COVID-19 response


“Torture victims are burdened with physical, social, economic and mental health problems. They may also lack the living conditions that allow them to guard against the spread of the virus. We commend the outstanding efforts undertaken by civil society organizations to continue to provide essential services to torture survivors, including during states of emergency and curfews, even when they face acts of intimidation or obstruction by the authorities.”

26 June 2020, Dr. Vivienne Nathanson,
Chair, Board of Trustees
UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture

The COVID-19 pandemic is eroding torture survivors’ access to essential services at the time of greatest need. The pandemic also exacerbates the risk of ill-treatment and torture worldwide. Results of a May 2020 survey to assess the impact of the pandemic on the work of the Fund’s grantees to assist torture survivors revealed: 

  • 33% increase in the number of torture survivors requiring immediate assistance
  • 61% adapted working methods to ensure business continuity to deliver services
  • 47% requested additional emergency funding (amounting to USD 934,500)

In order to meet the evolving needs on the ground, the Fund's response strategy includes introducing greater flexibility to ensure tailor-made responses, while maintaining accountability for project implementation of awarded grants. The Fund will also reinforce its emergency grant procedure, inviting applications from selected organizations caring for torture survivors most vulnerable to the pandemic, including persons deprived of liberty, refugees and asylum-seekers.

Torture Fund Infographic

The UN Anti-Torture mechanisms participated in a public webinar on "The impact of Covid-19 on torture and ill-treatment

COVID-19 emergency grants

The global pandemic exposes already vulnerable populations, including torture survivors, to further risks, in particular in locations with high rates of COVID-19 and limited access to care. A survey of the 171 civil society organizations currently funded by the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture) revealed the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on the lives of torture survivors. Grantees reported increased demand for humanitarian, medical and psychological assistance from project beneficiaries. Although organizations promptly adapted working methods, they also requested more resources to guarantee service delivery.

In response, the Fund launched a special call for COVID-19 emergency grants with savings generated from the cancellation of the in-person sessions of the Board of Trustees. The call was open to all 2020 grantees who had expressed interest through the survey and 47 applied. Following a competitive process based on specific selection criteria (notably COVID-19 rates and the vulnerability of target group, such as persons on the move and deprived of liberty) the Fund awarded 17 COVID emergency grants to assist nearly 4,000 torture survivors in Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Ghana, Greece, India, Italy, Kenya, Lebanon, Mexico, Peru, Republic of Moldova, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

In addition, the Fund offered recipients of 2020 grants flexible funding arrangements allowing them to pivot on the ground to meet the evolving needs of torture survivors in the unprecedented global context. Balancing accountability with flexibility, the Fund may authorize shifts to project implementation through on-demand adjustments to operational budgets and implementation periods.