of Torture have most often lost family, home, country, livelihoods, and they frequently have been brutally damaged emotionally and physically, frequently leaving them with little hope and lessened capacity, resources or support to carry on productive, meaningful lives.

  • If these survivors of torture are fortunate enough to escape from their country or region of torture, they face the challenge of how to survive in their new country. They may be physically safe, but the devastating physical and psychological effects of the torture often continue.

  • Depression and posttraumatic stress disorder have a high prevalence among torture survivors. Survivors also may be suffering from physical illnesses, such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, traumatic brain injury without any medical care options.

  • They may not be undergoing “torture” currently, but for many Survivors the torture continues in daily nightmares, insomnia, frequent flashbacks, depression, irritability, and with an overwhelming sense that no one understands or cares.

  • Many Survivors of Torture feel alone, scared, hopeless, and don’t know where to turn or whom to ask for help.

  • Sometimes, indeed, there are no resources or any information available to the Survivors of Torture or to health or social service providers in the Survivors’ new home location in the United States or in other host countries.

Torture Defined

The definition of torture used to determine the population eligible to be served by TVRA funds through the Office of Refugee Resettlement:

“Clients” are determined eligible for the Services for Torture Survivors Program in accordance with the TVRA authorizing legislation. This legislation uses the following definition of torture given in section 2340(1) of title 18, United States Code:

(1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;

(2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from:

(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;

(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality;

(C) the threat of imminent death; or

(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality

As used in the TVRA, this definition also includes the use of rape and other forms of sexual violence by a person acting under the color of law, upon another person under his custody or physical control.” (Office of Refugee Resettlement website, February, 2010.)

The Field of Torture Rehabilitation

Began worldwide in the 1960s in response to torture perpetuated by repressive governments and military dictatorships, resulting in the migrations of refugees – many of whom were torture survivors. In 1973, Amnesty International reports indicated 45% of the countries in the world were practicing torture systematically. In the year 2007 that number had increased to 53%. In response to the epidemic of torture, the first torture treatment programs were established in South and North America in the 1970’s and 1980s. The creation of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) in 1985 heralds the development of an international network of torture treatment programs.

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