The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT), a private, not-for-profit, non-partisan organization based in Copenhagen, orchestrates vital humanitarian support for a vast and growing global population. Its tireless network of 150 member centers in over 70 countries operates in a wide range of contexts, from conflict-driven regimes to western democracies.
All IRCT members share three defining characteristics. They are legally independent; rooted in civil society; and provide rehabilitation services for at least 50 torture victims on an annual basis. Member centers implement health-based rehabilitation methods that support life after torture and empower victims, their families and communities to resume fulfilling lives.
The physical and psychological damage from torture may last for a lifetime. Torture victims may struggle to maintain relationships with friends, hold a job or even enjoy life. Many torture survivors live with chronic pain years after their abuse and suffer from psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression. Torture survivors are also faced with cognitive and neuro-vegetative issues such as confusion, flashbacks, insomnia and recurring nightmares. Resulting trauma often affects subsequent generations.
The IRCT eases life after torture by helping victims through a combination of medical, psychological, legal and social services. Rehabilitation is a process that responds to victims’ individual needs, mindful of their cultural and socio-political background.
Torture is a political act, therefore, the rehabilitation of torture victims is often also perceived as political. Thus, IRCT member centers play a key role in promoting democracy and human rights, symbolizing triumph over the terror that torture reigns over entire societies.
All victims of torture and ill treatment have an explicit right to rehabilitation, as per the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Yet only a percentage of torture victims have access to the services and support they desperately need and are entitled to. In many countries, rehabilitation support is provided by non-governmental organizations that are not adequately funded to support all the victims who come to them for help.
The IRCT mobilizes global sources of medical, psychological and legal assistance for torture victims who face challenging rehabilitation. “International law mandates support for rehabilitation,” says IRCT Governance and Policy Associate Daniela Jorge Ayoub. After high school in Union, New Jersey she earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science at William Paterson University, in Wayne, New Jersey. She then joined a consulting firm to support the efforts of governmental aid organizations, like USAID, in the Middle East and North Africa. Her career led to a post with the United Nations in Germany and then to join the IRCT in Denmark.
The never-ending battle against torture and its consequences culminates each year on June 26, the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. “The act of torture supports and encourages a system of impunity. It can take years before the perpetrator is brought to justice, but rehabilitation gives victims the necessary strength to wait for this justice,” says Olga Sadovskaya, Committee for Prevention of Torture’s Director of International Protection (Russia).
IRCT coordinates a 26 June Global Campaign to commemorate the global fight against torture and ill treatment. In recent years, the IRCT reports, more than a hundred organizations from every region of the world have organized conferences, workshops, theatre and dance performances, football matches and — of course — marches in the street.
“Our movement is resilient,” the IRCT declares. “Today, we speak with one voice to let demagogues and extremists know that, more than ever, we stand resolutely for what is right, and we are ready to work with anyone wishing to improve the lives of torture victims.”