“Many Times, I Would Lose Consciousness” — Torture Survivor
By Elizabeth Beavers & Jim McDonald
Monday, June 26th is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. We know that there’s a global epidemic of torture. Over the last five years, Amnesty International has reported on torture in 141 countries — three-quarters of the world. There are laws against torture almost everywhere. But as our reports show, laws alone aren’t enough.
“They kicked me, slapped me, punched me, they beat me with pipes and wires, they burned me with cigarettes a couple of times, they burned me with heated metal rods 7 or 8 times on my back and legs.” — torture survivor
In Chechnya, gay men are being abducted– for simply being gay. Followed by international condemnation, over a hundred men who are either gay or suspected of being gay were imprisoned and tortured through the use of electric shocks and beatings.
Not much farther north of Chechnya, in Russia just this year, journalist Nikolai Andrushchenko was found beaten on the streets with a head injury, under strong suspicions of Russian government influence; he later died from his injuries.
For more than three decades, Syria has established a notorious record of torture. More than 17,000 people are estimated to have died in Syrian prisons and detention centers since 2011. Tens of thousands more have experienced shocking torture.
At the notorious Saydnaya Military Prison, people have been brutally beaten, raped, given electric shocks and more, often to extract forced “confessions.” You can learn more at Amnesty’s interactive website detailing conditions at the prison.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Amnesty has documented torture and other forms of ill-treatment by Israeli soldiers, police and the Israel Security Agency (ISA) for decades. Palestinian detainees, including children, continue to be subjected to torture and other ill-treatment with impunity, particularly during arrest and interrogation. Although more than 1,000 allegations of torture against the ISA have been filed since 2001, no criminal investigations were opened.
In China, torture (generally, beating with bamboo rods) was traditionally used as part of the judicial process. Torture remains endemic in Chinese prisons, despite denials by the government. Chinese human rights defenders are petitioning the National People’s Congress, urging an investigation into alleged use of torture, and an end to impunity for torturers. For more than two years, the world wondered what had happened to the Chinese human rights lawyer Li Heping. He had gone into prison a young healthy man. He emerged having visibly aged perhaps twenty years.
In Mexico, on June 8, 2011, Verónica Razo was walking to pick up her children from school in Mexico City when she was suddenly stopped by a group of men without uniforms and abducted. They took her to a Federal Police warehouse where she was held for 24 hours and tortured. She was beaten, subjected to near asphyxiation and electric shocks, and repeatedly raped by several police officers. She was threatened, and forced to sign a “confession” admitting to abduction and other crimes she didn’t commit. It has now been six years since Verónica’s arrest and she is still waiting to be released.
According to a 2016 Amnesty International report, Mexican police and armed forces routinely use torture and ill treatment during arrests. As the country wages a so-called “war on drugs,” many women are being detained illegally, tortured, and accused of crimes they did not commit.
Citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) continue to suffer routine arbitrary detention and torture. An estimated 80,000–120,000 North Koreans are currently imprisoned in the regime’s prison camp system, the vast majority of whom are deemed guilty by family association or have committed “crimes” that are not internationally recognized. Once imprisoned, torture and other forms of ill treatment are commonplace. According to the 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry Report, “the use of torture is an established feature of the interrogation process,” particularly within the political prison camps.
In Sri Lanka, torture is part of the legacy of the 26-year armed conflict between government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. While the practice of torture is less prevalent today than during the war, and the methods used are at times less severe, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture said recently that torture is a “common practice” in Sri Lanka. His report described methods of torture including “burns; beating with sticks or wires on the soles of the feet (falanga); stress positions, including suspension for hours while handcuffed; asphyxiation using plastic bags drenched in kerosene and hanging of the person upside down; application of chili powder to the face and eyes; and sexual torture, including rape and sexual molestation.” The draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act facilitates torture since it allows for secret detention without charge or trial; Amnesty has repeatedly called for its repeal. As Amnesty has documented, a climate of impunity continues today in Sri Lanka for torture and other human rights abuses.
This global landscape underscores the urgent threat to human rights posed by the current torture-friendly Trump administration. Pivoting off campaign rhetoric, pledging to reinstate waterboarding — a form of torture which simulates drowning — President Trump declared on national television that “torture works” shortly after his inauguration.
But it’s not just words. The Trump administration’s actions also are cause for concern. Since the Senate “torture report” summary was made public in 2014, the full classified version has been at risk of disappearing. Instead of reading and incorporating it, the Obama administration kept its copies of the report locked away, unread. Now the Trump administration has begun returning those copies, still unread, to the Senate, where many believe the copies could be locked away or destroyed, further burying the truth about torture.
President Trump did indicate that he would defer to his advisors on the issue of torture. Indeed, top cabinet officials promised under oath that they would follow the law on torture. Attorney General Jeff Sessions even indicated he would read the Senate torture report in full. Of course, that’s not possible if the report is buried or destroyed.
It is crucial for the public to remain vigilant in pushing the U.S. government to keep its promises on torture. Torture is a crime, period. The U.S. has no credibility in pushing other governments to eradicate torture if it is unwilling to confront its own crimes.
Here’s what you can do today to help end torture:
· Call on the Russian government to end the abduction and torture of gay men in Chechnya
· Demand that the Sri Lankan government immediately repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Email President Maithripala Sirisena (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe (email@example.com).
· Sign the Amnesty petition (in Spanish) calling on the Mexican government to free torture survivor Verónica Razo
· Tweet @TheJusticeDept and tell Attorney General Sessions to keep his promises by protecting the torture report, reading the whole thing, and refusing to approve of waterboarding or any other form of torture.
Edith Garwood, Magdalena Medley, Geoffrey Mock, Jennifer Nestrud, Ella Shen and James Zimmerman also contributed to this post.