Mr. Speaker, in 1998, Congress first passed the Torture Victims Relief Act. Today, I am introducing the Torture Victims Relief Reauthorization Act. America’s commitment to and compassion for the survivors of torture remains undiminished. That commitment should be manifested in concrete action, including support for torture treatment programs that can help these victims rebuild the lives that others have sought to destroy.
Nationwide, there are an estimated 400,000 survivors of torture, most of whom came to this country seeking refuge from persecution. Worldwide, it is impossible to count the numbers. Often, torture victims have been targeted by repressive regimes because of their independent political, religious or organized labor activities. Torture sends a message of fear throughout the network of a leader’s family and community. As one African religious leader has said, “If they’ll do this to me, what will they do to my flock?”
The Torture Victims Relief Act authorizes money for the Department of Health and Human Services to assist torture survivors in the United States; assists victims of torture through treatment centers in countries abroad; and authorizes a contribution to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture.
U.S. leadership in this area is truly consequential. I recently met with Brita Sydhoff, the new Executive Director of the International Rehabilitation Center for the Victims of Torture, based in Denmark. Her organization has challenged European governments to match the generosity of our country. Because of U.S. leadership, Spain and Italy have dramatically increased their contribution to the UN Fund for the Victims of Torture. I was also deeply heartened to learn that the Danish center, along with the Chicago-based Kovlar Center, is helping to establish treatment centers in Iraq, so that the many victims of Saddam Hussein’s torturous regime can receive help.
The work that torture treatment centers undertake is profoundly challenging. In 2003, Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi was brutally tortured and killed by Iranian authorities. A few weeks ago, an Iranian doctor who examined her body released new details about the brutality Ms. Kazemi suffered before she died. These revelations have been especially painful for Ezat Mossallanejad, a counselor for the Canadian Center for the Victims of Torture: two decades ago, he was also tortured in Iran, as punishment for his human rights work. In Canada, as a counselor, he has helped treat many other refugees who were tortured at the same prison where Zahra Kazemi was killed. Last year, his center treated 76 Iranian torture survivors; 26 were children.
Mr. Speaker, we cannot turn our backs on people like this. With medical, psychological and social services, torture survivors have the potential to become contributing members of their communities. I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting this bill.