Igor Kalyapin: “That is why I decided to give mind wholly to defense of human rights"

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21 June 2018

In the framework of Team Brave, Amnesty International project, Chairman of the Committee Against Torture Igor Kalyapin told why he became involved in defense of human rights, focusing on the problem of torture.

“I lived my whole life in Nizhny Novgorod. I suppose, my favorite place is Schelkovsky Khutor — green belt at the city outskirts. Main events and meditations of my life are related to this place, its rivers and lakes. It is there where my father taught me to ski, it is there where I observe elks, roaming around, it is there where still I go to have a walk. Once a year I go for a couple of weeks to the north of the Nizhny Novgorod region, where I have a hunting hut, and I walk in the woods to hunt black grouses. I wander and try not to think about work. Not to recall what was happening in Nizhny Novgorod and in Orenburg, in Moscow and in all cities of Russia. About what happened, and what made me change my life drastically.

I started defense of human rights back in the beginning of the 90s, soon after I got acquainted with Boris Nemtsov. But at that time it was not the first priority to me. I would even say that it was not even second or third priority, but was looming up somewhere in the background. I was in business and wholeheartedly believed that market economy and free competition will become triggers for development of democracy and civil society. But the reality was different. Every business was under pressure from racketeers, in addition — from civil servants and the Ministry of the Interior. Once I became an obstacle to someone and a criminal case on embezzlement of the funds was forged against me. After apprehension for 24 hours I was beaten up at the police department. When after that the police brought me to the Detention Facility, at first the facility officers did not want to accept me – they were afraid I might not make it till morning, and they would be made responsible.

For three months at the Detention Facility I experienced first-hand the terrible conditions in which the convicts were kept back then, and which now are impossible – overcrowded cells, lack of air and light, myriads of bedbugs and lice. But in the end I had incredible luck. The guilty of embezzlement were found and I was released. And I already was morally prepared to be put to prison for 10 years and that no one would help me.

After that I rethought a lot of things and understood a lot. No matter what success I achieve in business, what luxurious the cars I drive and what expensive suits I wear, myself, as any other businessman and any other person in Russia, may be brought to criminal responsibility at any moment. Absolutely innocent, not even under articles relating to my activity. But the main horror is not even to be brought to trial. There I realized that any person may be forced to confess of anything, even of murder. That is why I decided to give mind wholly to defense of human rights, focusing on the problem of torture.

In 2000, together with other human rights defenders, I found the Committee Against Torture (CAT) in Nizhny Novgorod. For the past 18 years our organization achieved significant results — we managed to establish 173 facts of torture and successfully insist on conviction of 136 guilty persons. But the main thing is that we were able to convince the power authorities to acknowledge that such a problem exists.

It is very important for me that people gradually become more willing to apply to courts to seek justice in a legal way. I would not go as far as to say that it is our exclusive achievement, but I would like to believe that we also contributed to this.

The main compliment to CAT was, strange as it may seem, made by our adversary, a high-ranking military officer. A police officer, who realized he would be soon arrested for torture, came to him for help and tried to resolve “the problem with CAT”. This military officer listened to the scared police officer and replied: “I’m afraid I cannot be of any help. This CAT cannot be dealt with; we have no ways of putting pressure on them. And they don’t accept money, either”. One of the subordinates of this military officer, who was present during this conversation, told me about it. And this is exactly so. When I recruit lawyers, I always tell them that no-one will make them go against conscience and make conclusions with which they do not agree.

We, human rights organizations, perform a social mission. Very often our role is cardinally different from the role of a defense lawyer. Because the main objective of a defense lawyer is to have his client acquitted using any means available, whereas our objective is to achieve justice and punish those to beat up or tortured the victim. Sometimes, the police officers realize that a criminal case would be opened against them and propose a sort of “mutual settlement” – the victim waives his testimony, and they, in their turn, abridge the victim’s sentence. Some victims refuse to “cooperate” in such a way, but some agree. We always try to dissuade our clients from such deals, since in such a way the police officers escape from due punishment and become even more confident of their impunity.
 
What am I dreaming of? A lot. One of my wishes is that the civil society representatives are invited to discuss important social or political decisions at the state level, for example, appointment of an important civil servant. Usually only deputies are involved in that, and civil society representatives are perceived as opposition. But our independent work is vital for the society to develop in the right direction. And for the common people to be heard and to be able to achieve justice”.

Team Brave, Amnesty International project: 

“Even Pelé would not be able to win a football match on his own. In order to achieve a victory at the football field a coherent work of the whole team is required: attacking and defense players, goal keeper and a coach, players’ support at the bench. In Russia, hosting the World Football Cup of 2018, such a team exists — and I’m not talking about football here.
 
This team is brave enough to defend its fellow citizens: its participants tell about torture and abuse of power at the police departments, they struggle for that people in Russia can breathe fresh air and support those who is deprived of assistance so often — victims of domestic violence, commercial sex workers and ex-convicts”.