2012 Survivor Week a Success!

July 20, 2012 (TASSC International) – Additional panels featured immigration attorney Alan Parra and survivors from Ethiopia, hundreds of whom have come to the TASSC offices in recent years, victims of a military regime that has ruled Ethiopia with an iron rule and cracked down on tens of thousands who protested fraudulent elections in 2005 and 2010.

Ethiopia is a major ally of the U.S. in its global war on terror, despite the fact that, in the words of survivors, “the government is terrorizing its own people.”

Speaking to an audience of survivors at Catholic University during the TASSC forum, “Justice for Survivors: Ending Torture, Disappearance, and Impunity,” UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez, himself a survivor of torture from Argentina, acknowledged the crucial and important role that survivors and their families play in the global movement to end torture.

More than 30,000 people were disappeared – and presumably tortured and executed – during the “dirty war” in Argentina.

Another panelist, Aileen Bacalso, is the “focal point” for the International Coalition against Enforced Disappearance. Her husband was disappeared and tortured in the Philippines, but survived.

“Disappearance is a form of torture,” she said, “for both the victims and their families.”

While torture has clearly become an issue in the U.S., on account of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the phenomena of disappearance and its link to torture is less widely acknowledged in the U.S.

Even less acknowledged, is the responsibility of governments who have signed and ratified the UN Convention against Torture to hold accountable those government officials responsible for torture.

Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, emphasized this point: “The obligation of governments who are party to the UN Convention is very strong, and it requires them to investigate, prosecute, and punish those who are responsible, even for one case of torture.”

A third panelist, Richard Wilson, law professor from American University and director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at AU, stressed the importance of working against impunity in the fight to defend victims of torture.

The AU clinic and Human Rights USA were responsible for the publication of a 250-page report, ”Indefensible: A Reference for Prosecuting Torture and Other Felonies,” which makes the case for prosecuting officials of the Bush administration for violations of the statutes in U.S. and international law criminalizing the practice of torture.

A delegation of survivors also visited the United Nations, hosted by Franciscans International and other faith-based NGOs with observer status at the UN.

Hussein Ahmed is a survivor of torture from Ethiopia, currently living in Norway. He spoke of the real danger that 400 survivors of torture may be deported back to Ethiopia.

He was joined by Ester Alvarenga, from Pro-Busqueda in El Salvador, an organization that reunites children kidnapped by the Salvadoran military in the 1980s with their parents.

Neris Gonazlez was one of three Salvadoran plaintiffs who brought to justice two Salvadoran generals living in Miami for their role in the torture, disappearance, and execution of thousands of Salvadorans during the 1980’s civil war.

Aileen Bacalso and her husband Edsil, both from the Philippines, recounted the courageous witness of family members of the disappeared from around the world who successfully lobbied the UN General Assembly to pass a new convention against enforced disappearances in December 2006.

For the second consecutive year, TASSC joined the Program for Survivors of Torture and Trauma (PSTT), a treatment center in Northern Virginia, to convene health professionals in the Washington DC metropolitan area for a series of panels with survivors and workshops with health professionals on “Rebuilding a Life after Torture.”

Survivors also joined 40 university students from The Washington Center and lobbyed 15 Congressional offices, urging representatives and senators to end the practice of detention of asylum seekers and to condition U.S. aid to countries that torture.

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