Torture is the cheapest form of investigation, used in 93 countries. Many of this takes place in countries which have actively spoken out against torture. According to social activist Karen Tse, there are three steps to ending the use of torture as an interrogative tool.We need to ensure commitment, systematic early access to counsel and we need to train and support defenders.
We think of torture as reserved for political prisoners, yet Tse tells us 95% of those tortured are ordinary prisoners in broken down legal systems. Her first experiences came from Cambodia. In 1994 there were only ten lawyers in the country because the Khmer Rouge had killed them all. Almost twenty years later, there were still only ten lawyers, with people waiting years for legal aid. She met with a woman who’d been imprisoned because her husband had committed a crime, with a lawyer who said he never had to investigate as everybody came with a confession, with a twelve year old boy who’d been tortured for stealing a bike. In Burundi she met an eight year old who’d been tortured for stealing a mobile phone. In Egypt systemic torture by police was one of the key factors leading to the revolution. Tse founded ‘International Bridges to Justice’ with the aim of ending torture as an investigative tool.
Her aims sound huge, but according to Tse there are many reasons why the ending of torture is possible. There are people who are passionate about this on the ground. With five thousand dollars awarded, thirty justice makers in places from Sri Lanka to the Democratic Republic of the Congo can make a huge difference. The ending of slavery or apartheid both began with a small group of people committing. Several voices together are better than hundreds of people standing apart. In the oft repeated words of one of her defenders, ‘Take courage friends, the road is often long, the path is never clear and the stakes are very high, but deep down, you are not alone.’