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Torture is a scourge that refuses to go away

Uncivilized and brutal acts are still taking place despite us supposedly living in a civilized world

Mary Aileen D. Bacalso, Manila

Mary Aileen D. Bacalso, Manila

Published: June 27, 2021 12:43 AM GMT

Updated: June 27, 2021 01:08 AM GMT

Torture is a scourge that refuses to go away

A woman sits outside a former clandestine detention and torture center, the Naval School of the Mechanics (ESMA) in Buenos Aires, after taking part in a tree-planting ceremony on March 24 in memory of those who disappeared during the 1976-83 military dictatorship in Argentina. (Photo: AFP)

Once again, the international community commemorates the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture in the last week of June. 

A global phenomenon, torture prompted the international community to adopt the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). 

It entered into force 34 years ago on June 26, 1987. With 171 state parties and 81 signatories, the treaty has successfully garnered universal ratification.  But has it resulted in universal implementation?

As a member of the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, I have interacted with many victims of torture who lived to tell their stories.

My husband, Edsil Bacalso, is one of them. Taken by seven armed men and forced inside a red car with no license plate, he was taken to Camp Lapulapu in Cebu City where he was interrogated day and night for his alleged involvement in the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Later transferred to a “safe house” owned by a former general, he was deprived of food, water and sleep and stripped naked with his feet and neck tied like a pig.

Knowing that the other person had escaped and fearing that he would testify, the military released my husband in a cemetery near his parents’ house

He was forced to sign a document stating that he was the finance officer of the National Democratic Front in Central Visayas. He and another disappeared were ordered to dig their own graves. The other person escaped when the guards were drunk and informed me of my husband’s whereabouts. 

Knowing that the other person had escaped and fearing that he would testify, the military released my husband in a cemetery near his parents’ house.  This happened two months after our marriage in 1988.

In faraway Argentina, a former Society of the Divine Word priest, Patrick Rice, was made to disappear on Oct. 11, 1976, at the height of the dictatorship. 

He was taken to the Naval School of the Mechanics (ESMA) in Buenos Aires where he was brutally tortured. To get a glimpse of his torture, one can read an excerpt of his testimony in Case 2450 of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, to wit:

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“They took me inside a building and put on more handcuffs, chaining me to the wall at floor level with my arms outstretched … They began to interrogate me, accusing me of collaborating with the terrorists, and asking me about people involved with these groups ... I explained to them that I was a priest, that I did my pastoral work there, but that I spent most of the day working on a construction project on the Avenida La Plata/Estados Unidos, and that I didn't know anything about what they were taking about. One of them then told me to lie down (my handcuffed hands were behind my back). As soon as I got into this position, one of those who had been sitting at the side began to beat me all over my body and to put something hard like a pistol against me, and so on. I asked them who they were to be treating me this way, and they told me that they were the Triple A. Then they told me that they were going to wash out my mouth, and one grabbed hold of my head and nose and they began to pour water into my mouth from a hose or a kettle until they choked me …”

With international pressure, Patrick was freed but deported. He later returned to Argentina and spent the rest of his life working with families of victims of enforced disappearances until his untimely death in 2010. 

I visited the torture chambers of the former ESMA that witnessed the torture of Argentina’s desaparecidos, or disappeared, during the dictatorship. The basement was the place where pregnant victims were made to deliver their babies and drink the colostrum before being taken away by helicopter to be thrown into the ocean.

A decade after Patrick’s death, Fatima Rice Cabrera, a church worker who was tortured with him and who later became his wife, testified in court. She recognized one of six perpetrators on trial, Guglielminetti Raul. The six were convicted: Raul was sentenced for reclusion perpetua, Gallone Carlos received 25 years house arrest, Comesana Eduardo got house arrest for life, while Grosso Juan, Mingorance Fausto and Romero Rafael were all jailed for seven years. 

Fatima recalled that two years earlier, in 2008, Patrick gave a detailed testimony. Sad that he did not live to witness victory in the final judgment, Fatima likewise felt accompanied by his indefatigable struggle for memory, truth and justice. On the last day of the trial, I felt a release and a healing sensation that I am still processing.”

She was forced to lie under a metal bed while four soldiers sat on the sides and rocked back and forth trying to crush her unborn baby

A friend from El Salvador, Neris Gonzales, testified before the Federal Court of West Palm Beach in July 2002 that she was repeatedly raped, burned with cigarettes and given electric shocks.

She was forced to lie under a metal bed while four soldiers sat on the sides and rocked back and forth trying to crush her unborn baby. Pregnant during the torture, she said: “I was feeling my own torture, but I was also feeling the torture of my son."

Worth commending was Neris’ courage to face two retired Salvadoran generals, Jose Guillermo Garcia and Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, whom she holds responsible for her torture in El Salvador.

While the CAT and the International Declaration of Human Rights both provide that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” torture persists globally.

In 2020, the UN secretary-general revealed that the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture visited more than 1,000 prisons and other institutions and interviewed 1,000 detainees, officials, law enforcement people and medical staff, which confirmed that torture continues to happen in all nooks and corners of the world.

Innumerable nameless torture victims cry out for justice. Many more are being victimized in the context of the pandemic. The universal implementation of the Convention Against Torture that entered into force 34 years ago still remains a dream to be realized.

Reminiscent of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ several centuries ago, torture continues in an age when there is no room for torture in a supposedly civilized world.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole Roman cohort around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand; and they knelt down before Him and mocked Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’  They spat on Him, and took the reed and began to beat Him on the head. After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him.(Matthew 27: 27-31)

End torture NOW!

Mary Aileen D. Bacalso is the president of the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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