Gina Haspel Confirmed - A Note from Our Executive Director

Dear Friends:
 
You’ve probably heard the awful news that the full Senate just confirmed Gina Haspel as CIA Director. None of us wanted this nomination to unfold as it did and I know you join me and people of conscience everywhere who are appalled that the United States has promoted a woman who oversaw torture and sought to destroy the evidence of it.
 
But while the outcome is not at all what we fought for, I believe we can view the process in a somewhat more positive light. The human rights community and all  of us who support torture survivors on their road to recovery vigorously raised our voices against Haspel’s nomination and in doing so, put the U.S. government on notice that we will be watching and respond with one unified voice to any evidence that the CIA may return to its immoral and unethical program of post-9/11 torture.
 
Further, I think we can all take some measure of satisfaction in the fact that Haspel sent a letter to Senator Mark Warner of the Intelligence Committee in which she admitted that the torture program damaged the CIA and the U.S. standing in the world.
 
She is on the record admitting the program was a mistake, even if she refused to give full-throated rejection to torture itself.
 
I doubt she would have written those words had it not been for the vigorous opposition her nomination generated thanks to all of you.
 
So while it remains to be seen whether Haspel’s words amount to an empty assurance, all of us who spoke against her should understand that she was pushed to make this assertion.
 
The press will be watching her and we will too.
 
All of us together will continue to speak out and hold Haspel and others responsible for torture accountable.
 
I thank you for everything you do to support a world free from torture.
 
In solidarity,

Léonce Byimana

TASSC Survivor, Nanythe Talani, Testifies before the Africa and Global Health Subcommittee of the US House of Representatives

 From left to right: Thierry Dongala (Senior Advisor to Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Human Rights & International Organizations), TASSC Survivor Nanythe Talani (Journalist and Human Rights Activist, TASSC Survivor), Andrea Barron (TASSC Advocacy & Outreach Program Manager) and Congressman Chris Smith (NJ). 

From left to right: Thierry Dongala (Senior Advisor to Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Human Rights & International Organizations), TASSC Survivor Nanythe Talani (Journalist and Human Rights Activist, TASSC Survivor), Andrea Barron (TASSC Advocacy & Outreach Program Manager) and Congressman Chris Smith (NJ). 

TASSC Survivor Nanythe Talani, a journalist and human rights activist from Congo-Brazzaville in West/Central Africa, testified before the Africa and Global Health Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives on May 9, 2018. She was invited to speak by Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, Chairman of the Subcommittee.  Nanythe spoke about the lack of press freedom in Sub-Saharan Africa, focusing on her country. Congo-Brazzaville has been controlled by one man—Denis Sassou Nguesso—from 1979 to present except for five years in the 1990s.

You can find Nanythe's full testimony below: 

 

Protecting Civil Society, Faith-Based Actors, and Political Speech in Sub-Saharan Africa

Statement by Nanythe Talani

Representative, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations

May 9, 2018  

My name is Nanythe Sylvanie Talani. I am a journalist, a survivor of torture and human rights activist from Congo-Brazzaville, a small country of 4.5 million people in West/Central Africa.  I want to thank Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Bass for holding this hearing today and giving me the opportunity to discuss the lack of press freedom and persecution of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa by focusing on the Republic of Congo and my own story.  

I am here today representing the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition or TASSC, a non-profit in Washington DC which provides psychological and employment counseling, legal assistance for asylum seekers and advocacy training to almost 300 survivors of torture every year. They are mostly from Africa but also from South Asia, the Middle East and Central America.

I have over 10 years of experience as a broadcast producer, investigative journalist and human rights activist in Congo-Brazzaville. I was forced to seek asylum in the United States because of a great fear that the Congolese government will persecute me due to my work as an investigative journalist.

Like many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Republic of Congo’s constitution guarantees freedom of speech and press. But this “right” is only on paper. There is widespread censorship of journalists and constant interference by government agents in the media, especially when journalists write about “sensitive” subjects such as government corruption. Media freedom has deteriorated since President Denis Sassou Nguesso changed the constitution in 2015, removing age and term limits so he could govern indefinitely. Sassou Nguesso has ruled Congo since 1979, except from 1992 to 1997.  

The majority of broadcast and print media are controlled by members of the president’s family or by individuals close to him.  Most journalists and editors engage in self-censorship to avoid being targeted by the government.  Congolese journalists have basically two options—to praise and promote the ruling elite or just keep quiet. If you want to be a true professional, you risk threats at best and humiliation or even assassination at worst.

This is what happened to journalists Bruno Jacquet Ossebi and Elie Smith, my former boss, who both refused to engage in self-censorship. Ossebi was burned to death in a suspicious fire in his home in two-thousand and nine after he wrote many stories exposing the corrupt practices of the Congo elite. In 2014, security forces invaded the home of Elie Smith, robbed him and gang-raped his sister after he reported about government thugs attacking a gathering of opposition party members.

Now I would like to share my own personal experience.  In 2014, while working for the French –based magazine TerrAfrica, I wrote a story on ritual murders in the northern Congolese city of Ouesso. These murders take place in parts of Africa because some people believe they can use victims’ blood and organs to defeat their enemies, make them richer or more powerful. Murderers are often wealthy people who pay others to carry out the killings. My cameraman and I traveled to Ouesso to interview women who had survived attacks and family members of victims. Often the people hired to carry out the ritual murders were pygmies, who have suffered discrimination historically and were preyed upon by more powerful people.

I got tremendous professional satisfaction from reporting on this subject. The mayor of Ouesso was arrested because he was suspected of being connected to the murders. My article and the gruesome photos that accompanied it put a stop to ritual murders in Congo. They did not spread into other parts of the country and become commonplace like they have in Liberia and other countries in West Africa.  

But harassment from the authorities after my report took an enormous toll on me psychologically. The government was angry about my report because they thought a ritual murder story would tarnish Congo’s image in the international community and among foreign donors. Police found the people I interviewed in Ouesso and criticized them for speaking to me. Then authorities called my boss at TerrAfrica to say I should be careful about writing about “sensitive” subjects.  A friend with connections to a secret government agent told me my phone was being tapped. I was so frightened that I left my home to move in with my cousin and some male relatives whom I felt could protect me.

Other journalists in Congo were also being harassed at this time. The American Embassy, the European Union and the United Nations all told the Sassou Nguesso regime to leave journalists alone. The U.S. ambassador in Congo at the time was Stephanie Sullivan, now Deputy Assistant Secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs. I don’t what would have happened to me if the US, the EU and the UN had not intervened.

When you are constantly afraid because you could be attacked, assaulted, raped, jailed or even killed by people who will walk away with impunity, what kind of professionalism can you display as journalist? What kind of daily life can you have? This is what I and other journalists were facing in Congo. Fear of reporting the truth has a huge negative effect on journalism and the whole society. Even now, although I have been in the U.S. for almost three years, sometimes I’m still afraid of being attacked. So I always lock my bedroom door if my roommate is not home.

Fortunately, at a time when my emotional state was deteriorating, I won a Humphrey-Fulbright Fellowship from the U.S. State Department. I arrived in the United States in 2015 and started working at Voice of America-Afrique, or French to Africa.  After writing a story about government orchestrated massacres and civil war in Congo’s Pool region, I heard that the regime was angry with me again.  It did not want reporters covering these massacres, and it knew I was the one doing this at VOA.  After my Pool story was published, a friend told me: “Nanythe, I know you are very intelligent, I advise you not to return home.”  I could have gone back to Congo for an amazing job with UNESCO. But I was terrified about what might happen to me. This was when I decided to apply for asylum in the United States.

Today in Congo opposition leaders have been imprisoned. Student leaders have been jailed and tortured just for complaining about not receiving their scholarships and about conditions at their university.

Corruption, abuse of human rights and presidents in power for life are three of the major problems plaguing Africa. Congo has oil and other African countries, like the Democratic Republic of Congo are rich in minerals. But government officials use these resources to enrich themselves instead of building schools, hospitals and roads. Governments routinely violate the human rights of minorities, women, journalists and political dissidents. And presidents stay in power for life.   

We need a free press to write about these problems. That is why I am proud to be an investigative journalist. I just hope that someday we have press freedom in my country like you do in the United States, where journalists don’t have to be afraid of exposing the truth.  And that Members of Congress can pressure Congo and other African governments to allow journalists to practice their profession without fear.

Thank you very much for listening to my testimony today.  

Contact: Andrea Barron, Advocacy & Outreach Program Manager at TASSC, Andrea@tassc.org

 

May 9th Press Conference at the Senate Opposing Haspel's Confirmation

On May 9th 2018, TASSC International joined Sen. Tina Smith (MN), Rep. Barbara Lee (CA), Rep. Hank Johnson (GA), the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT), and other human rights organizations, to oppose the confirmation of Gina Haspel as the Director of CIA. Her involvement in torture programs makes her unfit for this position. TASSC believes that torture is immoral and cannot be justifies by any means. We condemn all acts of torture and the attempts to destroy evidence in which Gina Haspel was involved in. By confirming her as the Director of CIA, it will send a message to the World that torture is acceptable.

You can view Wednesday's press conference, including comments by TASSC Executive Director Léonce Byimana, HERE. 

Torture Survivors Applaud Passage of Human Rights Resolution on Ethiopia

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More than 30 survivors of torture from Ethiopia joined hundreds of their fellow countrymen and women and human rights activists in the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, April 10 to applaud the passage of House Resolution 128 on Ethiopia. The Resolution condemns the torture and killing of unarmed protestors in Ethiopia by security forces, calls for the release of political prisoners and punishment for those responsible. The survivors were organized by the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC), which joined 11 other human rights and Ethiopia diaspora organizations pushing for passage of the Resolution.

House Resolution 128 was sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), a long-time champion for human rights who has pressured Ethiopia to end torture and abusive treatment of its own people for over a decade. Smith said the Resolution also calls on Ethiopia to allow a U.N. Rapporteur full access to the county and calls on the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development to “hold accountable individuals responsible for gross human rights violations” through targeted sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Act.

“Every day at TASSC we meet survivors of torture from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Cameroon and other countries,” said Andrea Barron, TASSC’s Advocacy Program Manager. “More than 70 percent are from Ethiopia, whose brutal regime tortures and rapes them in ‘official prisons,’ military camps, secret prisons, even in detention centers located in major companies like Ethiopian Airlines. This has to stop. Passing House Resolution 128 is a first step.”

The Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition is a non-profit in Washington DC that provides psychological and employment counseling, legal assistance on asylum and other services to over 300 survivors a year, mostly from Africa. Organized by TASSC’s Advocacy and Outreach Program, over 80 survivors visited congressional offices to express their support for HR 128. 

“This is the happiest day of my life since I came to America in March, 2017,” said Yoseph, an Ethiopian torture survivor who requested that his real name not be used. “When I heard Chris Smith and Congressman Mike Coffman (from Colorado) and Karen Bass from California talk about what Ethiopia does to its people, I saw American officials acknowledge my own pain and the pain of other survivors.” Yoseph is afraid that Ethiopian security forces could harm his family if he reveals his true identity.

The Ethiopian government carried out a vigorous lobbying campaign to defeat HR 128, spearheaded by Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who has close ties to the Ethiopian government. Organizers were worried that the resolution would be derailed at the last moment, but it passed unanimously by voice vote—the congressman expected to oppose it never showed up on the House floor.

Fekade Ancho, an Ethiopian torture survivor, said:  “Watching this resolution pass gave me great confidence in the American people—I saw how much they believe in freedom, democracy, human rights and justice. I especially want to thank Congressmen Smith and Coffman for what they have done. And of course TASSC’s Advocacy Program, that made it possible for so many survivors from Ethiopia to visit Congress and tell our stories.”

Ancho was a lead accountant and union organizer in Ethiopian Airlines for 25 years. He was mentally and physically tortured inside his workplace because he protested against the decision by the company’s top management to fire thousands of employees who were not members of the ruling party. Ethiopia has been controlled by one political party made up of a tiny ethnic group since 1991.

Survivors of Torture Featured in New Multi-Media Dance Work

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A chance conversation that TASSC staff member Shanta Kingham had after watching a dance performance has opened a pathway for five survivors from the TASSC community to contribute their powerful stories about leaving their homelands to a multi-media dance performance that opens on Friday, April 13, in Arlington, Va.

The premier of “Border” by Jane Franklin Dance brings together spoken testimonies, movement, visual art and music to explore the barriers and prejudices individuals experience because of race, gender, ethnicity and national origin.

The show runs through April 28 at Theater on the Run in Arlington.

Jane Franklin, the troupe’s founder, recorded audio interviews with the torture survivors associated with TASSC who describe aspects of their lives and their experiences leaving behind their homeland to seek asylum in the United States. The survivors also contributed photos of special meaning to them that will become part of the visual experience of “Border.”

The TASSC community members are among a diverse group in “Border,” whose audio recordings of real-life experiences probe bias, isolation and loneliness and the urge for belonging.

Others include a woman who works in a male-dominated profession; an HIV positive young adult; a black woman who describes cultural assumptions people make about her; a Latino man stopped by the police, and challenged by a disability and finding employment; and others who talk about same-sex parenthood and bi-racial marriage.

Franklin said her production explores “the barriers and dividing lines that people experience that may not be visible.” A previous production, “The Migration Project” focused on human flight and relocation. With “Border” stories of bias also lead to people “who have inspired a redirection of action, aided others in crossing boundaries or made barriers insignificant.”

“My goal is to get the audience to think about the boundaries and ‘dividing lines’ we all experience, some hidden, some very visible,” she said.

TASSC’s involvement came about when Shanta Kingham, clinical case manager, attended a previous performance of Jane Franklin Dance’s “The Migration Project.” Afterward, by chance, she struck up a conversation with Franklin who mentioned the themes of her next production in the series. Kingham suggested the possibility that members of the TASSC community might be interested in being involved in the production and Franklin jumped at the chance.

Kingham said the TASSC members who participated were thrilled by the experience. “It’s so validating to have someone listen to your experience. It’s empowering to share your story in this public venue, especially when you were silenced at home. The experience gives them back their voice in a public sphere,” said Kingham.

TASSC offers torture survivors assistance through a holistic approach that includes medical and psychological care, employment and legal assistance and attention to their emotional and spiritual needs. TASSC’s clients come from all walks of life and from across the world. Many have professional backgrounds and were forced to escape their home countries, leaving behind their families and their careers. The torture they experienced often came about because they spoke out against policies under repressive governments.

Kingham said being involved in the arts was new territory for TASSC and one that she hopes TASSC will be able to pursue further, with the success of “Border.”

“It’s very exciting,” she said, “There is tremendous potential to use the arts as a form of healing, a catalyst for social and political change, and a platform to raise public awareness about torture and other crimes against humanity.  Performances such as "Border" are an incredible opportunity to have the voices of survivors of torture heard, and their stories to be told.”

For more information about Border, visit: http://www.janefranklin.com/performances/tickets

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Vote on House Resolution 128 a Major Victory

TASSC and its partners in the human rights and Ethiopia diaspora community have achieved a major victory in the U.S. Congress. The House of Representatives will finally vote on House Resolution 128 on human rights abuses in Ethiopia in April. Survivors and the TASSC Advocacy Program have worked hard for over a year to secure supporters for this bi-partisan Resolution, which now has 99 cosponsors and passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee on July 27, 2018.

HR 128 condemns the “killing of unarmed protestors” by Ethiopian security forces and calls on the Ethiopian government to “hold accountable those responsible for killing, torturing or otherwise abusing the human rights of civilians exercising their constitutional rights” such as freedom of speech and assembly. It says Ethiopia must release political activists, journalists and opposition leaders imprisoned for speaking out against the government.

HR 128 says Ethiopia must allow a UN rapporteur to report on the “state of human rights” in the country and that the United States could use the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Act to sanction individuals and entities guilty of gross human rights violations or corruption.

Over 80 TASSC survivors have visited congressional offices to tell their stories and express their support for HR 128. They have had an enormous impact on Congress Members—nearly one-fourth of the 99 co-sponsors signed on after hearing about survivors' stories.

Guya Deki, a survivor who once headed the Ethiopian organization for people with physical disabilities, testified on March 9 before the Foreign Affairs Committee’s Africa Subcommittee. Guya was excited that the House will finally vote on HR 128. “This Resolution is important to torture survivors like me, now in the United States, and to the thousands of Ethiopians imprisoned in official and secret prisons by the TPLF (Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front), which controls Ethiopia.

Fekade Ancho, a survivor who was a senior accountant in Ethiopia for over 20 years, walked the halls of Congress more than almost any other survivors, even though he is disabled from polio. “I want to be a voice for all torture victims, for TASSC and our partners. I am so grateful that the United States is living up to its values of freedom, democracy and equality by supporting this Resolution.”

House Resolution 128 was introduced by Congressman Chris Smith (R-New Jersey), a long-time supporter for human rights and also the author of the Torture Victims Relief Act of 1998, which supports grants to torture treatment centers in the United States and abroad.  Smith and Congress Members Mike Coffman (R-Colorado) Karen Bass (D-California) have been strong  advocates for this Resolution. TASSC has given all of them special awards to thank them for standing with torture survivors.

Infringement on Rights of Torture Survivors and Other Asylum Seekers to have an Evidentiary Hearing before Immigration Judges

The Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC) condemns a number of recent attempts to infringe on the rights of asylum seekers including torture survivors, to document and claim their fear to return back in their countries and seek safety in the USA.

Recently, the Attorney General referred the decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals in Matter of E-F-H-L-, 26 I&N Dec. 319 (BIA 2014), to himself for review and vacated that decision. In this case, the immigration judge decided that an asylum applicant’s claim did not deserve a merits hearing. Instead of a hearing at which he would have had the opportunity to testify, present witnesses, file evidence, and present legal arguments, the immigration judge simply denied the case on the written application alone. The case was appealed and the BIA concluded that all asylum applicants have a right to a hearing, and remanded the case back to the immigration judge for that purpose.

By the time the record arrived back in immigration court, the respondent was now eligible to obtain lawful permanent residence based on a relative petition. Because USCIS (and not the immigration judge) has the authority to decide the visa petition, both the asylum applicant and DHS agreed to administratively close proceedings in order to allow USCIS to adjudicate the petition (which often takes some time) without having such effort delayed by removal proceedings, or wasting the court’s time by holding unnecessary status hearings. Ordinarily, once the visa petition is decided one way or the other, the parties will move the immigration judge to recalendar the case.

AG Sessions Decision in this Case:

Last week, AG Sessions inserted himself into this matter. In his recent decision, on March 5, 2018 (https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/1040936/download) he vacated the original BIA decision in this case. This may have two negative consequences for future asylum decisions - 1) by vacating the BIA opinion, he also vacated the BIA precedent, which held that asylum and withholding of removal applicants were ordinarily entitled to an evidentiary hearing; 2) he further ordered an end to administrative closure, and that the case be placed back on the IJ’s active hearing calendar, where time and taxpayer money can be wasted on unnecessary hearings, since this case may be resolved through the pending visa petition.

Impact of Decision:

The immediate practical impact of this decision is unclear. It remains to be seen whether this decision will serve as a precedent to deny evidentiary hearings to other asylum seekers in immigration court. This decision may also make it harder for an asylum applicant to administratively close a case when the applicant has other forms of relief pending and thus increase the immigration court's docket. Furthermore, this case also raises questions regarding the AG Session's authority to refer cases to himself and make decisions regarding cases that are pending in immigration court. While the actual impact of this decision to other asylum cases remains to be seen, decisions like this suggest that due process rights of asylum seekers are under attack under the current administration.

As an organization helping survivors of torture, we know that the uncertainty created by the Trump administration can be very retraumatizing and we hope that the community will reject this set of harmful decisions about asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution in different countries.

Trump Administration Issues Shocking New Asylum Rules

On January 29th the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has promulgated a new, double-edged policy with disturbing implications for torture survivors seeking asylum.

The new rules are still in the process of being clarified at the regional office level, but we are prepared to help survivors as much as we can for whatever situation that may result from the new rule.

First… It may potentially put the lives of thousands of new asylum seekers and torture survivors in a situation of uncertainty about their future, as they have already went through a lot.

Second…it delays—even longer—the asylum process for current TASSC survivors who have already waited years for asylum

Background

Under the new policy, the chronological order in which asylum interviews will be scheduled has been reversed.  Individuals who filed most recently (within the last 21 days), will be scheduled for an interview first. Then the most recent applicants will be scheduled and the ones who filed earliest, will be interviewed last.  

Many of TASSC's survivors are understandably distressed because they applied in 2015 and 2016 and will probably have their interviews delayed for even longer. 

These delays carry disturbing consequences.  Many survivors have already missed the birth of their child or have not seen their young children in years.  Some have ill spouses; many have family members whose lives are in danger.  These survivors might have their wait prolonged even longer. 

An addition concern is that the new policy was announced on January 29, 2018 and was retroactive.  Consequently, individuals who filed in December 2017 and January 2018 believing they were filing under the old rule are now, in fact, subject to the new rule.

We currently have survivors being served by TASSC who fall into this category, and we expect increasing numbers of requests from new victims of torture seeking asylum who fall under this category and would like to obtain TASSC services. 

Need to Mobilize Additional Resources

Plainly put, this double-barreled assault by the Trump Administration puts unprecedented pressure not only on survivors, but on our lawyers, case managers and therapists in ways we’ve never seen.

TASSC is faced with some tough choices.

…..Choice #1. Mobilize immediate financial support to extend our part-time attorneys contracts; add more hours to existing case managers, hire a summer legal fellow to prepare cases and do community outreach ;

or…

….CHOICE #2. Continue assisting current TASSC survivors, but turn our backs on newly arrived survivors seeking asylum knowing they are likely to be horribly unprepared to face an asylum officer and likely denied and subjected to more complicated appeal processes. That get worse when combined with  threats of being deported to the home countries from which they fled only to face certain imprisonment and more torture, in case they are denied their asylum.

TASSC is determined to continue working on the current asylum cases we already handle.  In addition, we must prepare to work with the ‘new’ asylum cases that will require a rapid response by lawyers, doctors and social services personnel.    We will do this by give more hours to our part-time employees, training and building what amounts to a solid and comprehensive team to meet these challenges.

Defending against this latest assault by the Trump administration is going to take significant additional resources.  Thus we are reaching out to current supporter and the concerned, caring public for emergency support. 

Important Insights and Concerns

Applicants who filed their cases few days or months before the new rule may be affected, as they have applied expecting to have enough time to gradually complete their cases with more evidences. This means that they will not have enough time to gather evidences, do research, have their evidences translated, get medical and psychological forensics performed and other vital preparation.

The additional concern caused by this new rule lies in the reversal in normal scheduling.  This means many of our survivors who have been waiting for years might have to wait even longer. 

Current TASSC Survivors.

During this time TASSC needs to provide them with additional legal, psychological and social services to help allay the stress caused by this new situation. 

The impact of this change and its implications for our survivors has been heart wrenching. Our staff has been doing everything they can to respond to the fear, panic, and confusion survivors are experiencing.

 Our legal team has sprung into action to provide accurate information and strategize with survivors on how to best prepare their cases under the new process.   Our team of lawyers is available for survivors who have questions and they are collecting more information on a daily basis about what will be the implication of the new rule and frequently share the information with survivors.

Our case managers and therapists are also going above and beyond to offer compassionate care and support to meet the logistical and emotional needs of our survivors. Survivors can call in anytime for information our  ‘drop in’ policy has been reinforced for anyone needing emotional and psychological support during this stressful time.

TASSC remains steadfast in its dedication to create a safe space for survivors to sustain hope and persevere, no matter how trying the obstacles.

Each of Us Must Do Our Part

Please partner with us to help expand our reach to do more for these and the additional survivors coming into our office every week who are anxious to receive the asylum they desperately deserve and reunite with their families after excruciatingly long separations.

CALL TO ACTION - Urge the US Government to Step Up to Protect the Rohingya

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Curious what you can do about the atrocities in Burma? 

Take action and sign the petition calling on the US government to take measures to protect the Rohingya from Burma's army.

Sign the petition now. 

For more information on what the government is currently doing and additional steps you can take to make a difference, read the information below from Simon Billenness, the Executive Director of the International Campaign for the Rohingya. 

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H.Con.Res.90 - by a vote of 423 to 3 - calling on the U.S. Administration to impose targeted sanctions on Burma's army in response to its atrocities against the Rohingya.

Now let's build on our momentum. Yesterday's House resolution puts powerful pressure on the Trump Administration to reimpose sanctions on Burma's army. Now, it is up to Congress to pass the bills that would write those sanctions into U.S. law.

Click here to tell your U.S. Representative: prevent this genocide of the Rohingya.

Click here to tell your U.S. Senator: prevent this genocide of the Rohingya.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators and representatives have introduced companion bills in the Senate and House to use U.S. leverage to end the violence, provide humanitarian assistance, and hold the perpetrators accountable. Ask your legislators to support and co-sponsor these critical bills today.

The Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act (S.2060) and the Burma Unified Through Rigorous Military Accountability Act (H.R.4223) will:

  • Mandate the U.S. government to take steps to help end the repression and violence against the Rohingya and other ethnic peoples of Burma, including the Karen, Shan, and the Kachin.
  • Facilitate continued U.S. humanitarian assistance to the affected people.
  • Implement targeted sanctions against Burmese military officials responsible for the atrocities in Rakhine State and other regions of Burma.
  • Effectively prohibit U.S. military-to-military cooperation with Burma's army.
  • Call for full implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which includes recognition of citizenship rights for the Rohingya.

When the world says "Never Again" after an incidence of genocide, we have to mean it.

Click here to email your U.S. Representative.

Click here to email your U.S. Senators.

Please follow up your email by directly calling your U.S. senators and representative.  

Call the Congressional Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your representative's and senators' offices. Or simply search the web for the phone number of their office in Washington, DC.

Just one email or phone call from a constituent makes a difference.  Call and email every day this week until your U.S. senators and representative's staff tell you that they will co-sponsor H.R.4223 or S.2060.

And please share this action widely with your friends and family!  If you do not live in the United States, please this share this action with your American friends.

We have the responsibility right now to help prevent an act of genocide against the Rohingya.

Let’s take action together and take action now.

 

Survivor's Journey to Success: Charles Forchenmbin from Cameroon

 After more than two years apart, TASSC survivor, Charles (center), reunites with his family at Dulles Airport in May 2017. 

After more than two years apart, TASSC survivor, Charles (center), reunites with his family at Dulles Airport in May 2017. 

Charles Forchenmbin was a traditional tribal chief from the English-speaking region of Cameroon with a Master’s Degree in English and more than 20 years of experience teaching high school English. Following in the footsteps of his father, a village chief, Charles began speaking out about the harsh discrimination against Anglophones by Cameroon’s French-speaking majority in the 1990s.

“Anglophones, who make up 20 percent of Cameroon’s population, are a subjugated minority,” says Charles, “the government calls us ‘enemies in the house,’ and treats us as second-class citizens.”   Most traditional rulers are willing to help the regime maintain power by falsifying election results. But Charles refused to go along with this fraud. “It is because of dictators like Paul Biya, who has ruled Cameroon for over 30 years,  that Africans don’t have clean water, good schools, health care and transportation,” he insists.

Charles paid a horrendous price for exposing election fraud and government corruption. He was tortured and brutalized for two weeks, forced to kneel on broken bottles and barbed wire in a horrible cell with little ventilation. He was placed under house arrest but then got in trouble for violating the house arrest order—he left his city to stop the forced marriage of a 15-year-old girl to a 70 year-old man. The girl had come to him for protection.

This was when Charles decided he had to escape Cameroon to save his life, leaving his wife and five children behind.  He crossed the U.S. Mexican border illegally and ended up being detained in Eloy, Arizona for seven months. Shortly after being released Charles came to Washington DC and found TASSC.

TASSC was everything to me when I first came to Washington,” he explains. “It felt like home, everyone was so kind and helped me with whatever I needed. They sent me to Dr. Kate Sugarman, an amazing doctor who treats survivors like me with dignity.  She documented all my injuries from the torture, and wrote a powerful document that supported my asylum claim. In December 2015, two staff members from TASSC—Andrea and Kelsey—came with me to my interview at the U.S. immigration court in Baltimore. The judge granted me asylum, then Andrea and Kelsey took me out to lunch to celebrate along with my niece. I will never forget that they were there for me on that day.

Andrea trained me to become a human rights defender and gave me so many opportunities. It was because of TASSC that I spoke on the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the United States Congress, was invited to San Diego, California to tell my story to hundreds of activists and appeared on Univision. I spoke to medical professionals and students at Catholic University and the College of New Jersey. Best of all, I got to meet and take a photo with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as part of a TASSC delegation.
— Charles

The first jobs Charles had in Washington were tough and he earned very little money, sometimes less than $10 an hour. “I stocked food in a store, moved furniture out of people’s houses, did whatever I could for whatever people would pay me,” he says. ”One time I worked all day in a warehouse and never got paid the $90 they owed me. But no matter what happened, TASSC was always there to counsel me, to tell me things would get better. A kind word from Sister Denise meant so much to me when my family was so far away in Africa.”

After Charles was granted asylum, he found a six-month job helping to transport people with mental disabilities. But then he found his current job working on a payroll with a health provider. “I felt so much better,” Charles explains, “working in an office with important responsibilities and not much stress. I really started to think I was making it in America.”

But his best day came in May 2017, when my wife Evelyn told me the US embassy in Yaounde, Cameroon has just granted visas to her and my five children. It was 2:00 am at his home in Maryland—he started jumping and dancing in his house and preparing for them to come. He found an apartment for his family, registered his children in school, and started thinking about his next step.

 Charles with his family and TASSC Advocacy Program Manager, Andrea Barron. 

Charles with his family and TASSC Advocacy Program Manager, Andrea Barron. 

Now that he is settled, Charles wants to continue defending human rights in Cameroon at TASSC events, while staying touch with his village in Africa—he is still tribal chief.  “TASSC sent me so many places,” he says. “It projected my image to the world, back to my people in Cameroon. My village knows that I visited Congress, met Ban Ki-Moon and told people about the oppression of Anglophones in Cameroon. And all of this happened because of TASSC.”

Survivors Share Experiences on Takoma Radio's Reggae for Refugees Program

 Suzette Gardner (left) from Takoma Radio with Nanythe Talani and Fekade Ancho.

Suzette Gardner (left) from Takoma Radio with Nanythe Talani and Fekade Ancho.

Nanythe Talani from Congo-Brazzaville and Fekade Ancho from Ethiopia shared their personal experiences on Takoma Radio on November 18.  The two survivors and Advocacy Program Manager Andrea Barron were invited to speak by Takoma Radio host Suzette Gardner on her Roots Rock Reggae program. Takoma Radio is an award-winning station located in Takoma Park Maryland which reaches a potential audience of 250,000 people in parts of Washington DC, Montgomery County and areas of Northern Virginia. Listen to the show on WOWD 94.3FM.  http://www.mixcloud.com/rootsrockreggaelive/reggae-for-refugees-the-interviews/

Nanythe was a journalist and human rights activist in Congo-Brazzaville persecuted for “tarnishing the image” of her country after she published articles about government corruption and election fraud. Congo is a dictatorship ruled by one man-- Sassou Nguesso—for over 30 years. Fekade was an accountant at Ethiopian Airlines and head of the union representing Airlines employees. He was mentally and physically tortured, despite his disability from polio, when he fought a management  decision to fire all Airlines employees who were not members of Ethiopia’s ruling party.

Andrea said the Roots Reggae program on refugees and asylum seekers was an opportunity to introduce the Takoma Radio audience to two incredibly brave torture survivors forced to flee their countries because they stood up for American principles like freedom of the press and democracy, now under threat in the United States.

TASSC Survivors Visit House Speaker Paul Ryan's Office in US Capitol

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TASSC is working  hard to make sure the U.S. House of Representatives schedules a vote on House Resolution 128 on human rights abuses in Ethiopia.  Three survivors— Fekade Ancho, Assefa Kitilla and Etsegenet Kedir—had a meeting inside the U.S. Capitol Building with an aide to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Ryan is one of the most powerful Members of Congress— he would become president if something should happen to the president and the vice-president.

House Res 128. was introduced by Congressman Chris Smith from New Jersey and has 73 cosponsors. It unanimously passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee on July 27 and was scheduled for a vote on October 2. As Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Colorado) explains, a decision was made not to proceed with the vote after the Ethiopian Embassy threatened the United States, saying Ethiopia would stop cooperating with the U.S. on counter-terrorism if there was a vote. 

Andrea said that Ethiopia is “requesting permission” from the United States to continue killing, torturing and raping its own people—that is why it objects to the Resolution. The House should not surrender to the bullying tactics of the Ethiopian government by refusing to hold a vote. Moreover, it is in Ethiopia’s interest to prevent al-Shabab from destabilizing the country. Finally, the U.S provides Ethiopia with hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign assistance. So what right does the Ethiopian government have to give orders to the U.S. House of Representatives?

Congressman Ryan’s aide was very impressed with the testimonies of Fekade, Assefa and Etsegenet, who “put a human face” on the brutality of the Ethiopian government. TASSC will continue working with survivors and with our partners-=- Amnesty International, the Amhara Association of America and the Oromo Advocacy Alliance—until this Resolution passes the House of Representatives.

TASSC Denounces Atrocities against Rohingya as Crimes Against Humanity

The Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) joins the almost 90 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which have condemned the brutal military crackdown being carried out by Myanmar against its Rohingya minority as ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

The Rohingyas are a Muslim ethnic group who have lived in Myanmar, or Burma, for generations but were never accepted by the majority Buddhist country. Burma refused to allow Rohingyas to become citizens and have denied them equal access to health care, education and employment because of their religion, branding them “illegal aliens” from Bangladesh. Burma has expelled the Rohingya in the past—over 120,000 were forced out of the country in 2012—but since August hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas have had to flee Bangladesh to save their lives.

Burmese soldiers have destroyed over 200 Rohingya villages, slaughtered husbands in front of their wives, cut women’s throats with knives and smashed the heads of babies in front of their mothers. UN medics working with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have reported cases not only of rape and sexual assault but mutilation of women’s genitals by Burmese security forces. The Burmese military is carrying out psychological and physical torture without fear of consequences. The Burmese government has refused to condemn and to call for stopping the atrocities, and to prosecute those who are behind the killings and torture.

At a September 27th hearing before the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, a witness from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide testified about “mounting evidence that genocide is happening in Burma.”

As an organization committed to the elimination of torture throughout the world, TASSC is appalled by the human tragedy unfolding in Myanmar and at the failure of the international community to pressure Myanmar to stop its crimes against humanity including forcible population transfers, murder, and rape and sexual violence. Many TASSC survivors can identify with the plight of the Rohingya because they themselves were also civilians persecuted by their own governments.

TASSC adds its name to the appeal of 88 NGOs including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the National Religious Campaign against Torture, Refugees International, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Burma Task Force which is “calling on all states to immediately suspend military assistance and cooperation with Myanmar.” TASSC joins these organizations in pressing Burma to immediately end its campaign of ethnic cleansing, allow humanitarian organizations access to the Rohingya population in Burma, and permit refugees in Bangladesh to return to their homes inside Burma. TASSC also calls on the Burmese government to develop and implement a plan that re-educates its people to accept the Rohingya minority as full citizens of the country entitled to all the benefits of every other citizen of the country.

TASSC Executive Director Leonce Byimana, originally from Rwanda, said that the failure of the international community to intervene quickly allowed genocide in Rwanda in 1994. He said this “mistake should not happen again.” 

The Underground Silent Torture

Human suffering is an intricate form of silent torture. There is no civil war in Eritrea, a small country located in Northeast Africa. And there is no severe hunger or drought either. But Eritrea contributes the most refugees per capita in the world. It is a nation of only five million people. But every month thousands of youth risk their lives by crossing the deadly border into Sudan until they reach Libya, then try to escape to Italy by boat. This is why the international community is confused about the inhumanity in Eritrea; the Underground Silent Torture.

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