Alert: Urgent call to lift Covid-19 related restrictions in places of detention
Annual Report 2021
05

Victim support

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victims of torture assisted in 6 countries

Thanks to our Fund for Urgent Assistance for Victims of Torture, we are currently the only international human rights NGO providing direct, multi-dimensional urgent assistance to victims of torture anywhere in the world. In 2021, we have disbursed funds for the social, medical and/or legal support of 125 victims in six countries.

  • In Rwanda, three refugees from Burundi, who fled after being subjected to torture, received legal, social, medical and psychological support. We further assisted these survivors by submitting formal complaints to the United Nations Committee Against Torture.
  • In Guatemala, we offered psychological support to the relatives of a victim of enforced disappearance, helping them overcome their trauma and heal.
  • In Belarus, we helped two survivors and their families to cover their basic needs after they were forced to flee the country. They had been arrested and tortured during a demonstration against the highly contested 2020 election.

Guatemala: burnt to death in a “safe home”

On 8 March 2017, 41 teenage girls burned to death and another 15 survived with serious wounds, including amputations, at a children’s home called Virgen de la Asunción – also known as the “Hogar Seguro”, ironically meaning “safe home” - on the outskirts of Guatemala City.

The girls, all aged between 14 and 17, were locked in a crammed classroom without water throughout the whole night by the police and management of the home. This was meant to be a collective punishment for an attempted escape the day before. The girls routinely suffered severe abuse, including sexual abuse. After their capture, the girls were beaten with sticks, police shields and electric batons, pepper-sprayed and forced to lie on the ground facedown while handcuffed.

Set by the teenagers in a desperate attempt to attract attention, the fire engulfed the room, and the policewoman in charge refused to open the door for nine whole minutes. Since 2017, we have been working closely with local partners to support the survivors of this tragic event and their families. In 2021, we provided funds to carry out a medical and legal evaluation of the survivors in accordance with the anti-torture standards of the Istanbul Protocol, in a continued effort to bring those responsible to justice.

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new victims assisted in Tunisia

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individual psychological consultations in Tunisia

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torture cases filed in Tunisia

Tunisia

With an OMCT office in Tunisia, our direct assistance programme SANAD provides legal, social, psychological and medical assistance to victims, entirely free of cost and tailor-made for their needs. In 2021, the SANAD team accompanied 83 new beneficiaries, of whom 59 are direct victims of torture or other forms of cruel, degrading, or inhuman treatment. With SANAD Elhaq, the programme’s legal action group, survivors and their families found competent assistance in their pursuit of justice. In December, SANAD published an analytical report about its observations and experience with torture survivors in Tunisia.

Skander's story: beaten, humiliated and harassed by the police

Young Tunisians from impoverished areas took to the streets in January 2021, on the 10th anniversary of the revolution. They were protesting their economic and political marginalisation, police violence, and prevailing impunity. The police response was heavy-handed, with often arbitrary and violent arrests not only of protesters but also of civil society activists.

Skander was one of the latter. On a January night, a group of ten police officers burst into his home. They broke down his door, handcuffed him, pinned him against the wall and punched him. They also hit him in the face with a tear gas canister. The officers then dragged him to a police car and beat him on the way to the police station.

There, Skander was severely punched, especially in the face, and the officers forced him to give them access to his social media accounts on his phone. Then two officers undressed and photographed him to humiliate him. In the middle of the night, he was forced to sign statements that he was unable to read. Later, he discovered that they charged him with rebellion, defamation, and incitement to participate in protests. At no time was he able to notify his family of his arrest or contact a lawyer.

Skander was then transferred to the district police where he spent three days in police custody, before being presented to a prosecutor. Thanks to the lawyers present that day, the prosecutor took note of the signs of violence on the detainee and ordered his release. The prosecutor also referred the investigation to a judicial police brigade in Tunis.

Skander faced reprisals from the Kasserine police and was threatened with dismissal by the governorate for which he worked, while the torture investigation remained stalled. In September, SANAD Elhaq sent a letter to the Ministry of the Interior cautioning them about the violations suffered by Skander. Following this letter, the judicial police in Tunis summoned him to be heard in the context of the torture complaint.

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