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Picture: Atelier peinture de Claire Harel, association Mana, France
« Atelier peinture de Claire Harel, association Mana, France»

United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture - What the Fund does

The overarching objective of the work supported by the UN Torture Fund is to assist victims of torture and their family members to rebuild their lives, providing immediate and accessible remedies. This is implemented through the award of grants to a variety of channels of assistance, including, inter alia, civil society organisations, associations of victims and their family members, private and public hospitals, legal clinics, public interest law firms and individual lawyers.

Types of assistance

Direct humanitarian assistance is provided in the following fields:

Medical assistance, includes, residential treatment, referrals to specialists and mobile health clinics. The medical assistance treats the physical after-effects of torture. Following diagnosis by a general practitioner, treatment is provided by medical specialists in the fields of orthopaedics, neurology, physiotherapy, paediatrics, sexual health, urology as well as traditional healing and complementary medicine.

The grants are therefore used for example, for salaries of doctors, laboratory tests, diagnostics, ambulances and transportation of victims, medical expertise for tribunals, medicines, and surgery.

Psychological assistance, includes, individual, couple, group and family therapy counselling, art therapy (theatre, painting, sculpture), occupational therapy, meditation/acupuncture and other culturally sensitive and appropriate techniques, psychological support in preparation for attendance to trials. Psychological assistance is provided to enable victims of torture to overcome the psychological trauma they have experienced. Individual therapy, whether based on clinical, psychoanalytical, behavioural or other therapy, seeks to assist victims with their gradual reintegration into society. Psychiatric therapy may be combined with medication to alleviate physical and psychological symptoms.

Grants are therefore used, for example, for salaries of psychiatrists, psychologists and other types of mental health professionals, medicines, referral to specialists, interpretation costs, preparation and submission of expert reports for tribunals.

Social assistance, includes, vocational training, material assistance for basic needs, such as accommodation, food, clothes and utilities, etc. on the basis of needs and vulnerability. Organisations are required to establish a transparent mechanism for the provision of social assistance and effective monitoring procedures. 

The social assistance complements the above-mentioned forms of assistance by providing various services to reduce the sense of marginalization that many victims experience. Due to the disproportionate number of persons with physical and/or mental disabilities among the torture survivors population, social assistance ensures that victims have access to a minimum of basic services, including housing, health care, education, language classes and employment training.

Legal assistance may be provided in a number of ways. For torture victims seeking asylum, legal assistance can be crucial in the preparation and follow-up of asylum applications in a host country. The Fund also contributes to combating impunity.  Grants are used to seek reparation and compensation for victims through claims before competent national, regional and international bodies.

Legal aid supported by the Fund include, inter alia:

  • Litigation of torture cases, filing complaints against alleged perpetrators in order to seek prosecution and/or obtain redress, including compensation for torture victims;
  • Defence of torture victims in criminal cases brought against them (for example in cases where a confession extracted with torture lead to self-incrimination);
  • Legal assistance and counselling on medical, social, economical of family issues. For example, issues such as family reunification applications, accessing housing, obtaining medical or social benefits, obtaining work and residence permits;
  • Legal assistance to victims of torture who are asylum seekers or internally displaced, in asylum and/ or non refoulement procedures;
  • Legal assistance to family members of enforced or involuntary disappearances (Habeas Corpus cases, obtaining remains or ordering autopsy, documentation of disappearance, litigation to obtain death certificates to solve inheritance issues.
  • Indirect legal assistance such as referrals to pro-bono lawyers;
  • Documentation of torture, for future prosecution of perpetrators.

Grants are therefore used for, inter alia, lawyers’ fees, transportation of lawyers, victims and experts, expertise by forensic and ballistic experts, interpretation, printing of documents, additional investigation costs, court and legal fees and prison visits.

Financial assistance enables victims to meet their basic needs and to gain access to other types of assistance, such as health care. In some cases, nominal assistance is distributed to unemployed victims, particularly when they are unable to work as a result of the serious physical and psychological effects of torture. Financial assistance may also be used to offset the costs of educating their children.

View examples of projects funded (PDF)


In keeping with its admissibility guidelines, the UNVFVT provides funding to organizations whose beneficiaries are victims of torture (or their direct family members) as defined by article 1 of the 1975 Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Declaration on Torture).

Since the adoption of resolution 36/151 by the General Assembly, the international community has elaborated more detailed definitions of torture, including in article 1 of the 1984 Convention against Torture. When considering requests for assistance, the Board has recognized the dynamic nature of international law and, in practice, accepts broader interpretations of the definition of torture that are favourable to victims, including those applied by the Human Rights Committee, the Committee against Torture, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and any other competent international body.

For further information, please consult the document “Interpretation of Torture in the Light of the Practice and Jurisprudence of International Bodies” (PDF).

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Activities in 2011-2012

In its 35th meeting, in February 2012, the Board examined and evaluated more than 309 grant applications seeking more than US$19 million in support.

The Board awarded grants to 245 projects, amounting to US$7million for activities directly assisting victims of torture and their families, as well as for providing training and organizing seminars for professionals assisting victims. In comparison, in 2010 the Board had awarded 280 grants for a total amount of US$11.3 million, and in 2011 it had supported 316 projects with US$10.5 million.

Grants awarded by the Board for 2012 directly assist victims of torture in more than 70 countries in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe. Landmark cases are being supported at international and domestic courts, and thousands of victims worldwide are receiving continuing assistance.

Geographic representation of supported organizations

In 2005, the overwhelming majority of grants were disbursed to projects located in Western Europe and North America (63.1 per cent) while the least amount of funding was granted to projects in Africa (7.4 per cent).

These figures partially reflected the fact that many of the world’s torture victims do not seek assistance until after they have arrived in a country of asylum where they feel safe and can seek help. They also reflected the fact that fewer grant requests were coming from outside Western Europe and North America.

In 2012, the majority of grants were still disbursed to projects in Western Europe and North America (42%), followed by Africa (16%). The least amount of funding was granted to projects in Asia (14%),  Latin America (14%) and Eastern Europe (14%).

However, as shown by the figures above, the allocation of grants to WEOG region has decreased from 63.1% in 2005 to 42 % in 2012, as the Board tried to balance the provision of assistance to victims in their countries of origin, transit and asylum.

Awarded grants 2012 per region

Emergency funding

Outside of the regular grants cycle, organizations may request emergency assistance for projects which are already supported by the Fund. These requests are reviewed by two or three members of the Board. In exceptional situations, a victim of torture may apply for emergency funding on the condition that there are no relevant projects in the victim’s country. These applications should be accompanied by medical and other supporting documentation that shows that the individual is suffering from the after-effects of torture. Applications should, wherever possible, also include information on the context in which the torture took place, the identification of the torturers, the type of torture suffered and its after-effects, the kind of assistance required and the estimated cost of assistance. If medical assistance is required, a detailed medical report must be submitted which describes the extent to which the victim’s suffering is the result of torture, the medical needs of the victim and the estimated cost of treatment.

For example, in 2011 emergency assistance was provided to projects located in El Salvador,  Kyrgyzstan and Mexico, while in previous years the emergency procedure has been used to assist victims in, inter alia, DRC, Guinea, Honduras, Kenya, Russian Federation and Senegal.

Monitoring and administration of the Fund

The Secretariat of the UN Torture Fund has developed a sophisticated monitoring and evaluation methodology to ensure the accountability on the use of grant, quite unique among other UN Trust Funds.

As a rule all new applicants are visited before any application is presented to the Board of Trustees of the Fund for its consideration. A mission report is then prepared, with details on the type of assistance to be provided, notes on the meetings with staff and victims and a description of existing internal financial procedures and management.

Organizations that have received a grant must submit a narrative report at the end of the year which includes information on the number of victims receiving assistance, as well as case studies of ten anonymous victims assisted. Information on victims should be broken down by sex, age, nationality, legal status and type of assistance provided. The purpose of these studies is to help the Board and the Secretariat understand the type of assistance that is provided by the organizations.

Grantees are also required to provide financial reports on the use of the grants on a yearly basis. Finally, organizations must arrange for an audit to be conducted by independent auditors.

If the Secretariat receives information between annual sessions of the Board that a project has been mismanaged, the Guidelines of the Fund provide that the Secretariat may decide to withhold payment of a grant or request that a funded organization does not spend a received grant until the situation has been clarified.

In some instances, the Secretariat or the Board may request that an organization refund a grant if it was spent in a manner not approved by the Board, where follow-up reports have not been submitted or are unsatisfactory, or for other reasons explained by the Secretariat.

All grantees are subsequently visited, if possible, one year after the award of the first grant, and then every 3 to 5 years. Since 2002, over 800 field visits have taken place. In the last 2 years alone, the Secretariat of Fund, the Board and UN staff based in the field monitored funded projects, including visits to assess implementation of projects in 24 countries, including Albania, Bangladesh, Belgium, Burundi, Canada, Cameroon, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Egypt, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Paraguay, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the USA, and Zimbabwe.

If the need arises, ad hoc audits are conducted, in collaboration with the UN Office of Internal Oversight. Six such special audits were completed in the last 2 years, in Bangladesh, Lebanon and  Mexico.

Field visits are conducted by the staff of the Secretariat of the UN Torture Fund, Board members, OHCHR Field Presences staff and UN staff at large. A monitoring and evaluation manual, with details on how to conduct an evaluation, has been developed by the Secretariat and is shared with colleagues in the field.

Information on results of the visits can be shared, as appropriate, with other Institutional Donors to projects co-funded by the UNVFVT, namely, inter alia, the European Commission, USAID,  the Oak Foundation, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Kios-Finnish Foundation for Human Rights, the National Endowment, and other donors . In addition, the Board of Trustees of the Fund usually meets with other institutional donors once a year, in February, to share best practices and lessons learned, as well as to discuss priorities and issues of common concern.

The Secretariat also conducted a first outreach missions to some countries in Portuguese-speaking Africa, notably Angola and Mozambique, in collaboration with the OHCHR Regional Office for Southern Africa.

Thanks to an efficient management of financial and human resources, as well as the use of the extensive network of UN Field Offices, the Fund is able to maintain monitoring and evaluation costs below 2% of its available resources per year.

Information on the Torture Fund


General information

Download the Fund flyer in E | F | S (PDF)

How to apply/How to report to the Fund
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Torture-related documents
Past torture-related events
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