The World Organization Against Torture (WOAT) is a Geneva-based coalition of nearly 300 local, regional, and national NGOs “fighting against arbitrary detention, torture, summary and extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, and other forms of violence.” Operating on an annual budget of approximately $1.6 million, its sources of funding include Caritas; the European Commission; the Ford Foundation; the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; the Moriah Fund; the Open Society Institute; the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture; and contributions from the governments of Finland, France, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
WOAT administers several major program areas:
Urgent Assistance to Victims of Torture: Providing “victims of torture with … medical, legal and/or social assistance,” this initiative dealt with 410 alleged cases of torture involving 1,371 victims between 1996 and 2003.
Rights of the Child: This project “aims at promoting and defending the right of children to be protected from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment … and all forms of violence …, notably in the context of juvenile justice.”
Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights: This program aims “to enhance the prevention of torture, summary executions, enforced disappearances and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by addressing the vulnerability of certain groups, who are facing destitute socio-economic situations, to such violations.”
Human Rights Defenders: “The work of … individuals and groups who peacefully fight for the respect of human rights makes them a target of repression in many countries. Since its creation, [WOAT] has denounced the violations suffered by human rights defenders. … [WOAT] intervenes by means of more than 150 urgent appeals per year and missions in the field, in collaboration with national, regional and international non-governmental organizations.”
Violence Against Women: This program seeks “to raise awareness of the problem of violence against women among the members of the SOS-Torture network and the United Nations bodies and to take action on behalf of the victims of this form of violence.”
In WOAT’s estimation, Israel ranks among the world’s leading violators of human rights. The organization works with politicized NGOs such as Al-Haq and HaMoked, campaigning against Israel’s security fence and its targeted assassinations of Palestinian terrorists.
In 2003, WOAT published, in conjunction with LAW and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, a report on alleged abuses by the Israeli Security Agency (ISA). This document charged that a “thick veil of secrecy” covers Israeli interrogation procedures of Palestinian terror suspects; that “the vast majority of [Israeli] perpetrators go unpunished, and investigations are few and inefficient”; that according to the UN Committee Against Torture, Israeli house demolitions (of Palestinian terrorists’ homes) “may, in certain instances, amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”; that such demolitions “involve no judicial procedures whatsoever against the inhabitants of the homes” and therefore constitute “a clear case of collective punishment, in violation of international humanitarian law”; and that ISA interrogators “hold detainees in incommunicado detention for weeks, exhaust them, inflict pain upon them, frighten and humiliate them …”
WOAT was a signatory to a November 1, 2001 document characterizing the 9/11 attacks against the United States as a legal matter to be addressed by criminal-justice procedures rather than military means. Ascribing the hijackers’ motives to alleged social injustices against which they were protesting, this document explained that “security and justice are mutually reinforcing goals that ultimately depend upon the promotion of all human rights for all people,” and called on the U.S. “to promote fundamental rights around the world.”
This profile is adapted, with permission, from the NGO Monitor.