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CATALONIA TODAY 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."
"Breaking the silence"