June 26 is recognized internationally as United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. On this day in 1987, the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment went into effect. Every year, CVT commemorates the day with special events to recommit ourselves to heal survivors and end torture.
Thank you for sending us your messages in support of healing for survivors and a world without torture. Take a look at our June 26, 2013 photo album on Facebook and read about the events that took place at CVT healing initiatives and offices in Dadaab and Nairobi, Kenya, Jordan, Ethiopia, Washington, D.C. and St. Paul, MN. You can also read the 26 June Global Report 2013 - UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture featuring events held worldwide to commemorate the day.
CVT Ethiopia, our newest healing project, held special events in honor of June 26 to share information about CVT and its work with Eritrean refugees. CVT staff held a conference in May Tsebry to introduce CVT to the community and the organizations working with Eritrean refugees in the camps in northern Ethiopia. Representatives from the UN High Commission for Refugees, Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), all the NGOs and refugee associations at both Mai-Aini and Adi Harush camps attended. CVT Ethiopia staff posted banners in both camps as well. Another conference was held July 2 in Shimelba. In the photo on the right, CVT Logistics Advisor Asfaw Zegayae Woldeyohannes stands in front of one of the banners displayed in the camp.
CVT Jordan hosted a special gathering on June 26 for survivors who receive care from CVT and their family members. In Jordan, CVT provides services at our center in Amman and in communities north of that city. So staff arranged for buses to transport over 100 guests from the northern communities so Iraqi and Syrian refugees could commemorate the day together with the CVT Jordan staff.
Simone van der Kaaden, CVT Jordan country director, and Ruth Barrett-Rendler, deputy director, addressed staff and guests. In addition to survivors, family members and CVT staff, special guests included Peter T. Chisholm, Regional Refugee Coordinator and Mirna Torres, Political officer, from the US Embassy and representatives from the US State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, and Lora Wentzel, USAID/Jordan Mission, which funds our work in Jordan.
There were poems and a testimony written and read by Iraqi and Syrian survivors, a beautiful song sung in the oral tradition of storytelling by a young boy, his brother and his father. Then the staff led the children in a candle-lighting ceremony.
After the formal program, volunteers organized games for the children and their families, including face painting for the youngest children and snacks for everyone. Each child received a coloring book wrapped in shiny silver paper which was received with great excitement. There was so much happiness and gratitude from the clients and families, with tears of sadness and joy, laughter and many moments of family tenderness.
The CVT Dadaab team organized a wonderful day of commemoration for refugees living in this large complex in northeast Kenya. The day began with a prayer led by a member of CVT’s network of religious and community leaders. Because CVT works closely with refugees from Somalia and Ethiopia, both communities presented a variety of performances including drama, dance and songs that focused on the healing services provided by CVT. One community member recited a poem that focused on services for torture and war survivors. The poem helped raise visibility and understanding of the work done by CVT to help survivors of torture and horrible war experiences recover and regain functioning.
A survivor who received care from CVT Dadaab also recited a poem that talked of the good work done by CVT. The chairman of the Ifo refugee camp gave a speech and praised CVT for providing psychosocial services to torture and trauma survivors. He said, “The work done by CVT counselors has transformed many traumatized refugees in Ifo and we, the community, appreciate this service.”
The program was honored by the UN High Commission for Refugees Deputy Head of Operations, who read the UN Secretary General’s speech and elaborated more on the day’s theme. The Government of Kenya was represented by the District Officer one who emphasized the need to continue supporting torture survivors and also in ensuring that no one perpetrates torture against anyone.
One staff person from another NGO told CVT that he did not fully understand the work CVT did until he saw the faces of survivors reacting to the performances and speeches. Others in attendance included representatives from the World Food Programme, Inter-news, Medecins Sans Frontieres Swiss-Dagaharey and staff with the Refugee Consortium of Kenya. Nearly 100 people attended the occasion.
In the Kayole neighborhood in the Eastlands area of Nairobi, CVT Nairobi organized a June 26 commemoration that included survivors, friends, family, community members and refugees who have sought safe haven in this Kenyan city. The theme this year was ‘Rehabilitation Works’ and many in the audience wore CVT t-shirts with the message, ‘World Without Torture.’
At the Kayole Community Center, the day was filled with smiling faces, performances of all types, speeches, a market featuring handcrafts made by refugees, and concluded with a meal provided for about 400 guests. Performances came from a wide range of artists, including traditional Burundi and Somali dance groups, spoken word and hip hop performances, a gospel choir, and a self-care presentation by CVT counselors.
The most moving performances were by survivors who received care from CVT Nairobi’s team of counselors and physiotherapists. A group of men performed a song written to express their new-found hope for the future and their gratitude to CVT for helping them rediscover their value. Another group of women were introduced by a friend who said, “Two months ago you would not recognize these women – they could not smile.” But they stood before the large crowd singing, dancing and with smiles on their faces. When both groups performed, the atmosphere became electric. Men, women and youth jumped up in their seats clapping, dancing and ululating. CVT staff stood in front of the stage dancing, their faces showing incredible joy for these men and women.
CVT and our guests were honored with a visit and speeches by Pius Ondachi, Assistant County Commissioner, and Hillary C. Chumo, Chief Kayole Location. Ondachi and Chumo also spent time talking to the artisans in the market. CVT Psychologist/Trainer Ilya Yacevich also spoke, reading from the UN Secretary General’s statement in honor of June 26, and Holly Ziemer, director of communications, spoke honoring our guests and invoking CVT’s commitment to heal survivors and work to end torture.
In Washington, D.C., CVT, in partnership with the Human Rights Institute at Georgetown Law and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, sponsored a symposium (video) on “Torture is a Weapon Against Democracy: How the United States is Working to End Torture Globally” on June 26, 2013, at Georgetown Law. Click here for the full agenda and speaker bios and here for photos.
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont received the annual Eclipse Award for his leadership in the protection of refugees, promotion of human rights, prevention of torture, and efforts to ensure survivors of torture have access to rehabilitative care. Following the presentation of the award, Senator Leahy gave remarks. Read about all CVT Eclipse Award Recipients (PDF)
The first panel was moderated by CVT’s Senior Policy Counsel Melina Milazzo. Speakers were Daniel Baer from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; Omar Bah, a journalist from The Gambia; Ambassador Mark Lagon from Georgetown University; and Jennifer Windsor from Georgetown University. Some of the topics discussed were the relationship between human rights and democracy, the effect that torture has on democracy, what steps are being taken within U.S. foreign policy goals to end the use of torture globally, and why U.S. leadership in combatting torture is important. Omar Bah read excerpts from his upcoming book about his experiences being tortured as a young journalist in The Gambia.
The second panel was moderated by Director of CVT’s Washington Office Annie Sovcik. Speakers were Lorne Craner from the International Republican Institute; Sarah E. Mendelsohn from the U.S. Agency for International Development; Juan E. Mendez, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Margaret Pollack from the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration; and Paula Schriefer from the State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs. Some of the topics discussed were the right of torture survivors to have to have access to rehabilitative care, programs providing support to survivors of torture and war trauma in refugee camps and post-conflict settings and the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.
At the symposium’s conclusion, CVT Board Member and Dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs Eric Schwartz spoke on the need for the United States, in regard to human rights, to practice at home what it preaches abroad.
St. Paul, Minnesota
More than 100 people filled our St. Paul Healing Center on June 26 to honor UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Survivors, volunteers, staff and board members enjoyed a dinner buffet provided by staff and volunteers. Interpreters helped with communication for those who needed it.
The event included comments by our board chair, staff and a survivor, as well as the opportunity to make a bracelet representing hope, dignity and respect. The “Healing Connections” award was given to Howard Cutts for his community work on behalf of survivors.