Sunday, March 06, 2011

Establishing Torture

According to an article in today's New York Times, the human rights program at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York is playing a key role in establishing that asylum seekers were tortured in their home countries. Proof that individuals were tortured in the past can help establish that they have a well-founded fear of persecution should they return, which is the legal standard for being granted asylum in the United States. This standard comes from the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951, Article I, which the United States adopted with some modifications in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(42)(a). Dr. Ramin Asgary is the director of the Mount Sinai program. He

and his students have examined about 130 refugees ... sifting through stories of baton blows, glass slashes and cigarette burns for evidence of abuse--or signs of fraud. "Every story is a new story ... It never gets routine."

If, after examining the asylum seeker, Dr. Asgary finds evidence of past torture, he provides affidavits and testifies without charge at the hearing before an immigration judge. I was not surprised to learn that most of the individuals examined by Dr. Asgary are "young, educated men from Africa," of whom 87 percent "have been victims of more than one kind of torture." The torture described in the article is horrific, and the type of torture an individual suffers depends on where he is from:
[V]ictims from Liberia and Sierra Leone often have been branded with a red-hot rod; those from Cameroon or Chad are more likely to have been beaten with a baton.

The students are sometimes skeptical about whether someone was tortured, and part of Dr. Asgary's job is to winnow out fradulent claims. Pychological torture can be difficult to establish but is nonetheless real and can be used to justify granting asylum.

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