Review: Freedom from Torture

On 7th February we were joined by Sonya Sceats, CEO of Freedom from Torture, for a presentation and discussion.

Eager members chatting with Sonia after the presentation

FFT was founded by a group of concerned medics who started documenting the forensic evidence of torture they were encountering…at first to monitor and campaign against this activity. It grew out of Amnesty International.  From this work, FFT have created five centres round the UK which set out to help rehabilitate survivors of torture both physically and psychologically. 

At any one time FFT has about 1,000 people on its books – and if it had the resources would help many more.  It’s worth reproducing the details from her presentation, just in case anyone thought it’s only in the Middle East that this happens these days! FFT clients in 2017 were as follows:   Iran 153; Sri Lanka 184; DRC 85; Afghanistan 82; Nigeria 67; Iraq 59; India 58; Sudan 54; Turkey 39; Syria 38.

Sonya  asked us to consider the question – Why does torture happen? And she proposed it’s for the following reasons:  As an abusive expression of power; to crush dissent and consolidate control; to extract information and confessions ;  to discriminate against “them” who are not like “us”; to punish people for crimes and transgressions. ( I was immediately brought to mind of those brave women who lead the call for women to be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia – now in prison and under torture…) 

Sonya shared the deeply troubling thought that that the world – wide absolute ban on torture is under threat. The ban is challenged openly by some leaders of liberal democracies …President Trump (of course) is one of those leaders who now seems to think that torture is OK under some circumstances. Other world trends are equally worrying . There’s a general populist backlash against human rights and liberal values; people who look for counter-terrorism tools advocate it – and of course there’s the little matter of if you can get away with it – you do it! In this context, there is declining support – political or financial – for the International Criminal Court, to whom torturers or State leaders might be brought for trial. Oh and there’s NO EVIDENCE THAT IT WORKS.

The discussion was lively and thoughtful: many wanted to ask ‘why do some people enjoy torturing others?’ One recommendation for a helpful read was ‘the Lucifer effect’. Discussion ranged across many topics, including:  how to define torture; what’s going on inside the UK?  Is tazering torture?  Only our library – closure deadline stopped us from continuing.

Sonya invited us to respond to the global threat to the ban by:  offering care and protection for those survivors we encounter; campaigning for accountability for torturers; taking a stand against torture and for the rights of survivors; sharing ways to strategise about how best to resist attacks on the ban… and of course, you can join the FFT SE London local group, sign up to campaign, donate, and/or  follow the organisation on Twitter / Facebook…

Several of their local members were at our meeting and they are keen to meet new members!  Altogether an excellent evening. Thank you to Sonya and FFT.

Review by Barbara Chandler

Still discussing issues, before heading home….