Torture Survivors

English: Nations which have signed and/or rati...

English: Nations which have signed and/or ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For Torture Survivors

You are not alone.
Many people especially human rights defenders have been hurt by armies, clans, gangs and people from the government. Sometimes these events can cause physical and emotional pain or problems for many years.

If you have had harmful things done to you during war or by government officials, you may:

  • Have bad dreams at night or have trouble sleeping
  • Be afraid or nervous
  • Feel very sad or angry or without hope
  • Be forgetful or not able to pay attention
  • Feel as if you cannot control your thoughts and memories
  • Be losing or gaining weight
  • Have headaches, stomach aches or problems eating
  • Feel like no one understands you or that your life was stolen from you.

These are just some problems torture survivors experience. There are many other ways torture changes people. If you are a survivor of torture and have any of these problems—or any other related problems– you can get help.

Remember to take care of yourself. You deserve to feel better.

Learn about other torture rehabilitation centers through the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims.

Connect with other torture survivors through Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International.

Taking Care of Yourself After Traumatic Events

While we may not be able to control the things that cause us stress or bad feelings, we can find ways to manage those feelings. These activities cannot replace a professional, but they can help you feel better.

Breathe slowly. Breathe in slowly through your nose, counting to three. You should feel your stomach rise. Breathe out through your mouth to a count of five. As your breath leaves your body, imagine the stress leaving your body and notice how your muscles relax.

Use self-talk to reassure yourself. Talking out loud to yourself or just thinking positive thoughts can be helpful. Remind yourself that you are strong and brave. When you look at yourself in the mirror, tell yourself, “I’m a strong person” or “I can get through this situation” or whatever statement will help you feel better.

Take time for fun and exercise. Spending an hour or two doing something fun can make you feel better. Watch a funny movie or TV show. Tell jokes with a friend. Go for a walk in the park and watch the squirrels running about.

Get enough sleep. When you are tired it’s harder to be healthy. Try to get eight hours of sleep a night so you are well-rested.

Limit or avoid using alcohol or drugs. Alcohol and drugs are not good for your body. Alcohol can make you feel sad or tired. Drugs can make your bad feelings even worse. Take care of yourself by finding other activities that make you feel good.

Stop watching the news. Wanting to know what is happening in your home country is understandable. But watching, reading or listening to the news too much increases stress levels. Taking a break from news reports for a day or two can help break the cycle of stress.

United States/National Human Rights Resources

Advocates for Human Rights
Advocates for Human Rights is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and protecting human rights. Through cutting-edge research, education and advocacy, the organization saves lives, fights injustice, restores peace and builds the human rights movement in the United States and around the world.

Doctors Who Torture
The purpose of this site is to show and promote progress in encouraging physicians, courts, and medical licensing boards to be more active in the movement to end torture. Doctors Who Torture has a number of resources including text of major standards by international medical groups and the United Nations that can be used as standards for holding physicians accountable; countries where physicians have assisted torture at any time after World War II; examples of how some countries or international courts have held doctors accountable for torture; and links to organizations that compile reports within which discussions of physician complicity for torture can be found.

National Consortium of Torture Treatment Centers
The National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs (NCTTP) is a U.S. based network of programs which exists to advance the knowledge, technical capacities and resources devoted to the care of torture survivors living in the United States and acts collectively to prevent torture worldwide.

National Religious Campaign Against Torture
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is a multi-denominational faith-based organization committed to ending torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Services for Survivors of Torture – U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services
Within this site, is the online resource center created for programs serving torture survivors, individuals wishing to learn more about serving this population and for survivors looking for information and services.

U.S. State Department Annual Human Rights Reports
These annual reports, submitted to Congress, cover internationally recognized individual, civil, political and worker rights, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Annual reports since 1999 are posted.

International Human Rights Resources

Amnesty International
Amnesty International is a worldwide movement that campaigns for internationally recognized human rights to be respected and protected for everyone. The organization conducts research, generates action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights and demands justice for those whose rights have been violated.

Berlin Center for Torture Victims
The Berlin Center for Torture Victims (bzfo) annually sees over 500 survivors of torture from over 50 nations for psychotherapy and social assistance. It offers unique torture rehabilitation services in Germany and conducts extensive research on treatment methods.

Center for Justice and Accountability
The Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) is an international human rights organization dedicated to deterring torture and other severe human rights abuses around the world and advancing the rights of survivors to seek truth, justice and redress.

Coalition for the International Criminal Court
The Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC) includes 2,500 civil society organizations in 150 different countries working in partnership to strengthen international cooperation with the ICC; ensure that the Court is fair, effective and independent; make justice both visible and universal; and advance stronger national laws that deliver justice to victims of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

HealthRight International
HealthRight International is a global health and human rights organization working to build lasting access to health for excluded communities. Projects include the care and support for survivors of human rights violations such as torture, trafficking and related violence.

Human Rights First
Human Rights First is a non-partisan international group whose mission is to build respect for human rights and the rule of law to help ensure the dignity to which everyone is entitled and to stem intolerance, tyranny, and violence.

Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch is an international independent non-governmental organization that investigates and exposes human rights violations worldwide.

International Federation of Action of Christians for the Abolition of Torture 
The International Federation of ACAT (FIACAT) is an international non-governmental organization for the defense of human rights whose mandate is to fight for the abolition of torture and of the death penalty.

International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims 
The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) is the umbrella for more than 140 independent international torture rehabilitation organizations. Member organizations promote and support torture rehabilitation and work for the prevention of torture worldwide.

Physicians for Human Rights
Physicians for Human Rights is an international organization of health professionals, scientists, and concerned citizens, who use the knowledge and skills of the medical and forensic sciences to investigate and prevent violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

REDRESS is an international human rights organization that helps torture survivors obtain justice and reparation. REDRESS works with survivors to help restore their dignity and to make torturers accountable. The Web site includes an extensive database of international treaties, laws, case judgments and decisions as well as informational links.

Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition
The Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC) is an organization founded by and for torture survivors. The mission of TASSC is to end the practice of torture wherever it occurs and to empower survivors, their families and communities wherever they are.

United Nations Convention Against Torture
This Web site includes the text of the Convention, an international human rights instrument, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1984 and entered into force on June 26, 1987.

Victims’ Rights Working Group
The Victims’ Rights Working Group (VRWG) is an international network of civil society groups and experts working to broaden awareness of the needs of victims of human rights abuses, and help insure that their concerns are met through the judicial process of the International Criminal Court.

World Organisation Against Torture 
Created in 1986 and based in Geneva, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) is described as the world’s largest coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGO) fighting against torture, summary executions, enforced disappearances and other forms of violence.



AMERICAN GULAG: INSIDE U.S. IMMIGRATION PRISONS, MARK DOW, 2004: Prisoners, jailers, and federal officials describe the reality inside prisons run by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

AMERICAN TORTURE, MICHAEL OTTERMAN, 2007: This book takes a detailed look at the history of torture in American policy.

THE BLINDFOLD’S EYES: MY JOURNEY FROM TORTURE TO TRUTH, DIANNA ORTIZ, 2002:Ortiz writes about the torture she experienced while working as a nun in Guatemala, and the emotions she encountered as she rebuilt her shattered life.

OATH BETRAYED, DR. STEVEN MILES, 2006: Dr. Miles presents his evidence of physicians’ participation in modern American torture.

SEARCHING FOR EVERARDO: A STORY OF LOVE, WAR AND THE CIA IN GUATEMALA, JENNIFER K. HARBURY, 1997: A heartbreaking memoir of Jennifer K. Harbury’s search for her husband’s body after he was tortured and killed by the Guatemalan army.

SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER: HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS WHO ARE CHANGING OUR WORLD, KERRY KENNEDY CUOMO, 2000: A beautiful book that features the compelling testimonies of international human rights defenders.

TRUTH, TORTURE, AND THE AMERICAN WAY: THE HISTORY AND CONSEQUENCES OF U.S. INVOLVEMENT IN TORTURE, JENNIFER HARBURY, 2005: Harbury explores American involvement in torture and compares government-sponsored activities around the world.

UNSPEAKABLE ACTS, ORDINARY PEOPLE, JOHN CONROY, 2001: An investigation of torture in the Western world, the rationalizations societies adopt to justify torture, and means by which ordinary people can become torturers.

WRITING OUT OF THE DARKNESS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF POETRY BY REFUGEES IN TRANSITION: The authors of the poems are the Owl & Panther writing group. Owl and Panther is a collection of refugee children who write about their lives in their home countries and here in the U.S.


CHASING FREEDOM, 2004: About a lawyer (Juliette Lewis) who takes on the pro bono asylum case of a woman (Layla Alizada) who is seeking safety in the United States after fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan. Available from Amazon.

GHOST OF ABU GHRAIB, 2007: A documentary by Rory Kennedy which investigates the psychological and political context in which torture can thrive. Ghost of Abu Ghraib: A Campaign to Stop Torture

GOD GREW TIRED OF US, 2006: Winner at the 2006 Sundance Festival this film follows the journey of three “Lost Boys” as they journey from Sudan to America. The official movie site.

TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE, 2007: This academy award winning documentary examines the Bush administration’s use of torture when dealing with political prisoners, with a particular focus on those captured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

THE TORTURE QUESTION, 2005: A captivating documentary by PBS Frontline about American interrogation policies in the post 9/11 political landscape. Available from PBS.

THE VISITOR, 2008: An award winning film takes a poignant look at how current immigration policy affected real individuals lives. See the official site.

WELL-FOUNDED FEAR, 2000: A documentary that examines the American political asylum system. The film was featured at the Sundance Film Festival and the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. Available from the Epidavros Project.


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