Why Reparation Processes Must be Survivor-Centred

By Camila Marin Restrepo, Communities Officer

Torture is a callous tool used by those with power that aims to dehumanise individuals, strip them of their dignity and make them powerless. It doesn’t just impact the individual; it shatters families and communities, fostering a culture of silence and fear. Despite the stigmatisation and ostracisation that survivors often face, at REDRESS, we have the privilege of witnessing their resilience and tenacity through our day-to-day work.

The prohibition of torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment is a non-derogable right that is prohibited under customary international law and in several international human rights treaties. It is no secret however, that torture continues to happen around the world. Over the past five years, Amnesty International has reported torture in at least three quarters of the world: 141 countries. At REDRESS, we utilise strategic litigation and advocacy to seek support survivors in reparation for torture survivors.

Why should reparation processes be survivor centred?

The act of seeking reparation and holding perpetrators to account is an act of immense bravery that can come at a cost to survivors and their families. It is often a lengthy process, where feelings of hope, excitement, disillusion, and frustration can all co-exist. In addition, the legal process is often impersonal, cold and uncertain. It requires the retelling of traumatic experiences and can result in an elevated risk of reprisals to the survivor and their family.

Whilst the outcome of litigation is crucial as it can provide survivors with the necessary compensation, rehabilitative support, or public acknowledgement that they deserve, it is in the litigation process where the possibility of empowerment exists. The legal process can provide rehabilitative effects when lawyers disseminate legal knowledge to their clients in an accessible manner, prioritise their needs, respect their opinions, avoid their instrumentalisation and ultimately support them to navigate the innate uncertainty of the legal process.

Whilst some survivors of torture are vulnerable and require holistic support, a survivor centred approach to reparation aims to challenge the way we view individuals with lived experience of torture. As human rights practitioners, it is crucial that we do not subconsciously replicate dynamics of powerlessness in our interactions with clients and instead, we seek to build trust with them through centring their needs and priorities. A survivor centred approach asks us to not just view them as just victims and rights-holders, but as individuals with agency, skills, expertise, and resilience.

REDRESS resources on survivor-centred reparation

To reflect on what it means to be survivor centred, REDRESS will hold a webinar on 27 March at 2pm (GMT), where human rights lawyers and practitioners with vast experience  supporting survivors of torture in their journey to justice will exchange best practices on adopting a survivor-centred approach in different regions. A survivor of torture and activist, Azul Rojas Marin, will also discuss her experience winning a landmark case against Peru.

We have also developed two new practices notes. ‘A Survivor-Centred Approach to Seeking Reparation for Torture’ sets out nine principles of a survivor-centred approach and offers practical tips on how to ensure survivors’ participation, reduce the risk of further harm and re-traumatisation to the survivor, and to reinforce their agency and self-determination. It also provides guidance on adopting a survivor-centred approach through the human rights litigation and reparation processes.

Our other practice note on “Reparation for Survivors of Torture” explains the concept of reparation and provides comparative examples of reparation claims and their implementation in different contexts.

Photo: REDRESS. The family of Leopoldo García Lucero, a survivor of torture under General Pinochet’s regime in Chile who later achieved a landmark ruling upholding the right of torture survivors in exile to justice and reparation.