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Grantees of the UN fund for torture victims assist communities during COVID-19

24 July 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic is leading to an escalation of torture and ill-treatment worldwide, and torture survivors are especially in danger of getting infected by the lethal virus due to their vulnerable situation.

People in detention or confined in closed spaces, where social distancing is practically impossible, are particularly at risk. The pre-existing unfavorable medical conditions of detainees have contributed to a rapid spread of COVID-19, with often deadly consequences.

We highlight the work of grantees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture who continue to work tirelessly to assist victims of torture, people deprived of liberty and their families during this global health crisis.

Medical Action Group (Philippines)

Medical Action Group (MAG) is a non-profit organization of physicians, nurses, dentists, psychologists, health students, and health workers established in 1982. Since its inception, MAG has rendered total health services to the urban poor, political prisoners, internally displaced peoples and human rights defenders. In 1984, it established the Philippine Action Concerning Torture (PACT) which anchored its direct services program for torture survivors and their families. Through PACT, MAG has able to conduct jail visitations, medical missions, and quick reaction responses to reported cases of torture.

During the pandemic, MAG launched a teleconsultation service to human rights defenders and their relatives that aims to decongest hospitals and to prevent the risk of exposure of non-COVID patients. The teleconsultation can be accessed through phone calls and online forms. Since 15 April, it has benefitted 50 patients for stress relief and 50 patients for medical concerns.

With the continued increase of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines, frontline workers are facing a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). MAG mobilized its resources to gather donations in selected areas. It has donated garbage bags, disinfecting alcohol, and personal protective equipment such as coveralls, N95 masks, surgical masks, face shields, gloves and head caps to the Lung Center of the Philippines and Philippine General Hospital. It has also extended its support to frontliners in the provinces where it has donated 100 personal protective equipment to hospitals in National Capital Region, more than 200 PPEs to rural health units in Western Samar and more than 100 PPEs to rural health units in Zamboanga Sibugay.

Aside from PPEs, MAG also facilitated the distribution of food packs and hot meals donated by St. Joseph College and Franciscan Sisters of Immaculate Concepcion to the Department of Emergency Medicine and Department of Pediatrics of Philippine General Hospital.

MAG, with the help of the NGOs 2KK and Consuelo Foundation, also facilitated the collection of 300 kilos of assorted vegetables that were distributed to the urban poor and families of victims of human rights violations. The organization also assisted with providing medical assessments, medicines and relief packs to newly released persons deprived of liberty and their families.

MAG also continues to monitoring and document human rights violation cases in times of COVID-19.

Centro de Defensa de Criança e do Adolescente do Ceará (Brazil)

The Centre for the Defence of Children and Adolescents of Ceará (CEDECA) was founded in 1994. The NGO combines juridical intervention, social mobilization, strategic partnerships and communication in order to build a society that fully guarantees the human rights of children and adolescents.

During the period of social isolation due to COVID-19, CEDECA has been providing psychosocial and legal assistance to victims and their families remotely. The organization publishes material on their social networks on the provision of the psycho-social and legal care service. They have also made available a WhatsApp number to receive complaints to enable their team to continue handling cases by phone and digital media.

Moment of care facilitated by CEDECA’s psychosocial team with two groups of family members, December 14, 2019.

To improve care for victims, CEDECA has developed a virtual "Case Studies" training methodology and experience sharing between team professionals. They have also given priority to remote psychological assistance to groups and individuals. Further, to support the family members of torture victims, CEDECA’s psychosocial team has worked to promote individual and collective strengthening.

CEDECA legal support team has also been notifying official torture and ill-treatment reporting bodies through their digital systems. The team participated in remote meetings with the Rights Guarantee System to address the situation of adolescents deprived of liberty.

The team also stressed the importance of guaranteeing a communication link between families and teenagers through video. They describe communication as fundamental because, in the context of social isolation, adolescents deprived of freedom are more vulnerable to mistreatment and torture, and video calls allow families to check if their teenagers have suffered abuse or torture.

CEDECA also advocated for specific procedures to be put in place when bodily harm on these adolescents was suspected. These include guaranteeing medical examinations as part of criminal investigations; requesting a criminal investigation to the Police and Children Station (DCA) by the Superintendence of the State System for Social Assistance and Education (SEAS), and the immediate transfer of adolescents to the Forensic Examination of the State (PFOCE) to undergo physical examinations by specialists.

Moment of care in CEDECA’s Community Therapies Project

CEDECA’s legal assistance team has also participated, within the scope of the Court of Justice of the State of Ceará, in the committee for the follow-up of measures to face COVID-19. The committee aims to adopt preventive measures for the spread of the coronavirus within the criminal justice system and for adolescents in the socio-educational system.

For direct attention to victims of torture, CEDECA Ceará has the support of the UN Fund for Victims of Torture. In a parallel action, CEDECA’s team has sought to help the families it works with and others in the territories where it operates. Many families have been left in precarious socioeconomic situations because of the pandemic. They have been lacking resources for food or hygiene products. CEDECA has offered humanitarian assistance to almost 600 families, through distribution of food baskets, hygiene products and masks. In addition, CEDECA launched a financial donation campaign through their website.

Center for Victims of Torture (Jordan)

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT)’s clinical teams in Jordan transitioned to telehealth and connected with clients individually in order to share new processes and continue a personal connection. CVT has described this time as difficult for many survivors, as stay-at-home orders can bring re-traumatizing memories of their previous imprisonment and can compound anxiety and depression. Some of their clients have lost their jobs, which has caused an increase in food and housing insecurity for many.

In each of CVT’s locations in Africa, the Middle East and United States, staff has been following local requirements regarding sanitization, lockdown orders, wearing masks. Clinical teams have been connecting with clients via cell phone calls, emails, phone apps, and even through radio broadcasts.

In some locations, teams have prepared information in local languages on mental health and how CVT can help. In a refugee camp location, staff developed a pictorial Physiotherapy at Home program, and CVT’s refugee staff have been teaching these approaches to others in the camps. In another camp, they have broadcast health and wellness information through loudspeakers.

In addition, CVT received increased requests from other international humanitarian organizations for training and support on secondary trauma, self-care and staff-care, as NGOs grapple with new levels of distress and traumatization in the populations they serve.

Disclaimer: The views, information and opinions expressed in this article are those of the persons featured in the story and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

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