Acceptance speech – Inge Genefke / Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims
The aim of torture is to destroy a person as a human being, to destroy their identity and soul. It is more evil than murder.
NOT THE TORTURER WILL SCARE ME, OR THE BODY’S FINAL FALL,
NOT THE BARRELS OF DEATH’S RIFLES
OR THE SHADOWS ON THE WALL,
NOT THE NIGHT WHEN TO THE GROUND
THE LAST, DIM STAR OF PAIN IS HURLED,
BUT THE BLIND INDIFFERENCE
OF THE MERCILESS,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This poem was written by the Danish poet Halfdan Rasmussen and translated by the Danish poet Elsa Gress.
That is what scares the torture victims: The blind indifference of the world. They themselves have not shown blind indifference. That was the reason why they weren tortured. The victims whom we know as strong persons, courageous persons indeed not torture victims but what they themselves want to be called: Torture survivors. Strong and courageous that was why they were tortured.
Today they are honoured by you. With this distinguished award, the Right Livelihood Honorary Award, the Alternative Nobel Prize, you show them respect, you show them dignity. No one deserves it more than they do, no one needs it more profoundly than they do. You recognize their sufferings.
At the same time you show the highest degree of disgust and dislike of the regimes in the world who expose their citizens towards the most hideous, the most atrocious: Torture, and towards those who exercise it.
The value of your support towards the victims of torture is immeasurable. And on behalf of the torture survivors I thank you.
Why should torture survivors be helped? Why should we help torture survivors? I will answer these two questions.
1) Why should torture survivors be helped?
Because they need it. Because their body and mind have suffered atrociously, unbearably, unspeakably. Because torture is the worst, the most hideous thing on earth. Torture is not just hanging for many, many hours by the arms or by the legs, it is not just phalanges, it is not just to have electrodes placed on different parts on the body. It is not just that a person is burnt with cigarettes or with iron bars, is hit and kicked all over, or is tormented until being unconscious.
No, torture is far worse, and it is something which is difficult for us to imagine. Torture is mainly of psychological character. This means that a person is forced to witness the torture of a child or a spouse, of a sister or brother, father or mother, to have to watch helplessly and to have to listen to their screams and crying, and their appeals to stop the torture – and you can do nothing.
This is the worst form of torture. It creates great suffering – and, of course, the torturers know it, and they use it.
Today we know that the most essential purpose of torture is not to gather information and evidence, no, the most essential purpose is the most evil in the world: to break down a personality, to destroy an identity, you could call it: to kill a soul. And to use it is worse than murder.
When a human being has been exposed to torture, of course they have problems afterwards. Psychological problems and physical problems. Their sufferings are feelings of a changed personality, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances with nightmares where they over and again relive their torture. They are fatigued, have headaches, sexual problems, concentration and memory disturbances. They feel totally isolated without self esteem, they have lost confidence in themselves and in the rest of the world.
It is imperative for me to stress the point that we at the RCT consider these problems to be normal reactions from normal human beings reactions at something extremely abnormal perverted: Torture. We do not consider the torture survivors to be patients. On the contrary, we consider them to be what they are. I already mentioned it in the beginning of this speech: Strong, courageous persons exposed to torture, because they were working and fighting for what they believed in.
Well, that was the answer to the question why should torture survivors be helped.
2) Why should we help torture survivors?
This question I want to answer with words from the Danish poet, Elsa Gress. Elsa Cress quotes another Danish poet, Karen Blixen, (whom you will know from some of her most famous books “Out of Africa”, and “Babette’s feast”, which both have been filmed). Karen Blixen was once asked why she had protested against the Kenyan whites’ maltreatment of the natives, when in Africa, and she answered without hesitation: I have done that and will do it again, primarily for my own sake!
Elsa Gress continues there is a truth we can and must use today in her words and actions, because: to tolerate without interference, the injustice and maltreatment of the strong towards the helpless minimize ones own humanity and is an intolerable loss for the person that is I, as well as for the species to which I belong. Therefore, Elsa Grass goes on, we should support torture victims with all our will and capacity – for our own sake, as well as for their sake.
There is one more answer to these two questions, why torture survivors should be helped and why we should do it:
We must do it because we can do it. Today we know that we can help the victims. Personally, I think it is a miracle, that people who have been through sufferings worse than hell, can be helped. But thanks to the work already done, thanks to our research, thanks to our courageous colleagues in the Third World countries with whom we are working together, we know that today survivors of torture can be helped to regain their health and strength.
But is it enough just to help? At the RCT we find there are preventive methods in helping survivors of torture. Because in helping them we take the weapon from their torturers. The aim of the torturers were destruction of other human beings. And we have proved that they have not succeeded.
But there is another very important method of prevention. This goes for the medical profession. It is a sad fact, that there are many doctors who act as doctor torturers. We know that today there are more doctors, military doctors, taking part in the torture actions than there are medical and health professionals like us who help victims of torture. We know that present day torture could not be performed on such a scale as it is today, without the complicity of the medical profession.
Thanks to courageous colleagues in medical associations in Uruguay and Chile. Thanks to courageous colleagues around the world living under very difficult conditions, under threat of being torture victims themselves. We have now commenced international work aimed at our colleagues who act as torturers. I wish to mention some of the names of our very courageous colleagues: Dr. Francisco Rivas from Chile. Dr. Gregorio Martirena from Uruguay. Dr. Diana Kordon from Argentina. Dr. Mahboob Mehdi from Pakistan. Dr. June Lopez from the Philippines and the psychologist Elizabeth Marcelino from the Philippines.
There are many more people who should be mentioned. Together with these colleagues and the medical associations in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Nordic Medical Associations, but also medical associations in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands etc., we are now working internationally with the aim of exterminating doctor torturers from all medical associations in the world.
In poetry, the meaning of truth of life, wisdom of life most often is explained in a much clearer, more beautiful and more profound way than I can do it.
Therefore, I want to end my speech with a poem by a Norwegian poet, Arnulf Overland, translated by the Danish poet Elsa Gress and quoted here in the Swedish Parliament.
YOU MUST NOT SIT IN YOUR COZY PAD,
SAYING: “THOSE POOR PEOPLE, HOW VERY SAD”
YOU MUST NOT BEAR WITH SUCH CALM OF MIND
THE INJUSTICE THAT DOESN’T YOUR OWN SELF FIND.
WITH MY DYING BREATH I SHALL RISE AND CRY.
YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO FORGET AND WALK BY.
I want to express my most heartfelt gratitude for the Right Livelihood Award because you did not forget and you did not walk by, the survivors of torture.
International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims
Copenhagen Europe Center
Vesterbrogade 149, building 4, 3rd floor
1620 Copenhagen V
DIGNITY – Danish Institute Against Torture
2100 Copenhagen ø