Devastating effects of Torture

Torture has devastating consequences for victims, their families and the broader community. Its severe physical and psychological effects disrupt victims’ life and often prevent them from continuing their life plan. They frequently feel powerless and overwhelmed by guilt and shame over the humiliations they have endured.  The physical and psychological damage from torture can last for decades and affect several generations. It may be a struggle for survivors of torture to build interpersonal relations, pursue professional goals or simply continue with their personal development, which is essential for a person’s enjoyment of life.

Many torture survivors suffer from chronic physical pain years after their abuse and psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, withdrawal and self-isolation. They also struggle with cognitive symptoms, including confusion, flashbacks and memory lapses; and neurovegetative symptoms such as fatigue, insomnia and recurrent nightmares. The most frequent psychiatric diagnoses are posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression.

The physical and mental after-effects of torture often place great strain on the entire family and society. Children are particularly vulnerable. They often suffer from feelings of guilt or personal responsibility for what has happened to their parent.

Rebuilding Lives After Torture

Rehabilitation helps victims rebuild their life after torture through a combination of services including medical, psychological, legal and social support. It is a process that recognises the victims’ agency and empowerment and takes into account their individual needs as well as the cultural, social and political background and environment in which they live.

Rebuilding your life after your dignity has been attacked takes time. Survivors need to be able to trust and have confidence in health professionals and other caregivers and they need to know that support will be available for them whenever and as long as is needed.

Rehabilitation Is A Right

All victims of torture and ill-treatment have an explicit right to rehabilitation. Unfortunately, only a few among the hundreds of thousands of victims in the world receive the support they desperately need and are entitled to. Quality rehabilitation services are often not available where the victims are, or are not accessible to all or certain groups of victims. In many countries, rehabilitation support is provided by non-governmental organisations that are not adequately funded to support all the victims who come to them for help.

The IRCT believes that rehabilitation should be:

  • Holistic, taking into account all aspects of the individual’s existence
  • Available, appropriate, accessible and provided in a way that guarantees the safety and personal integrity of the victims, their family and their caretakers
  • Provided at the earliest possible point in time after the torture event, without a requirement for the victim to pursue judicial remedies, but solely based on recommendations by a qualified health professional
  • Provided in close consultation with the victim and tailored to meet the specific needs of each individual victim
  • Adequately funded by national governments

Rehabilitation Centres Play A Key Role In Reconstructing Broken Communities And Societies

The impact of rehabilitation efforts on society is often far-reaching. Torture is a political act, and the rehabilitation of torture survivors is thus often also perceived as political. Rehabilitation centres therefore play a key role in promoting democracy, co-existence, and respect for human rights. They provide support and hope, and act as a symbol of triumph over the manmade terror of torture which can hold back the development of democracy of entire societies.

In some instances, whole societies can be more or less traumatised where torture has been used in a systematic and widespread manner. In general, after years of repression, conflict and war, regular support networks and structures have often been broken or destroyed. Rehabilitation programmes for torture survivors need to be closely integrated with broader community-oriented initiatives for reconstruction of countries and societies. Providing psychosocial support and redress to survivors of torture and trauma can help reconstruct broken societies. Health professionals and other caregivers need to collaborate closely with local authorities, communities, social service providers, legal structures and human rights NGOs to address the needs of torture victims and their families.

Never Legitimate Or Justified

Torture is often used to punish, to obtain information or a confession, to take revenge on a person or persons or create terror and fear within a population. Some of the most common methods of physical torture include beating, electric shocks, stretching, submersion, suffocation, burns, rape and sexual assault. Psychological torture may be inflicted through a variety of methods such as threats of violence, sensory overload and deprivation or mock executions.

While some seek to justify torture by pointing to the fight against terror or thought experiments such as the “ticking bomb” scenario, torture is universally prohibited, morally reprehensible and there is clear evidence that torture does not produce reliable information.

Anyone Can Be A Victim

All forms of torture have in one thing in common: the notion that victims must be subdued, punished or threatened.  The entity supposed to protect them –the State authority- is either behind those actions, or allows them to happen.

While children as well as adults, religious as well as atheists, and all social classes alike can be targets of government-endorsed violence, torture is often practised in contexts of discrimination against  particular groups, communities and populations, or in detriment to people living in poverty.

Persons deprived of liberty are among the groups that are particularly at risk of being subjected to torture and ill treatment, which is why there are many global efforts prevent it from happening in such settings. Another group at great risk is health care providers who work with torture victims. Like all human rights defenders, this group is often seen by the perpetrating individuals as a threat, and is therefore particularly exposed to reprisals.

The Definition Of Torture

The IRCT uses the UN Convention against Torture definition of Torture, which states that “'torture' means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

"Many people believe torture it is a thing of the past or only happens to a few. The truth is, however, that torture persists in over 140 countries, that it happens to thousands of people every day and that it can happen to anyone of us."

- Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Secretary General, IRCT

By continuing your visit to this website, you accept the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy. Yes I accept