Salman Daoud, an Iraqi Christian, and his 10-year-old son waited anxiously for their turn to see the psychologist at the Restart Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, Torture in Beirut. Since fleeing Iraq seven months ago, they have been going regularly for psychological treatment to help them overcome war trauma.
“They are treating us with the help of psychologists and psychiatrists. My son has a depression. He is haunted by the traumatic incidents we’ve been through in Iraq and talks about it with the professionals,” Daoud said.
Daoud and his family are among hundreds of Iraqi and Syrian victims of physical and psychological torture, rape and war trauma, who have been referred by the UNHCR to Restart, an NGO established in 1996 to help torture and trauma survivors in Lebanon.
“At present, most of our beneficiaries are Syrian and Iraqi victims of torture and their families in addition to inmates in prisons in Lebanon,” said Restart Executive Director Suzanne Jabbour. “With the many wars raging in the region, thousands of people have been exposed to torture or traumatised by the horrors they have witnessed.”
Since the Syria crisis and the influx of refugees into Lebanon, Restart has been treating more than 3,000 people annually. They are handled by a team of 100 professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, social workers, neurologists and physiotherapists. A team of speech therapists, psychometricians and special educators works with children diagnosed with severe depression.
“Torture has been widely used as a tool to extract confessions. It does not only break the body of the victim but seeks to annihilate the victim’s personality and inherent human dignity,” Jabbour said. “That is why rehab is very important and crucial. Victims cannot fully recover without the adequate, effective and comprehensive rehabilitation.”
“The Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) clearly mentions and details the states’ obligations in guaranteeing the rehabilitation and compensation of victims of torture,” she added.
Restart has been working inside Tripoli prisons in northern Lebanon for more than 12 years, providing mental health assistance and physical rehabilitation to inmates. The appalling conditions inside Lebanese prisons and detention facilities further deteriorated with the refugee crisis in Lebanon, Jabbour said.
“We are aware that there are big needs, especially with the refugee population. More than 40% of the inmates are refugees and foreigners. This placed lot of pressure on security agencies and people working inside the jail as well as professionals.
“When you put 70 inmates in a space that fits only 20, of course the conditions will be horrible. Just being in such conditions amounts to ill treatment and torture. It is the responsibility of the government to do something about it because police do with what they have and they also suffer from that situation. If the government continues to turn a blind eye, the worst is yet to come,” Jabbour said.
Torture in Lebanese prisons is common and takes place systematically, the Lebanese Centre for Human Rights (CLDH) said. It said that from 2009-15, approximately 60% of those arrested in Lebanon were subject to some form of torture or serious ill-treatment in detention, notably during interrogation. Violations were allegedly perpetrated on a general level by General Security, the Internal Security Forces and Military Intelligence.
The death of four Syrian terror suspects in military custody in July touched off calls by human rights activists for an independent investigation into the incident. The CLDH accused the Lebanese Army of torture that led to the men’s death and demanded that those responsible be held accountable. However, Lebanese officials and many citizens rallied around the army, praising its sacrifices in fighting terrorism.
“The problem is that fear from terrorism makes people more tolerable of torture exercised against suspected terrorists,” Jabbour said. “They say if torture protects us, why not use it.
“I say in all wars around the world mistakes are committed by individuals or armies. What is important is not to be in denial. The army has a responsibility to be transparent. We cannot tolerate the use of torture by an institution which is responsible for our security and protection.”
Torture is forbidden by Lebanese law but still commonly employed. Lebanon has ratified OPCAT, under which it has the obligation to set up an independent national body to monitor and investigate torture and ill-treatment. That panel has yet to see the light.
“There are 140 countries around the world practising torture, according to Amnesty International,” Jabbour said. “Victims of torture remain in pain even after rehab. Sometimes we cannot really treat all the symptoms but we help the person to become functional again and to be reintegrated into normal life.
“We need politicians and decision-makers to understand that the use of torture will only generate more violence.”