26 June 2008

  On the 26th of June the world commemorated the Un International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. This day proclaimed by the UNO in 1997 is targeted at elimination of tortures and ensuring effectiveness of the European convention for the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Since 2004 the Public Verdict Foundation has granted legal assistance in connection with human rights protection to people who suffered from police abuse and tortures in Russia. The aim of the Foundation is to create the atmosphere of intolerance towards human rights violations effected by law enforcement agents in the country. The founders of the Foundation are wide-known Russian human rights and charity organizations – Memorial International Society; Moscow Helsinki Group; International NGO Open Russia; Democracy International Foundation (Alexander Yakovlev’s Foundation); Russian Regions Foundation.  
Only in 2007 the Foundation received 116 applications from Russian citizens from all over the country, the major part of the applications is connected with tortures and inhuman treatment by the police. 30 law enforcement agents were charged with official malfeasance (articles 285, 286 of the RF Criminal Code). 14 of the accused were found guilty. The charges against 16 other officers are not dismissed yet.
The Public Verdict Foundation published the book “Tortures in Russia. Opinion of the authorities, human rights defenders and the UN Committee against Torture” which includes documents characterizing the situation in Russia from the point of view of observing the European convention for the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The book includes analysis of cases of torture application against Russian citizens. Among the documents there is an Alternative Report prepared by the Russian NGO Coalition and recommendations of Russian human rights defenders for the country to better perform its obligations under the Convention. 
Since 2007 the Public Verdict Foundation supported by the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture has implemented the project for psychological and psychosocial rehabilitation of Russian citizens who suffered from tortures and police abuse.  
How burning is the issue of tortures for Russia? What should the state and society do in order for the notion of torture to be less and less invoked in connection with the activities of the police, Prosecutor’s office and other law enforcement bodies? We asked famous human rights defenders and lawyers to answer these questions. 
Natalia Taubina, Director, the Public Verdict Foundation:
“The problem is important, this is confirmed by our activity. At present about 70% of cases in procedure of the Foundation are somehow connected with tortures and violent treatment by law enforcement agents.
There is a way to solve the problem provided there is a political will and wish to reform law enforcement agencies. And human rights should be the cornerstone of this reform. We can speak about improving the staff qualification and material and technical means. But we should not forget about the investigation quality and inevitability of punishment for grave malfeasance in office. Here the society is to play an important part. But the impetus should spring from within. The society must be interested in controlling law enforcement activities. When the state is answerable to the society and the society is controlled by the state, there is a chance to change something.”
Tamara Morschakova, retired judge, advisor of the RF Constitutional Court:
“There is enough work for both: the authorities and the society. But in the first place there should be legislation changes: at the least, every detainee should undergo a medical examination, so that later we could compare and prove that the person was or was not tortured. But this is not sufficient – unfortunately, now people have learnt to by-pass any law. Each detainee should have the right to turn for help to public organizations, call some special number and get legal advice.  We also need to change the law enforcement practice, conduct seminars for law enforcement agents, encourage personal security services. The responsibility mechanism must be operative. There can be no case when the party guilty of tortures escapes punishment.”
Boris Zolotukhin, lawyer, member of Moscow Helsinki Group, one of the directors of the Public Verdict Foundation:
“This is a problem of utmost importance. Application of tortures destroys the hope for a fair sentence. Information obtained by tortures can not be used to pass a fair sentence. The struggle against tortures should be of national character. Tortures can exist in a country only by consent of the authorities, and if they do exist, if the authorities do not fight them – this means, tortures are beneficial. They are for the benefit of unskilled law enforcement agents who can not work with evidence. In general, I find the term “law enforcement” inappropriate. In the Soviet times these bodies were called “punitive”, this notion better characterizes the purpose of their work.”
Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Chair, Moscow Helsinki Group, member of the Public Verdict Foundation Founder’s  Board:
“The torture issue is very acute in our country. Before the Public Verdict Foundation appeared, it was a very difficult for human rights defenders to start a case in connection with abuse of powers by law enforcement agents, such cases were rarely instigated. What the Foundation and other human rights organizations do has already influenced the law enforcement operation. I cannot say that tortures ceased, but, perhaps, the law enforcement staff has understood that they can be held liable for their actions. As for the Moscow police, in my opinion, the number of torture cases has decreased. It is very important that the Public Verdict Foundation promotes creation of similar organizations in the regions. The society can also help in solving the problem of tortures. In the first place, the citizens should make torture incidents public, although, it is obvious that many torture victims are reluctant to speak about that because they fear for their future. ”
Oleg Khabibrakhmanov, expert, The Multiregional Committee against Torture, head of the Department for Coordination of Regional Offices of the Committee against Torture:
“Our organization faces torture cases very day. At present, only during 8 years of the Committee operation, 46 law enforcement agents were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment. About 10 more people are charged with criminal offenses and are waiting for the verdict.
The approach to solving this problem should be similar to the approach to other burning issues. We should fight the conditions making tortures possible in the first place. And there are a lot of such conditions. It will take long to voice them all, but one of the major conditions is lack of appropriate reaction on behalf of the state which already on its own causes impunity. The Committee against Torture and its partners do their utmost to make the investigation bodies efficiently supervise law enforcement and conduct effective investigations into torture complaint of the citizens. We literally have to drag the cases into court overcoming the obstacles put by investigators and the Investigation Committee. If we do not do this, all torture cases are destroyed already at the preliminary investigation stage. 
On June 26 we should commemorate not the people who use tortures and indulge them, but those who lost their health, and quite often their lives as a result of encountering such “arms of the law”. And I hope that at least on this day these people will be remembered not only by human rights defenders, but also by those in our country who are capable and have the powers to change something in our country and ensure that the citizens perceive the police as defenders of law, not as its masters”. 

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