“On Torture…”

Mr. Rehawi was arrested in Damascus and brutally tortured. He was electrocuted and severely beaten on his hands. After, he was hanged by his hands for 10 hours and beaten and kicked all over his body. He lost consciousness three times. Then he has beaten again all around the floor of the torture chamber. His torturers put his shoes into his mouth and he lost consciousness again.

“No one shall be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” says the 5th article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Ana, who was arrested in Sao Paulo in 1970, tells: “one of the bleakest moments of that period was when I was informed that I would never be able to have children. I had suffered electric shocks in my genital organs, and, due to the wounds caused by torture, I was sent to see a medical doctor from the Army Police, who said that, because of the anatomy of my womb, I would never be able to have a successful pregnancy. That was so heartbreaking and has marked me more than the physical torture. I was only 21 years old and knowing that I would not be able to have children was like losing all my hopes for a better future. It was only years later when I left the prison and went to a gynecologist, that I found out that there was nothing wrong with my reproductive system. Today I am sure that that was a kind of psychological torture to sadden me and destroy my strength of mind.”

These are just two stories of the many cases throughout the world. Random examples of people who have endured the unimaginable. Survivors that we honor each on the 26 of June, the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

This is a day to express solidarity with the hundreds of thousands of victims of torture and their family members and to remind the obligation of States not only to prevent torture but to provide all torture victims with effective and prompt redress, compensation and appropriate social, psychological, medical and other forms of rehabilitation, as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon explained in 2012.

The day was selected in 1997 by the United Nations General Assembly for two reasons. First, on 26 June 1945, the United Nations Charter was signed. That is the first international instrument obliging UN members to respect and promote human rights. Second, 26 June 1987 was when the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into effect.

A survivor of torture from Africa describes his experience: “It is the most dreadful and unforgettable experience in my life. There is nothing worse than torturing and subjecting a helpless person under one’s control to unbearable pain.”

Tortures are rarely isolated phenomena. Usually, they are systematically applied by States or other groups. When States do not act effectively against torture or they intentionally practice it, this form of violence becomes institutionalized, and we can categorize it as a brutal form of structural violence.

The law is crystal clear: torture can never be used at any time or under any circumstances, including during conflict or when national security is under threat. But some want to make exceptions to this, as they consider justifiable to use some techniques of torture to obtain valuable information from suspected terrorist in order to prevent further attacks and innocent victims.

This is one of the arguments in favor of the inhuman tortures carried out in Guantanamo Bay detention camp, where at least 780 individuals have been tortured by the USA. On the other hand, the huge injustice that Guantanamo represents is a source of justification for the violence against the USA. This portrays a phenomenon of mutual feeding of violence and points to the idea that violence only justifies itself.

On 23 February 2016, President Obama again called for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility with its 91 remaining prisoners.

Professor William Odom, formerly President Reagan’s National Security Agency Director, wrote:

«As many critics have pointed out, terrorism is not an enemy. It is a tactic. Because the United States itself has a long record of supporting terrorists and using terrorist tactics, the slogans of today’s war on terrorism merely make the United States look hypocritical to the rest of the world». According to several scholars, the United States of America has at various times in recent history provided support to terrorist and paramilitary organizations across the world. It has also provided assistance to numerous authoritarian regimes that have used state terrorism as a tool of repression. In the late 1970s, Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman claimed that 74% of regimes that used torture on an administrative basis were U.S. client states, receiving military and other support from the US to retain power. They concluded that the global rise in state terror was a result of US foreign policy.

In that context, the main purpose of torture is not to extract a confession but to break the individual’s humanity and make an example of the victim before the community and thereby suppress all political opposition. In an attempt to break up social solidarity networks and movements for social change, state terrorism tactics include arbitrary detentions, torture, long-term political imprisonment, and expulsion of thousands into political and economic exile, and enforced disappearance of hundreds.

Can we counter violence with more violence?  Is there any alternative?

An-eye-for-an-eye policy would leave us all blind. This statement was made by Mahatma Gandhi, a victim of torture who chose non-violent resistance to face injustice and led to the independence of India from the British Empire. Like him, there are other well-known examples of leaders who survived against torture and refused to revenge. Unlike the peaceful Gandhi, some of this leaders were previously involved in terrorist acts against repressive States. 

This is the case of Nelson Mandela, co-founder of the militant “Umkhonto we Sizwe” against the racist government of South Africa. He was tortured and spent 27 years in prison. After his release, he recognized that his party had practiced torture and carried out terrorist attacks. But he advocated for racial reconciliation and won the elections on 1994.

Dilma Rousseff, the current president of Brazil, participated in various left-wing and Marxist urban guerrilla groups that fought against the military dictatorship. “We fought and participated in a dream to build a better Brazil, we learned a lot. We did a lot of nonsense, but that is not what characterizes us. What characterizes us is to have dared to want a better country.” She was eventually captured, tortured for 22 days by punching, ferrule, and electric shock devices and condemned to jail between 1970 and 1972. 

Also, Jose Alberto Mujica, President of Uruguay between 2010 and 2015, had been an urban guerrilla fighter with the Tupamaros. He was tortured imprisoned for 13 years during the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s. He has been described as “the world’s ‘humblest president’ due to his austere lifestyle and his donation of around 90 percent of his $12,000 monthly salary to charities that benefit poor people and small entrepreneurs. The year he arrived in power, he had one of the torture rooms where he had been tortured transformed into a clinic.

These are just some famous examples of victims of torture who refused to revenge and understood that violence is not a tool to obtain political objectives. This is a lesson we all must remember on June 26th. By Iker Mendez

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