5 days in the life of ... The founder of the Medical Foundation Caring for Victims of Torture

The founder of the Medical Foundation Caring for Victims of Torture (MFCVT) on her harrowing work
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Indy Lifestyle Online
MONDAY: I usually come in at 8am to deal with correspondence and read medical reports. Yesterday I saw a distressed young Kurdish man; he's mourning that he had to leave his family behind. His circumstances were such that he had to flee. Today, I see a woman from the Middle East who was tortured in one country and horribly violated in another. She's courageous and is working hard to overcome some terrible things. I have my own caseload because I don't believe I can speak to the public or to decision-makers without personal knowledge. My work with people exposed to man-made disaster started at the end of the Second World War, when I went with a relief unit to the former Belsen concentration camp. At Belsen, the role I had was to be a listener; not necessarily with words, but holding them or rocking them as they told their story.

TUESDAY: I usually grab some muesli or a banana for breakfast, although we eat badly here I'm afraid because the hours are long. I meet two colleagues about organising a conference in South Africa. Raising money is a nightmare. We want to bring people who normally wouldn't come to a conference, from dangerous places. In the evening, I potter about my flat and listen to music. My sons have all grown up and are away. I have a little patio which I'm devoted to. It's big enough for a table and chair, so I sometimes have my meal there, and read a Victorian novel. It's relaxing because it's unrelated to my life.

WEDNESDAY: Have a meeting with our clinical multi-disciplinary group, where we examine cases we find difficult to move forward. While I was working with Am- nesty International, there was a need for a medical campaign to raise awareness. We were looking at quite institutionalised torture in Latin America and South Africa; with interrogation methods designed to break people. It's often not just the torture of one body, but a process, involving false death certificates, and doctors talking about accidents. The foundation was set up in 1985. In the afternoon I am invited to speak to the Foreign Office's human rights policy division, to describe the work of the foundation and what torture is. I dash to the English National Opera to see Carmen, but the seats are very expensive. Then I go to the House of Commons to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights.

THURSDAY: We have a discussion about the UN diplomatic conference in Rome. We will be calling for a strong article to hold superior officers responsible for crimes against humanity, if they do nothing to prevent them. On the World Service I hear the Turkish government had closed down a new rehabilitation centre in the centre ofKurdistan. Yet again, human rights work in Turkey is endangered. We are very concerned about this.

FRIDAY: A frontline team meeting: our crisis intervention team is trying to meet the needs of asylum seekers who are now without benefits due to recent legislation. Tomorrow, I go to Sheffield, to a group of Chilean refugees who came here in the early 1970s. They are concerned about how to tell their children about what happened; how to move forward in a society which is not always the most welcoming. Most were badly tortured and have suffered long-term physical effects. It's often difficult for torture victims to get validation, recognition and the long-term understanding and response they need: space to be angry, to grieve and to reflect.

International Day in Support of Torture Victims is on Friday.

Interview by Rachelle Thackray

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