Stop Torture: The Diaries of a Young Activist

By Marie-Louise Dyrlund Hansen

How the world’s youth are stepping up against torture:

A group of young people from 17 different countries have been united behind one common goal: their fight to end torture. Marie-Louise, 22, tells us what it was like to work with 17 other young international activists as part of our Stop Torture campaign.

Youth activists working on the Stop Torture campaign. Top row from left to right: Abdellah Khaloub (Morocco), Madalin-Catalin Blidaru (Romania), Swechhya Sangroula (Nepal), Dorothy Tran (Australia), Marie-Louise Dyrlund Hansen (Denmark), Jakub Gamrot (Czech Republic), Nancy Herz (Norway). Middle, from left: Oscar Jesse Rojas Ortiz (Mexico), Josefine Bertram (Sweden), Caroline Bonnot (France), Gada Hussain (Pakistan) Front: Chia-Yin Lin (Taiwan) at The International Human Rights Education Centre, May 2014 Oslo, Norway

Marie-Louise’s work as a human rights youth activist with Amnesty International Denmark began four years ago after participating in a meeting organised at her school.

She recognises the powerful contribution young people are making towards the Stop Torture campaign and the necessity to shed light on their work:

“From the very start, my biggest motivation as an activist has been to see the work of activists from other parts of the world, where they risk their lives to stand up for their rights.

Marie-Louise Dyrlund Hansen, 22, December, 2014, Copenhagen, Denmark

I cannot think of anything more honourable than that. My dream is that we can all unite in the fight against torture and that together, we can face the controversy of torture all over the world.

I come from Denmark, where the biggest threat to human rights activists is being yelled at in the street. Torture in Denmark is not a systemic issue, but unfortunately that’s not the case in many other countries. For me, it has been immensely valuable to learn of the parallels behind the attitudes and obstacles that activists face in different parts of the world. Personally, I see the justification of torture and effective public mobilization as two key issues.

We need to support each other across borders. What makes this campaign really powerful is the fact that we stand together, whether it is happening in your country or not.
Marie-Louise Dyrlund Hansen

In order to empower young people to understand and take action to stop torture, we have designed a 60 page resource: Empower against Torture: a series of human rights education workshops, and a corresponding online resource :  www.empoweragainsttorture.net.

The Guide was designed by young people for young people. To start the design process, on May 9, we all met up at the International Human Rights Education Centre in Oslo. We knew that our ultimate objective was to empower youth to act as advocates for the campaign and help Amnesty reach out to other young people.

Our goal for the meeting was to create a team bond and the structure of the Guide, but also to come up with a time plan for the work after. From May 9 to May 12, we discussed how to approach the Guide with the help of the facilitators, who challenged our views and thoughts. So that everyone could follow this incredible process but also to reach out to more people, we decided to start the blog, “Multicultural Education against Torture” which documents our journey.

The creation process of the Guide taught me how to face what I think is a growing acceptance and justification of the use of torture: my fellow youth activists taught me how important it is when engaging others on the issue of torture to focus on humanizing torture victims, and that torture can be seen as faulty investigation - and legal processes, and therefore it is not a matter of whether or not the individual "deserves" torture but of the process.

Through this context, I learnt how to create workshops that would enable others to learn the same. I realized the importance of educating people on the true impacts of torture. It doesn’t matter what kind of government we are challenging, we can all benefit from learning how to address and fight back whenever torture is justified or condoned.

Our Guide features the workshop “Explore Safeguards through Drama,” which aims to provoke thoughts on the conditions of police interrogations as well as to explore the right to freedom from torture as universal and absolute. If we want to be successful in the Stop Torture campaign, we need to be able to understand and explain this issue to others.
Marie-Louise Dyrlund Hansen

The series of workshops aims to educate and engage young activists in this campaign. This makes mobilization an immensely important issue to approach, which caused some discussion among participants. For my colleagues from the Middle East and North Africa, the biggest concern was the safety of those taking part in mobilisation initiatives. Others, including me, sought a resource that would make torture relatable.

Youth activists working on the Stop Torture campaign. Top row from left to right: Jakub Gamrot (Czech Republic), Katinka Troye (Norway), Madalin-Catalin Blidaru (Romania), Dorothy Tran (Australia), Swechhya Sangroula (Nepal), Marie-Louise Dyrlund Hansen (Denmark). Middle, from left: Josefine Bertram (Sweden), Caroline Bonnot (France), Nomagugu Gwaba Ncube (Zimbabwe). Front, from left: Ameni Naimi (Tunisia), Oscar Jesse Rojas Ortiz (Mexico), Abdellah Khaloub (Morocco), Gada Hussain (Pakistan), Nancy Herz (Norway), Chia-Yin Lin (Taiwan) at the International Human Rights Education Centre, May 2014 Oslo, Norway

I also learnt that we need to focus on the consequences of torture for the survivors and their families, to motivate people to mobilize against torture everywhere. We need to follow through with the humanization of the victim of torture: not just when it happens, but also afterwards.

Because the justification of torture overshadows the issue, we tend to stop the debate at the action and not at its consequences. The problem is that the consequences help us to humanize the victims. If we can create empathy with those who have been tortured, we can ensure the support of the campaign through mobilization. This is why we created the workshop “The Consequences of Torture,” which aims to engage participants’ emotions with the potential effects of torture.

If I am honest, I did not know a lot about the realities of torture before I took part in this process. I have learnt so much about campaigning against the use of torture. Not just in my part of the world but also in others, and why we need everyone to succeed in this campaign. 

I hope that our work can provoke a change in your attitude on torture and inspire you to fight against it. We must never forget to support each other and that while systemic torture has become more common in our world, we can challenge it if we do it together. I dream to empower people everywhere to stand up against torture. Will you help me?
Marie-Louise Dyrlund Hansen

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