Members of the GHRC team were honored to attend the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) 17th Annual Survivors’ Week last month. The event provided an opportunity to stand in solidarity with TASSC’s mission to end torture as well as to empower survivors of torture.
Sister Dianna Ortiz, a survivor of torture in Guatemala, originally started TASSC as a GHRC program in 1998. TASSC has since expanded to become an independent organization that carries out impressive advocacy and assistance work. In the words of one survivor, “I arrived in the United States less than 10 months ago and TASSC has provided me with so much support. I would never have imagined that I would be meeting with a member of the United States government to tell my story and advocate on behalf of survivors.”
The TASSC Survivors’ Week week consisted of presentations, testimony from torture survivors, advocacy outreach on Capitol Hill (including 26 congressional meetings), and a concluding vigil in front of the White House.
At the Opening Session, GHRC team members and 115 other participants learned more about addressing torture worldwide. Juan Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, warned that impunity is the greatest enemy of the anti-torture movement and serves as an invitation for torture to continue. He also explained that while torture and genocide conventions emphasize the prevention of torture, they frequently do not give specific recommendations. Thus, it is important to remember that it is the individual state that holds the most responsibility in implementing prevention mechanisms. Méndez also discussed how reparations themselves are not enough; survivors need to be given a part in creating their own rehabilitation programs.
Speakers also presented on inhumane immigration detention policies here in the US. Yohanes Birhane, of TASSC, described the ways in which Border Patrol facilities employ methods of psychological torture against individuals apprehended after entering the US irregularly. Detainees are often placed in “ice boxes” — very cold rooms with no amenities — and frequently sleep on the floor, have no access to a shower, have limited access to toilet paper and sanitary items, are denied adequate food and may face other degradations. Border patrol personnel frequently tell detainees that they will only be allowed to leave if they sign expedited removal papers that may be provided in English only. While many individuals have suffered these conditions, survivors are reluctant to give testimony because they fear that to do so may impact their legal status. Birhane therefore appealed to American citizens to advocate on behalf of detainees and to support S1817 and HR3130, two bills that address degrading treatment at the border.
More information about TASSC is available here.