An international group that helps victims of torture received the world's largest humanitarian prize for its efforts on Wednesday. The winner of this year's million-dollar Conrad Hilton Humanitarian Prize is the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims. The Denmark-based organization supports more than 200 rehabilitation centers in 80 countries. The centers offer medical and therapeutic treatment to thousands of victims of torture each year.
The Dalai Lama, ending a tour of the United States in New York City, commended the group's work before a host of human rights leaders and government dignitaries. He urged greater support for the efforts of the International Rehabilitation Council.
"In general, we find in all the great teachings of the major faiths and traditions of the world, emphasis on ethical ideals such as sense of community, the sense of brotherhood and sisterhood of all humankind," he said. "So it becomes very important as members of human society to pay particular attention to the individuals who have suffered at the hands of fellow human beings or a group of people."
Dr. Jens Modvig, the secretary-general of the IRCT, which represents the worldwide network of doctors and mental health professionals that treats victims of torture, says receiving the humanitarian award puts the spotlight on the widespread use of torture.
"You have focused world attention on the fact that torture continues to be widely practiced despite its absolute prohibition," he said. "You have recognized and validated the suffering of the torture victims."
Amchok Thubten is a former monk from Tibet. The 42-year-old husband and father says he was tortured in Tibet, but he credits the help he received from one of New York's centers for torture victims with saving his life.
"Being a victim of torture, I was actually severely injured by the beatings and a gunshot in my left shoulder and my legs and hands had been broken," he said. "The physical scars may not have been left when I arrived here, but I had a great deal of psychological issues. That prompted me to meet with the survivors of torture program at Bellevue Hospital. From there, I was starting to let other people know what was going on in my mind and what I have gone through."
The Conrad Hilton Foundation, which gives the annual humanitarian prize, is named for its founder, the late hotel entrepreneur who left the bulk of his fortune to help the most disadvantaged and vulnerable throughout the world.