Washington, D.C. – As International Day in Support of Victims of Torture approaches on Friday, June 26, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) today reintroduced the bipartisan Torture Victims Relief Act (TVRA). TVRA, first passed in 1998, authorized funding to support torture treatment programs in the U.S. and abroad to help torture survivors recover from their trauma and rebuild productive lives. S. 1670 and H.R. 2870 will ensure assistance for domestic and foreign programs and centers for the treatment of victims of torture.

“The United States must play a leading role in helping those who have been harmed by torture. Our commonsense bill will provide crucial support to help heal victims and train partner organizations who care for them,” Klobuchar said.

“We too often focus on the public and legal aspects of torture and not enough on helping torture victims themselves—a group that tragically includes even children. They need help to rebuild their lives and overcome the severe trauma that prevents them from living a normal life,” said Smith.  “If we accept people into this country as refugees or asylum seekers, then we also must help them deal with the effects of the treatment that drove them from their homelands in the first place.  Our legislation will do just that.”

The Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 defined torture as any act, directed against an individual in the offender’s custody or physical control, by which severe pain or suffering either physical or mental is  intentionally inflicted to obtain information or a confession or intimidating or coercing the victim for any reason based on discrimination. Unintended pain or injury that is part of a legitimate arrest or detention is not considered to be torture.

S. 1670 and H.R. 2870 call on the Department of Health and Human Services to fund and manage treatment at domestic centers to treat torture victims who seek refuge in the United States. This legislation also directs the president to fund and manage foreign treatment centers for victims of torture within their home countries and authorizes instruction for Foreign Service officers to be trained on how best to identify and assist victims of torture. 

Actions that would be defined as torture are reported in 141 countries even though 157 countries have ratified the 1984 United Nations Convention Against Torture. However, as we have seen in recent years, torture is not only practiced by governments around the world, but increasingly by terrorist groups such as the Islamic State.

The international community condemned the practice of torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.  However, treatment for victims of torture has remained a concern, and the United States has a history of assisting such victims. Such programs were first established in Smith’s 1998 law, and bolstered by Smith’s three subsequent torture victims reauthorization laws (P.L. 106-87, P.L. 108-179, and P.L. 109-65). The original 1998 bill acknowledged a significant number of refugees and asylum seekers who were entering the United States as victims of torture, and sought to address their needs.