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Voluntary Fund

UN Support to Victims of Torture

Torture continues to occur on a worldwide basis, despite enhanced efforts by Governments and organizations in keeping with provisions contained in domestic law and international human rights conventions whose objectives is its total eradication.

The practice of torture was first prohibited in 1948 by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and by the International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; the concept was reaffirmed in 1966 by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and more recenlty, in 1984, by the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.


The effects of torture should not be under-estimated. Physical and mental consequences of torture can endure for several years and may be irreversible, often affecting not only thousands of victims themselves, but also their relatives. One of the means of mitigating the subsequent effects of torture on victims and their families is to provide them with medical, phsychological, social, legal and economic aid. With this in mind, the General Assembly created the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture in 1982. The prupose of the Fund is to receive voluntary contributions and distribute them to non-governmental organizations and treatment centres for assisting victims of torture and their relatives whose human rights have been severely violated as a result of torture, as well as for the funding of projects for training healthcare professional specialized in the treatment of victims of torture.

The Fund is administered by the United Nations Secretary-General with a Board of Trustees acting in an advisory capacity and comprising five members with wide experience in the field of human rights. The members serve in their personal capacity and are appointed by the Secretary-General for a renewable three-year term of office on the basis of equitable geographical distribution. Currently, members of the Board of Trustees are Jaap Walkate, Chairman, from The Netherlands; Ribot Hatano from Japan; Elisabeth Odio-Benito from Costa Rica; Ivan Tosevsky from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; and Amos Wako from Kenya.

This inadequacy of available resources is a limiting factor in the field of assistance to victims; as a consequence, programmes of assistance are subjected to interruptions. For some 100 organisations the support of the United Nations Voluntary Fund remains essential.


The Fund receives projects which focus on providing medical, psychological, economic, social and legal assistance to victims of torture and to members of their families. A few projects also share the objective of organizing training seminars for health professionals specialized in the treatment of torture victims.

Each May, the Board of Trustees makes recommendations on grants to the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Subsequently, in the following month, on the basis of those recommendations, the High Commissioner takes decisions on behalf of the Secretary-General. As a final step, grants are made available at the end of July.

From 1983 to July 1997, the Fund has financed 255 projects for direct assistance to torture victims. From US$ 2.5 to US$ 3 million of voluntary contributions received from about 30 Governments and a few individuals are disbursed every year to projects in some 60 countries representative of all the regions of the world. Further information on the activities of the Voluntary Fund can be found in the lastest annual reports of the Secretary-General to the General Assembly (UN document A/52/387) and to the Commission on Human Rights (UN documents E/CN.4/1998/37 and Add.1).

16th session text box contributions


Torture involes not only physical but also psychological forms, sometimes with long-term sequelae: in this regard, the Fund is supporting a project whose objective is to provide global assistance to formerly disappeared children of victims ot torture in Latin America. The organization identifies disappeared children as those born in detention, abducted by security forces and illegally adopted. Once located by the organization, the children may be returned to their biological families. The best interests of the child have to be taken into consideration. This project consists of two main parts: investigation - some 1,030 interviews were carried out in the past year in conjunction with blood tests and analyses of genetic data - and psychological support provided to some 431 persons during 1996. Most of these persons suffer from sequelae of post-traumatic stress disorder including anxiety, nightmares, depression, as well as affective and intellectual inhibitions and benefit from individual psychotherapy. The number of youths seeking assistance remains high while many children have yet to be found: to date, 172 children still need to be located and 6 who were found have yet to be returned to their biological families.

As at 30 November 1997 only US$ 1,174,499 has been paid into the Fund. Provided that the number of grant requested is maintained at the 1997 level, the Fund will need an additional amount of US$ 5,6 million to meet all requests.
*Each year, the grants awarded correspond to the total amounts which the Board of Trustees is able to recommend to the Secretary-General for allocation. In view of the insufficient contributions received, the Board avoids the practice of carrying forward a reserve from one year to the next. The Secretary-General follows this recomendation by the Board.

Another project which was being implemented in Asia in 1996 focused on providing physical and mental relief to torture survivors and their families. Firstly, fact-finding missions on the incidence of torture were carried out establishing that people had been subjected to torture by the police and other law enforcement agencies: this involed methods such as beatings all over the body, kicking them with police boots, applying electric shocks, scalding them with hot water, suspending them by the legs from roofs and inflicting them with bullet injuries. Long-term consequeces apart from obvious physical complaints, were psychological and included phobia, depression, sexual problems and mental disorders. The more commonly occuring complaints were social maladjustments at work, in the family and society in general, through the overall loss of social dignity and a departure from social values. In 1995, 263 victims between 15 and 45 years of age received treatment. The drug therapy included prescription of antipsychotics, physiotherapy as well as psychotherapeutic assistance. Parallel to the main objective of providing physical and mental relief to the victims, the Care Center organized other activities such as seminars on torture for the professionals, missions in collaboration with the national Human Rights Commission in order to establish contact with victims, encourage them to visit the Care Center and prepare a report for submission to govermental authorities asking for justice. The organization also established a legal division which has already successfully assisted in five cases.

In North America, a treatment center is currently providing clinical services to victims of torture who are now refugees , mainly from Africa and the Carribean. 167 persons were assisted who had been subjected to rape, electric shocks, deprivation of human needs, as well as being obliged to eat excrement or perform acts of violence or murder often targeting their own family members. The treatment provided ranges from psychiatric and medical examination, to treatment in the form of crisis intervention and support counselling, psychotherapy, physiotherapy, social service, education, medical referrals, social support interpreters and legal assistance. In 1996, the center also established a children's art therapy branch as a medium for treating anxiety and dysfunctions related to traumatic experiences which children were unable to express verbally in the family setting.

The Commission on Human Rights, by its resolution 1997/38 of 11 April 1997, requested that the General Assembly proclaim 26 June a United Nations international day in support of the victims of torture and appealed to all Governments, organizations and individuals in a position to do so to contribute annually to the Fund.


If your organization is setting up a specific project for assistance to torture victims please contact the secretariat of the Fund for more information:
United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights , Palais des Nations, 1211 Geneva 10-CH, tel. (41 22) 917 33 94, fax.: (41 22) 917 00 99.


Governments, organizations, foundations, private enterprises was well as individuals can contribute to the Fund. Contributions can be made at any time to the following accounts, specifying "For the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture".
Payments should be made to:
The United Nations Geneva General Fund
c/o Société de Banque Suisse (SBS)
P.O> Box 2770, CH 1211 Geneva 2-CH

CO.590.160.1 for contributions in US dollars
CO.590.160.0 for contributions in Swiss francs

Contributions can also be made by cheque to the order of the "United Nations", c/o UNO, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland.
If you want to help us, please send your contribution using the coupon on this page. A receipt will be issued for every contribution made and the contribution will be mentioned in the report to the General Assembly.

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Article by Daniel Prémont - Human Rights - 1/1997-1998

© United Nations 1998/ Information Technology Section, DPI

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