Mobilizing public resources for a socially marginalized group

The ICAR Foundation in Romania pressured the government to help provide, first, the physical premises for tor­ture treatment centers and, second, the rights to free medicine and to insurance coverage for the specialized care and services required by torture survivors.

ICAR’s tactic is part of a strategy to convince the government to take responsibility for the nation’s past in order to build a better future. Many of the torturers from communist-era Romania escaped with impunity and some now occupy influential positions in society. Victims face a society in which substantial forces would prefer to forget the past — and its victims — rather than learn from that past in order to build a deeper civil commitment to democracy and human rights.

ICAR first sought to gain the trust of victims, working with the Romanian Association of Former Political Prison­ers, then identified the group’s unmet needs, including access to appropriate medical care and financial and legislative support. To meet these needs, ICAR targeted, among others, civil servants, medical professionals and officials at city, municipal and state agencies, such as the Ministry of Health, to provide professional services. ICAR also created alliances with other small civil society organizations, the media and the International Rehabili­tation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) in Denmark.

It took ten years, but ICAR convinced Romania’s government to acknowledge its responsibility to those who had suffered at the hands of the former regime.

For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study.

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What we can learn from this tactic: 

Identifying and, when possible, punishing abusers is only part of the equation. In seeking to redress human rights abuses, some groups seek compensation for victims, often in the form of treatment, financial compensa­tion or the return of confiscated property.

To be successful, groups must often force the current government to acknowledge its part in the abuse, and to take responsibility for compensating victims or helping them obtain treatment.

ICAR’s success was hard-won, and depended in large part on the political transition Romania was undergoing at that time. ICAR recognized, and used its connections to take advantage of, this political opening. New laws and the newly open society also allowed victims to organize without fear of reprisals. ICAR’s tactic served the dual purpose of compensating victims and ending government impunity.