Survivors Turn To Center For Victims Of Torture

Guests

Maki Katoh, country director for the Center for Victims of Torture programs in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Darrin Waller, country director for the Center for Victims of Torture programs in Jordan

It's unclear how many people in the world have been tortured. Some will never talk about it, others quietly find help and move on with their lives. For those who do seek help, one of their few refuges is the Center for Victims of Torture. May marks the 25th anniversary of the center.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

The psychological scars of torture can run deeper than the physical scars. Some victims will never talk about it. We know that most torture victims are refugees. Many in the last decade have come from Africa and the Middle East. One place they can turn to for help is the Center for Victims of Torture, 25 years old this month. In a moment, two directors from the center join us. If you survived torture, how did you move on? Give us a phone call: 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Maki Katoh is country director for the Center for Victims of Torture in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Darrin Waller, country director in Jordan. They're both here with us in Studio 3A. Thanks to you both very much for coming in.

Mr. DARRIN WALLER (Jordan Country Director, Center for Victims of Torture): Neal, thank you for having us.

Ms. MAKI KATOH (Democratic Republic of Congo Country Director, Center for Victims of Torture): Thank you for having us.

CONAN: And Maki Katoh, let me begin with you. Is every individual case unique or after a while do you start to see patterns?

Ms. KATOH: There certainly is a pattern, but each individual has their own story. And we cannot ignore their differences. Each person has similar stories and then the differences for what they have experienced.

CONAN: The experience you develop over time, though, can help you, learning from some victims, how to help others.

Ms. KATOH: That is true. But also, we want to make sure that we pay attention to the details and individualized reactions because not everybody is the same.

CONAN: And you've had a lot of experience in Africa, not just in the Democratic Republic of Congo but earlier in Rwanda and other places as well. Is there something special about what's happening in Congo?

Ms. KATOH: I think many people had heard that rape and sexual violence is quite high in Congo. And that is a pattern that we do see among our clients.

CONAN: And what is your job exactly? What do you do to help them?

Ms. KATOH: Okay. My position is the country director, so it is administrative position.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. KATOH: I make sure that the program is operated accordance - in accordance with our own policies as well as in accordance with the government, the host government's policies. And that could range from human resources to finances, but also oversight of the program.

CONAN: Do you find yourself in conflict with the government from time to time because they might be, well, among those conducting this torture?

Ms. KATOH: We comply with all the requirements that the government require us to comply with.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And let me turn to you, Darrin Waller. You're based in Jordan. And one presumes you're not dealing with victims just who were tortured in Jordan but those arriving in Jordan primarily at this point from Iraq, I would think.

Mr. WALLER: Yeah. Neal, indeed, the majority of our clients were actually Iraqi refugees that have fled Iraq to reside in Jordan. We do have a few clients that are Jordanian and other nationalities, but mainly Iraqis.

CONAN: And what kind - again, is there a pattern that you see or is every case unique?

Mr. WALLER: Well, in, of course, in one sense, every case is unique and people deal and respond to that in very different ways. But yes, there are also patterns to the torture in terms of what we've seen with the sectarian violence and some of the methods that have been used on people and some of the reasons that people are fleeing from Iraq. And sadly, for the Iraqi people, they've now seen torture over - or have had to deal with torture over many decades. So we're dealing with recent torture and torture that's happened previously to...

CONAN: Back in the old Saddam Hussein regime.

Mr. WALLER: Absolutely, and going back to the Iran-Iraq war as well. But mostly, our clients have been the victims of torture due to the sectarian violence that broke out.

CONAN: And again, you're obligated to work with the government because you're a resident in that country. Nevertheless, there have to be some questions that you as administrator might have from time to time about the Jordanian police and their policies.

Mr. WALLER: Yes. Absolutely, you're correct. And we have a good relationship with the government. We obviously have to keep a professional distance, as well. But what we endeavor to do in certain cases like you're alluding to is to advocate on a one-to-one basis in terms of changing attitudes and changing policies. And, indeed, part of our mandate, as well, is training other NGOs, raising awareness of torture, working with different groups such as the police or border police or security services. And that takes time, Neal. That's not going to happen in one year, five years. It's a big...

CONAN: One would hope it would, but it's unlikely to. (unintelligible)

Mr. WALLER: Yes, exactly, yes.

CONAN: Maki Katoh, do you look at your job as to provide services to help the victims and - psychological services, among others. Or is your job to try to prevent the cause of torture?

Ms. KATOH: I think what we could actually do - actually say that it's both. But our program is pretty much focused on the treatment. So it is an assistance, but in a way that it is going to be empowering. It is to bring the survivors to recognize their own resources, their own strengths that they can draw on, and then continue to seek assistance themselves. And by doing so, we are hoping to break the cycle of violence. It is well known that if you are a victim of violence, then you are likely to commit violence yourself.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. KATOH: So what we are trying to do, then, is to provide healing services so that they can then - do not have to repeat the violence themselves.

CONAN: And do you find some people are resistant to getting help? Some people want to say: I am determined to use my anger to find justice, revenge - however they might want to put it.

Ms. KATOH: I would say we have not seen that among our clients. There has been a lot of hesitation in terms of seeking services. This is a mental health service. So in - just as in other countries, there are certain resistance, even certain stigma. But we conduct a lot of psycho-education sessions, both in the communities, and we also radio, actually, to inform them about what could happen if you have experienced trauma. So, with that, they do actually recognize the symptoms that they're actually experiencing are normal, and that they can seek assistance so they can get better.

CONAN: Yeah. And it's not their fault that they were tortured.

Ms. KATOH: That is correct.

CONAN: Darrin Waller, we're going to ask you that same question - that resistance sometimes to getting help.

Mr. WALLER: We haven't seen it. We recognize that it's actually a huge step for someone who has been tortured to reach out for support and to reach out for help. That actually takes a huge amount of courage in itself. So, clearly, we do outreach work within the community, and clients are also referred to us. But I have to say that's not been our experience.

CONAN: We're talking with Darrin Waller and Maki Katoh, the country directors, respectively, for the Democratic Republic of Congo and for Jordan for the Center for Victims of Torture. 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Armand(ph) joins us from San Jose, in California.

ARMAND (Caller): Hi. How are you doing?

CONAN: I'm well. Thank you.

ARMAND: I'm a long-time listener.

CONAN: Thank you.

ARMAND: I'm actually calling in reference (technical difficulties) father, who died from Lou Gehrig's two years ago. That put me on to your show. He survived torture in the '70s under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

ARMAND: ...while his sister, ironically, was tortured after the revolution by the Ayatollah. Both of them were incarcerated for a long time. They were both pressured to give up the names of their friends - neither of which did. And the one comment I wanted to make is that these people continue to go on living their daily lives, and they work - they go to work. They have friends. And it's like something that my father was finally able to come out before he passed away and write down what he went through.

And like my aunt has not - she's still in Iran and still fearful of coming out. But the one thing is, she was in Evin Prison for seven years. And like, when I looked at her - she's visited once or twice. Sometimes she - you can tell how much she's aged. And she sometimes - she never denies or accepts she was tortured, but you can tell whatever they did, it really took its toll. And my father, once he did come out with it, I think he was much more at peace.

CONAN: Hmm. Darrin Waller, is that a familiar story?

Mr. WALLER: Well, we're looking to heal very, very deep wounds and for people to reconnect with their families and hopefully with their communities. And as I said before, that does take a lot of courage. But...

CONAN: And sometimes a long time.

Mr. WALLER: And a long time. And we are mindful that torturers are looking to break the spirit, to break that human being, and it takes time to build...

ARMAND: It took my dad 30 years to come out.

CONAN: Thirty years?

ARMAND: Yeah.

CONAN: In some ways, there are people who are assigned to be torturers. Are they among your clients? Maki Katoh?

Ms. KATOH: Basically, no, I would say. They don't come out with those experiences, that they don't necessarily brought it to us. You could see the circumstances, you could also assume that there might be some. And in particular, at the Center for Victims of Torture, we do have a policy of not providing services to a torturer, just because of limitation of resources and also creating a safe place for the survivors who could come and do not have to see the perpetrators at our center. At the same time, there are ambiguous areas, such as child soldiers. They are children - they were children when they were recruited, and they were forced to commit violence and torture.

CONAN: They're both victims and perpetrators.

Ms. KATOH: Correct.

CONAN: Briefly, Darrin Waller, as you look ahead maybe to the next 25 years, what are your biggest problems?

Mr. WALLER: I think there needs to be a process of healing and reconciliation for - certainly in the area that I'm working, that the Center for Victims of Torture is working in Jordan. That's going to be a very, very difficult process.

The other thing that the center wants to achieve is just for torture to stop, and we need to get that message across loud and clear - and in terms of people being held accountable for this happening. So if there's anything that we want to see over the next 25 years is for this type of horror to stop.

CONAN: Hear, hear. Thank you both very much for your time. Maki Katoh, country director for the Center of Victims of Torture in Democratic Republic of Congo, Darrin Waller has the same job for the Center for the Victims of Torture in Jordan. They were both kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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