What is torture?
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Timor Aid staff demonstrating the use of trauma alleviating methods Timor Aid staff demonstrating the use of trauma alleviating methods


The aim of rehabilitation is to empower the torture victim to resume as full a life as possible. Rebuilding the life of someone whose dignity has been destroyed takes time and as a result long-term material, medical, psychological and social support is needed.


Treatment must be a coordinated effort that covers both physical and psychological aspects. It is important to take into consideration the patients' needs, problems, expectations, views and cultural references.


The IRCT advocates that rehabilitation should be:

  • Holistic;
  • Available, appropriate, accessible and provided in a way that guarantees the safety and personal integrity of the victims, their family and their caretakers;
  • Provided at the earliest possible point in time after the torture event, without a requirement for the victim to pursue judicial remedies, but solely based on recommendations by a qualified health professional;
  • Provided in close consultation with the victim and tailored to meet the specific needs of each individual victim;
  • Adequately funded by national governments.

A holistic approach


The consequences of torture are likely to be influenced by many internal and external factors. Therefore, rehabilitation needs to employ different treatment approaches, taking into account the victims' individual needs, as well as the cultural, social and political environment.


Rehabilitation centres in the IRCT network commonly offer multi-disciplinary support and counselling, including:

  • medical attention / psychotherapeutic treatment
  • psychosocial support / trauma treatment
  • legal services and redress
  • social reintegration.


In the case of asylum seekers and refugees, the services also may include assisting in documentation of torture for the asylum decision, language classes and help in finding somewhere to live and work.

Secondary survivors also need support


In the worst case, torture can affect several generations. The physical and mental after-effects of torture often place great strain on the entire family and society. Children are particularly vulnerable. They often suffer from feelings of guilt or personal responsibility for what has happened. Therefore, other members of the survivor’s family – in particular the spouse and children – are also offered treatment and counselling.


Rebuilding broken societies


In some instances, whole societies can be more or less traumatised where torture has been used in a systematic and widespread manner. In general, after years of repression, conflict and war, regular support networks and structures have often been broken or destroyed.


Providing psychosocial support and redress to survivors of torture and trauma can help reconstruct broken societies. Rehabilitation centres therefore play a key role in promoting democracy, co-existence and respect for human rights. They provide support and hope, and act as a symbol of triumph over the manmade terror of torture which can hold back the development of democracy of entire societies.


The IRCT works to fulfil the needs and rights of torture survivors whoever and wherever they are.


Our member centres and programmes – today located in more than 70 countries – provide torture survivors with treatment of physical and mental disorders, but also with psycho-social and legal support. In some cases, especially among those who serve a large number of refugees or asylum seekers, vocational training, financial and housing assistance, language classes and other support services are offered to help with integration into the host society.


While torture often has devastating implications for the individual survivor, it also impacts negatively on immediate families as well communities and society at large. Our member centres employ a holistic service approach to address the needs and rights of individual torture survivors as well as their affected family members and communities.


Advancing knowledge and practice


The IRCT remains committed to continuously developing our ability to serve survivors of torture across the world in the best way possible. We use several means to increase knowledge and exchange of information about treatment methods and care of survivors of torture and other human rights violations.

  • Regional seminars and advanced health professional training facilitate IRCT members to share experience and knowledge with those who may work in similar contexts and to learn more about clinical research and evidence-based treatment interventions.
  • Through its system of internships and peer supervisions, the IRCT Exchange Programme allows member centres to visit and learn from each other and to develop their own formal and informal networks of support.
  • Strategic partnerships with health professional organisations, academic institutions and other international non-governmental organisations help the IRCT to disseminate knowledge of rehabilitation and prevention, and to benefit from others’ research and science-based approaches.
  • Targeted grants enables IRCT members to enhance their technological capacity and web presence through equipment acquisition (including patient security systems) and building new or improved websites.


Reaching the underserved


The IRCT also attempts to support projects and initiatives that reach populations who may be underserved by current rehabilitation services. Our selection of priority thematic issues (e.g. child torture survivors; persons in detention) allows us to support research and development of services for these groups. We also target capacity development to suitable local organisations and our members to expand services into new areas where specialised rehabilitation services for torture survivors are unavailable.


All of these activities work toward our goal of supporting torture survivors in their quest to rebuild their lives as fully as possible.

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