The SOS-Torture Network's 10 greatest moments of justice in 2023

The year 2023 has set a grim record: more than 17,000 people, mostly women and children, were killed in Gaza, the war in Ukraine has escalated with more than 27,000 civilian casualties to date; and in Bangladesh, more than 20,000 people were arbitrarily arrested and more than 8,000 injured in protests, to name just three examples. Yet, as we look back, we are immensely proud of the achievements of our network and partners. Here are some of the SOS-Torture Network’s most significant moments of justice in 2023.

After more than three years of judicial harassment, ten human rights defenders, including members of our network organisation Karapatan, Gabriela, and our partner, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), were acquitted of perjury charges in January. The case originated in 2019 from a petition filed by then-National Security Adviser, a key high-ranking official who advises the President on nearly all issues related to the country’s security.

In February, Thailand's long-awaited Act on Prevention and Suppression of Torture and Enforced Disappearance came into force. The law is the result of the persistent efforts by victims and their families, civil society groups, including Cross Cultural Foundation, a member of our Regional Litigators Group against torture and ill-treatment in Asia, parliamentarians, and relevant authorities to establish a legal framework to prevent torture and enforced disappearance and to provide redress to victims and survivors.

In March, the European Court of Human Rights issued a judgment against Italy for violating the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of four migrants. The applicants had been arbitrarily detained in Lampedusa under inhuman and degrading conditions and had been the victims of a collective expulsion. Our SOS-Torture Migration and Torture Working Group in Africa submitted a third-party intervention highlighting the inhuman and degrading conditions in the Lampedusa centres. After several controversial decisions on migration detention and expulsion, this move was praised for upholding migrant rights.

In April, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) found that four defenders of the indigenous territory of Mayangna Sauni, sentenced to life imprisonment by the Nicaraguan authorities, were victims of physical, psychological, and sexual torture in prison. Since 2022, they have been detained in high-security cells, incommunicado, in inhuman and degrading conditions, and without medical care despite their extremely precarious health. They suffered torture and sexual aggression. The decision of the IACHR is the result of a joint effort we promoted with the Center for Legal Assistance to Indigenous Peoples (CALPI) and other partners.

Elchin Mammad, a human rights lawyer and journalist from Azerbaijan, was released in May following a presidential pardon from President Ilham Aliyev. He was arrested by police officers at his home in Sumgait in 2020, following the online publication of a report criticizing the human rights situation in the country, and arbitrarily sentenced to four years in prison on fabricated charges of theft and illegal possession of firearm accessories. We advocated for his release in the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders framework.

In May, the government of Mexico issued a public apology to Damián Gallardo Martínez, an indigenous human rights defender who was arbitrarily detained and tortured. This was the result of litigation before the UN Committee against Torture that in 2022 found that Gallardo Martínez was a victim of torture and required Mexico to provide him with full redress, including a public apology. Consorcio Oaxaca, a member of the SOS-Torture Network, litigated the case, while the OMCT granted emergency aid to cover the cost of adequate medical, psychological, and legal assistance.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) established a committee to ensure reparations to victims of sexual violence and crimes against humanity. Together with its network member Alliance pour l’Universalité des Droits Fondamentaux (AUDF), and close partner Association Pour Le Développement Socioéconomique du Kasaï (ADSKA), the OMCT advocated for the redress and rehabilitation of victims of sexual violence before the UN Committee against Torture in 2019. This is a remarkable development given that the DRC faces systematic rape and other forms of sexual violence on a massive scale; an estimated 250.000 to 1 million women have been raped since the start of armed conflict in the1990s.

In September, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Russia had subjected a gay man to “targeted violence solely on account of his sexual orientation.” Maksim Grigoryecich Lapunov was arrested in Chechnya, held incommunicado, and tortured in police custody. The Court highlighted the gross human rights violations committed against persons based on their perceived or actual sexual orientation. We submitted a third-party intervention in this case, denouncing the government’s blatant failure to investigate torture against LGBTIAQ+ persons in Chechnya, including during the so-called “anti-gay purge” in 2017.

Together with the IRCT and local partners, we facilitated a meeting between families, survivors and victims of torture from 13 Latin American countries and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture in Colombia. Participants shared their feelings and thoughts on the long journey towards justice, truth and reparation for State-backed violence. The meeting resulted in the Bogotà Declaration of Victims and Survivors of Torture from Latin America, a unique document in which victims speak about their experience and ask for reparations.

SANAD, the OMCT’s programme of direct assistance to victims of torture and other forms of ill-treatment in Tunisia, obtained redress for Jamel Ouerghi this month. In 2016, Jamel was brutally tortured by the police. He suffered severe head injuries and was in a coma for almost four months. He was transferred to several hospitals for surgery. To this day, he remains severely disabled. After a seven-year legal battle, the Court of Appeal upheld the prison sentences of his torturers and granted him compensation.

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