The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture meets Survivors Speak Out
On 18 July, Freedom from Torture was honoured to host a visit from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Juan Mendéz. Freedom from Torture Campaigner Ben Du Preez blogs here about Professor Mendéz's meeting with Survivor Speak Out – the survivor activism group comprising former clients at Freedom from Torture.
A world renowned legal academic in the field of human rights law and a torture survivor himself, this was both a privilege and a unique opportunity to explain our work to one of the most influential supporters of survivor rights in the world.
After a long day touring our London facilities, learning about our forensic documentation service and meeting staff from across the organisation, Professor Mendéz finished his visit with a special consultation with members of Freedom from Torture's survivor activism group Survivor Speak Out (SSO).
Having commenced his three-year mandate as Special Rapporteur on Torture in November 2010 with a commitment to taking a victim-centred approach to tackling torture, the SSO Network was eager to present itself as a working model of this ethos and was determined to find out more about where it could fit into the Special Rapporteur's wider work.
In an engrossing encounter (which, as SSO Member Serge-Eric noted, could well have lasted long into the night), members of the network presented the roots, structure and achievements of the network – why SSO was formed, its aims, some of the challenges it has faced and what it has achieved already. The message was clear; their experiences as survivors of torture meant that network members were well placed to educate and campaign around issues of torture and the right to rehabilitation for survivors. Moreover, the survivor-led approach worked.
Clearly impressed, Professor Mendéz noted:
'I am very impressed with what you have accomplished already and what you are planning to do. When I started my role as Special Rapporteur I highlighted that I was the first survivor of torture to occupy the position. I said I would apply a victim-centred approach in my mandate and it is important for me to be in touch with survivor of torture groups like SSO because it reminds me that there needs to be more meaning put into the wider concept...Governments need to be consulting survivors, who are the experts, rather than the top-down method...I have been encouraged by this conversation and I think [SSO] are a very promising way of moving forward.'
Survivors Speak Out Members presented Professor Mendéz with a certificate showing his status as an honorary member of the network. Reflecting on the meeting, long-time SSO member Jackson, added:
'This was an advantageous opportunity for us – to meet a man like Professor Mendéz. I feel we made it clear where we are coming from and where we are going. It built a relationship today and I hope we can carry it forward in a way that benefits our work.'