Bolivia: Meet Emma Bolshia who helps Bolivian victims recover from torture and its second trauma, silence
4, Cochabamba (Bolivia) - The traumatic experience of torture
triggers a deep, mostly inexpressible, questioning about the meaning of life.
can find no words to describe what they endured. They feel that their lives
have been wrecked to an extent so deep and far-reaching as to simply be
unintelligible to others. Moreover, carried out behind closed doors,
torture is invisible - ignored by science, justice and psychology. This silence
is precisely what exacerbates the pain felt by torture victims.
the magnitude of the psychological effects on the victim, the fear it generates
within society, and the traumas transmitted to the following generations, torture
causes irreparable damage,” says Emma Bolshia Bravo. “That’s why prevention of
torture is crucial.”
in Bolivia - especially against union representatives, members of indigenous
populations or of indigent communities, peasants, sex workers, and LGBTI
individuals - has been practiced both during military dictatorships and under
the democratically elected constitutional government, even recently. What is
more, only about a quarter of the victims who denounced political violence and
human rights violations committed under the authoritarian military regime from
1964 to 1982 have obtained justice through the reparation process that ended in
2012, Amnesty International reported.
in psychology and curative education, Emma committed herself to fighting
torture after learning that her father had died prematurely at the age of 50
because of the torture undergone as a revolutionary activist. Having, as a
child, lived through the imprisonment of both her parents, Emma cannot avoid
crying - to this day - when evoking those painful early memories.
is now director of Instituto de Terapia e
Investigacion sobre las secuelas de la tortura y la violencia estatal (ITEI), the
only rehabilitation centre in Bolivia focused on the biopsychological
consequences of torture both for individuals and society.
14 years after its foundation, ITEI leads a coalition of nine anti-torture
organizations, and has contributed to raising social awareness about the social
and psychological effects of torture. ITEI’s work led to the Bolivian
Government’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against
Torture in 2006.
nonetheless feels frustrated when the complaints she files or the trials she
manages to secure do not obtain the expected results. The problems victims
have, or eventually develop over time after undergoing torture, both at home
and within their community, are so overwhelming that she sometimes feels
helpless. Combatting torture is a task that should be carried out by society at
large to have any impact - not only by human rights and mental health organizations.
massive action will be able to eradicate torture in our country,” says Emma,
arguing it requires a large social, cultural battle to denounce and eradicate
impunity and put an end to the general public’s ignorance and indifference to
and the culture of silence and violence
generates submissiveness, silence and violence whereas a democratic society
should be based on freedom of expression. The structural violence of the State
and law-enforcement personnel trigger the replication of violence within
society,” Emma explains.
cycle of violence is apparent especially among underprivileged populations,
isolated communities and among peasants, who, under-protected by the police,
take the security of their neighbourhoods in their own hands, enforcing expedite
justice on their own, according to the repressive model they themselves have
endured. The only difference, in Emma’s view, is that the
military or policemen who torture in perfect impunity under protection of the
law, while common citizens are more likely be jailed for their crimes.
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