Advocating for Torture Survivor Rehabilitation
Our mission is to heal the wounds of torture on individuals, their families and their communities, and to stop torture worldwide. Through our work in Washington D.C., we give voice to people who were purposefully silenced by the perpetrators of torture. Join CVT and work to end torture by signing up today for our email updates and alerts.
Honoring Survivors June 26
In commemoration of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 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.
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.
Healing Resources for Survivors
Over a decade ago, Congress passed the first Torture Victims Relief Act (TVRA) with strong bipartisan support, authorizing funding to support programs domestically and overseas that carry out projects or activities specifically designed to treat victims for the physical and psychological effects of torture. This funding helps CVT provide healing services to 250 clients per year at our clinic in St. Paul and to thousands of survivors of torture and war trauma around the world. Nevertheless, with an estimated 500,000 survivors of torture in the United States and over 100 million worldwide, demand for services far exceeds resources.
CVT in partnership with the National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs (NCTTP) and Refugee Council USA advocates for increasing money appropriated to the Office of Refugee Resettlement Torture Treatment Fund, the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, and torture victims’ assistance through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). In April 2013, 23 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to the House Appropriations Committee and 12 Senators sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee in support of funding for these programs.
Ending Torture in a Post-September 11 World
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. government made a range of illegal and unwise decisions that led to the widespread and systematic use of torture and cruelty in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq, Guantanamo, Afghanistan and secret prisons around the world. Although in 2009 President Obama signed an executive order banning torture and cruel treatment, important work remains to be done to restore our national consensus against torture and ensure the United States never returns to these practices.
- CVT supports release of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) report on the CIA's detention and interrogation program post-September 11, 2001 with as few redactions as possible. Only when all the facts are known can we understand what went wrong and prevent such abuses from happening again in the future. As part of this effort, CVT urges the President to lead an agency-wide response to the SSCI report.
- Political, religious, human rights, national security, foreign policy, and military leaders also support declassifying the SSCI report.
- In commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the Reagan Administration signing the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, CVT issued the policy report, “U.S. Bi-Partisan Leadership Against Torture.” The report highlights historical bipartisan opposition to torture and calls for the United States to regain its global leadership again torture and cruel treatment. Read our op-ed in the Huffington Post, “The Convention Against Torture 25 Years Later.”
- In testimony provided to Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, CVT Executive Director Curt Goering addresses the human rights implications of indefinite detention of prisoners held at at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo.
- Read CVT’s position statement on Hunger Strikes and Forced Feeding at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo.
- Torture Without Scars educates elected officials and the media about the physical and psychological harm caused by abusive interrogation methods that were authorized as “enhanced interrogation techniques” for a time after September 11, 2001. The specific forms of abuse, including sexual humiliation, isolation and mock execution, were used strategically and in combination to break down detainees.
- Five Myths About Torture debunks common myths about what torture is and how it is used in the world.
- In 2008, CVT helped coordinate a bipartisan coalition of more than 200 foreign policy experts, retired military leaders, intelligence experts, security chiefs and faith leaders calling for the president to sign an Executive Order to ban torture and cruelty. The bipartisan group of supporters included six former Secretaries of State or Defense, three former National Security Advisors, four former members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and more than forty retired flag officers. The opening line of the Declaration of Principles for a Presidential Executive Order on Prisoner Treatment, Torture and Cruelty, stated, “Though we come from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life, we agree that the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against prisoners is immoral, unwise, and un-American.”
Protecting Survivors in the U.S.
Nearly all survivors we provide care to at our St. Paul Healing Center are refugees and over half are going through the asylum process. While in the asylum process, they are often separated from family members, who may remain in danger overseas, and continue to face the possibility of being returned to their torturers. In this state of limbo, survivors struggle with reaching a place of safety and stabilization through which their healing process can truly begin.
CVT is advocating for reforms to the U.S. asylum system that would address some of the dire challenges impacting survivors of torture as they attempt to navigate the complex and inefficient asylum process in the United States.
CVT and the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International released a report, Tortured & Detained: Survivor Stories of U.S. Immigration Detention, estimating the U.S. government, from October 2010 to February 2013, detained approximately 6,000 survivors of torture as they were seeking asylum protection. To illustrate the personal and psychological impact of the detention experience, CVT and TASSC conducted interviews with asylum seekers and torture survivors who have been held in immigration detention facilities in the United States. The report provides firsthand accounts of what asylum seekers and torture survivors are seeing, thinking, feeling, and enduring as they arrive in the United States and are arrested, shackled, and confined.
Read an op-ed in The Hill, Tortured and detained, by CVT's Director of the Washington Office, Annie Sovcik.
Read an op-ed in The Hill, “Don’t Forget Those Who Fled for Their Lives in Immigration Reform,” by CVT’s Executive Director, Curt Goering.