News Updates

Torture is Wrong: We must stop it

01 October 2014
Torture is Wrong: We must stop it

Response of Father Michael Lapsley on Receivimg the Heroes Award from the Program for Torture victims in Los Angeles 30 September 2014

Torture is wrong: We must stop it

I am humbled to receive this award tonight.

I do so as Director of the Institute for Healing of Memories which is a member of SANTOC a Coalition of South African òrganisations advocating àgainst torture and for full redress for victims of torture.

As you saw in the clip, I also spent 5 years as Chaplain to a Trauma centre for victims of violence and Torture.

Personally, I was a victim of state terrorism.

I would like to begin firstly to acknowledge those who are here tonight who have been tortured.

I am sorry about what was done to you. No human being deserves to be tortured.

I wish to also honour PTVLA and all those colleagues across the world who walk beside torture victims on what is often a very long journey towards healing

Thank you to all the advocates against torture
.
I recently read Rebecca Gordon's definitive work "Mainstreaming Torture - Ethical Approaches in the Post 9/11 United States.

In this pervasive çlimate of fear, ìt is depressing to read in Gordon's work that public opinion in support òf torture continues to grow, here in the United States. 

The moral danger is that the United States becomes undifferentiated from that which it abhors.

Many of us would argue that the death penalty is a form of torture. The world looks on in horror as we begin to witness more botched executions in the US, in part because more civilised nations will no longer allow their companies to export the deadly cocktails needed for judicial killings.

Of some comfort is that there appears to be an inexorable process of abolition happening across the US.

Across the world there was great rejoicing in the human rights community when President Obama signed the executive order against torture and promised to close the torture chamber called Guantanamo and to return to the rule of law.

We should acknowledge the role of some senior figures in the military in advocating àgainst torture.
.
Nevertheless it is Gordon's work that documents the systematic teaching and use of torture by the US since Vietnam.

How many of the clients of PTVLA were tortured by people trained in the United States or by citizens of the United States?

Yesterday I spent 3 hours at Victorville United States Penitentiary visiting Gerardo Hernandez Nordelo – one of the five Cuban Heroes who is in the 16th year of incarceration for seeking to prevent terrorism against his motherland. For the first 6 months he was held in solitary confinement and still today his wife is prevented from visiting him.

In South Africa torture was widespread and endemic during the apartheid years and the victims included thousands of young people às well as many children. Despite fighting a noble cause the liberation movement was also guilty of torture.

The soul of our nation has been scarred by torture. We have suffered moral and spiritual injury.

Many wounds have not yet healed especially for those who still await acknowledgement, reparation and redress.

Unfortunately our negotiating process did not allow for lustration even for professional torturers.

The Bill of Rights of our constitution prohibits torture and we are signatories to other UN and African legal instruments outlawing torture.

However only in July 2013 did torture become a punishable offence indeed a crime in domestic law in South Africa. It's legal effect is forward looking so it provides no remedy for past victims.

Whilst thankfully we have abolished the death penalty, torture continues to happen in South Africa.

Today's victims are in most cases what we might call "unpopular" victims - people for whom society has scant regard or who have little political clout such as criminals, refugees, foreign nationals, the LGBTI community and sex workers....sometimes simply ordinary citizens who fall foul of law enforcement officers.

There is still much to be done...to heal the wounds of the past, to hold accountable the torturers, to challenge those either in the political class or the academy who would undermine the moral universe by seeking to justify the unjustifiable. ...And above all to stop torture.

For a person of faith we believe that we all have something of the divine in each of us. Thus torture spiritually damages tortured and torturer alike.


When a society defends or excuses torture the soul of the nation is spiritually and morally damaged.

Those of us who are Christians cannot be neutral about torture. We are followers of the tortured one – an innocent man tortured to death.

So dear friends we can either curse the darkness or light a candle. ..Thank you to the Programme for Torture Victims in Los Angeles for lighting a candle.

About Us

The Institute for the Healing of Memories seeks to contribute to the healing journey of individuals, communities and nations. Our work is grounded in the belief that we are all in need of healing, because of what we have done, what we have failed to do, and what has been done to us.

Contact Us

  • Institute for Healing of Memories
    5 Eastry Road, Claremont,
    Cape Town, 7708, South Africa

  • +27 21 683 6231

  • info@healingofmemories.co.za