FAQs: United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture
Providing direct assistance to over 50,000 victims of torture each year
What is the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture?
The Fund is a unique UN operation that gives direct help to victims of torture and their families. It was established in 1981 by the General Assembly to focus global attention on the needs of torture victims. The Fund’s aim is to help victims and their families to rebuild their lives and to seek redress for the human rights violations they have suffered.
Who does it help?
The Fund assists victims wherever torture occurs. In 2015, it is providing direct help to more than 57,000 victims, both adults and children, in over 80 counties. People who are currently being helped by the Fund include asylum seekers, undocumented migrants, victims of sexual violence in armed conflict, human rights defenders, victims of enforced disappearances, indigenous people, LGBT persons and people tortured in detention.
How does the Fund operate?
The Fund awards annual grants averaging US$30,000 - 40,000 to a variety of civil society projects that provide medical, psychological, social and legal assistance to victims of torture. The projects are selected by the Fund’s independent Board of Trustees. The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) manages the Fund. In 2015, the Fund awarded a total of US$6,188,000 to 184 projects; US$75,400 to three training projects; and US$1,000,000 for emergency projects and capacity building.
What kind of projects does the Fund support?
The projects include rehabilitation centres, NGOs, associations of victims of torture and enforced disappearances, families’ associations, private and public hospitals, legal aid clinics, public interest law firms and community-based organisations.
Why is rehabilitation so important for victims?
The provision of assistance to victims of torture is not charity: it is a legal obligation enshrined in an enforceable right falling squarely within States’ obligations under international law. Article 14 of the Convention against Torture, ratified to date by 157 countries, stipulates that States have to ensure that a victim of torture under their jurisdiction obtains redress, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible.
It is widely acknowledged that torture, which may result in serious physical, psychological, economic and social suffering, affects not only the victim but his or her family and community. Failure to provide effective rehabilitation can destroy families and communities, and threaten society as a whole.
Why is the work of the Fund so necessary?
The Convention against Torture entered into force in 1987 but evidence indicates that many States, despite being parties to the Convention, continue to neglect their obligation to provide rehabilitation. This means the Fund receives requests for assistance from all over the world, well beyond its available resources.
In some countries, the projects supported by the Fund complement the efforts of the authorities to help torture victims and help the State in question to meet its obligations under international law. In other countries, the Fund-supported projects are the only help on offer for victims of torture. In many countries, the Fund is a lifeline for many torture rehabilitation centres that are stretched to capacity and have long waiting lists.
How effective has the Fund been?
Over the last three decades, the Fund is estimated to have provided assistance worth US$140 million to more than 600 organisations worldwide. Generally, UN funding is seen as a politically neutral and non-selective source of aid, acceptable to and accepted by all, and is preferred to bilateral funding.
The Fund can respond rapidly to needs arising in emergency situations. For example this year it is supporting an organization in northern Iraq that provides mental health services to Syrian refugees and victims of ISIL attacks; a legal aid project in Ukraine that addresses torture perpetrated in the Eastern region as well as in Crimea; and a project in Senegal that gives medical, psychological and social help to people who were tortured in the Central African Republic.
The Fund also recognises the long-term needs of victims. For example, it supports projects that document torture committed during military rule in the 1970s and 1980s in Argentine and Chile, resulting in the prosecution and conviction of perpetrators.
What is the Fund’s financial situation?
Contributions to the Fund are exclusively voluntary. In 2013, donors (primarily UN Members States) gave US$8.3 million; in 2014 this rose to some US$9.3 million. The increase was mainly due to an exceptional contribution by Germany to support the work of the Fund in support of Syrian victims. The Fund has a relatively limited donor base (22 donors in 2014) and is short of its target level of US$12 million that would allow it to respond to the many demands for help it receives.
For more information, including details on how to apply for funding:
Phone (41) 22 917 9315
Fax (41) 22 917 9017