Ridding Society of Drug Abuse and Torture

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By Lesley-Anne van Wyk The spotlight on the commemoration of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking yesterday shifted on children. With the theme of “drugs are not child’s play” the aim was to increase public awareness about the destructive power of drugs and society’s responsibility to care for the well-being of its children. And with nearly 200 million consumers of illegal drugs world wide, we have our job cut out for us. Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services, Petrina Haingura, said in commemoration of the day: “We also remember those whose lives have been destroyed by drugs, and we take hands with those communities and families torn asunder by the ills that accompany drug and alcohol abuse.” UN Secretary general Kofi Annan said: “Taking drugs or not is about making choices – informed choices. We need to spread the understanding that drugs are illegal because they are a problem; not a problem because they are illegal. “Our efforts must focus especially on young people – through outreach, peer-to-peer networks, and using opportunities such as sport to keep young people active, healthy, and confident. That also means engaging and encouraging parents and teachers to play their part in full.” The UN Secretary General added that too many people in the world are badly informed about the potentially devastating effects of drugs. It is for this reason that the global community needs to work for better education and greater awareness to prevent drug abuse. “We need more consistent leadership from governments and we need better examples from role models whose drug use damages more people than just themselves.” Efforts also require working to reduce supply through law enforcement, and through working with the producing countries to give farmers sustainable alternatives to growing illicit crops. Annan commented that in this way, “we must strive to tackle poverty and drug supply at the same time”. This calendar date is coupled with the Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Annan said, “It is long overdue that a day be dedicated to remembering and supporting the many victims and survivors of torture around the world. June 26 is not a date chosen at random. It was the day, 11 years ago, that the Convention against Torture came into force. It was also the day, 53 years ago, that the United Nations Charter was signed – the first international instrument to embody obligations for Member States to promote and encourage respect for human rights.” The Namibian Constitution is well in line with these conventions as Article 8 states: “No person shall be subject to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.” The Legal Assistance Centre (LAC) helps victims of torture by opening civil claims cases against offenders as was done with the most recent cases of alleged torture in the Caprivi. The centre sues offenders on behalf of the victim for an amount to be paid in damages. Previously, the centre would also give human rights training to the victims and the public in general, but this has now fallen away due to a lack of funds as the centre told New Era. However, despite being party to these conventions, the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) continues to receive disturbing reports of alleged police brutality and about private citizens who engaged in acts of torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment against not only suspected common criminals but also other citizens, especially those allegedly suspected of being government critics. Over 40 police and defense force members have over more than seven years been accused of having brutally tortured more than 130 persons, according to the NSHR. These people were allegedly tortured because they were suspected of high treason in connection with the alleged plot to secede the Caprivi Region from the rest of the country. Torture is one of the worst human rights abuses, taking a terrible toll on millions of individuals and their families. Acts of torture include rape, blows to the soles of the feet, suffocation in water, burns, electric shocks, sleep deprivation, shaking and beating. These abuses are commonly used by torturers to break down an individual’s personality. As terrible as the physical wounds are, the psychological and emotional scars are usually the most devastating and the most difficult to repair. Many torture survivors suffer recurring nightmares and flashbacks. They withdraw from family, school and work and feel a loss of trust. Dorkas Phillemon of the NSHR said, “We are calling upon all Namibians to embrace a culture of tolerance and work together against torture.” Thirty years ago, there were no treatment centres or services to treat torture survivors. Today there are some 200 centres or programmes all over the world. There is now profound knowledge of torture methods, the effects of torture, and how to diagnose and rehabilitate torture victims.