Rights based aspects of health and rehabilitation

Published 27.05.2010
European network assembles to discuss what obligations States do have vis a vis the health of torture survivors and to what degree the States have met these obligations.

On May 19 more than 70 delegates from all over European were welcomed by Director General of RCT, Professor MD Bengt Sjölund. The delegates represent about 100 European centres and programmes providing assistance to victims of human rights violations.

Bengt Sjölund pointed out that victims should not be seen as ill but rather as having considerable problems in functioning after being subjected to torture. Thus the new UN convention on the Rights of the Disabled has to be considered as a tool to ensure rehabilitation for all torture victims in Europe. Also a professionalization and mainstreaming of rehabilitation into the health care sector is necessary and beneficial for the victims.

Moreover the delegates were welcomed by the Copenhagen Mayor of Social Affairs, Mikkel Warming. In his speech he emphasized the terrible toll that torture takes on individuals and their families. The social department he represents is very aware of the problems which do not only go for the victim, but also for those to whom the victim relies for help and support. The family members are so to say the secondary victims of torture.

The conference was opened as well by the Chairperson of Network, Elise Bittenbinder and Leanne Macmillan from the Working group on Advocacy & Legal Issues.

Last but not least was the theme of the conference introduced in a presentation by Professor Emeritus Ole Espersen, former Minister of Justice and Chairman of the Danish Rule of Law Foundation. Ole Espersen made the importance of the rights to health and rehabilitation clear although the field we are embarking in is difficult to define and interpret. He expressed his concern for a changing political climate. New conventions are not undertaken and states are no longer obliging each other in the same way as they did up until the eighties. Centres have to assist the governments and put pressure on them to take up the issue of rights to health and rehabilitation, and in general to protect and uphold the human rights.

It was the 9th annual conference of the European Network of Rehabilitation Centres for Survivors of Torture. During the conference rights based aspects of health and rehabilitation were discussed in several working groups organized around the themes of advocacy, fundraising, assessment and documentation, research and clinical work.

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Written by Heidi K. Tokle


Torture has been called ‘the mother of all human rights violations’. As long as a country practices or tolerates torture, people will be reluctant to speak, assemble and participate in the political life. Stopping torture is the first step towards improving human rights in general.

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