Subject: IHT: EU Decision Leaves Torture Victims Out In The Cold

An EU Decision Leaves Torture Victims Out In The Cold International Herald Tribune, June 10, 03

By Carlos Ximenes Belo

Bishop Belo: Rebuilding lives

In East Timor, my native land, almost every family is trying to rise above the devastating effects of nearly a quarter century of armed conflict. Thousands endured years of unjust imprisonment under Indonesian rule and many were tortured.

East Timor needs specialized help to treat these wounds and to assist survivors of torture to rebuild their lives with dignity and hope.

As my country, the world's newest nation, reaches out for international support to address this need, I was alarmed to learn of the decision by the European Union to reduce dramatically the funding for rehabilitation programs in favor of efforts aimed at the prevention of torture.

I certainly applaud any actions that might prevent torture, and all nations should work toward that end. But what of the fate of those who have been tortured? Who will assist the new victims being created every day?

Survivors of torture suffer lasting, often lifelong injuries to their bodies and minds. Many need medication for chronic pain, and a compassionate listener to help them cope with horrific nightmares, insomnia, depression and despair. All need to live in societies educated to understand the consequences of their experience, loving and healing communities where people do not turn their backs on those who have suffered unthinkable injustices.

Sadly, the European Union's decision to reduce funding for torture survivors diminishes a noble tradition of EU support for programs dedicated to this work not only in Europe, but all over the world.

On May 27, representatives of torture rehabilitation centers from many European nations sent a letter to the European Parliament stressing that the European Union's policy change "is having a direct and immediate effect on the situation of the existing victims," after a 45 percent reduction last year of the funds previously available for assisting victims of torture, from about $16 million to $9.5 million. Because of this, 30 rehabilitation centers in Central and Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America are without European Union support.

In more than 20 countries where these centers are the only providers of such services, assistance to victims of torture may be ended or seriously reduced.

Although their work has received little attention, rehabilitation centers and programs of this kind have quietly provided crucial help for many years to torture victims from Iraq, Guatemala, Bosnia and Afghanistan, some of the more than 60 countries where systematic and widespread torture has been carried out. Where will these rehabilitation centers turn for help? The United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture is already thinly spread among centers throughout the world.

In 2002 this fund assisted 166 organizations in 60 countries. Requests that year totaled $12 million, but the fund had only about $7 million to disburse.

The United States provides $5 million annually to the UN fund, in addition to $10 million to treatment centers in the United States and another $10 million to the U.S.

Agency for International Development's Victims of Torture Fund, which now supports 45 treatment programs in 26 countries.

Congress will soon consider legislation sponsored by Representative Chris Smith, Republican of New Jersey, and Senator Norman Coleman, Republican of Minnesota, among others, to increase support over the next three years both to the United Nations and USAID funds, and to domestic programs urgently needed by an estimated 500,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the United States who suffered torture in their home countries.

I hope the Congress and President George W. Bush will support this measure. But these contributions are far from sufficient to address the problem of torture treatment in Europe and around the world.

The European Union must be convinced to rescind its cuts, and increase support for these vital endeavors. The United States and Europe, working with others throughout the world, should form a common front for humanity.

Bishop Belo is the retired Apostolic Administrator of the Catholic Church in East Timor. He shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize.


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