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Maximiliano Herrera -The Editor
Amensty international is palnning to DENOUNCE TORTURE ALL THIS WEEK.
Human Rights Concerns
What is the purpose of torture?
“Torture is the systematic destruction of person, family, neighborhood, school, work, formal and informal organizations, and nation, with the purpose of controlling a population the state perceives to be dangerous. …. Torture is the worst experience a human being can endure and survive.” (1) Torture’s purpose is to change the behavior, the thinking patterns, and the personalities of the victims –many do not survive it. By taking advantage of the person’s values and fears, torturers cut the sources of personal strength needed to resist and recover. (2)
Who uses torture?
In preparing for its third international campaign to stop torture, Amnesty International conducted a survey of its research files on 195 countries and territories. The survey covered the period from the beginning of 1997 to mid-2000. Information on torture is usually concealed, and reports of torture are often hard to document, so the figures almost certainly underestimate its extent. The statistics are shocking. There were reports of torture or ill-treatment by state officials in more than 150 countries. In more than 70, they were widespread or persistent. In more than 80 countries, people reportedly died as a result.
Who is tortured?
People may be tortured because they are activists for human rights, labor rights, or any other cause, because they are family members of these activists, or because of their identity (ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, etc). Quite often they are criminal suspects or prisoners. People may also be tortured at random if the state or an opposition group is trying to create a climate of terror in a population – even if the torturers do not consider this person “guilty” for any reason.
Anyone can be tortured.
The United Nations High Commission on Refugees has given assistance to more than 22 million internally displaced peoples, external refugees, and returnees. Many are torture survivors. Prior to leaving their homes they were persecuted and often tortured in police stations, prisons or detention camps. According to the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, studies indicate that 20-30% of external refugees are torture survivors; however, the total numbers are much higher because many displaced peoples – even most – do not leave their home countries.
Methods of torture and its effects
Torture can be physical and include various techniques including: beating, whipping, burning, rape, suspension upside down, submersion into water almost to the point of suffocation, and electric torture with shocks of high voltage on various parts of the body, very often on the genitals.
And it can be psychological, including threats, deceit, humiliation, insults, sleep deprivation, blindfolding, isolation, mock executions, witnessing torture of others (including one’s own family), being forced to torture or kill others, and the withholding of medication or personal items.
Physical and neurological complications include soreness of wounds, painful scars, stiffness of limbs and muscles, atrophy and paralysis of muscles, hearing and vision loss, and persistent headaches. Torture survivors suffer psychological symptoms such as feelings of anxiety, guilt and shame, powerlessness in relation to the problems of everyday life, problems with concentration, poor sleep with frequent nightmares, and impotence.
Specialized rehabilitation centers have been set up around the world to provide treatment to survivors. After receiving appropriate medical and psychological help, torture survivors can often resume leading healthy, involved lives.
(1) Martinez, A. (1992). The ecology of human development. In S. Turitz, P. Davis, & J. Heisel (Eds.), Confronting the Heart of Ddarkness: An International Symposium on Torture in Guatemala Report of the Conference held by the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, Washington, DC, November 13-15, 1992) (pp. 22-25). Washington, DC: Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA.
(2) Johnson, Douglas, (1991). Forward. In G. R. Randall & E. L. Lutz (Authors), Serving Survivors of Torture (pp. vii-xi). Washington DC: The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).