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The West African tortured for being gay, and how we can stop it

The West African tortured for being gay, and how we can stop it

Yves was enjoying a quiet, early evening drink with his boyfriend in a bar when he was surrounded by police.

He was dragged outside, stripped, kicked, beaten and trampled. Later he was thrown into a dark, cramped cell, starved and repeatedly whipped with a rope.

When he was released from prison, Yves was psychologically and physically scarred by the torture he was forced to endure. The threat of further violence eventually forced him to leave his West African home and seek asylum in the UK.

Yves’s only ‘crime’ was to be gay in a country where homosexuality is criminalized. And sadly, he’s not alone. Every year at Freedom from Torture we treat individuals who have been subjected to horrific punishments by state officials because of their real, or perceived, sexuality.

Today (26 June) marks the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture which we use to show our solidarity with those, like Yves, who have survived torture. It’s the day that reminds all of us that torture is prohibited and that those who continue to perpetrate it must be held to account.

Our organization provides a wide range of crucial psychological services for people who have been tortured, so for us this is also a day to advocate for adequate and appropriate rehabilitation and protection for torture survivors as enshrined in international human rights law.

Even when they reach a ‘safe’ country, torture victims have a painful, and sometimes lengthy journey ahead of them as they come to terms with what has happened to them and try to rebuild their lives.

Sadly torture is still practiced in over 100 countries across the world, very often in areas of conflict or political tension. Last year 1,251 people were referred to Freedom from Torture for treatment.

There are many different forms of torture and the duration of this persecution can differ dramatically; but the underlying reasons for the practice remain the same. Torture silences people.

Because of this, many people who have been tortured have difficulty finding their voice again. They continue to live with the fear instilled in them by their abusers.

Such individuals become very dependent and allow others to dictate their lives. They feel they have no autonomy and the thought of potential repercussions for them or their loved ones should they try and obtain any justice prevents them from speaking out.

That’s why hearing the voices of torture survivors, and adding our voices to theirs, is so important – especially today.

Because today it means that the torturer has failed to silence their victims. It means people will not be silenced and brutalized into submission. It means people will stand up for what they believe in no matter what the personal cost. In many ways, it is a celebration of the human spirit and its ability to overcome adversity.

Hundreds of events are taking place globally to mark the UN International Day for the Support of Victims of Torture. Peaceful demonstrations, press conferences, concerts, radio shows, panel discussions and many other events are being held around the world, and thousands of people are, in many languages, finding ways to speak out locally.

So today, take a moment to think about people like Yves, who have found their way back from the brink of darkness and who refused to be silenced. Torture survivors have the right to justice. Torture survivors have the right to heal and be heard. And we all have the right to a world without torture.

To find out more about the work of Freedom from Torture visit our website here.

Andrew Keefe, director of national clinical services at Freedom from Torture.