Uniting against Torture

Marie-Louise Dyrlund Hansen*

 

I dream to empower people everywhere to stand up against torture: To have the courage, the freedom and the knowledge to stop the use of it. From the very start, my biggest motivation as an activist has been activists from MENA: You risk your life to stand up for your rights and I cannot think of anything more honourable than that. I hope that I will be able to use my own freedom to help you secure yours. I dream that we all unite in the fight against torture and that together, we can face the controversy of torture all over the world.

 

I come from Denmark, a country in Scandinavia, where the biggest threat to human rights activists is being yelled at in the street. Denmark does not use systematic torture, which is different from many countries in MENA. For me it has been immensely valuable to learn of the parallels behind the attitudes and obstacles that activists face in different parts of the world. Personally, I see security policy and mobilization as the most important parallels.

 

The growing emphasis on security policy seems to be a great challenge to advocating against torture everywhere: Torture is often used by authoritarian leaders to keep down domestic disturbances, thereby maintaining control and “security” of their nations. The use- and acceptance of torture from democratic leaders, in the other hand, has increased steadily in correlation to the rise in the threat of terrorism.

 

Since 9/11 torture has become increasingly accepted in the West, as we have limited the debate and perceive torture as a tool to save our loved ones from bad people in hypothetical scenarios. Everyone seems to have forgotten that torture is most commonly used to suppress populations. Authoritarian leaders are known to notoriously try to avoid the international critique of using torture. However, the growing acceptance of torture by leaders everywhere, has made the critique less credible. This is a huge obstacle in the fight against torture everywhere.

 

The Human Rights Group has created the Human Rights Education Guide for the Global Amnesty International Campaign “Stop Torture,” to empower the youth, activists and Amnesty International Sections of the Stop Torture campaign. The group consists of youth activists from 17 different countries, our facilitator, Jane Houston, the International Human Rights Education Centre and their staff: Annette Schneider and Michel Banz. We also collaborated closely with Danny Vannucchi from the Global Stop Torture Campaign Team.

 

We all met up at the International Human Rights Education Centre in Oslo, Norway, on the 9th of May this year. We knew that the ultimate objective of the guide, was to empower youth to act as multipliers through a learning process and that we, the youth, would design and create the resources. Danny joined us in Oslo, for our workshop, to discuss the campaign and ways to use the guide to enable young people, activists and Amnesty International Sections to take action against torture as part of Amnesty International’s campaign. Our goal with the workshop was to create a team bond and to have the structure of the guide done, as well as a time plan for the work after. From the 9th to the 12th we discussed how to approach the guide with the help of Annette, Michel, Jane and Danny, who all challenged our views and thoughts of the campaign. We decided to start the blog, “Multicultural Education Against Torture” so that everyone could follow the incredible process of the guide.

You can visit out blog at the link below:

http://meeteducation.wordpress.com/

 

During the weekend we established, that in order to be able to encourage people to participate in the fight against torture, we needed to make the guide relevant for everyone; creating a mutual standpoint was therefore one of our biggest concerns when writing the guide.

 

The guide taught me how to face the growing acceptance- and use of torture: My colleagues taught me to focus on humanizing torture victims and focus on the real facts of torture; that it is a matter of faulty investigation and legal process and not whether or not the individual “deserves” torture. Through this context, I learnt how to create workshops that would enable others to learn the same and realize the importance of educating people on the true facts of torture. No matter what kind of government we are challenging, we can all benefit from learning how to address the controversy of security versus rights.  Our guide features the workshop “Explore Safeguards through Drama”, which aims at provoking thoughts on conditions of police interrogations as well as exploring the right to freedom from torture as universal and absolute. If we want to be successful in the Stop Torture campaign, we need to know how to face this controversy. I believe our guide can do this.

 

The workshop proceedings can be found on the guide link below:  www.empoweragainsttorture.net.

 

The Human Rights Education Guide for Stop Torture is aimed at educating and engaging young activists in this particular campaign. This makes mobilization an immensely important issue to approach. My colleagues from MENA put emphasis on the safety of participants as their biggest concern, when mobilizing, while others, such as me, sought a guide that would make torture relatable. I learnt that we need to focus on the consequences of torture for the survivors and their family to motivate people to mobilize against torture everywhere. We need to follow through with the humanization of the torture victim: Not just during the torture but also afterwards. Because security policy overshadows the torture issue, we tend to stop the debate at the action and not the consequences. The problem with this is, that the consequences help us to humanize the victims. If we can create empathy with those who have been tortured, we can ensure the support of the campaign through mobilization. This is why we created the workshop “The Consequences of Torture,” which aims at engaging participants’ emotions to the potential effect of torture.

 

If I am honest, I did not know a lot about the realities of torture before I became a part of the Human Rights Group against torture. When I worked on the guide I learnt so much about campaigning against the use of torture, not just in my part of the world but also in yours, and why we need everyone to succeed in this campaign. I hope that our guide can provoke your attitudes of torture and inspire you to fight against it. We must never forget to support each other and that while systematic torture has become more common in our world, we can challenge it if we do it together. I dream to empower people everywhere to stand up against torture. Will you help me?

* Human rights youth activist from Denmark




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