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In a special section of the July 9, 2010 issue of Science, contributing correspondent Jon Cohen examines the spread of HIV in Russia and Ukraine, which together account for more than 90% of the infections in Eastern Europe. Learn more...

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PROGRAM PRIORITY: SURVIVORS OF HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES

More than 50 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, much work remains to ensure respect for and protection of human rights worldwide. Survivors of gross human rights abuses such as torture, trafficking, and discrimination face unique challenges in health and accessing care and treatment, and often require special assistance to find safe haven from further abuse. HealthRight International is committed to helping survivors of human rights abuses find safety and asylum from persecution, as well as access to quality, rights-based health care to promote their healing and wellbeing.

Through the Human Rights Clinic, which was launched in New York in 1993, we address the needs of survivors of torture and human rights violations.  The Clinic holds the disctinction of being the nation’s first residency training program to clinically document the effects of torture. It has since expanded to over ten states and has had remarkable success: 91% of clients were granted asylum or other immigration protection, compared to the national average of 23%.
 
Torture Survivors
Torture is inflicted on many kinds of people, including those whose political activism threatens a regime; ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities; suspected criminals; or random individuals who become caught in a campaign of terror. Torture survivors often must flee their home countries in order to escape further persecution. For many, political asylum in another country remains the only option for living free from abuse. According to the UNHCR, applications for asylum globally have increased recently, and the U.S. remains a primary destination, with 49,000 asylum applicants last year and an estimated 400,000 - 500,000 torture survivors in the country. These survivors often lack the assistance necessary to document their experience of torture for asylum proceedings. In addition, survivors frequently lack access to health and social services, and may face difficulties seeking services due to the mental health consequences of their torture.
 
Trafficking
The U.S. State Department estimates that at least 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. Millions more are trafficked within their own countries. The vast majority of trafficking victims are female, and, of people trafficked for sexual exploitation, around half are under age 18. Trafficking has received increased attention, with resources going into documentation, information campaigns, and ‘rescues’ of girls and children, particularly from sex work-related trafficking destinations. However, insufficient resources have been made available to provide quality, client-centered health and social services to those who have experienced trafficking and other forms of violence and abuse. 

Excluded Communities
Too often, individuals and groups of people face routine and longstanding discrimination and violations of their human rights. Individuals and groups are targeted for a variety of reasons, including ethnicity, age, geographic location, and gender. The modes of discrimination as related to the right to health can range from neglect in allocation of appropriate health resources and services, routine abuse, or gross violations of individuals’ rights, such as forced sterilization.
 
HEALTHRIGHT INTERNATIONAL’S RESPONSE:
HealthRight International is committed to helping survivors of abuse find safety and asylum from persecution, and to building access to sustainable, rights-based care.   Our approach includes:
 

  • Assistance for survivors of torture and other human rights abuses seeking asylum in the U.S.
  • Advocating for equal access to care, in partnership with excluded communities and with a focus on long-term solutions; and ensuring that health information, education, and services are available in the language of minority communities
  • Mobilizing communities, giving them the tools and skills to effect lasting change in their access to health information, education, and services
  • Training providers and community members in providing rights-based services and life-saving care

 
SUCCESSES AND RECENT INITIATIVES


In the United States, HealthRight’s Human Rights Clinic has helped over 3,000 torture survivors in their quest for asylum. The program trains and deploys volunteer physicians and mental health professionals to provide clinical examinations for survivors, documenting abuse, and providing critical testimony in asylum proceedings.
 
In Nepal, HealthRight has partnered with local organizations serving women and girls who are survivors of trafficking and gender-based violence. HealthRight established health clinics at locally-run shelters across Nepal, providing access to quality on-site health services and counseling to thousands of shelter residents and community members.
 
In Chiapas, Mexico, HealthRight has worked to build lasting access to health for indigenous communities, who have traditionally faced challenges in accessing even basic services. HealthRight has trained hundreds of community health promoters to educate their communities about TB and its treatment and to conduct community-based case finding, diagnosis, and treatment.
 
Roma communities in Romania and Bulgaria have long faced discrimination and exclusion from health and other social services. HealthRight has worked closely with Roma communities, training peer health educators and advocates to directly implement and advocate with public agencies for improvements in care and access services such as TB and reproductive health education and treatment.