Survivors Speak Out at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Hot on the heels of their recent success at the Conservative Party Conference – where SSO Coordinator, Kolbassia Haoussou, shared a panel with the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to discuss how to tackle impunity surrounding sexual violence – last week Survivors Speak OUT accepted an invitation to speak on a panel of expert commentators on torture prevention at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Representing the network, long-time member Philomene Uwamaliya joined the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, and the Director of the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute, Dr Phillip Tahmindjis, to mark the first anniversary of the launch of the Foreign Office's Torture Prevention Strategy.

The event was designed to reflect on the UK Government's contribution to international efforts to prevent torture over the past year and, following an introductory breakdown on the Foreign Office's activity so far, Philomene offered her own thoughts on the best way forward.

Providing the audience with a powerful personal insight in to what it meant for her, as a survivor of torture who has sought and gained asylum in the UK, to know the UK Government is committed to tackling torture, Philomene went on to explain how it was only after therapy at Freedom from Torture that she begun to understand the wider effects of torture – how it had affected her as an individual, and how it had radicalised, and corrupted, the society she had grown up in:

Whilst acknowledging the wider challenge to ensure survivors have access to justice and reparations, Philomene noted that these reparations will not achieve their aims unless pre-existing discriminatory attitudes on the ground are addressed. She also used the body of her speech to emphasise the absolute necessity of encompassing the survivor voice in any successful torture prevention strategy:

To conclude, Philomene saluted the UK Government's public commitment to press other signatories of the UN Convention on Torture to provide justice, reparation and rehabilitation for victims of torture, but detailed the danger of double standards:

Speaking after the event, Louise De Sousa, Head of Human Rights at the Foreign Office, congratulated Philomene on her determination for speaking publically with such defiance and reiterated again the importance of involving survivor groups, such as SSO, in both torture prevention and the debate surrounding it: