Freedom from Torture - Kolbassia Haoussou - My message to President Trump

Kolbassia Haoussou - My message to President Trump

On Friday 13 July you will be making an official visit to the UK. Your time here will be short and almost entirely behind high barricades and heavy security. You have meetings scheduled with the Queen, with Prime Minister May and various dignitaries. Unfortunately, you won’t be meeting with me or the people I represent.

My name is Kolbassia Haoussou and I am the Coordinator of an active and committed network called Survivors Speak OUT, supported by the charity Freedom from Torture.

We are an exclusive club, but not one that anyone would want to join for all the members are people who have first-hand experience of persecution and torture. Survivors Speak OUT was set up by survivors, for survivors, to speak with authority on issues of torture.

When you were on the campaign trail in 2016 I saw you saying you agreed with your advisor that torture “absolutely works” and it is an effective method of gathering information. You talked about reviving the practice of “waterboarding”. Earlier this year, you promoted Gina Haspel as CIA Director, although she oversaw a torture programme at a “black site” in Thailand.

I don’t think you or your advisors really understand what torture does to people.

When you are detained and imprisoned, torture makes you powerless, silences you, disempowers you and breaks down your humility. Under torture you will say things which are not true just for torture to end. Even when you try to endure, you unwittingly incriminate yourself, your family, friends and colleagues.

I have since learned that torturers often don’t care whether the information is correct. Their aim is to coerce and intimidate people into fear and silence. When you declare that torture is effective, remember in our case it wasn't.

Torture doesn’t work but even more important to remember is that it is immoral and illegal. That’s why 163 states, including the USA, have signed the UN Convention Against Torture.

As a torture survivor you carry the physical and psychological damage for life. After you have been tortured you are no longer the same person. You isolate yourself, you lose faith and trust in others, even the people closest to you. When you do venture out, you seek crowded public spaces, so there will be witnesses if your tormentors reappear to kidnap you again.

Time and distance will not heal the damage of torture. You are traumatised for your entire life.

You live with the fear that you will be tortured again. Triggers are everywhere - smell, sound, food. You glimpse a face in the crowd or see someone in uniform – police, military – and you panic because they remind of the people and the place where you were tortured.

You struggle to rebuild family life because you think you are not good enough and you don't let people come close to you. You lose hope and confidence and let other people make decisions for you. You can’t sleep, your life is filled with nightmares, night and day.

Like me, members of Survivors Speak OUT have had to flee our countries and seek asylum. To sustain our existence we were forced say goodbye to our beloved homes and drive our shattered lives in search of new fertile ground to start again, to keep alive.

Mr President, I respect your commitment and promise to Americans to make America great again. But a great nation doesn’t support or endorse the practice of torture but respects human rights and upholds the absolute ban on torture.

And as US President you must also remember those of us who are not American. While you publicly support and encourage the use of torture you also give a license to dictators and strongmen of other countries, including America’s allies, to detain and torture their own people.

While you claim that you are concerned with those harming America, please remember that the vast majority of those tortured are innocent of any crime. Our governments torture us because of our religion, ethnicity, status, sexuality or simply because we express political opinions or support peaceful opposition groups.

It is in everybody’s interest that the strongest protect the weakest and that we see each other as human beings with rights that must be respected.

Thank you

Kolbassia Haoussou

About Survivors Speak OUT

Survivors Speak OUT (SSO) is a national network of torture survivors and former clients of Freedom from Torture. SSO was set up by survivors, for survivors, to speak with authority on issues of torture and protection including those that impact their lives here in the UK.

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