Hilda Nyatete recently completed a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellowship with the IRCT – the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims. The IRCT serves as an umbrella organization for over 150 member centers that aid survivors of torture in more than 70 countries, advocating for the right to holistic rehabilitation and providing victims with clinical, legal and social assistance. Originally from Kenya, Hilda has a deep background and expertise in trauma counseling, particularly in the area of gender based violence. She holds a Master’s Degree in Developmental Psychology from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom.
In this blog post, she writes about the importance of comprehensive clinical documentation and the IRCT’s Data in the Fight against Impunity (DFI) project.
(Participants from different organizations working on clinical documentation under the DFI project with support from the IRCT; IRCT Scientific Symposium in Mexico City)
My work at the Independent Medico Legal Unit (IMLU) revolves around ensuring that victims of torture and their families receive psychological support both at the individual and group level. IMLU has been a member of the IRCT for many years, and has become the premier organization supporting victims of torture in Kenya. It supports an average of 500 victims of torture annually.
Working with survivors and families of victims of torture is not an easy task. Listening to survivors recount painful, dehumanizing and degrading memories of torture in the hands of the government invokes a hunger and drive to keep fighting for the rights of the underserved. One of the challenges my team constantly has to tackle is the victim's fear, which often leads to a low level or a complete lack of cooperation when reporting cases of torture. This is due to intimidation by the perpetrators, who not only deny any accusations of wrongdoing but may also put forward fabricated charges against the victims, which piles onto their fear. The fear and intimidation have caused us to be very intentional in involving clients throughout the process of reporting, entering data about their case from intake, during service provision, and until the client is released from active medical support and counseling; that way, the clients understand the critical role their information plays in allowing them to achieve justice.
With 25% of cases going to court, IMLU works with a network of professionals who provide critical documentation of torture and ill treatment in legal proceedings. These evaluations and subsequent documentation take place all over the country. The purpose of the medical and psychological evaluation is twofold: to provide an expert opinion on the degree to which findings correlate with the alleged victim’s allegation of torture, and to effectively communicate the clinician’s findings and interpretations to the judiciary or other appropriate authorities. It is key that clinical documentation is done diligently and in a clear and concise manner to ensure that justice is served.
To face the challenges of threats, intimidation, and a tedious documentation process, IMLU developed a database system which was officially launched in 2015. The system goes beyond data entry about the clients' respective cases, enabling the staff to manage individual and group calendars and diaries; that way, those who work with clients but do not engage with data entry on a daily basis still find it useful. My work as a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow has revolved around continually engaging staff in this comprehensive clinical documentation, as well as supporting other organizations in the process, which ultimately serves to enable victims to achieve justice.
It remains paramount that organizations such as IMLU collect and document data on these human rights violations. During my Fellowship, I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico City for the IRCT’s 10th International Scientific Symposium in December 2016. I met colleagues from various organizations who are also working at IRCT member centers and participating in the Data in the Fight Against Impunity Project, who are just beginning to establish their own database system. Sharing my experience of how the IMLU system has made our work easier while ensuring that clients are involved in documentation, was exciting and meaningful. Little did I think that the work we were doing at IMLU would be of such great impact to colleagues in the sector. Being a Hilton Prize Coalition Fellow has given me a boost of confidence and allowed me to learn a great deal not only in matters of clinical documentation but on leadership, networking, and quite a bit on humanitarian work. I am truly grateful to have been accorded this wonderful platform and opportunity to learn, grow, and to contribute to the common good.
(IMLU's poster presentation during the IRCT symposium)
(My tour around Mexico City)