Legislation would fund

by Michelle Moriarity

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the Torture Victims Relief Act on Saturday, which authorizes financial assistance to rehabilitate victims of political torture. The Senate approved the measure Thursday.
The bill, which requires White House approval to become law, authorizes the federal Department of Health and Human Services to allocate more than $12 million to torture relief organizations nationwide.
If the funding is approved during budget negotiations, Minnesota’s Center for Victims of Torture, which is the largest torture support organization in the nation, will gain the funding necessary to strengthen its support programs and increase awareness about torture.
“After several years of effort, it represents a success in raising the visibility of the problem of torture,” said David Weissbrodt, a University law professor who helped found the organization.
The center originated in 1985 when Weissbrodt, former Gov. Rudy Perpich and the Minnesota Lawyers International Human Rights Committee sought a means of addressing the struggle for international human rights.
Since 1987, the center has been housed adjacent to the Twin Cities campus on property donated by the University. It is one of about 15 facilities nationwide that provides relief to refugees who have suffered physical, sexual, verbal and psychological abuse in their homelands because of their political beliefs.
“Doctors and psychologists are still trying to figure out how to respond to the kinds of suffering the victims encounter,” said Weissbrodt, who is an expert in international human rights law.
Since its inception, the center has provided direct care to torture victims and has conducted research to determine the long-term effects of political torture.
Peter Dross, president of the organization, said the funding will allow organizations nationwide to implement internationally competitive programs for torture relief.
“We would hope that this fund would provide leverage to other countries (for their own budgetary requests),” Dross said.
In addition to the domestic funds, the bill also authorizes the United States to contribute more than $15 million to the United National Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture and the Agency For International Development for development of torture-relief programs.