Friday, June 28, 2013

International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

By Aisha Maniar

London marked International Day in Support of Victims of Torture with two consecutive well-attended rallies in Trafalgar Square.  June 26 each year, the anniversary of the UN Convention Against Torture (UN CAT) has been consecrated, since 1998, as a “day on which we remember all the victims of torture: those who have survived, often physically and mentally scarred, and those who succumbed to this most horrible of deaths.”

Baluch community vigil at 4-6pm
The first rally, held at 4-6pm, was organised by the Baluch community in the UK, a minority ethnic group who suffer discrimination and human rights violations in both Pakistan and Iran. The rally, attended by around 30 people, was organised by International Voice for Baluch Missing Persons and was supported by the LGC, CAMPACC and Nations without States. Activists held up placards listing the various human rights violations the Baluch have suffered, including enforced “disappearances”, torture, and executions.

Both rallies were well received by the passing public. The LGC rally was from 6-8pm and was joined by activists from the Free Talha Ahsan campaign, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, and Wise Up for Bradley Manning. Around 60 people joined this action and stood in a line holding up banners citing various human rights violations related to torture and placards stating “No to Torture” in more than two dozen languages.

Many passers-by did not know that it was international day in support of victims of torture and some were unaware of how pervasive its use is worldwide. Val Brown from the London Guantánamo Campaign made information placards about the various issues involved, particularly relating to Guantánamo Bay and the “war on terror”, which were strewn on the ground and dozens of people stopped by to read. We also used this opportunity to raise awareness of the current hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay, currently on day 143, in which various forms of torture are used against prisoners held almost wholly without charge or trial for almost 12 years, including force-feeding, solitary confinement and humiliating physical searches. Many people were also unaware of the hunger strike, yet almost everyone agreed with the purpose of the action and expressed solidarity with torture victims. Some joined in with the action for a while.

Eight activists showing solidarity with the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, victims of years of various forms of torture, held a die-in, where they lay in front of the other activists for around 20 minutes to highlight the fatal effects of the current hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay and the use of torture.
A video of their action:

Several passers-by who joined our action informed me that they were pleased to be able to take part in such a solidarity action as such rallies or vigils would be banned in their own countries. Indeed, the right to show solidarity with victims of heinous crimes and the freedoms of association and to protest are not universally recognised, and are being eroded elsewhere. Furthermore, in some states, standing up for the rights of victims of torture and other oppressed people is an action that could in turn lead to further torture and oppression. On the other hand, an American visitor to London walking past expressed the view that people (in a country which is not his own) do not have the right to protest against Guantánamo and that foreigners in London could not rally against torture. A former British serviceman, who had spent more than twenty years in the British army, said that he was appalled by the emerging allegations of recent British army involvement in torture abroad. Both rallies were silent and were not a protest but a stand in solidarity with victims of torture and against those who commit, collude and perpetuate its practice. 
T-shirts were also made for this event by protest T-shirt company All Riot. These t-shirts (there are three tasteful styles) can still be bought and bear a strong message for solidarity to continue throughout the year. Unfortunately, the use of torture continues to increase worldwide and in spite of this year’s theme being the right to rehabilitation, in many ways, this remains evasive to many victims. Many of the placards were in European Union languages, yet European countries continue to fail in their duty to investigate their involvement in torture through the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme. Just one day earlier, Human Rights Watch issued a new demand to the Lithuanian government, which assumes the presidency of the EU on 1st July, to take the lead and reopen its investigation into secret CIA prisons operated in the country. Other European states must do likewise; justice is an important ingredient.
Media on this event:

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