Lifting the lid on the work of human rights charity REDRESS

May 20, 2023

While many ILM events focus on particular legacy-related activities, sometimes it’s good to delve deeper into the work that charities undertake.

ILM Corporate Partner E&G Solicitors recently sponsored a special event exclusively for members focusing on the work of human rights charity REDRESS.

The event, entitled Justice for Torture Survivors: Making Human Rights Work, saw Rupert Skilbeck, Barrister and Director of REDRESS, joined by his colleague Camila Marin Restrepo, the charity’s Communities Officer; together with fellow speaker Professor Lutz Oette, formerly with REDRESS and now Professor of International Human Rights Law in the SOAS School of Law at the University of London.

Alongside them as moderator was Jonathan Eshkeri, founder partner of E&G Solicitors, who took up the challenge of providing something a ‘little different’ for his firm’s usual summer drinks party.

“When Matthew (Lagden) and I were discussing plans for our firm’s ILM summer event, the idea was to bring in an external speaker on a topic which we felt members would find interesting,” said Jonathan.

“I have been close friends with Lutz for many years – we studied together at UCL – and I felt the topic of human rights and the work that REDRESS does for torture survivors was an important one to share.”

With Rupert leading the discussion, the event covered issues such as:

  • the fact that up to one third of asylum seekers in the UK have been tortured (figures confirmed by the asylum process)
  • the length of time it can take for survivors to get justice – sometimes between 10 and 15 years
  • how, even if compensation is received, it is sometimes surprisingly low (between €10,000 to €25,000) and paid by the government of the country where the torture happened, often with no admittance of liability
  • how seeking justice can create fresh trauma as survivors face telling and re-telling their stories
  • concerns among survivors that seeking justice will endanger their families back home

The audience also heard how both international and domestic staff working on such issues run real risks, including being threatened by secret police when visiting countries with poor human rights records – something that had happened to each of the speakers.

And with the conflict in Sudan very much under the spotlight, Professor Oette, whose books include Human Rights in the Sudans, spoke movingly about his work in Sudan during his time at REDRESS.

It was also an opportunity for Camila Marin Restrepo to outline REDRESS’s survivor engagement work, which looks to support survivors of torture to move beyond the passive client relationship to work collaboratively, respecting their unique insights and skills.

In January 2023, REDRESS launched its Survivor of Torture Manifesto in the House of Lords, which was developed in collaboration with a group of survivors and lays out broad recommendations to the UK government, covering several priority issues including accountability, rehabilitation and asylum. This process was cathartic for survivors, in that they were able to speak directly to policy makers about their own challenges and potential solutions. Events like this, especially when they are part of a wider engagement process where survivors feel respected, consulted and seen, challenge feelings of powerlessness and contribute to restoring their dignity.

Jonathan continued: “I think that people were surprised that such a high percentage of refugees are victims of torture. One of the reasons someone can claim asylum is because they have been oppressed, for example, because of their political views, gender or sexual orientation. Often the torture will be by the state, or state agents, and they have to get out of the country or risk that it will happen again.

Rupert said: “REDRESS was very happy to be asked to speak at the ILM event to talk about the human rights world, and the work that REDRESS does on behalf of survivors of torture.

“ILM members have a wealth of experience in the charitable sector, and so we had a very rich exchange of ideas as part of the conversation, making for a very informative evening.”

“You don’t necessarily link torture and asylum applications but of course they are very closely connected. It was especially interesting to hear Lutz’s take on what is happening in Sudan, which made the topic very current indeed.”

Among the questions from the floor was ‘what does justice mean for victims of torture?’ and the answer was that many survivors want a sense of vindication, an acknowledgement that what happened to them was wrong.

The REDRESS team also highlighted the importance of referring to them as ‘survivors of torture’ rather than ‘victims of torture’ because the individuals do not want to be seen as victims.

While funding for human rights charities tends to come from governments, big trust funds and major organisations worldwide, there is a growing interest from people who are considering leaving legacies.

There was a discussion around how REDRESS approaches funding and fundraising, including the topic of legacies, with a good exchange of ideas.

It was something Jonathan was especially pleased about, explaining: “I think as much as the event was for ILM members to find out about the work of REDRESS and issues around human rights and torture survivors, it was also a chance for REDRESS to understand how the ILM works.

“It gave them an opportunity to meet lots of different members, to understand what other charities are doing to increase awareness of legacy funding, and how important it is to make people aware that they can remember REDRESS in their will by including a legacy – things that perhaps they hadn’t necessarily thought about.”

In terms of what he hopes ILM members will have taken away from the day, he added: “I wanted them to see more of the bigger picture about what charities do, to focus on their activities outside of the legacy fundraising elements that we are more familiar with.

“By hearing these stories, it makes the work seem more real and I think it is both valuable and interesting to take a wider view of what they are achieving.”

Rupert commented: “REDRESS was very happy to be asked to speak at the ILM event to talk about the human rights world, and the work that REDRESS does on behalf of survivors of torture.

“ILM members have a wealth of experience in the charitable sector, and so we had a very rich exchange of ideas as part of the conversation, making for a very informative evening.”

Matthew concluded: “This was an incredibly interesting event and we received some excellent feedback from members. Sometimes it’s good to step outside the immediate legacy management arena to find out more about what other organisations are doing. This was both a very moving and inspiring session and one we are delighted to have been a part of.”

Since the event, REDRESS has now become an ILM member.

The speakers

Professor Oette is an expert in pursuing human rights cases before several regional and international bodies and has engaged with a number of projects aimed at developing and implementing international human rights standards. The author of several books on the topic of international human rights law, he previously worked at REDRESS before taking up his post with SOAS.

Rupert Skilbeck is a barrister specialising in human rights law and international criminal law. Prior to joining REDRESS in 2018, he was the Litigation Director at the Open Society Justice Initiative, overseeing hum rights litigation in more than 100 cases, including torture, deaths in custody, discrimination and fair trial rights. He has worked with international criminal tribunals in Cambodia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Sierra Leone.

Camila Marin Restrepo focuses on REDRESS’s survivor-centred work, specifically in promoting participatory access to justice for survivors of torture in the UK. She has an extensive background in advocacy and capacity-building with survivors of human rights abuses, including survivors of torture and persecution, refugees and families of disappeared persons.

Jonathan Eshkeri is a founder partner of E&G Solicitors and is a dual qualified solicitor. He has been practicing Spanish law in Spain and England since 2004 and has taught law in London and Madrid at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. He is an acknowledged expert on Spanish succession law and is a regular media commentator on the topic.

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