War-trauma and torture victims from Syria, Iraq seek rehab in Lebanon

Sunday 23/07/2017
Big needs. A woman, who was wounded in Syria, rests inside a hospital in Tripoli. (Reuters)

Beiru - Salman Daoud, an Iraqi Christian, and his 10-year-old son waited anxiously for their turn to see the psychologist at the Restart Centre for the Rehabilitation of Vic­tims of Violence, Torture in Beirut. Since fleeing Iraq seven months ago, they have been going regularly for psychological treatment to help them overcome war trauma.
“They are treating us with the help of psychologists and psychia­trists. My son has a depression. He is haunted by the traumatic inci­dents we’ve been through in Iraq and talks about it with the profes­sionals,” Daoud said.
Daoud and his family are among hundreds of Iraqi and Syrian vic­tims of physical and psychological torture, rape and war trauma, who have been referred by the UNHCR to Restart, an NGO established in 1996 to help torture and trauma survivors in Lebanon.
“At present, most of our benefi­ciaries are Syrian and Iraqi victims of torture and their families in addition to inmates in prisons in Lebanon,” said Restart Executive Director Suzanne Jabbour. “With the many wars raging in the region, thousands of people have been ex­posed to torture or traumatised by the horrors they have witnessed.”
Since the Syria crisis and the in­flux of refugees into Lebanon, Re­start has been treating more than 3,000 people annually. They are handled by a team of 100 profes­sionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, social workers, neurologists and physiotherapists. A team of speech therapists, psychometricians and special educators works with chil­dren diagnosed with severe de­pression.
“Torture has been widely used as a tool to extract confessions. It does not only break the body of the victim but seeks to annihilate the victim’s personality and inher­ent human dignity,” Jabbour said. “That is why rehab is very impor­tant and crucial. Victims cannot fully recover without the adequate, effective and comprehensive reha­bilitation.”
“The Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OP­CAT) clearly mentions and details the states’ obligations in guaran­teeing the rehabilitation and com­pensation of victims of torture,” she added.
Restart has been working inside Tripoli prisons in northern Leba­non for more than 12 years, provid­ing mental health assistance and physical rehabilitation to inmates. The appalling conditions inside Lebanese prisons and detention facilities further deteriorated with the refugee crisis in Lebanon, Jab­bour said.
“We are aware that there are big needs, especially with the refugee population. More than 40% of the inmates are refugees and foreigners. This placed lot of pressure on secu­rity agencies and people working in­side the jail as well as professionals.
“When you put 70 inmates in a space that fits only 20, of course the conditions will be horrible. Just being in such conditions amounts to ill treatment and torture. It is the responsibility of the government to do something about it because police do with what they have and they also suffer from that situa­tion. If the government continues to turn a blind eye, the worst is yet to come,” Jabbour said.
Torture in Lebanese prisons is common and takes place system­atically, the Lebanese Centre for Human Rights (CLDH) said. It said that from 2009-15, approximately 60% of those arrested in Leba­non were subject to some form of torture or serious ill-treatment in detention, notably during interro­gation. Violations were allegedly perpetrated on a general level by General Security, the Internal Se­curity Forces and Military Intelli­gence.
The death of four Syrian terror suspects in military custody in July touched off calls by human rights activists for an independ­ent investigation into the incident. The CLDH accused the Lebanese Army of torture that led to the men’s death and demanded that those responsible be held account­able. However, Lebanese officials and many citizens rallied around the army, praising its sacrifices in fighting terrorism.
“The problem is that fear from terrorism makes people more tol­erable of torture exercised against suspected terrorists,” Jabbour said. “They say if torture protects us, why not use it.
“I say in all wars around the world mistakes are committed by individuals or armies. What is im­portant is not to be in denial. The army has a responsibility to be transparent. We cannot tolerate the use of torture by an institution which is responsible for our secu­rity and protection.”
Torture is forbidden by Leba­nese law but still commonly employed. Lebanon has ratified OPCAT, under which it has the obligation to set up an independ­ent national body to monitor and investigate torture and ill-treat­ment. That panel has yet to see the light.
“There are 140 countries around the world practising torture, ac­cording to Amnesty Interna­tional,” Jabbour said. “Victims of torture remain in pain even after rehab. Sometimes we cannot re­ally treat all the symptoms but we help the person to become func­tional again and to be reintegrated into normal life.
“We need politicians and deci­sion-makers to understand that the use of torture will only gener­ate more violence.”