European Union funds groundbreaking torture prevention program

9 December 2011

The European Union has awarded the University of Sydney 1.5 million Euros to develop a program with an unprecedented approach to torture prevention, involving partnerships with universities in Sri Lanka and Nepal and the participation of the police and military in those countries.

The grant, worth $1.96 million, was awarded to Associate Professor Danielle Celermajer, from the Department of Sociology and Social Policy who also received a European Union (EU) grant of the same value in 2008 to establish a regional Master of Human Rights and Democratisation.

"For the first time this research will bring together the best experts in the world from a range of disciplines to establish an understanding, based on their different perspectives, of how torture becomes embedded and normalised in institutions," Associate Professor Celermajer said.

This international team's expertise will come from sociology, law, philosophy, political science, psychology and anthropology. It will work with researchers based in both target countries, who will conduct research in both the military and police, as well as with NGOs and the victims of torture.

In the second year of the program, the research will be translated into training modules to be introduced into the police and military in Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Explaining the groundbreaking nature of this program further, Associate Professor Celermajer said, "Unlike existing training tools, our approach is not centred on simply approaching the problem of torture in terms of non-compliance with, or non-enforcement of, laws. Instead of a legalistic approach we want to apply what our research tells us about how social and cultural norms regarding the practice of torture are formed."

"We will be working on the values, behaviours and entrenched views of those involved in torture, understanding that only by shifting these can we change the treatment of prisoners and combatants."

The project partners, Colombo University in Sri Lanka and Kathmandu School of Law in Nepal, will use their longstanding connections with local institutions to broker the relationships necessary to conduct the research and make implementation possible.

"For Sri Lanka and Nepal, two societies emerging from long-term and highly damaging periods of civil conflict, the timing of this work is ideal. It promises to have critical and measurable effects on the prevalence of torture in key institutions where it systematically takes place," Associate Professor Celermajer said.

Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney said, "This is an extremely significant grant for the University and I congratulate Associate Professor Celermajer for her success. Collaborative relationships such as this are of great importance to our research and teaching, as well as for our long-term engagement and cooperation with the region. The University is committed to engaging with our regional neighbours on issues that impact on all of us and to finding solutions to real world problems."

In its final year, the program will present its findings to an international conference bringing together representatives from government, non-government organisations, military and police from as many countries in the region as possible. The aim is for other countries in the region to adopt and adapt the torture prevention processes which have been developed.

David Daly, European Union Ambassador to Australia, said "The prevention and eradication of all forms of torture is a priority for the EU and I am delighted that once again, the University of Sydney has proven their commitment to this cause by winning another European Instrument of Democracy and Human Rights grant to research the root causes of torture and to develop new training courses."

Professor Michael Hiscox, who will return to the University of Sydney in 2012, will assist the torture prevention program by creating empirical measurement tools to assess the effectiveness of the training courses developed.

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