On Tuesday, June 26, Program staff marked the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture at an event organized by Argentina, Mongolia, Denmark, the Delegation of the European Union and the Office of the High commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations. Executive Director Dr. Allen Keller and Chief Psychiatrist Dr. Asher Aladjem spoke on an expert panel to explore strategies for the prevention of torture and rehabilitation of survivors in a room full of UN member states, which was moderated by Julia Hall, the Expert on Counter-Terrorism, Criminal Justice, and Human Rights at Amnesty International.
The meeting started like any other would on a weekday morning: some shuffling about, the smell of fresh coffee and the distinct clicking of iPhones as members responded to emails and checked calendars. For most, this was the first meeting of many for a busy Tuesday at the UN.
To take a look back, it was in 1997 when the UN General Assembly proclaimed the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Ever since, this day marks an important opportunity to call on all stakeholders to unite in support of the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who have been or are current victims of torture.
Although it’s widely recognized that torture is a violation of human rights, we continue to witness it each and every day across the world. We see it walk through our Program doors every day. Chief Psychiatrist Dr. Aladjem shared the following reflection,
“As mentioned by the Commissioner [of Human Rights at the United Nations], seventy years since the UN Declaration of Human Rights we are still witnessing Human Rights violations on a global scale...Practicing global health on First Ave [at Bellevue Hospital], we continue to witness the human devastation of such actions.”
As these important conversations continue, is there hope for the future? Will the view of UN resolution 52/149 ever be met?
On this particular Tuesday, June 26, 2018, one survivor was able to tell us, “yes.” There is hope.
Just six years ago, fleeing persecution from the Democratic Republic of Congo, one survivor of torture arrived in the United States with no interest in living. Anyone he met was a threat, not to be trusted. His fear lead him to believe everyone was a spy with connections to his torturers. Even thousands of miles away, nowhere was safe. Six years ago, there was no peace to be found from sleep. Horrible memories played over and over again in his mind to the point where he thought his only option was to end it all.
It was the support from this community that changed his life.
This survivor found the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture. Through medical care, psychiatric care, group therapy and legal services, in just six years he is now a permanent resident of the United States and pursuing a college degree in nursing, so he can help others as well. All with optimism, trust and a positive outlook on life and of the future.
You could feel the atmosphere change as this survivor of torture spoke his truth to the room. Suddenly, there was a wave of electricity as fellow members drew inspiration from this one man formerly of the Democratic Republic of Congo, as he shared how he not only survived, but thrived thanks to those who support Human Rights and the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture. As Dr. Aladjem continued to reflect after the discussion, “[we continue] providing the inspiration for reaching a better balance for the application of Human Rights and addressing their consequences.”
We’re thankful the United Nations supports our Program and gave us a platform to continue this critically important conversation to end torture in all forms. Even more so, we’re thankful we could provide living proof of how we’re changing lives.
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