Kolbassia Haoussou

Survivor of torture, and Coordinator of the Survivors Speak OUT Network

Guest blogger for Rose de Mendonça

Part of FCDO Human Rights

26th June 2014 London, UK

Tackling Impunity: Why the Voices of Survivors Must Be Heard

Guest blog by Kolbassia Haoussou, survivor of torture, and Coordinator of the Survivors Speak OUT Network

For too long torture has been used to punish and silence. Perpetrators have used their abhorrent tools with impunity, in the knowledge that they will never be held to account by survivors, for fear of stigma, shame and further persecution. Those days I hope, are finally coming to an end.

I once considered myself a victim, but now I am proud to be a survivor of torture and I want to share what this day means for me and others like me.

Transitioning from being a victim of torture to being a survivor of torture is a painful and often lengthy journey. It takes courage, strength and support. There often comes a moment on this journey to becoming a survivor when something inside you suddenly changes.

For me, the catalyst was the realisation that I needed to turn this intensely negative experience into something positive that could benefit others like me. I helped to cofound the Survivors Speak OUT Network with other survivors who I met at Freedom from Torture, the UK charity for the rehabilitation and treatment of survivors, which continues to support our work.

Our aim was to create a community of individuals who work to help and inspire one another, and to speak out as a collective against torture and its impacts.

I strongly believe that torture brutalizes and corrupts whole societies. It stands in absolute opposition to freedom. It removes choice and the voice of the victim and enslaves our mental and physical well-being to a catalogue of violations and humiliation.

Allowing just one act of torture anywhere sanctions its use everywhere. It diminishes the authority of any state to act as guardian of its citizens by giving the clear message that human rights no longer matter. Commanded, conducted or condoned with impunity, torture reinforces continuing cycles of violence and lawlessness.

Empowering survivors to safely speak out is one of many ways to break this vicious cycle and end impunity.

That is why it was such an honour for the Survivors Speak OUT network to work with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the initiative to end sexual violence in conflict. For us, our engagement in the drafting of the new International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict, and standing on the platform with Foreign Secretary William Hague and Angelina Jolie to launch it, represented the recognition that a new survivor-centred approach to end sexual violence in conflict is vital.

We see our engagement as embodying the breaking down of the barriers to protection by recognising that survivors have vital voices in creating durable solutions. We welcomed direct survivor involvement in shaping the International Protocol as it was important to ensure that speaking out to achieve justice is an empowering experience that does no harm to survivors.

It also showed that survivors were no longer being considered ‘victims’, only listened to for their personal testimony, but as survivors informed by lived experience who can contribute practical insights in shaping appropriate responses to human rights violations.

If survivors, experts and States continue to stand together, we can irreversibly shift the shame from survivors to perpetrators. In doing so, empowered survivors will finally be able to hold their perpetrators to account, shattering the culture of impunity.