We are a national network of people who have survived torture. We use our expert voices to raise awareness about the impact of torture and advocate for policy change.
Our main aims are to:
- Promote survivors' active engagement on issues that impact our daily lives
- Raise awareness of the issues facing survivors of torture in the UK and around the world
- Advocate against torture and for awareness of its harmful impacts
- Campaign in support of rehabilitation for survivors and for the development of survivor networks worldwide
- Be the voice of survivors who have been silenced.
We brief governments and shadow ministers, lobby decision makers, and provide evidence to parliamentary inquiries and other independent oversight bodies.
We also run workshops, speak on panels and at conferences, and work together with other national and international organisations.
Our current projects
We are campaigning with Freedom from Torture to stop the UK government from putting in place a five-year expiry date for the prosecution of war crimes committed by British forces abroad. The UK risks setting a dangerous precedent if it sets a time limit on justice, and perpetrators are not held to account.
After over ten years of successful campaigning and advocacy work we are delighted to be carrying out an internal review of SSO. The review will look at the challenges we’ve faced and the solutions we’ve found, and our processes and policies, to develop a learning tool to share with other organisations.
We hope that reflecting back on our journey will help others build their survivor networks and create a mass survivor-led movement to strengthen the fight against torture.
Another incredibly exciting and important project we’ve recently been involved in is the Asylum Interview Research project. This research revisits the asylum interview, and is grounded in the voices and experiences of those who are best placed to identify the problems and the solutions: survivors of torture who personally experienced an interview.
We contributed to this project from the outset, being actively involved in the design, data collection and analysis, and supporting the engagement of the report with external agencies and organisations.
The research findings have been published in the report Beyond Belief: How the Home Office fails survivors of torture at the asylum interview. You can explore the real stories of survivors failed by the home office on the ‘I Believe You’ microsite.
What we achieved in 2019
In 2019 we played a part in many international events including:
- The Forum of Australian Services for Survivors of Torture and Trauma (FASSTT) network conference in Australia, where we presented a paper and ran workshops.
- The MSF/ Reedsmith conference in Athens called Pathway to recovery looking into protection and rehabilitation of torture survivors caught up in the migration crisis. We helped design the event, gave a keynote speech, delivered workshops, and worked with a group of survivors to support their participation.
- We spoke at several high profile international conferences, including an IOM conference in New York, and at high-level Wilton Park events as part of the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI).
2019 was also a year of successful engagement with the Home Office:
- We directly influenced the team working on improving written communications with asylum applicants through workshops and ongoing advocacy.
- We also engaged with the Home Office, resulting in a commitment to work together on a reform agenda for the asylum process, where we will lead on providing a platform for Home Office engagement with people with lived experience.
And in international advocacy work:
Two SSO members, Nadine Tunasi and Kolbassia Haoussou, were appointed Survivor Champions for the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative (PSVI), established in 2012 by the former Foreign Office Secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has stated that the roles aim to deliver impact and policy outcomes for PSVI, which include access to holistic care for all survivors, ending stigma and ensuring justice and greater accountability.
SSO founder Kolbassia has also been appointed a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the New Year 2020 honours list. Kolbassia was honored for his long and impressive track record of helping survivors find their voice in the fight back against torture, and for his services to survivors of sexual violence in conflict through his work with PSVI.
SSO members also delivered workshops for a group of survivors from all over the world in preparation for the forthcoming international PSVI conference.
Our revolutionary survivor activism model started as an idea to bring torture survivors together to create a voice for survivors.
Together, two former Freedom from Torture clients Kolbassia and Serge further developed the idea into a vision of a group of survivors who speak with expertise and experience on torture. A critical part of the vision for the group was for us to set our own agenda, with the support and expertise of Freedom from Torture when needed.
Working with their clinician at Freedom from Torture, Kolbassia and Serge put their plan in motion and the group’s numbers grew.
In 2009, Kolbassia and Serge were able to take SSO forward formally after securing funding with Freedom from Torture’s support. Since then we have grown into an influential organisation with a voice that demands to be heard by the government.