For Immediate Release
Since 1997, every June 26 has marked the annual United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Millions of people around the world, including an estimated 500,000 in the United States, are struggling with the impact of horrific acts intentionally inflicted on them.
The U.S. Congress provided crucial support in the past for these survivors under the Torture Victims Relief Act of 1998, vital to the operation of treatment centers for torture victims in the United States and abroad. In 2011, reauthorization of this act was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, but no further congressional action was taken. Even during a severe budget crisis, Congress needs to continue to support survivors of torture by funding these key centers.
But the protection, treatment, and rehabilitation of international torture survivors is only part of the problem. The United States itself must also unequivocally refrain from the use of torture under any circumstances, and must afford protection and restitution to victims who suffered in U.S. custody. It hardly matters to a survivor if torture was inflicted by an authoritarian foreign government or by a U.S. contractor under the so-called enhanced interrogation program. The horrific legacy of this program lives on in the current cycle of indefinite detention, which as PHR has documented causes serious psychological damage. This practice must end immediately and the U.S. government must transfer all cleared Guantanamo Bay detainees either to a safe third country or to the United States. Only actual transfers will give hope to the more than 100 detainees now on hunger strike in Guantanamo, who have chosen this extreme form of protest to make the U.S. government pay attention to their plight.
After her recent visit to Guantanamo, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) deplored the detrimental impact of the current government policy of force feeding detainees in a letter to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, in which she stated that “these policies are out of step with international norms, medical ethics and practices of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.”
For its part, PHR calls on the Obama Administration to immediately stop all force feeding at Guantanamo, and to allow independent medics to evaluate and treat detainees.
PHR also calls on Congress to increase funding for treatment centers for survivors of torture, starting with the reauthorization of the Torture Victims Relief Act.
Torture victims around the world deserve no less.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.