Any Country that Tolerates Torture Cannot be a Democratic Country [Archives:1998/45/Law & Diplomacy]

November 9 1998

In cooperation with the International Penal Reform Organization (Paris), the Yemeni Interior Ministry and the Human Rights Information and Training Center (Taiz), a workshop was held in Sanaa during October 25-29. The effort was funded by the British Council and British Embassy in Sanaa. 
The event aimed to train five teams from three different prisons in Sanaa, Taiz and Aden. The other aim was to formulate a workable action plan to drastically modernize the prison system. 
The participating teams are to meet in three months to report the progress they made. 
Dr. Ole Vedel Rasmussen is Medical Consultant in the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT). He is also a member of the Committee for Prevention of Torture in the Council of Europe. He was one of the lecturers in the workshop. 
He was interviewed by Dr. Salah Haddash. 
Q: Could you tell us more about the IRCT? 
A: The IRCT is an NGO which has a special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. An international NGO based in Denmark, IRCT was founded in the early 1980s. It has 29 council members coming from 26 different countries around the whole world. 
The objective of this organization is to help create rehabilitation centers for torture victims. There are many torture survivors that live with a scar and receive no treatment. Our tasks is to work together with all rehabilitation centers to attend to their needs. 
Our other objective deals with the preventive side of rehabilitation work. It is better to prevent than to cure. We have quite a good knowledge of treating torture survivors. In this respect, I want to stress that torture is an international crime. That is because it has destructive effects on human beings. That is why a country in which torture takes place cannot be a democratic country. 
Torture is the most visible weapon against democracy. We want torture to be included in the curriculum for medical and psychology students. They should know international conventions. 
Another aspect of prevention is the activity with which I’ve been involved here in Yemen. It is the preventive work at prisons and police stations. We want the police to know that they must not engage in torture. They must deal with prisoners without violating international standards. 
Q: You have visited the Sanaa Central Prison. What observations do you have? 
A: I had only been in this prison for one hour. I have a very superficial impression from the visit. But, during the workshop, prison officers themselves pointed to where changes are needed. 
The problem that has been identified by the prison wardens is, first of all, a very high degree of overcrowding. Then, there is lack of recreational facilities and rehabilitation work. There is no library. There is a marked lack of financial allocation. 
I admire the prison officers because they themselves have identified the problems and they want solutions. But they can’t do that without resources. 
Q: What about juvenile prisoners? 
A: Personally, the thing that shocked me in the prison was to see a juvenile section in a room with 55 persons where six of them were without mattresses. They are kept there for 20 hours and leave the room for only 4 hours a day. 
These children must receive a school education. Juveniles must receive special care. Some of these children have been there for over one year. Juveniles must not be kept with adults. 
The other thing is that they were kept there and haven’t been brought before a court. The last thing that shocked me was that when people were due to be released, they were not released. Sometimes they serve more than a year longer than their term. 
In conclusion, I think that with this seminar, Yemen is on the right track. A dialogue has been started now and a concrete project has been initiated. So now it is up to the prison system and the senior officials to collaborate in order to change this system. Prisons have to be more transparent and prisoners have to be treated with dignity.