Preventing Burnout Among Those who Work with Survivors
People who work with survivors of torture, whether healthcare and social service professionals or citizen volunteers, may themselves be susceptible to what’s variously referred to as indirect, secondary, or vicarious trauma. As one of the therapists we interviewed for our film, Refuge: Caring for Survivors of Torture, describes it: “When clients were telling me what had been done to them, I got pictures in my head, and I couldn’t get the pictures to go away.”
The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims has launched a peer support project for some of its member organizations in Austria, Bulgaria, France, Ireland, Romania, and United Kingdom. IRCT hopes to expand the program in the future. For information, contact the project coordinators for more information: Helene de Rengervé (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Marnix de Witte (email@example.com). Also available from IRCT is the 2011 Manual for Good Practice and Management in Trauma Centers, by Christian Pross.
The IRCT website is an outstanding source for ongoing information about torture and torture treatment throughout the world, as is its blog, World Without Torture.
Preventing Torture Through Forensic Documentation
Getting the Evidence, a report just released by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, cites specific cases in a number of countries to focus on the crucial role of forensic examination and documentation in proving that torture has occurred and preventing its recurrence. Forensics may involve not only physicians, but psychologists, psychiatrists, physical anthropologists and other professionals.
As the report notes, “International law obliges states to properly investigate all allegations of torture and to punish those responsible…Yet torture often takes place in secret, and many torture methods are designed to be as painful as possible without leaving physical marks.” (Though not the focus of this report, forensic evidence may be tremendously important in supporting claims by survivors for political asylum.)
“Unfortunately, torturers know of the difficulty of proving torture and therefore find ways of avoiding accountability.”
— Juan Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture
“It’s very important to bring survivors of torture to speak out…What they say is not only incredibly powerful, but is what the torturers would never like to hear.”
— Mostafa Hussein, El Nadim Center for Psychological Treatment
and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, Egypt
Condition Reports on Countries that Torture
The Florida Center for Survivors of Torture & Refugee Services has released a series of brief reports on the conditions – with regard to torture – in several countries of concern. Country Condition Reports, accessible online, are currently available for Afghanistan, Burma, Bhutan, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria. The reports “provide historical timelines, brief descriptions of common methods of torture, and synopses of current conditions and pertinent issues related to each country.” The Florida Center is a project of Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services.
The Children of Gaza are Again “Collateral Damage”
The report below comes from the Ma’an News Service, based in the West Bank and Gaza, and is passed on by the Middle East Children’s Alliance, a U.S. group that works with and supports humanitarian aid to children in Palestine and other areas in the Middle East.
GAZA CITY – Hamid Younis Abu Daqqa, 13, always wore his Real Madrid shirt when he played soccer with his friends. He died wearing the same shirt, killed by Israeli forces before the second half of a game with friends could be finished. His father said Hamid would imitate Real Madrid star Ronaldo while playing in front of his Gaza home.
“My house is located in an area away from clashes, nearly one and a half kilometers away from the nearest point of the borders with Israel, therefore I didn’t have a problem with my son playing in front of the house,” Hamid’s father told Ma’an. “I received a phone call. His friend was on the phone telling me that my son was shot in the chest. I rushed to the hospital and found him dying.”
Hamid would never miss a Real Madrid game. “Despite me pushing him to focus on his schoolwork, he would be mesmerized in front of the TV screen watching games,” his father said. Hamid used to play soccer every day for 30 minutes before sundown, his attention focused on the ball, blocking out the sound of Israeli helicopters.
It was during a game he loved that Hamid was killed, his white Real Madrid shirt stained red as the bullets hit him. Medics said Hamid was hit by machine gun fire, either from Israeli helicopters or tanks, during an incursion into the Gaza Strip on Thursday. An Israeli army spokeswoman said at the time that reports of injuries were being checked.
Hamid’s funeral took place on Friday, a Palestinian flag draped over his body.
I will also pass on, without comment, some of what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to say regarding today’s Israeli air strike which killed a top Hamas commander, among others: “Today we sent a clear message to Hamas and other terrorist organizations and, if it becomes necessary, we are prepared to expand the operation…” And Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quoted as saying, “We are at the beginning, not the end of this action…It won’t be a quick fix, but we’ll reach the goals we set for this operation.”
A piece on the Common Ground website reports that the Israel Defense Forces tweeted “All options are on the table. If necessary, the IDF is ready to initiate a ground operation in Gaza,” and Haaretz reports that the IDF has issued draft orders for Israeli Homefront Command reserve soldiers.
Suggesting that Israel is planning for a sustained assault — and perhaps believes it has divine support — the campaign now has a name, Operation Pillar of Cloud, as in Exodus 13:21-22: “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way…”
For a visceral and incredibly persuasive understanding of what life in Gaza may again be under Israeli bombardment, try to find a way to see the film The War Around Us, by the only two Western journalists in Gaza during the war of 2008-9 (the one Israel calls “Operation Cast Lead.”) It’s only getting limited showings to date — mostly in festivals — but maybe will be in (some) theaters before long. There is a poor quality trailer that can be viewed on YouTube. You could also contact the producers via their Facebook page to ask what’s up and encourage them to release the film more widely.
A senior Salvadoran military officer involved in plotting the murder of six Jesuit faculty members at the University of Central America has pled guilty to immigration fraud. The trial concluded in mid-November. Prosecutors are asking for a 15-24 month sentence, but human rights organizations demand that Inocente Orlando Montano be deported to Spain, which wants to try him for the killing of the priests, five of whom were Spaniards. Since it is highly unlikely that El Salvador will ever prosecute Montano, or others accused of war crimes during the country’s bloody civil war, trial in Spain might be the only opportunity to challenge the impunity they have enjoyed to date.
Sentencing on the immigration charge (and presumably any decision about deportation) will happen in December. As the Boston Globe’s article suggested, the former Colonel (at center in photo below) appeared to be playing up his age and alleged infirmity during the hearing: “Montano stood hunched over before US District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock as he entered his pleas through a Spanish interpreter to charges of immigration fraud and perjury. The 70-year-old man’s cane fell as he answered, ‘Guilty,’ to six charges.”
Montano had been living under his own name in the Boston suburb of Everett for years before being located and identified by the human rights groups last year. In addition to the six Jesuits, Salvadoran troops – many of them trained at the infamous U.S. School of the Americas – also killed the men’s housekeeper and her daughter.
As I reported a year ago, Montano repeatedly lied in his annual applications for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States, denying that he had ever been in the military, received military or weapons training, or been “part of any unit that had used or threatened to use weapons against other people.”
NOTE: See Wednesday’s post regarding the alleged ties between Mitt Romney’s firm, Bain Capital, and the backers of Salvadoran death squads.
Therapy Across Cultural & Linguistic Barriers
“It’s been reported…that most Latinos who seek mental health services never return after that first visit.” That disturbing comment was part of Neal Conan’s introduction to a National Public Radio broadcast of several months ago. Conan and guests explored some of the problems mental health professionals may face in working with immigrant clients who don’t speak English, or speak it as a second language, and who have different cultural traditions and expectations.
The interviewees were Stacey Lambert, Director of the Latino Mental Health program at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology in Boston, and Karen Hanscom, Director of Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma (ASTT), which serves the Baltimore and Washington, DC, areas. ASTT is an Outreach Partner of the Refuge Media Project, and is one of the founders of the Voices of Love project which trains interpreters to work with torture survivors. I won’t try to summarize their fairly free-flowing discussion, but some of the themes touched upon were:
- The crucial importance of both cultural competence and linguistic competence – beyond classroom level – for therapists;
- The differing weights given to family ties vs. individual autonomy in many immigrant cultures;
- Differing understandings of the origins and meanings of the states we refer to as mental illness, and of appropriate treatments;
- The frequent necessity of using family members as interpreters, which can create a number of issues: for example, clients may be unwilling to speak openly, and those interpreting may not translate things they think are inappropriate. Hanscom pointed out that “most of the individuals that we see have never told another family member or anyone else about the experiences that they’ve had. This is sometimes the very first time that they’ve spoken about these things.”
The discussion ranged from the somewhat theoretical to the very down-to-earth. For example, the lack of linguistically-competent therapists may not only lead to serious misunderstandings, but it also means that a great many non-English-speaking clients wait longer to get an appointment.
With regard to differing world views – often expressed through religion, Hanscom points out that immigrants may have different views of “why bad things happen to good people. For example, we have some people who believe that their trauma is related to karma. Others believe that they’re being tested by God…In the United States we’re taught, as psychologists, that we really don’t get into one’s religion. Yet with the torture survivors that we see, to not do so would be quite an error.”
A caller, Mark, who described himself as a
substance abuse counselor, related this story…
We had an incident where a translator was called to an emergency room because the ER people had this Mexican guy who was reporting hearing voices, so they thought he was schizophrenic. She sits down with him and says, “I understand you’re hearing voices when no one is there.” And he says, “Yes, that’s right.” And she says, “Well, what are the voices saying?” He says, “I don’t know.”
She says, “Can’t you hear them?” And he says, “Oh, I can hear them just fine, but they’re speaking in English.” So he’s having oratory hallucinations in a language he doesn’t speak, which is unusual, to say the least. And at that point, the page clicks in and says, “Dr. Jones to the emergency room.” The patient looks at the translator and says, “You see? There it is again.”
Both photos above are from the website of Advocates for Survivors of Torture & Trauma. The first one was taken by a survivor as part of ASTT’s Healing Images project. Its caption reads: “Look at these girls! Their lives are beautiful and without worry. They reflect the joy of life. Will my life one day resemble that of these little ones?”
We imagine cigarette burns, broken bones, livid scars, missing limbs, but the wounds of modern torture are often invisible. The “enhanced interrogation techniques” that U.S. interrogators have developed – forced nakedness, sleep deprivation, stress positions, solitary confinement, threats against loved ones – leave no scars.
A new advocacy site from the Center for Victims of Torture (one of the programs profiled in our forthcoming documentary, Refuge: Caring for Survivors of Torture) describes and illustrates some of those techniques. Note that some of the images included may be quite disturbing. The main page also links to a discussion of how to take action to stop torture, and to several short videos showing “how abuses were used in combination to compound the harm.”
“Part of the terror and fear was humiliation, degradation, knowing that this could happen with impunity…If the Americans are doing it, and they’re not accountable, then who’s going to come to your rescue?”
— Moazzam Begg, former detainee released without charge in 2005
Suicide Among Bhutanese Refugees
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, together with the Refugee Health Technical Assistance Center (RHTAC), have published An Investigation into Suicides among Bhutanese Refugees in the U.S. documenting sixteen suicides that occurred from 2009-2012 among Bhutanese refugees resettled in the United States – a higher rate than reported among other immigrant populations. Most of those who killed themselves were unemployed men, and among the most common post-migration problems cited were “worries about families back home and difficulty maintaining cultural and religious traditions.” RHTAC notes that comments and questions about the report can be submitted to its Community Dialogue site, and will be answered by the study team.
The latest issue of Torture, the journal of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims is now available online. One of this issue’s scientific articles discusses the psychological status of young Bosnian refugees interned in Denmark.
The article notes that some of the families of these youth had been living in Denmark for as long as two-and-a-half years, waiting for the right to apply for asylum, and were still housed in refugee camps. Under the “temporary living permits” granted to them, they were not permitted to work or to attend Danish schools. The youth in the study were living in special boarding schools organized by Danish Refugee Aid, and staffed by volunteer Bosnian teachers.
The study reported that 38-43% of the study participants could be diagnosed as having PTSD. Despite the multiple traumas the youth had experienced, the researchers considered this alarmingly high given that most had relatively intact family structures. Studies of other unaccompanied minors in European countries have shown PTSD prevalence in the range of 20%. “The level of PTSD in this study,” they note, “is comparable to early adolescents and children living in African and Asian refugee camps, where prevalence ranges between 35-75%.”
Back issues of Torture are available on the IRCT website.
(Illustrations above from Center for Victims of Torture)
Alfred McCoy’s 2006 A Question of Torture was one of the first and most valuable books I read as I was beginning research for my documentary, Refuge: Caring for Survivors of Torture. Subtitled “CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror,” it was, and remains, an invaluable analysis of the deterioration of U.S. political and military ethics that led to Abu Ghraib. McCoy’s new book, Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation documents the continuation of many of the same policies into the Obama administration, and promises to be as eye-opening and important as his earlier work.
Many Americans have condemned the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used in the War on Terror as a transgression of human rights. But the United States has done almost nothing to prosecute past abuses or prevent future violations. Tracing this knotty contradiction from the 1950s to the present, historian Alfred W. McCoy probes the political and cultural dynamics that have made impunity for torture a bipartisan policy of the U.S. government.
— Publisher’s blurb
The Migration & Human Rights Project at Boston College
Boston College’s Center for Human Rights and International Justice has released the 2012 Annual Report of its Migration & Human Rights Project. It’s available in English and Spanish, and features articles dealing with the Project’s collaborations with immigrant community groups, as well as recent legal news about deportation law reform, and ongoing research about migrants and human rights in Guatemala.
The Migration and Human Rights Project includes ongoing programs on ethical issues raised by the plight of refugees and displaced persons; urban refugees; the human rights of migrants; the human rights of deportees; the situations of transnational and mixed-status families; and others.
“List of Shame” Documents Abuse of Children in Conflict
The United Nations issues an annual overview of the situation of children affected by armed conflict throughout the world. This year’s Annual Report of the Secretary-General, covering calendar year 2011, documents the recruitment and use of children in warfare, sexual violence against children, the killing and maiming of children, the abduction of children, attacks on schools and hospitals, and the denial of humanitarian access to children. It reports on situations in 23 countries including, for the first time, Syria and Libya.
Each year, the Secretary-General also lists parties to conflict who have committed the most grave violations against children, in what has become known as the List of Shame. This year’s list has grown to 52 perpetrators, including 32 Persistent Perpetrators who have been listed for at least 5 years. (For additional information on issues affecting children caught up in conflict situations, visit the website of the Watchlist on Children in Armed Conflict.)
Documenting Allegations of Torture
“International bodies and mechanisms have been created to address the problem of torture, but their effectiveness depends on the information which is sent to them. A lot of the information received is wasted because it is sent to the wrong body, presented in an inappropriate way, or seems unreliable.” The very comprehensive and detailed Torture Reporting Handbook, in English, Spanish, Turkish, and six other languages, is available online from Britain’s University of Essex. Also available are Combating Torture, a manual intended specifically for judges and prosecutors, and Reporting Killings as Human Rights Violations, “a reference guide for anyone who wishes to know how to take action in response to allegations of suspicious deaths.”
For a World Without Torture
After a bit of a slow start, World Without Torture, a blog sponsored by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims has become a frequent and reliable source of information on what’s going on in the world of torture prevention and treatment. The current post (as of 8/31) comments on the decision, announced by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, that the Justice Department will not pursue any criminal charges related to Bush-era torture charges: “Yet again, crimes that took place during the Bush era will be pushed aside. Whatever the reasons given for this decision, the reality remains that crimes occurred – torture – in clear violation of international law.”
A recent post reported on the fact that South Africa, a democracy now 20 years old, has yet to make torture, including many incidents that have led to deaths, a criminal offense. A bill to remedy this is currently before the South African Parliament. Another reports the selection of Gambia’s Fatou Bensounda as the first African and first woman as chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court.
Of particular interest to those working in torture treatment might be a trio of short documentaries from Sri Lanka’s Survivors Associated, sharing the stories of several survivors and the holistic rehabilitative methods used in their treatment.
Detention as “The Second Torture”
From the British organization Medical Justice, this report from earlier in the year, The Second Torture, investigates the cases of 50 refugees who had clear medical evidence of having been tortured and, under Britain’s “Rule 35,” should therefore not have been held in detention – only one was in fact released. All of the others were held in detention for an average of 226 days. “Two of the 50 were forcibly returned to their countries of origin and endured torture for a second time. Both managed to flee again, claimed asylum for a second time, and were detained again in the UK.”
The Guardian (UK) reports that some of those detained are launching a legal challenge for false imprisonment, following criticism by the UNHCR that “inadequate screening processes meant rape victims and torture survivors who claimed asylum in Britain could find themselves being led off to a detention center in handcuffs.”
Ken Pope has announced an update and expansion of his valuable website listing resources for torture victims, refugees, and asylum seekers. Documenting the forced displacement of more than 800,000 refugees in 2011 – the highest number in over a decade, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, earlier this summer released 2011 in Review, its annual evaluation of the situation of refugees worldwide.
Dad says, “I’ve made mistakes in my life…”
Well, we didn’t get any takers on our offer of a free DVD to the first person to guess the sentence handed out to “Daddy Waterboard.” Too Bad – but, anyway, here’s what happened:
On September 2, 2010, Joshua Ryan Tabor was sentenced to spend two months in jail for waterboarding his four year old daughter because she refused to recite the alphabet. Two months might not seem like much, but it’s two months more than the guy pictured here, who’s done more than any other national leader to persuade people that waterboarding is no big deal.
According to The Olympian, Joshua Tabor pled guilty under an “Alford plea” to three counts of third-degree felony assault of a child. “Under an Alford plea,” the paper noted, “a defendant does not admit guilt but concedes there is enough evidence to convict if the case goes forward at trial. As part of the plea deal, a prosecutor agreed to recommend that Tabor serve one month under a first-time offender waiver.” The judge, however, did not accept that recommendation.
The girl’s grandmother gave a written statement indicating that her granddaughter suffered from recurring nightmares that her father was trying to drown her, and from possibly permanent hearing loss resulting from blows to the head. “To this day, she is deathly afraid of water on her face, where she would swim underwater prior to arriving at Joshua’s home.”
During Tabor’s trial, his attorney advanced the defense that he suffers from PTSD as a result of his military deployments, though other testimony cited bullying behavior dating from before his service. According to the newspaper account, “he did not directly apologize for his actions, instead saying, ‘I’ve made mistakes in my life.’” Tabor’s attorney asked the court to include language in the judgment that would permit him to continue to possess a firearm, but the judge refused.
Former VP Dick Cheney doesn’t acknowledge ever having made any mistakes but, he shares responsibility for what Joshua Tabor did to his little girl. Will Cheney ever be called to account for this, or for what he’s done to our national self-respect? Don’t count on it.
Does Anybody Remember ‘Daddy Waterboard’?
No, I don’t mean Delaware physician, Melvin Morse, who was accused this week of holding his 11-year-old daughter’s face under a running faucet. More about Morse later, but this is not the first reported U.S. case of a child being tortured in this way by a parent. Some of this post may be painful to read, but hang in there.
In January of 2010, according to ABC News and other sources, Takoma, Washington soldier Joshua Ryan Tabor, was arrested for waterboarding his 4-year-old daughter “because she refused to recite the alphabet.” Tabor had served as a mechanic in Iraq, and according to neighbors he had “anger management issues.” Police were called out when he was reported walking around the neighborhood wearing battle gear and threatening to break neighbors’ windows.
When police went to the home he shared with his girlfriend, Callie Combs, they found the little girl hiding in the bathroom. She had “multiple bruises pretty much all over her body,” they reported. What follows is from the police officers’ report at the scene, as entered into court testimony. Read carefully; there’s a test question at the end…
Callie disclosed that Joshua “beats” his four year old daughter, EJT…stating that EJT’s back was currently “covered in bruises…” Callie stated that EJT has been “wetting herself” which upsets both she and Joshua since they feel that she should be fully potty trained. Callie described that oftentimes when EJT wets her pants, Joshua makes her sit in the urine-soaked clothes until he “gives her permission to change her clothes.”
Callie was able to coax EJT out of the bathroom to speak with Officer Eriksen. EJT appeared to be a bright articulate four-year-old of average to above intelligence…
EJT had severe brusing on her entire back, focused near the center of her back and near her right shoulder. She had scratch marks on her back as well that were made in a downward motion. EJT also had bruising on both of her arms, legs and buttocks. She had bruising on the front and back of her neck/throat area and a large bruise on her chin. Officer Eriksen also noticed additional bruising on the thin cartilage portion of her upper ears…EJT was asked how she got the bruises and she replied, “Daddy did it”…
Joshua…admitted that he was upset with EJT and he and Callie had held her down on the counter and submerged her head into the water three or four times until the water came around her forehead and jawline…for refusing to say her letters. Joshua stated that EJT is scared of the water and was squirming around to try to get away from the water. Joshua did not act as though he felt there was anything wrong with this form of punishment.
So, here’s our question, and an offer:
We’ll give a free DVD of our forthcoming documentary film, Refuge, to the first person who correctly comes up with the jail sentence Joshua Tabor received – based on the above facts, and more – on the charge of “Assault of a Child in the Second Degree.” Use the “Reply/Comments” box at the end of this post.
It wasn’t a one-time thing…
So let’s get back to this week’s alleged incident of waterboarding of a child: Dr. Melvin Morse is described by the Associated Press as “a U.S. pediatrician who achieved national recognition for his research into near-death experiences involving children.” Morse has appeared on Oprah, Larry King Live, and Good Morning America. On his website, he quotes NBC News as saying “Dr Morse has done more to prove the existence of life after death than any other scientist.”
However, in his present life, Morse is alleged to have “disciplined” his stepdaughter four times over two years – since she was 8 or 9 years old – by holding her face under a running faucet. The AP article cited police speculation in court documents that he “may have been experimenting on his 11-year-old stepdaughter by waterboarding her.”
Reuters cites police reports that the abuse came to light when neighbors called the police after Morse was seen dragging the child by the ankles over a gravel driveway when she refused to get out of the car. She mentioned the water punishment when she was interviewed by police, and said that her father called it “waterboarding.”
Morse and his wife, Pauline, of Georgetown, Delaware, were arrested on assault, child endangerment, and conspiracy charges. In a telephone interview with the AP, Morse said that “the charges against him are an overreaction from authorities who were criticized in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal involving another pediatrician.” However, the AP says he ended the interview before he could be asked directly about the waterboarding allegation.
How Should We React?
I don’t want to make any assumptions about Morse’s guilt or innocence at this point, but here are some questions I think we have to ask ourselves:
- Both cases only came to light because of the fathers’ erratic or punitive behavior in public, while the waterboarding itself (alleged, in Morse’s case) took place in private. Have there been other cases that have gone undiscovered? One case may have seemed like an aberration, but maybe it wasn’t.
- Given the efforts of former VP Dick Cheney and others in the Bush administration to redefine waterboarding as a relatively mild form of “enhanced interrogation,” is it conceivable that water torture has become an acceptable form of discipline for some parents?
- If that’s what’s going on, if these two cases are the tip of an iceberg, how do we even begin to respond?
No More Euphemisms: Waterboarding is Torture
The latest issue (#22) of the journal Torture, published by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims includes, as usual, a number of articles of interest to both professional and general readers. I was particularly struck by physician Jonathan Beynon’s contribution, “Not waving, drowning,” which, as far as I’m concerned, explodes forever any argument that waterboarding can be discussed as anything other than torture. No more “enhanced interrogation,” no more “simulated drowning.” (The IRCT Journal Torture is available online or by print subscription.)
When it comes to employing asphyxia through drowning as a so-called method of interrogation, there can be no simulation. Either you are subjected to and experiencing asphyxia and the process of drowning, or you are not. If I put a plastic bag over your head and hold it in position until you experience difficulty breathing, am I simulating depriving you of oxygen, or am I depriving you of oxygen? Self-evidently it is the latter. The person subjected to submarine or waterboarding is not waving, but drowning; they are being involuntarily subjected to the severe pain and suffering of the process of drowning for the purpose of interrogation. They are being subjected to torture.
According to the Open Society Foundations, “the eastern areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo have been called the worst areas in the world to be a woman or child. For the past 15 years, women and girls in the region have suffered mass sexual violence on an unimaginable scale, perpetrated by the Congolese army, rebels, militias, and others. Impunity has been the rule…”
Justice in DRC is a brief report documenting the Foundations’ creation of mobile gender courts which, according to the document, “have brought a measure of justice – and dignity – to victims. The full title of the report is Justice in DRC: Mobile Courts Combat Rape and Impunity in Eastern Congo.
Colombia’s Children at Risk, with “No One to Trust”
This recent (April, 2012) report from the organization Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict documents the disastrous situation of children and young people as a result of the country’s decades-long civil wars. The 52-page analysis is available online in English and Spanish.
Girls and boys have been subjected to forced recruitment, rape and sexual violence, killing and maiming, and have been seriously affected by attacks against schools and the denial of humanitarian assistance…More than half of an estimated 3.9 to 5.3 million internally displaced people in Colombia are under 18, rendering them even more vulnerable to the threats that caused them to flee their homes in the first place.
Health Professionals in Immigration
Detention Centers Face “Dual Loyalties”
This report was published in 2011, but I only came across it recently. I found it of particular interest because of my past film work on ethical issues in healthcare. Dual Loyalties: The Challenges of Providing Professional Health Care to Immigration Detaines was written by Christy Fujio, an attorney who currently heads up the Asylum Program of Physicians for Human Rights. It looks at the ethical conflicts faced by healthcare professionals working in the growing industry of immigrant detention. As of the time of writing, the report notes that “approximately 400,000 people, including elderly, women, mentally ill and disabled people, are detained each year in restrictive conditions that have been designed for punitive purposes.”
In the conditions that prevail in many of these facilities — a growing proportion of which are for-profit businesses — even the best-intentioned of health workers will find themselves facing pressures to act in ways that may violate their professional ethics.
Operating within a law enforcement organization whose chief mission is to control and eventually remove undocumented immigrants from the U.S. creates numerous loyalty conflicts for health practitioners torn between acting in their patients’ best interests and serving the mission and needs of the U.S. government…
Dual Loyalties documents several cases in which the failure of healthcare workers to follow ethical guidelines resulted in harm to, or the death of, detainees; it notably does not include cases in which caregivers behaved ethically, in opposition to the pressures of their employers. Nor does it offer much evidence that healthcare professionals working in these environments in fact feel “torn.” This may be not so much a case of dual loyalties as of a near total breakdown of any sense of professional responsibility toward detainee patients.
The Mills of the Gods Grind Slow,
but They Grind Exceeding Fine…
Sorry for the cliché (these days more commonly quoted as “The Wheels of Justice…”), but it’s what comes to mind when confronted with the intolerably slow process of prosecuting the worst human rights violations of the past century. Still, there have been some recent victories:
LIBERIA/SIERRA LEONE: In late May, the former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, became the first head of state convicted by an international tribunal since the Nuremberg trials after World War II. Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison by the International Criminal Court, for his role in atrocities committed during the civil war in Sierra Leone during the 1990s. The presiding judge, Richard Lussick, said Taylor’s actions amounted to “aiding and abetting, as well as planning, some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history.”
The sentence today does not replace amputated limbs; it does not bring back those who were murdered. It does not heal the wounds of those who were raped or forced to become sexual slaves.
— Chief Prosecutor Brenda Hollis
ARGENTINA: In early July, former dictators Rafael Videla and Reynaldo Bignone were convicted of overseeing the systematic theft of babies born to parents imprisoned in the 1970’s, during the country’s “dirty war.” Videla’s 50-year sentence, and Bignone’s 15-years, however, are essentially symbolic, since both men area already serving life sentences for torture and murder during their rule. Videla (pictured) is now 86, Bignone, 84. Nine other military and police officials were also convicted in the case.
During the dictatorship, hundreds of children were taken from detainees and given to police or military families. In some cases pregnant prisoners were held until they delivered their babies, and were then murdered or “disappeared.”
The famed “Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo,” have helped over a hundred of the stolen children to reclaim their identities through DNA testing, and estimate there may be hundreds more yet unidentified.
In recognition of the need to offer closure to the victims of dictatorship-era crimes, Argentina has taken steps to speed up their normal judicial process before the perpetrators die of old age. Jonathan Gilbert wrote in the Christian Science Monitor: “It is an attempt to not only bring justice, but a sense of closure to a tragic period in the country’s recent past.”
In the past, cases involved huge volumes of evidence, and victims were required to testify on several occasions. Trials have since been expedited by allowing judges to combine cases. Victims may also testify just once for multiple defendants. While only two convictions were brought in 2006, there were more than 100 in 2010.
CHILE: Two former Chilean military officials, air force colonels Ramon Caceres and Edgar Ceballos, have been arrested and charged with being “co-authors of the crime of torture that caused the death” of General Alberto Bachelet 1974. Bachelet served under, and was loyal to, President Salvador Allende, who was deposed in the coup which led to the military dictatorship of 1973-1990, led by General Augusto Pinochet.
General Bachelet died following six months of interrogation and torture in military prison. He was the father of Michelle Bachelet, who became Chile’s first female president in 2006. Both Michelle Bachelet and her mother Angela Jeria were also imprisoned and tortured by the military before escaping to Australia.
CHAD: Chad’s former dictator, Hissene Habré, has been called “Africa’s Pinochet.” In July, the United Nations International Criminal Court ordered that Habré must be put on trial “without delay” by Senegal, where he currently lives. However, this is only the latest of years of attempts to try Habré for the estimated 40,000 political murders and 200,000 case of torture during his reign, and it’s unclear whether Senegal will choose to cooperate this time.
Under Habré, “The Chadian government applied a deliberate policy of terror in order to discourage opposition of any kind,” according to Amnesty International. According to human rights groups cited in the BBC report, “Survivors said the most common forms of torture were electric shocks, near-asphyxia, cigarette burns and having gas squirted into their eyes.”
Sometimes, the torturers would place the exhaust pipe of a vehicle in their victim’s mouth, then start the engine…Some detainees were placed in a room with decomposing bodies, other suspended by their hands or feet, others bound hand and foot. One man said he thought his brain was going to explode when he was subjected to “supplice des baguettes” (torture by sticks), when the victim’s head is put between sticks joined by rope which are then twisted. Others were left to die from hunger in the “diete noire” (starvation diet).
For more about plans to try Hissene Habré, see this report from AllAfrica.com.
Proposed Cuts to Refugee Resettlement
Funding Would be Disastrous
United Nations blogger Una Moore, warns that pending U.S. legislation could impose drastic cuts in support for the resettlement of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing war, torture and abuse in their home countries – Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma, Congo, Eritrea, and many others.
The budget proposed for next fiscal year by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services would cut this FY’s allocation for the already underfunded Office of Refugee Resettlement by $112 million.
[The cuts] will have a devastating effect on refugees, Afghan and Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa recipients, victims of torture and trafficking, unaccompanied immigrant children and other vulnerable populations, as well as communities across the country that welcome these populations.
— U.S. Committee for Refugees & Immigrants:
“Protect Refugee Funding“
The nine organizations responsible under ORR contracts to help new Americans through the resettlement process are already struggling to meet their needs, and the new cuts would hit them hard. One of the leading groups, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, has mounted an urgent online appeal to Congress not to go through with the cuts.
Most Americans are barely, if at all, aware of this small but politically and morally crucial component of the overall immigration program, which last year gave more than 56,000 refugees from twenty different countries – some of the world’s most persecuted and oppressed individuals – a chance for a better life.
Resettlement field offices, largely located in America’s poorest cities, have endured years of crisis-level funding shortfalls and staffing shortages, with no relief in sight…[A]s is, many refugees receive only the bare minimum of support following their arrival in the United States, leaving unmet pressing needs like mental health care and extended case management for refugees with disabilities…And local non-profits simply aren’t able to fill all of the gaps…If the proposed 2013 cuts go through, refugees will face an even rougher start to life in America than they do now.
— Una Moore, U.N. Dispatch
(USCRI Photo above)
Mexico’s “El Rincon” Project helps families
stay in touch despite national borders…
The media caricature of undocumented immigrants – especially if they come from south of the border – sees them as economic opportunists, out to make an undeserved buck at our expense. The reality is that most come here because they have no alternative. They can watch their families starve at home or risk injury or death to have a shot at making a living up north.
In a recent post, we looked at some U.S. programs that help migrants who are being deported, or who have already been deported back to their home countries. Today’s post profiles a unique program, based in Mexico, that helps local families to stay in touch with members living in the United States, and to cope with a daunting range of problems that arise from separation.
“El Rincon,” or the Corner Project, was founded 14 years ago by American writer and photographer Ellen Calmus. It is in Malinalco, a town in the highlands southwest of Mexico City, in a region whose agricultural economy has been shattered by the impact of NAFTA. For many young parents, the only available route to economic survival has been north to the United States. Their families are often left behind.
Since the majority who cross the border to the north do so illegally, the journey often means years of not being able to return to Malinalco to visit their families…This has led to divided families, and to children being raised by a single parent or their grandparents…
“These children must deal not only with the absence of a parent, and sometimes of both, but with the additional stress of not knowing for weeks after their parents’ departure whether they have survived the border crossing. With parents absent, these children often assume added family responsibilities, while the other family members who have remained behind must bear additional economic and psychological pressures…Malinalco is [also] experiencing an increasing number of cases where families are left permanently fragmented by the death or disappearance of relatives in the U.S….
“A preliminary study conducted by the Corner Project in collaboration with Malinalco’s Department of Education found that 10% of the children in schools of the central barrios had one or more parents in the U.S., while in the municipality’s poorer outlying areas 60% of the children had been left in the temporary care of relatives by parents who had migrated to the U.S…
The Corner Project’s services to migrants’ children include:
- Crisis counseling;
- Communications with distant family members, including free long distance calls, email support, and a message service for families without phones;
- Help in locating missing relatives;
- Help dealing with U.S. hospitals, prisons, detention centers and other agencies;
- Assistance in locating needed legal services;
- help to families whose relatives have died in the U.S., including getting remains returned for burial.
Below are a few quick stories highlighting the Corner Project’s work. There are many more examples on the El Rincon website.
Finding lost migrants…
Though all too often there are tragic reasons for a migrant’s vanishing, we are frequently able to give good news…When Margarita came to get help finding her husband Constantino, we investigated and learned that he had been stopped for a traffic violation and was in jail, but would probably be deported soon. A prison social worker helped us place a call so Margarita could talk to Constantino and assure him that she and their children were well, which was clearly a huge relief to him.
When migrants die in the United States…
Most often we are contacted by the families themselves, who come to us for help bringing home their migrant relatives’ bodies for burial in Malinalco – though on occasion we are contacted by Mexican government agencies seeking help locating families of migrants who have died in the U.S. Then we take on the heartbreaking task of notifying local families of their migrant relatives’ deaths.
Bringing U.S. and Mexican lawyers to the rescue…
When we found that an unprincipled lawyer was helping a non-beneficiary claim the insurance compensation due to the widow and children of a migrant killed by a drunk driver in California, another lawyer helped our Malinalco migrant’s widow receive the benefits legally due to her and her two young sons…and then this concerned lawyer decided to send his Mexican associate to visit our office on a regular basis to help with other cases.
It goes without saying that El Rincon needs help to continue providing the kind of personnel-intensive care and services for which it is known. Information about its supporting organizations and individuals is on the website, along with information about how to donate.