Examples from different countries

Rwanda: Talking about it helps. The organisation Kanyarwanda in Kigali was founded in 1991. Since 1994, the Centre has provided medical, psychotherapeutic and social rehabilitative services to victims of torture and their family members. It was funded by the CARVITORE (Centre Africain de Rehabiliatation des Victimes de la Torture et de la Répression) program. 4 staff members work at the Centre. In 2005 as many as 1201 survivors and their family members received assistance from the Centre. Survivors find that it helps to talk about what happened.

Among others, with the assistance from the Centre, women who were raped during the genocide have created a support network enabling them to set up small businesses. A couple received help with building their house as well as psychological aid.

Since 1991, Kanyarwanda has developed several networks, including one comprised of doctors who treat victims of torture. In many instances, where victims are unable to afford medical treatment, the Centre covers the costs.

Irene, one of the social workers, encourages Cyprien, a survivor, to write down his experiences. He wants to use these notes to bring the perpetrators to justice at one of Rwanda’s Gacaca tribunals, which were influenced by Rwanda’s traditional village courts. In these courts, lay people were trained to judge and sentence their fellow citizens. The government hopes the tribunals will enable the people of Rwanda to come to terms with the genocide. Some survivors believe in its efficacy, like Cyprien, while other survivors don’t. Cyprien hopes that the interrogation of detainees in front of their fellow villagers will lead to the truth and, where appropriate, their punishment. Only then will he have the peace of mind to look for a job like the one he once had as a janitor in a coffee factory.

Tassiana, a 50-year-old Coordinator of Kanyarwanda attempts to capture the magnitude of the genocide through statistics. She recognizes that this provides little consolation for the victims. She says: “To date, there has been no legal verdict or other action that could begin to make amends for the barbaric killings”. And so, the tiny steps the survivors are taking in their daily lives are seen as crucial to their individual and collective survival. (…) With each passing day and with the assistance of the Centre, the shadows become shorter and the survivors take their next steps towards hope.

Chile: Memory has secret boxes

This is a story about Chile and the women working at CODEPU. It is a story that occurs on a daily basis in Santiago de Chile and speaks of the power of solidarity and the devastating consequences of torture. The slight stature of the women conceals the enormous inner strength that sustains them. Their smiles convey the peace they have found in providing a safe haven for fellow survivors.

In Santiago, Chile, the organization Corporación de Promoción y Defensa de los Derechos del Pueblo (CODEPU) provides medical, psychological, legal and social assistance to survivors of torture. The funded programme is called ‘Reporting, investigation and treatment of victims of torture and their relatives’. 11 staff members work at the Centre.

During the dictatorship in Chile, a lot of human rights violations took place including torture, killings and enforced disappearances. Margarita lost the man she was going to marry, Luis, during the regime, as he was imprisoned, tortured and killed. She was also tortured herself while spending time in a concentration camp called Tejas Verdes. Margarita went into exile, first to Argentina and then to Canada. Once democracy was restored in Chile, Margarita returned to begin the long and difficult process of recovery. She found psychological help at CODEPU and gave testimony on television. She then testified at an appeal hearing related to Luis’s murder. When two of the torturers were found guilty, Margarita had a vision of a large metal gate opening widely. Her therapist interpreted this as Margarita’s liberation from her psychological prison.

Now a warm and smiling volunteer at CODEPU, Margarita explains that she sees her son as the main reason for her sense of renewal. “I was living in limbo, nothing really mattered to me. But my son made me aware that I had given birth to someone who had the right to be happy. I told myself that I could not inflict on him so much pain, so much sadness. As a mother I was responsible for my actions. I decided to change and I have managed it.”

Viviana says that the process of reparation for torture victims was reactivated following the 1998 arrest of General Pinochet in London on the basis of a Spanish extradition warrant. “When they saw Pinochet arrested and accused of torture and murder, survivors realized that they were living evidence against him. They recognized that their half-hearted expectation that justice might be done had somehow become possible.”

Step by step, with tremendous difficulties, the Chilean Government finally recognized the need to appropriately address issues faced by torture victims. In 2004, an eight-member National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture was formed at the request of the President. While the Commission received the testimonies of more than 35,000 survivors, it is estimated that a similar number of victims felt unable to speak to State officials about their experiences.

(…) The human rights work in Chile carries on at full steam. The work of women like Margarita, Viviana and Paz provides hope for those attempting to heal their wounds, mitigate their pain and seek justice and appropriate forms of reparation. More importantly, this work provides a source of hope that we can prevent another tragedy.

The stories are adapted from the book Rebuilding lives: The United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture’ .