Letter of Concern submitted to the Government of Zimbabwe on the Eve of the Summit of the Southern African Development Community Heads of States and Governments, to be held in Luanda, Angola (14 – 19 August 2011)

The member organisations of the South African No Torture Consortium (SANToC) express deep concern at the continuing and apparently intensifying climate of political intolerance and a lack of respect for the rule of law in Zimbabwe. We decry the apparent continuing hounding of Zimbabwean activists who have been forced to flee political persecution, intimidation, harassment and torture in their own country. Reports of physical attacks, killings and disappearances are increasing. SANToC deplores the failure of the Zimbabwean state to guarantee the safety of all Zimbabweans regardless of their political affiliation.

Three years after the devastating post-election violence of 2008 in Zimbabwe, there are genuine fears that the country is heading towards a repeat of the atrocities that characterised the 2008 post-election period. Any election conducted in a climate of political fear and violence cannot bring a legitimate and accountable government into power. A government elected through violence is one that will not serve the best interests of its citizens on the basis of equality and non-discrimination.

SANToC thus calls on the Heads of States of all the countries of the region to demand that the Zimbabwean government respect the fundamental rights of all its citizens in recognition that Zimbabwe belongs to all its people, irrespective of their political affiliation. We call on these governments to reject the continuing oppression of Zimbabweans by their own state. We call on the South African state to protect Zimbabwean asylum-seekers in South Africa.

There can be no peace in the region without an end to the injustices being perpetrated with almost total impunity by Zimbabwean officials against Zimbabwean civilians. It is time for the peoples of Southern Africa to demand an end to these atrocities. This call is supported by the member organisations of the South African No Torture Consortium.

11 August 2011

It should not be that we talk of torture from the “past” without understanding what we mean by the past. For many torture survivors, the past is in the present. The past imprints itself, again and again, in the form of unemployment and broken relationships. Its memory lingers literally like a nightmare.
From November 2010 to March 2011, Khulumani Support Group conducted a torture advocacy workshop with a group of ex-combatants from Kagiso, who suffered severe torture during apartheid. The narrative process called HEARTS (based on Karen Hanscom’s work at Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma) was used to explore the ways in which the individuals identified stress and dealt with it. The group shared stories of what happened to them, where they have been and where they are now. From the stories they shared, it was clear that the group felt forgotten. They felt that all their sacrifices of missing out on education while fighting for liberation, of being tortured and wounded, had not counted because when the objective of changing government was finally reached, the rules had been changed. Their sacrifices turned against them. They cannot get employment because they lack skills, because they are disabled, because they suffer the mental effects of torture. In the seminar organised by Khulumani to commemorate UN International Day in Support of Persons with Disabilities, held in the Chapel of the SACC on 3 December 2010, the members of the group of torture survivors expressed how difficult it continues to be to access appropriate rehabilitation services.
What does it mean therefore when people who were tortured more than 16 years ago still suffer the effects of torture today? For Khulumani it indicates the contribution of torture to a broken society, a society where people’s physical, mental and emotional wounds make it difficult for them to function optimally. It means that while some work is being done to heal wounds from the past, more support is needed for people who have survived torture with all its consequential multiple disabilities. The right to access rehabilitation services needs to exist as much for survivors of torture as for people with physical or intellectual disabilities. Torture survivors are a relatively invisible group of persons with disabilities.
The lifelong physical, psychological and emotional effects should never be under-estimated but individuals retain the capacity to take their healing forward when opportunities are presented. Psychosocial programmes need to comprehensively address the physical, psychological and economic consequences of having been survivors of torture in the challenging journey of becoming active citizens.
The second phase of the torture advocacy workshops involved the participants in working with three facilitators linked to the CDP Trust to represent their narratives in art. The members of the group explored advocacy messages that could inform community advocacy against torture and how to use screenprinting techniques to make posters and T-shirts.
At the meeting held on 11 March 2011, in the Kagiso MultiPurpose Community Centre to evaluate the intervention, it became clear that certain kinds of impact can never be quantified. While emotionally healthy people share their pains and concerns with family and friends, torture survivors find it incredibly difficult to do so.The Kagiso group members expressed that the programme had been life-changing for them, because it had provided them with a way of sharing their stories first with each other across their diverse political backgrounds, and then with their families. Most had found new ways of telling their stories to close relatives and they began to feel a reconnection with their loved ones who were allowed to begin to understand what had been done to them.
Most of the group explained that they had learned better ways of communicating about what had happened in the past and they expressed gratitude for having become able to open up more fully to their loved ones, than they had ever been able to in the past. The stress of the daily struggle to find something to put on the table for family transformed for one participant into his family expressing how happy they were to see him happy.
One participant said, “I seldom open up to people about my thoughts and feelings. Through this process for once in my life, I opened up and shared with other people and realised that there are people who went through what I went through. This should be recommended to other people like us who have been living in bondage for so long.”
Another added, “Very bad things have happened to us in the past. When you have things happen to you like what happened to us, you live life feeling inferior to everyone and to yourself. When you get together in a group like this and share with people who went through what you went through, and express yourself in another kind of way, you learn that you are not inferior. Now we can go out and look at the future with anticipation. At least we have a skill that we can use to even generate some income for ourselves now.”
The Kagiso group plan to continue printing T-shirts to raise awareness in their community on different issues, to generate some income for themselves and to pass the skill on to other people. They plan to share their artwork in a public event to be hosted at the Mogale City Hall on 31 March 2011.
Khulumani believes that the rebuilding of community social ties is promoted through having military veterans who have survived torture work together with victims of torture from the same human rights struggle, rather than keeping people in their seperate silos. These proposals will be presented to the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Military Veterans by Khulumani on 31 March 2011.

by Zdena Mtetwa, Khulumani Support Group

There is no grey

Posted: 11/02/2011 in Uncategorized

There is no grey. A response to Barry Gewen’s article: “The Gray Zone: Defining Torture” which appeared in World Affairs, May/Jun2010, Vol. 173 Issue 1, p49-61, 13p

By Monica Bandeira

In his article “The Gray Zone: Defining Torture”, Barry Gewen, editor at The New York Times Book Review, attempts to provide an objective overview of the issue of torture and the justification of its use. Although Gewen succeeds in providing arguments from both sides the article seems to lean towards the erosion of the arguments against torture. He concludes that the way to “reconcile the conflicting values of security and human rights” lies in “acknowledging that under certain limited conditions, torture—or harsh interrogation techniques, which blur the boundaries of legality—may be necessary in the world we inhabit”. I would argue that this is not true and that in fact the arguments he puts forward actually support a position of no torture. In challenging him I put forward the following points:

1)      Gewen admits that much of the evidence that supports the use of torture is anecdotal. Let us for a moment examine the sources of such anecdotal evidence. One could argue that reports from torturers claiming that torture works are by default biased. If they were to take the position that torture does not work, they render their actions defenceless. Without this, they would be confronted with the reality that they have inflicted extreme harm on an individual(s) for no purpose whatsoever. A difficult reality to reconcile. Gewen goes so far as to say that “The evidence, anecdotal though it may be, comes from too many sources covering too many situations over too many historical eras to be dismissed.” The argument that because something has been done for many years, by many people must mean that it works is clearly flawed.

2)      In arguing against the Human Rights position of ‘no torture under any circumstances’, Gewen states that this ideal position is naive and has not been implemented in reality as there is a “well-established American tradition of torture”. One could say that there is a long tradition of abuse against women, yet that surely does not make taking a stance against it naive. Ideals, although often difficult to reach are necessary guidelines put in place to protect and guide people.

3)      Putting forward an objective question of whether torture works is, I would argue, an impossible task, because the issue is too complex. It is not a simple question of if torture provides accurate information.  Other factors need to be included in the equation, such as: how often is the information accurate; how useful is the information obtained; and, most importantly, what are the costs (indirect and direct) of using torture. The cost of torture requires a more in-depth examination than what Gewen offers. The notion that ‘the means justify the end’ can only be argued if a complete picture of what the end really is. Here, a more long-term, broader perspective is necessary. How many wrongs justify a right or even a maybe?

4)      Several times in the article, Gewen returns to the ‘ticking bomb’ scenario. For him,”Ticking bombs are not mere figments of an authoritarian imagination” and “in truth it’s not that hard to imagine a situation in which the head of Homeland Security rushes into the Oval Office and tells the president that police are “pretty certain” a bomb is set to explode, and they’re “fairly confident” they have a man who knows where it is.” I would argue that those situations remain very unlikely and that this perspective also undermines the level of preparation someone planning such action has. In addition, this approach places us on uneven ground regarding what ‘pretty certain’ and ‘fairly confident’ means, possibly hurtling us down the slippery slope towards abuse. 

5)      In line with this, Gewen provides a good description of the flaws present in attempts to guide or define when and/or how torture is used. These points strongly support the position that torture should not be used. Indeed, attempting to objectively define ‘exceptional circumstance’ under which torture is justified, for example, is hardly possible. Taking into consideration that these decisions will often be made under highly emotionally charged contexts, based on very little intelligence, objectivity seems improbable. I would further argue that enough evidence exists to say that simply defining the parameters of torture practice (e.g. water-boarding only allowed x times a day) will not translate into practice and can hardly be controlled. Abu Ghraib, the scene where photographs of abuses shocked the world were taken, provides a good example of this. Janis Karpinski, the commanding officer in charge of Abu Ghraib, estimated that 90% of detainees in the prison were innocent. Gewens argument that what happened there “has no place in the torture debate” as it was not approved and was an illustration of “how incompetent leaders can let matters get out of hand” and that is was an isolated incident, is problematic. What happened there speaks directly to the context in which decisions are made and how policies are implemented. In addition, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in seeking the release of more photographs showing prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq being abused by Americans, argue that these show that the abuse was more widespread. Opening the door to the possibility of torture, even if ‘under certain circumstances’, using ‘certain methods’ is highly problematic.

Gewen ends by mentioning September 11, a move bound to evoke an emotional reaction from his readers. This may serve to entice readers to believe that torture could have prevented it. However, in my view, he does not provide strong enough arguments to support this view. In conclusion, I would argue that enough evidence exists to support the position that torture is, in fact, not justifiable. Energy should now be invested in discussions regarding how events that lead to the supposed ‘need for torture’ can be prevented before they occur. Lastly, I ask what state of affairs we find ourselves in when a discussion of whether to torture someone or not is even contemplated.

3 December is International Day for Persons with Disabilities. The South African No Torture Consortium knows that survivors of torture are living with visible and invisible disabilities which prevent their full participation in life. South Africa has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which means that the state has undertaken to “organize, strengthen and extend comprehensive habilitation and rehabilitation services and programmes” to persons living with disabilities. This December 3rd, SANToC would like to expose the suffering of torture survivors who live with disabilities and who have not had full access to rehabilitation and to emphasise their right to rehabilitation. We support any state action towards upholding the rights of persons with disabilities as outlined in this UN Convention. A public event is being held today, 3 December at the Chapel, 1st Floor, Khotso House, 62 Marshall St. Johannesburg, from 9:00am-2pm and SANToC welcomes your attendance. You can follow this blog for updates on the event, on the issue of disability and torture, and on torture in South Africa. Who is being tortured now? What rights do they have? Can they access support? How does the South African government address torture? We will keep you posted- The South African No Torture Consortium (SANToC)