June 26: Join the Torture Rehabilitation Movement

06/26/2015 10:40 am ET | Updated Jun 26, 2016

Today is a day when we pay tribute to the men, women and children who have suffered the unimaginable horror and pain of torture -- and who, with unimaginable strength and courage, survived, and are rebuilding their lives.

On this day, 28 years ago, the Convention Against Torture, Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment came into force. This international human rights treaty strives to prevent torture and, when torture has occurred, instructs signatories to promptly investigate any allegation of torture and provide redress and a system for rehabilitation as fully as possible.

The Convention makes clear that prohibition against torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment is absolute and can never be deviated from, even in times of public emergency. Since that time, the Center for Victims of Torture TM (CVT) and torture rehabilitation centers around the world commemorate this day, standing in solidarity with survivors through events, speeches, songs, dances, testimonies marches and other activities.

The right to rehabilitation is guaranteed under the Convention against Torture. The theme of the June 26 Global Campaign is Right to Rehabilitation NOW (R2R).

For 30 years, CVT has worked to make this right a reality for survivors for men, women and children who experienced horrific abuse in countries around the world.

Through this work, we have learned many things, such as how to provide culturally sensitive care by hiring and training local paraprofessionals to lead counseling groups. We have learned that mental and physical health are interconnected, and as one improves, so does the other. Through our work, we learned that rehabilitation not only helps survivors rebuild their lives, but it also strengthens families and communities after war and violent conflict.

Unfortunately, we've also learned that our work has never been in more demand. The level of conflict and violence around the world today, and the continuing prevalence of torture globally, are astronomical. Our clients tell us about their experiences of torture, but they also give descriptions of war atrocities and targeting of civilians.

A few weeks ago, I visited our project in Jordan. There, we are seeing large numbers of Syrian survivors of torture and war atrocities. But now Iraqis, who were tortured by ISIS, are also showing up at our door. In addition, while 40 percent of our clients in Jordan are age 17 and younger, we're also providing care to elderly women, including some who were raped. It's a sober reminder that people of all ages are tortured and exposed to extreme war abuse.

Our delegation met with Iraqi and Syrian survivors, including one group of nine Syrian women, all in their 50s, who had fled to Jordan. Each had experienced unimaginable horror. At times it was very difficult to listen to the stories, as the women spoke of the impact of that suffering, deaths of children and other loved ones, and imprisonment of children (and not knowing whether they're alive or dead). One Iraqi survivor showed photographs of his own wounds following his torture. He looked like a corpse.

But the message from these survivors was one of resilience and hope. Along with the tears, there was laughter, and gratitude to CVT for helping them. Despite their personal losses and economic deprivation, they understand that, as one client said: "I still have my life ahead of me. CVT helped me get my life back."

While these survivors have found safety in more stable countries, militant groups wield increasing power over communities in vast geographic areas. And the rise of those groups has brought horrifying human rights abuses.

In addition to our work in Jordan, we are seeing individuals -- primarily young men -- fleeing Eritrea and seeking safety in Ethiopia. And in Kenya, we just resumed service in our healing center in the refugee camps in Dadaab, where threats of violence by Al-Shabaab loom over our staff and the camp residents. People -- men, women, children and families -- are terribly affected by war atrocities in more regions than ever.

But hope for healing remains. And it is time for united, committed action. It is time for growth in the torture survivor rehabilitation movement. On this day that we honor survivors, I call on you to join us in this rehabilitation movement. I ask physicians and nurses, psychiatrists and psychologists, social workers, religious leaders and teachers to join us. Take an hour each week to learn what torture does to the mind and body. Read an article on how to help survivors rebuild trust. Watch a webinar hosted by our National Capacity Building project at www.HealTorture.org to learn how to assess trauma in newly-arrived refugees.

On this day that we honor torture survivors, make a commitment to joining the rehabilitation movement by learning how you can support healing for torture survivors.