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On Passage of the Torture Victims Relief Act--H.R. 1678

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

ON PASSAGE OF THE TORTURE VICTIMS RELIEF ACT--H.R. 1678 -- (Extensions of Remarks - May 03, 2007)

* Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Madam Speaker, last week I was pleased to have the opportunity to vote to extend the Torture Victims Relief Act (TVRA). I have been a cosponsor of this legislation since 2003. In the last Congress, the bill became law, but it authorized appropriations only through the end of fiscal year 2007. So it's important that Congress act to renew it before the current authorization expires. H.R. 1678 authorizes for two years additional appropriations for domestic centers and programs for the treatment of victims of torture, for foreign centers for the treatment of victims of torture, and for the U.N. Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture.

* There is no question about the need for this funding. Two-thirds of the world's countries still practice torture. An estimated 500,000 torture survivors live in the United States, and about 1,100 refugees and 400 asylum seekers enter my state of Colorado alone each year. Repressive governments use torture to target the very leaders who share our principles of freedom and democracy. Without their voices, communities are fearful. But torture treatment can undo the legacy of torture and reclaim the leaders who stand with us in promoting human rights and the rule of law.

* I am proud that one of the most effective domestic torture treatment centers is located in Colorado. This year is the tenth anniversary of the Rocky Mountain Survivors Center (RMSC), which has served over 1,000 survivors of torture from over 53 different countries and regions around the world, in 35 languages. The RMSC is working hard to ensure that torture survivors in Colorado become functioning members of the citizenry through its in-house Legal Services, physical and mental healthcare, psychosocial services, and interpreter services. Most recently, RMSC introduced a community development effort to bring the topic of torture and its impact to newcomer communities in Colorado and hear from those newcomers what that impact has been on the larger community, the families of survivors and the survivors themselves.

* The Rocky Mountain Survivor Center also educates providers, healthcare systems, and community members about torture and how to work to heal the wounds of torture, as well as how to work to ameliorate and eradicate torture itself. The RMSC stands firmly as a voice for the voiceless in Colorado and as a beacon of hope for those whose hope has been stolen by torture. Domestic centers like RMSC receive funding from the Office of Refugee Settlement in the Health and Human Services Department and other private sources to assist survivors of torture and war trauma and their families. But levels of funding for the domestic and international parts of this program don't begin to match authorization levels. Domestic torture treatment programs were funded at almost $10 million in FY 2007 (and have been funded at this same level since 2000), fully $15 million short of authorized levels. International torture treatment centers were funded at $8.5 million in FY07, $4.5 million short of authorized levels. And the U.S. contribution to the U.N. Fund for Victims of Torture was funded at $6.5 million in FY07, $1.5 million short of authorized levels.

* The Torture Victims Relief Act is vitally necessary for the work of rehabilitation in this country, but the domestic portion of the bill is woefully underfunded to accomplish this task. There are well over 500,000 survivors of torture in America today, many of whom do not get the services they need because of the shortage of funds. The U.N. Fund and international portions of the bill should also be generously funded to ensure America's leadership in the fight against torture throughout the world through partnerships and building capacity at centers devoted to healing of torture victims.

* When Congress adopted the Torture Victims Relief Act last year, we made a commitment to ensure our population of victims of torture wouldn't be left behind. Now is the time to fulfill that promise and demonstrate that survivors of torture won't be forgotten on our watch.

* So I am pleased that this bill passed overwhelmingly in the House, and I urge my colleagues to demonstrate the same enthusiasm when considering appropriation levels for TVRA programs in the next fiscal year.

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