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Breaking the silence


THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2006                        THE WEEK                                                     Catalonia                                                                  7
                                                                                                                                 THE TALE OF A NIGERIAN REFUGEE

                                                                                                                        "Most people died in prison"
                                                                                                                        ALEX LEFF
                                                                                                                           Emmanuel Amaechi Nwa-
                                                                                                                        nam, 30, longs to see the inde-
                                                                                                                        pendence of his people, the
                                                                                                                        Igbos, one of Nigeria's three
                                                                                                                        largest ethnic groups. His acti-
                                                                                                                        vism with the outlawed Move-
                                                                                                                        ment for the Actualisation of
                                                                                                                        the Sovereign State of Biafra
                                                                                                                        was cut short when the gov-
From the Creu Roja exhibit Salut en conflicte, photographed in Angola in January 2002 by Ursula Meissner                ernment deployed troops on a
                                                                                                                        peaceful protest in southeast-
                                                                                                                        ern town of Onitsha.               flee north to Spain. He first

 Breaking the silence                                                                                                      Massob claims the Igbos
                                                                                                                        have long been marginalised,
                                                                                                                        they do not have top positions
                                                                                                                        in government, and their re-
                                                                                                                                                           chose to the Basque Country
                                                                                                                                                           and then Catalonia as stop-
                                                                                                                                                           ping grounds, "because I'd
                                                                                                                                                           read about their fight for inde-
CT speaks to doctors whose life's work is to help victims of torture                                                    gion's roads and infrastruc-       pendence," he said. While wit-
                                                                                                                        ture have been neglected.          ing for asylum in Spain, the
ALEX LEFF                              are being brought forward.              it. Isabel found the language.”             A protest organiser, Nwa-       after-effects set in. "I was con-
For Patricia Jirón, a typical day        But victims are also speaking            Coixet would not have found           nam was thrown in jail.            fused, I couldn't think
can include first-hand accounts        out. In the recent film The Road        the words, however, if Genefke           "While in prison, most people      straight." He said the Exil
of human rights' violations. She       to Guantánamo, based on the             hadn't first laid out the lexical        died," he said, describing a       centre in Barcelona provided a
works at Exil, a non-govern-           story of three British Muslims          framework. The doctor's re-              sort of roulette. "It's a very     safe space to talk, and he has
mental organisation (NGO)              who were held in Guantánamo             search began in 1973 when she            horrible experience: sitting       since been able to resume
started more than 25 years ago         Bay for two years until they were       was on the board of Amnesty In-          with a group and suddenly the      doing things he enjoys, "work-
by another Chilean, Jorge Ba-          released without charge.                ternational in Denmark, and the          prison guard comes and             ing with my hands and read-
rudy. The five-year old Barce-           The good news for the vic-            NGO gave her the task of form-           [pointing at the inmates] says     ing". For Nwanam, however,
lona branch provides counsell-         tims, doctors say, is that it is        ing the first medical team to            1, 2, 3, 4, come with me. That's   the future is bleak for Nigeria,
ing for hundreds of immigrants         possible to regain one's life           diagnose victims of torture. “It         the end. You hear the sound of     which he says is full of cor-
who survived torture or ill-           again, after the fear that it would     took us a lot of years to figure out     a gun and you know the             ruption and stained with the
treatment.                             be taken away by torturers. The         how to help them. When I                 people are gone... you don't       blood of his people. "Before
   Jirón is the daughter of a fa-      International       Rehabilitation      started there was a big zero in re-      know who will be next."            you can talk about peace you
mous torture victim. Arturo            Council for Torture Victims             search, now our documentation               He was released "unoffi-        must first find out what trig-
Jirón was the health minister          (IRCT), an umbrella non-gov-            centre in Copenhagen has                 cially" and forced to secretly     gered the problem."
and physician of former Chilean        ernmental organisation with al-         50,000 items,” said Genefke.
President Salvador Allende.                                                       Genefke, too, is the daughter
Jirón was with Allende until his                                               of a torture victim. "I am a war       abuses at secret prisons, for        formation, some if it may be
final moment, during the 1973                                                  child and my father was in the         Guántanamo, and reports that         true, most is not,"Sørenson said,
military coup, before being cap-                                               resistance against the Nazis. I've     torture in Iraq is worse than        about a study of the information
tured by Pinochet's soldiers.                                                  known about torture since I was        under Saddam Hussein.                gathered by interrogating the
   “He suffered all kinds of tor-                                              little. But we were not aware of          The debate in the US has fo-      prisoners in Abu Ghraib, Iraq,
ture and humiliation,” said Pa-                                                the psychological after-effects."      cused on the Geneva Conven-          which found information was
tricia Jirón. Her father has been                                                 She continued: “We now              tion, which should safeguard de-     more accurate without torture.
back in Chile since the dictator-                                              know about the deep anxiety            tainees against ill-treatment. But   Sørenson believes progress had
ship crumbled in 1990, after the                                               and depression, the nightmares,        a different international accord,    been made in reducing torture
                                       Danish anti-torture activists, Inge
family took exile in Venezuela.        Genefke and Bent Sørenson/ O.V.         reduced memory, feelings of            the UN Convention Against            in Spain, where Amnesty Inter-
   “The physical oppression was                                                shame and guilt.”                      Torture, is noticeably absent        national has repeatedly com-
directed at my father,” Jirón said,    most 200 centres, treats more                                                  from public discourse, said Bent     plained of police brutality and
“but the whole family suffered.”       than 100,000 victims a year, pro-       “Justice heals”                        Sørenson, Genefke's husband.         torture of terror suspects.
These past experiences, she said,      viding counselling, and training        Once the wounds are bandaged,          Also a doctor and companion in          In terms of funding treat-
help her build a rapport with pa-      community teachers and nurses           the victim has undergone psy-          combatting torture, Sørenson         ment, however, Spain is a major
tients at Exil, which assisted 205     to help victims break the silence.      chological counselling and feels       served on the UN Committee           donor to the UN Voluntary
people last year, more than 60            Danish founder of IRCT, Inge         re-integrated into society, the        Against torture and on a similar     Fund for the Victims of Torture,
per cent from Latin America.           Genefke, who pioneered this             IRCT has found that the best           board for Europe.                    says Karen Sherlock, an IRCT
   Amid a raging international         work, says the effects that persist     cure is reparation. “Justice              Sørenson cites the advantages     advisor based in Barcelona.
debate on torture, Jirón is one in     after torture are deeper than the       heals,” the Genefke concurs.           of the UN document over the          Spain contributes €300,000 to
a small group of specialists who       physical wounds. The doctor                Recent events show the scales       Geneva Convention: "It is al-        the fund, 90 per cent backed by
dedicate their lives to helping        was invited by the Red Cross to         of justice are beginning to tip.       ways in force, while the Geneva      the US. The IRCT is trying to
those whose human rights were          speak at the opening of the or-         An Argentinean court recently          Convention is only enforced          pressure the UK to follow suit, as
violated either by their govern-       ganisation's multimedia exhibit         sentenced a retired police com-        during war. So Bush's debate         Sherlock says it only gives
ments, families or community           Salut en Conflicte (Health in           missioner to life in prison for        whether Guántanamo detainees         $260,000. "Spain should be
members.                               Conflict; at Barcelona's La Casa        crimes committed during the            are prisoners of war is irrelevant   patted on the back," she said.
   Although banned by inter-           Elizalde until October 6).              country's “dirty war”.                 if you're talking about torture."       Meanwhile, the time dedi-
national law, torture continues           Genefke's brainchild, the               Critics say the US govern-             If anyone in power bends the      cated by trained doctors seems
to be practised in more than 100       IRCT, provided the research for         ment, however, is repeating the        rules, they should pay, the          to go a long way. Jirón, the Chi-
countries. Some governments            the film, The Secret Life of Words,     mistakes of “dirty war” nations        couple agrees. For example, US       lean psychologist, described pa-
are criticised for double talk:        by the celebrated Catalan film-         such as Argentina and Chile, in        secretary of defence, Donald         tients recovering and getting on
while the US has rewritten its         maker, Isabel Coixet. Genefke           enacting a law that protects gov-      Rumsfeld, should be brought          with their life. She says: "My
rules on interrogation methods,        praised the director: “It's diffi-      ernment operatives who have            before a world court for signing     work helps me put the puzzle of
more torturers, such as a British      cult to talk about torture, be-         committed or are responsible           a list of torture methods used at    my past together...People ask if I
soldier who recently admitted          cause it is such a horrible experi-     for human rights abuses. The US        the Abu Ghraib prison.               suffer. I suffer with every patient,
systematic abuse of prisoners,         ence that there is no language for      is still under fire for its alleged       "You can get a lot of in-         but never as badly as they did."

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