Freedom from Torture - Where does torture happen?

Where does torture happen?

In 2016, people from 76 countries around the world sought our help to overcome torture. We supported more than 1,000 people and provided over 17,200 psychological therapy interventions.

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 sexuality. Wherever and whenever torture happens, it intends to intimidate, silence and break people. 

Torture is illegal under international law and 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 Boko Haram in Nigeria or Daesh in the Middle East.

Below are the top ten countries for new referrals in 2016 - they represent just some of the many countries around the world where torture is happening.

1. Sri Lanka – 230 referrals in 2016

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. 

 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. 

– Freedom from Torture client

In 2016, Sri Lanka was the top country of origin for torture survivors referred to Freedom from Torture services for the sixth year in a row. These referrals include people who have been detained and tortured since the current government took office in 2015. A significant number of people have also reported being tortured when they returned to Sri Lanka after being in the UK.

In 2016 we shared evidence of torture and recommendations from our clients about accountability with the UN, including the Committee against Torture and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. Following his mission to Sri Lanka in July 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter Terrorism highlighted how counter terrorism legislation had fostered the “endemic and systematic” use of torture, particularly affecting any person suspected of association with the LTTE. Earlier this year, we welcomed the most recent resolution by the UN Human Rights Council to keep the human rights situation under review for another two years.

In March 2017, we submitted a briefing to the UN ahead of Sri Lanka’s Universal Periodic Review, taking place in November 2017. 

Has ratified United Nations Convention Against Torture 

2. Iran – 140 referrals in 2016

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.

Happiness is forbidden in Iran... I was treated worse than an animal... They told me that afterwards I wouldn’t even want to be alive and in that they have succeeded.
- Bahar, Freedom from Torture client

Our 2013 report, We will make you regret everything, highlighted methods of torture used by the authorities against many involved in political activism – and their family members – around the 2009 Iranian presidential election.

In March 2017, the UN Special Rapporteur on Iran presented a report to the UN Human Rights Council. She described torture as “endemic” and her mandate was renewed for another year.  In June 2017, Freedom from Torture wrote to the Special Rapporteur to highlight key findings from some recent research we have undertaken into torture in Iran. We will use the evidence we have gathered from our Iranian clients to produce a new Freedom from Torture report, to be released later in 2017, that will shine a light on the continuing and widespread use of torture in the country.

Has not ratified United Nations Convention Against Torture 

3. Afghanistan – 108 referrals in 2016

Both the government and armed insurgents have been responsible for torture in recent years in Afghanistan. Latest evidence points to its widespread use on detainees, including children and young people.

When my father was killed, soldiers brought his body back to our house... We knew the soldiers would ask me to take his place so my mother hid me. One day they found me hiding and beat me. When they left, my mother thought that I was dead.
 – Janan, Freedom from Torture client

Of the number of Afghans referred to our services in 2016, 57 were children and young people, making it our top country of origin for young people who have experienced torture.

Human Rights Watch reported an initial decrease in torture following the 2014 election of the National Unity Government who announced a “zero tolerance” approach. However, by mid-2015, as fighting with the Taliban intensified, they reported that torture had resumed to previous levels or increased. Many incidents were linked to security forces detaining people and forcing confessions.

Amnesty International highlighted the role of the Taliban in their 2017 annual report. The UN reported that a record number of people detained by Afghan police reported torture between 2016 and 2017, including a number of children. In May 2017, the UN Committee Against Torture expressed its concern about torture and ill-treatment being widely and increasingly practised on detainees in custody.

Has ratified United Nations Convention Against Torture

4. Nigeria – 64 referrals in 2016

The conflict between the Nigerian government and the extremist dissident group Boko Haram has continued since 2009. Both sides have committed torture and other human rights abuses. The UN highlights that the resulting humanitarian crisis affects over 14 million people. 

In their latest annual reports, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reported that the police and military continue to use torture and ill-treatment whilst interrogating suspects to extract information and confessions. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a Nigerian police unit set up to combat violent crime, were also accused of frequently torturing suspects during interrogation.

In June 2016 an anti-torture bill intended to criminalise torture passed its first reading in the Senate having passed through the House of Representatives. In September that year, the Special Anti-Robbery Squad was warned by the Inspector General of the Police against committing torture.

Has ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture 

5. Democratic Republic of Congo – 62 referrals in 2016

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.

Now I know, because I have been there, that it is normal for women to be sexually abused in prison... The soldiers and the prison guards, they don't see women as human beings, they don't see any value in women. I can't even remember how many times I was raped.
- Faith, Freedom from Torture client

In our report, Rape as Torture in the DRC, evidence from our clients highlights how rape is routinely used by state officials to punish politically active women and those involved with women’s rights organisations. Many of the women treated by Freedom from Torture and featured in the report were detained for political reasons in non-conflict situations.

In their 2017 annual report, Amnesty International reported that state agents as well as armed groups were responsible for torture.

Political unrest and protests have taken place in 2016 and 2017 throughout the country as President Kabila has sought to remain in power following the end of his mandate in 2016. In June 2017, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling on the High Commissioner for Human Rights to despatch a team of international investigators to collect information about abuses perpetrated in the Kasai regions.

In accession to United Nations Convention Against Torture

6. Turkey – 56 referrals in 2016

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.

“I felt fearful, insecure and lonely during my imprisonment. I am still hearing the noise of a cracking head in the nearby cell which bothers me more than what I lived through there.”
- Freedom from Torture client

Our 2017 briefing, Torture in Turkey: Past, present and future, based on evidence from our clients, highlights how torture has been used to suppress political activity for many years.

Freedom from Torture has treated many Turkish survivors of torture. Of those featured in our report, most were men under 40 years old and of Kurdish background, who have been detained and tortured by authorities more than once. Many were beaten with blunt objects, experienced electric shocks or a high-pressure hose and some were subjected to sexual torture.

Following a mission to Turkey in November 2016, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture expressed concern about impunity and security measures that undermine any progress towards the prevention of torture in the country. They will present their findings to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2018.

Has ratified United Nations Convention Against Torture

7. Iraq – 55 referrals in 2016

Evidence points to a wide and indiscriminate use of torture in Iraq, committed by a range of state actors and armed groups. The country is facing ongoing instability as it attempts to rebuild after the 2003-2011 war and continues to face civil war since 2014.

Amnesty International’s 2017 annual report found that government forces, paramilitary militias and the armed group Islamic State (IS) have been responsible for frequent torture and ill-treatment of civilians, captives and detainees.  According to their report, torture in state detention is rife.

The US and foreign military forces have been criticised for failing to take action after documenting thousands of cases of torture and other ill-treatment from the 2003 war. Also of concern are the allegations of abuse and torture of Iraqi civilians between 2003 and 2009 by UK armed forces. Freedom from Torture is deeply concerned about former Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments publicly downplaying allegations of torture by British military personnel last year. In 2016, we signed a joint letter with other human rights organisations, such as Human Rights Watch and Redress, raising our concerns about this. 

In accession to United Nations Convention Against Torture.

8. Pakistan – 53 referrals in 2016

Torture by state officials, the military, police and intelligence agents is widespread and impunity commonplace. Legal safeguards against torture are absent or limited.

In 2017, the UN Committee Against Torture expressed its concern that reports of police using torture to extract confessions continue to be widespread throughout Pakistan. Amnesty International’s 2017 annual report noted that security forces, in the absence of independent mechanisms for accountability, continue to act with impunity. Many members of political parties and human rights defenders have been detained and remain at risk of torture.

Has ratified United Nations Convention Against Torture

9. Syria – 48 referrals in 2016

As the war in Syria continues, a wide range of actors are carrying out human rights abuses, including widespread and systematic torture. By the end of 2016, the conflict had resulted in the internal displacement of 6.6 million people and forced 4.8 million to seek refuge abroad.

If in Syria you are walking in the street and see a picture of President Assad and you don’t smile, it is enough to put you in detention. So if you go to the street and demonstrate and ask for change, that is enough for the Government to kill you. 
-Thamer, Freedom from Torture client

Amnesty International’s 2017 country report highlighted that torture and ill-treatment of detainees by the authorities is systematic and widespread. It also drew attention to torture, including rape, of Yazidi women captured and held in slavery by Islamic State fighters.

A number of reports have estimated that over 50% of Syrians in the UK’s Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement programme will have survived torture. Freedom from Torture is the only organisation dedicated to the treatment of torture survivors in the UK.  Just a handful of Syrians from the resettlement programme have been referred to us. Though the UK Government’s commitment to taking 20,000 Syria refugees is welcome, the UK must do more. 

Has ratified United Nations Convention Against Torture 

10. Sudan – 36 referrals in 2016

Conflict has continued in Sudan since 2003, and has been described by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan as "the world's greatest humanitarian crisis". Torture is widespread and Freedom from Torture clients often have escaped torture in secret detention centres known as “ghost houses”.

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.
– Nuri, Freedom from Torture client

Sudan accepted the recommendation to ratify the UN Convention against Torture and take other measures to prevent torture and ill-treatment in their last Universal Periodic Review (2016). However, the government rejected recommendations regarding impunity and refused to execute arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court for Sudanese nationals for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.

Evidence from Freedom from Torture clients published into 2007 found that people were targeted because they belonged to historically marginalised tribes, or they came from farming communities which had tried to resist the ethnic cleansing of the Government-backed Janjaweed Arab militias.

Armed conflicts between government forces and armed opposition groups continue in Sudan, and human rights organisations continue to report abuses. In 2016, Human Rights Watch reported that government forces attacked, killed and raped civilians and that the authorities continue to detain political activists and subject them to torture.

Has ratified United Nations Convention Against Torture

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