Press release

Regional: Challenges on Transitional Justice Approach in Dealing with Mass Torture in Asia

Jakarta, Indonesia, 6 April 2016 — civil society, survivors of torture and policymakers from Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Myanmar and Sri Lanka along with international experts are gathering in Jakarta’s 6-7 April 2006 to discuss challenges of transitional justice approach in dealing with mass torture in Asia.

Countries in transition from conflict or authoritarian rule face an opportunity for positive change but also walk a thin line of allowing the practices of the past to remain institutionalized during or after a political transition. The practice of torture is a case in point. Whether a country can successfully eradicate or lessen incidences of torture is an important “indicator” for successful transition to democracy.

Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) together with KontraS (Indonesia), the National Peace Council (Sri Lanka), Associasaun Chega Ba Ita (Timor-Leste), and Wimutti Volunteer Group (Myanmar) in supporting by European Union have been working together to strengthen survivors of torture and promote accountability in our respective contexts. These four countries share a common trait where the lack of accountability for mass torture may contribute to the country’s continued practice of torture while in process of transition. We have also developed participatory tools to document testimonies from victims of torture, that integrate methods to assist victims to heal and empower themselves, inclusive of providing legal aid and partnership in advocating for policy change. We launch the policy papers on the legacy of mass torture and challenge for reform in Indonesia, Timor Leste, Myanmar dan Sri Lanka.

We found that lack of accountability, official recognition and political space to discuss the history of torture is not just a problem for the victims of past crimes. These failures can contribute to an ongoing situation of impunity.

In order to demonstrate state commitment to eliminating the practice of torture, we call on the governments of Myanmar, Indonesia, Timor-Leste, and Sri Lanka to take immediate action:

Legal reform for accountability and prevention

  1. Define and criminalise torture in the national legal code, without exception for emergencies and incorporating the main elements of the UN Convention against Torture.
  2. Conduct a comprehensive review of any other laws, orders, directives, procedures, rules, regulations, by-laws and notification regarding torture, in order to improve prevention, monitoring, and remedies. Include prohibitions on using evidence obtained through torture in court, and protection of witnesses and complainants against intimidation.
  3. Lift repressive laws that permit the prolonged, arbitrary, or incommunicado detention on broad charges, politically motivated charges, or no charges at all, as these are major risk factors in the incidence of torture.
  4. Dismantle separate and ineffective justice systems for the military or police for criminal behaviour, such as torture. Uniformed officials are responsible for most cases of torture, due not only to the lack of training and safeguards, but also the failure to hold perpetrators and their superiors responsible.
  5. Strengthen legal aid programs, with a special focus to assist victims of torture to bring perpetrators to justice.
  6. Ratify, incorporate into domestic law, and comply with relevant international instruments:
    • Ratify the Convention against Torture (Myanmar only)
    • Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture to allow country visits (all four countries)
    • Ratify the first Optional Protocol to International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
    • Support development of an effective regional human rights mechanism
    • Promptly implement all recommendations from UN mechanisms, particularly the Universal Periodic Review, the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Special Rapporteurs, and Committee against Torture.

Healing and other reparations

  1. Support local efforts: AJAR’s experience shows that community-based healing strategies that facilitate peer support can be very effective, and that survivors of torture living in extreme conditions have an extraordinary capacity for resilience and self-help.
  2. Acknowledge past torture: official recognition and acknowledgement is a first step in providing justice for victims, encouraging individual healing and reconciliation at a societal level.
  3. Include victims’ voices in high-level political dialogue: Discussions about reconciliation must reflect the will of survivors, addressing victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-repetition
  4. Create and fund national rehabilitation programs that address survivor’s medical, psychological and material needs. Such reparative measures for torture survivors must be discussed in peace process discussions, national budgeting, and social policy. These measures must address the urgent needs of torture survivors, including:
    • access to health care for resulting injuries and illnesses.
    • psychosocial support in the form of mental health counseling, appropriate to the context and accessibility, including community-based trauma healing strategies that facilitate peer-to-peer support.
    • livelihood needs, including access to education or vocational training, employment opportunities, and capital.

Gender justice

  1. Increase women survivors’ access to services and programs that improve their social and economic standing, and therefore their ability to access justice.
  2. Assist women survivors to form self-help groups as a platform for accessing information and services, sharing and documenting their stories, and empowering themselves to combat discrimination.
  3. Focusing on survivors of sexual violence, provide long-term rehabilitation through appropriate services and support for women and their children, combined with community-based education to overcome deeply engrained discrimination and challenge social norms

Read our briefing papers:

Briefing Papers on the Legacy of Mass Torture and the Challenge for Reform in Asia

AJAR – KontraS – NPC – ACbit – Wimutti Volunteer Group