Anti-torture coalition fights threats to human rights with new global initiative
Geneva, Mexico, Manila, 6 February 2018 (OMCT) – To halt populism’s overturning of human rights protections, the world’s largest anti-torture network today rallied partners on three continents to launch joint efforts to boost compliance with international standards, bring more cases to justice, and find ways to better protect those most vulnerable to abuse.
The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in coordination with three key partners in Asia, Africa and Latin America, is spearheading the 1.8-million-CHF project dubbed “Civil Society United Against Torture” to run activities in 40 countries over three years until 2020. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and the European Union are supporting the project.
Long-standing partners the Philippines Alliance for Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), the Collectif des Associations Contre l’Impunité au Togo (CACIT), and the Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de las Casas A.C. (Frayba) will co-organize activities in their respective regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America, focusing on 15 countries that require particularly imminent attention, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines, Russia, Mexico, Honduras, Togo, and Ivory Coast.
“As autocratic leaders increasingly threaten human rights by surfing the wave of intolerance, terrorism and migrant inflows, civil society must coalesce to stop them from breaking what has cost so much to build,” said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock. “This project will provide the superglue that will help the pieces hold together.”
A three-legged approach
“We will be drawing on our in-house pool of legal experts and long-standing know-how as civil-society coordinator before the CAT as well as the years of our partners’ experience in fighting torture in hostile environments to make sure that the advocacy, litigation and research turn into reality for the people who need it the most,” said Carin Benninger-Budel, who will head the programme at OMCT headquarters in Geneva.
The programme will rely on information- and experience-sharing among OMCT’s SOS-Torture network members and their local partners to ensure the lessons learned in the long fight against torture will stick beyond the three-year period.
To tackle all issues and gaps effectively, the initiative will focus on three major aims, measured against specific deliverables:
Through a series of advocacy missions, NGO meetings, session screenings, reports and expert support, encourage civil society organizations to submit information to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) and to make better use of the international human rights mechanism to obtain redress against torture in their home countries;
Through case studies, webinars and trainings sustainably up-skill human rights lawyers on the specificities of torture documentation and litigation so they can better fight cases, with the concrete objective of bringing at least 10 new cases of torture to trial per region within national, regional or universal jurisdictions; the project will also support victims and their families, who will receive 150 grants for medical, social and legal rehabilitation
Through production of four research reports on the particular risks facing women, children, migrants and indigenous people in the three regions, provide evidence of violation trends and solutions to address them.
Frayba is an internationally known and well-connected organization in Mexico, with more than 25 years of experience protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and working towards a peaceful resolution of conflicts in Chiapas and throughout the country. It has extensive litigation experience with domestic courts and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Mexico, as well as the region more broadly, need policy and institutional reforms to combat discrimination and investigate torture and other human rights violations against indigenous peoples. The inclusion of this perspective in CAT advocacy ahead of the upcoming review of the country’s application of the Convention Against Torture is considered a paramount priority.
“This project will reinforce the work carried out to raise awareness about the torture the indigenous peoples of Latin America suffer as they fight to defend their territories amid violence and impunity,” said Jorge Hernández Castro, in charge of coordinating the programme on behalf of Frayba.
CACIT is a domestic human rights network that has taken on a lead role in fighting torture and impunity in Togo since 2007. CACIT provides assistance to victims of torture including before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as legal assistance and medical and psychological care. It also undertakes monitoring of prisons in the country and has conducted research to understand what prevents to torture victims from filing complaints. Finally, CACIT conducts and undertakes joint lobbying and advocacy – including with OMCT – both internationally and at home to trigger policy reform, in particular on detention conditions.
On top of urging Togo to submit its overdue state report to the CAT, CACIT advocates the effective implementation of the new anti-torture law criminalizing torture subsequent to the CAT’s review of the country’s in 2012. Other of its activities include advocacy and lobbying with State officials on anti-torture policies, notably to end impunity and approve a national preventive mechanism, and a set of radio and television programmes designed to explain torture and the need to fight it to the general public in Togo.
“This project will give victims hope again as they need justice and reparation to fruitfully contribute to their societies,” said Ghislain Koffi Nyaku, Executive Director of CACIT. “Impunity is society’s worst scourges and we must eradicate it.”
PAHRA is one of the most experienced organizations in Asia with regard to use of the CAT and torture documentation. It has submitted alternative reports, including jointly with OMCT, to the 2009 and 2016 CAT reviews of the Philippines. PAHRA, with other local partners, has moreover successfully used the CAT review to recommend the adoption of an anti-torture law that came into force in 2009 only a few months after the country’s CAT review. PAHRA has solid experience in litigation and extensive connections with other civil-society organizations and human rights defenders in the region. It is a member of Forum Asia, a network of 58 NGOs in 19 countries of Asia, and its representatives regularly take part in regional and international conferences and consultations on human rights.
“With the new Administration, we went back to where we were decades ago in terms of human rights. This project will give hope and strength to sustain our work fighting against the shrinking space for civil society in the Philippines and Asia at large,” said Edeliza Hernandez, Executive Director of Medical Action Group, a member of PAHRA, and focal point for this project.
The World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) is the catalyst of the SOS-Torture network, a coalition of more than 200 international and national non-governmental organizations fighting torture, summary execution, enforced disappearances and all other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment and punishment.
With offices in Geneva, Brussels and Tunis, OMCT runs programmes to favour State compliance with international law and national anti-torture legislation, provide urgent assistance to victims of torture and seek justice for them, advocate greater protection for children in detention, women, and human rights defenders worldwide.
For more information, please visit: www.omct.org
For example of our awareness-raising campaigns: www.joinhat.org
Follow us online: