In 2017, people from 96 countries sought our help to overcome torture. We supported 838 people and provided over 20,000 psychological therapy sessions. Of those we treated, 24% were children and young people under the age of 25.
People face torture in many countries. Some are targeted for criticising the authorities or because they take part in peaceful political activities, such as protesting or leafletting, or even because a friend or relative had done so. Other individuals are targeted because of aspects of their identity, like their gender identity or sexual orientation. Wherever and whenever torture happens, it intends to intimidate, silence and break people.
Torture is illegal under international law and is never justified; not in conflict, or security-related contexts. Various studies have demonstrated it to be an ineffective interrogation technique, including studies by the United States Senate into the CIA’s “Enhanced interrogation” methods.
At Freedom from Torture, we support people who seek refuge in the UK having fled torture inflicted upon them by their own governments, or by dissident political groups acting as the state and in control of large areas of a country, such as the Daesh in the Middle East.
Below are the top ten countries for new referrals in 2017 - they represent just some of the many countries around the world where torture is happening.
Sri Lanka: 184 referrals in 2017
Torture and other human rights abuses were carried out by both sides in the Sri Lankan civil war. The war ended in 2009 with the defeat of the Tamil Tigers (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, LTTE). However, torture in Sri Lanka did not end with the war.
In 2017, Sri Lanka was the top country of origin for torture survivors referred to Freedom from Torture’s services for the seventh year in a row. These referrals included people who have been detained and tortured since the current government took office in 2015.
Everyone could say there is a new government, but there have only been a few changes of faces at the top. Rape, torture and kidnapping are still happening, nothing has changed.
Despite international pressure, Sri Lankan security services continue to violate human rights standards and commit widespread torture. The UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson recently described torture in Sri Lanka as “endemic and systematic” and lamented how the transitional justice process, intended to hold the perpetrators of torture and other abuses to account, had “ground to a virtual halt”.
While the Sri Lankan government fails to implement a proper accountability mechanism or to reform the security sector, torture continues, feeding a culture of impunity.
Survivors in treatment with us had a very real reminder of this at the start of February 2018. At the 70th anniversary of Sri Lankan independence, they witnessed a senior diplomat make a deliberate throat-cutting gesture towards Tamil demonstrators outside the Sri Lankan high commission in London.
Despite Sri Lanka being our top country of origin for torture survivors, only 7% of Sri Lankan’s who applied for asylum last year were granted it.
Has ratified United Nations Convention Against Torture.
Iran: 153 referrals in 2017
In Iran, torture and other human rights abuses are used by the government to sow fear among the population, suppress political activity, force confessions and act as punishment.
Iran has been the second highest country of referrals for Freedom from Torture for the last 21 years.
In December 2017 our report, ‘Turning a blind eye: Why the international community must no longer ignore torture in Iran’, used evidence from Iranian clients to reveal the extensive and widespread use of torture in the country.
The Iranian regime restricts and punishes political, religious or ethnic minority activity including protests, blogging and drawing graffiti.
Despite the constitution of Iran banning torture, this protection has not been upheld and the government continues to harass, detain and torture those who protest or oppose them.
Has not ratified United Nations Convention Against Torture.
Democratic Republic of Congo: 85 referrals in 2017
Though the war ended in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2003, reports of torture, repression and ill-treatment are still common. Our evidence reveals how rape is routinely used by state officials as a means to control politically active women.
For the past ten years, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been in the top ten countries of origin for survivors referred to Freedom from Torture. Over 25% of DRC referrals made to us in 2017 were children and young people (the majority being girls).
She was woken from sleep for the purpose of the rape and taken out of the room she was detained in. She thinks that three different soldiers were involved and she would be raped by two of them at any one time. She was pushed onto her knees and raped vaginally and anally. She was also raped orally.
Political violence is escalating ahead of scheduled elections in December 2018, with reports from UN officials documenting in March 2018 “killings and other serious human rights violations due to the use of excessive force by security services and defence forces in relation to mass protests”.
We also know the DRC Government’s use of rape and sexual torture is extensive. A 2014 Freedom from Torture report Rape as torture in the DRC: Sexual violence beyond the conflict zone highlights the use of rape by state officials to punish women and girls and to control politically active women. The 2014 report also highlighted the lack of access to justice, including due process, and appropriate services for women survivors of torture in the DRC, as well as the impunity of suspected perpetrators.
A report on how President Kabila’s government uses torture to punish and suppress perceived political opposition in the DRC will be published by Freedom from torture later in 2018.
In accession to the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
Nigeria: 67 referrals in 2017
The conflict between the Nigerian government and extremist groups in the country has continued with human rights violations and the persistent use of torture.
Human Rights Watch has reported that the humanitarian crisis has resulted in 2.5 million internally displaced people who lack basic rights and are vulnerable to violence and exploitation.
Amnesty International reports that torture, other ill-treatment and unlawful detention by the military, police, State Security Service and Special Anti-Robbery Squad also continue. However, there has been some progress. In December 2017 the Anti-Torture Bill, prohibiting and criminalising the use of torture, was signed into law.
Has ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
Iraq: 59 referrals in 2017
Evidence points to a wide and indiscriminate use of torture in Iraq, committed by a range of state actors and armed groups.
The Human Rights Watch annual report highlighted that torture is still being committed by the armed group Daesh and government forces. Iraqi Security Forces continue to screen, detain and torture civilians for the possibility of Daesh affiliation.
Families and children are repeatedly caught up in the Iraqi government’s search to prosecute Daesh. The Guardian reported that a number of children had been tortured whilst being detained by Iraq’s Kurdistan regional government. This is reflected in Freedom from Torture’s work with survivors from Iraq. In 2017, over 30% of the overall referrals from Iraq were children.
In accession to the United Nations Convention on Torture.
India: 58 referrals in 2017
Indian security forces continue to torture detainees in custody with impunity.
Amnesty International reported that torture and other ill-treatment continued to be a significant problem in police and judicial custody.
In September 2017 whilst preparing for the UN Universal Periodic Review before Human Rights Council, the Indian government accepted for the third time recommendations to ratify the UN Convention Against Torture, which it signed in 1997. Despite calls to ratify the treaty and a report released by India’s Law Commission that recommends legislation criminalising torture, India has still not ratified the convention.
Security forces in India continue to commit human rights violations, including detaining and torturing protesters. Human Rights Watch reports that the Armed Forces Special Powers Acts prohibits prosecution of public officials. As long as soldiers and the police continue to have immunity from criminal proceedings, torture survivors will not see full justice in India.
In accession to United Nations Convention Against Torture.
Sudan: 54 referrals in 2017
Conflict has continued in Sudan since 2003 and there has been no clear progress in the peace process in Sudan and armed conflict continues in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions.
Where I lived in Sudan young boys like me would be forced into the army, they made you kill your own family. The boys in my village refused so the army took us. I was burnt, beaten, locked up on my own. I still have the scars. I was just crying for my mum every day.
Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) continues to detain activists, student protestors, doctors and lawyers. Whilst in detention activists and campaigners face abuse and torture. Human Rights Watch has documented the use of sexual harassment and violence in detention to silence female activists in Sudan.
Has ratified United Nations Convention Against Torture.
Turkey: 39 referrals in 2017
Whilst the attempted coup in 2016 drew a spotlight on human rights abuses in Turkey, torture in Turkey is not new. The government committed to a policy of “zero tolerance” towards torture 2003, but our evidence reveals that torture has continued.
Since the attempted military coup in 2016 the Turkish government has become increasingly authoritarian and continues to use torture as a widespread tactic to suppress political dissent and public protests.
Amnesty International reported that journalists, human rights defenders and activists continue to be persecuted and detained.
In April 2017 we published, “Torture in Turkey: past, present and future?”, based on 60 medico-legal reports produced by us between 2012 and 2017. It highlighted how torture remains widespread in Turkey. The reason for torture, as understood by those detained, was invariably related to perceived political activity. This was true for both Kurdish survivors and others. All 60 survivors experienced blunt force trauma and 77% of cases involved sexual torture.
Has ratified United Nations Convention Against Torture
Syria: 38 referrals in 2017
There have been continuing human rights violations in Syria as Government forces continued to target rebel-held areas. Armed conflict and the targeting of civilians by Daesh also continued
The use of brutality and torture by the state was exposed in a Channel 4 documentary “Syria’s Disappeared: The Case Against Assad".
At Freedom from Torture, we are starting to see higher numbers of Syrians referred to our services than before. Syrians have now featured in our top ten referral countries for two consecutive years. However, the extent of specialist support available for Syrian torture survivors in the UK needs to be carefully examined. The Public Accounts Committee published a report that called on the government to review how torture survivors arriving through the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement programme are being identified and supported in the UK, citing evidence from Freedom from Torture.
Has ratified United Nations Convention Against Torture.