Monday, June 26, 2006
United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture
Today the UN and organizations around the world acknowledge the suffering of millions of people tortured worldwide and the courage of those survivors in the face of brutal persecution. HealthRight International (formerly Doctors of the World-USA) is proud to stand with survivors and advocates and call for an end to torture, everywhere, now.
Torture remains a deadly reality. Amnesty International reports that torture continues to exist in over 150 countries, where people live in fear of abduction, imprisonment, abuse, torture and even execution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Many survivors of these human rights abuses come to the United States seeking freedom and equality. However, to gain asylum or other forms of protection survivors must prove to our complex immigration system that they have been abused. This is especially difficult for those with limited English skills, little trust in authority, and no evidence but their scarred bodies and broken spirits to substantiate their stories.
In partnership with other organizations and advocates, HealthRight volunteers and staff assist survivors of torture in their struggle for safe haven.
HealthRight's Human Rights Clinic trains physicians and mental health clinicians to recognize and document torture with objective, respectful and humane client evaluation. These survivors, mostly uninsured and without the means to secure their own health services, receive examinations, documentation for use in their asylum proceedings, and referrals for treatment or counseling at no charge. HRC works with immigration attorneys to demonstrate the experience of torture. Attorneys use clinical evidence as part of the asylum appeal, which frequently demands that the applicant – the person who has survived torture – demonstrate credible fear of torture if returned to the native country.
Since 1993, the Human Rights Clinic network of volunteers has grown to include over 400 physicians and mental health professionals who assist survivors in New York, New Jersey, California, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C. Today we honor the thousands of survivors by sharing the stories of just a few.
*Peter, a 63 year-old man from Gambia was persecuted because of his political beliefs and affiliations. He joined the opposition Union Democratic Party upon its founding in 1996, and subsequently lost his job as a police officer, and then a security guard. He was monitored by the National Intelligence Agency, and his brother was killed when a package left by police exploded. During an election campaign he was ambushed and beaten by thugs for the ruling party, jailed for 10 days on charges that would eventually be dismissed, and his home was under constant surveillance. Fearing for his safety he came to the US, leaving behind an ailing mother, his wife, and children. Peter was referred to the Human Rights Clinic by an immigration attorney and examined by an HRC-trained volunteer physician who found scars and other symptoms consistent with his claims. With the help of the Human Rights Clinic, Peter was granted asylum in the United States.
*Ana, a 61 year-old woman was originally from Armenia,but a citizen of Georgia by marriage. She moved to Georgia in 1968 to be with her husband, and from that time forward faced persistent and brutal persecution. In May 1980, she was attacked by Georgian extremists and spent a year in the hospital recovering. In 1983, she was raped in front of her two children, and lost the child she was carrying at the time. She was evicted from her apartment and told Armenians were not allowed in the building. In 1995, she was attacked, stabbed, and raped by two Georgian men. This type of abuse persisted, and while living in Georgia she was beaten, robbed, pushed from a moving bus twice, and violent dogs were let loose on her. She sustained severe injuries from these attacks, but was too scared to report them to the police. In 1999, she witnessed the murder of two Armenian co-workers, and felt her own life was in jeopardy. In 2000, her children were attacked and severely beaten. In 2002, Anna fled for the United States. After being referred to HRC through an immigration attorney, Ana was examined by an HRC-trained volunteer psychologist and shortly afterwards was granted asylum.
*Names have been changed to protect the clients’ identity
HealthRight International was known as Doctors of the World-USA from 1990 to 2009.