"New Middle Ages: human rights defenders on tortures in modern Russia", Agency of Social Information

Событие | Пресс центр

14 October 2015

Leaders of human rights organizations tell about torture in modern Russia, to what extent they are common, how to fight it and what role in torture prevention the political will plays.
In the wide sense «torture» involves all the actions which are covered by Article 3 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of the Council of Europe. In the narrow sense it involves the use of force by the authority representatives with some definite aim, head of Agora association Pavel Chikov says. As a rule, torture is used in order to obtain confessions from the detainees, suspects and accused. In common understanding «torture» involves the police violence against the detainees.

«Torture is a crime of officials. It involves a person who has power and uses either physical or psychological violence. It can be any official who is invested with authority by the state. In the first place it is law-enforcement officers», – Public Verdict Foundation Director Natalya Taubina.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Article 3
No one shall be subjected to torture or violence, other brutal or or degrading treatment or punishment. No one may be subjected to medical, scientific or other experiments without his or her free consent.

Russian Constitution, part 2, Article 21

Human rights defenders emphasize that torture by the officials in Russia is a systematic phenomena. Taubina points out that in essence torture is one of the mechanisms for crimes investigation. «According to our practice, we can say that torture is used on the regular basis. We know cases from different regions. We even can say that there is information about the use of torture from virtually every region. Torture is used in order to obtain confessions or some information necessary in the framework of investigation. Torture is also used in order to demonstrate power», – she says.

Use of police violence in Russia is an absolutely generally common practice, Chikov says, and level of this violence varies and differs significantly from one region to another: how these crimes are investigated by investigative bodies, what verdicts the courts deliver. In some regions the police officers get real prison terms, but in the majority of regions only conditional sentence is used. «Beating up detainees to death occurs from time to time in every region on the small scale. Again, it depends on what we understand by «a lot». When ten people are beaten up to death in a year throughout the country – is this a large or small number? The question is rhetoric. I don’t think that anyone can seriously say that it is small number», – Chikov says.

Chairman of the Committee for Prevention of Torture Igor Kalyapin emphasizes: in Russia there is no reliable system of monitoring the crimes committed by law-enforcement agencies, which makes it impossible to provide statistic data. «Torture is punished, but using several articles. There is no clear statistics, due to the fact that the same articles are used for other crimes, not related to torture. As a result there is no reliable statistics on this type of crime», – human rights defender explains.

Element of crime
The only research that is able to provide some idea about the torture spread in the country was conducted ten years ago by the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Committee Against Torture ordered this research. It was conducted in five Russian cities. «Scientists from the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences say that it is a rather representative sampling for the RF. The results showed that 21% of the urban population of Russia in the course of a lifetime at least once is subjected to illegal violence by the authorities. Which means every fifth», – Kalyapin explains.

«Torture» is not criminalized as a separate element of crime in the Criminal Code, explains Taubina, that is why there is no reliable and comprehensive state statistics on this type of crime. «Torture», as a rule, is qualified as «abuse of office», the Russian legislation has not been brought in compliance with the international agreements ratified by Russia.

If «torture» is made a separate element of crime, it will actually amount to recognizing the existence of this problem, and since the state statistics, including the judicial statistics, is split per Articles of the Criminal Code of the RF, we would be able to see its scale immediately, points out Taubina. «If there is a separate article of the Criminal Code, then it be followed by a specific number. And it will mean that no one would be able to avoid recognizing the system-wide nature of the problem», – she emphasizes.

From the point of view of legal formality it would be right to bring the criminal law classification in accordance with the international standards and applicable practice of the European Court of Human Rights, says Chikov. But it is not the most obvious problem: for Strasbourg, for example, there is no principle difference what article is used to charge and convict the official for torture. From the point of view of international standards if there is investigation in place, if the guilty party is punished, if the adequate compensation is paid, if this punishment corresponds to the gravity of the committed crime, then there are no issues. And it is not important that this or that police officer was not convicted under article named «Torture».

In general, you can’t, but for the sake of struggle against crime — you may

«The most obvious problem is absence of the political will to investigate the cases of this sort. Field investigators is the main link, responsible for exposure of crime, and they must try to expose as many registered crimes as they can, and if they sometimes cross the line, it is generally admitted that though it is surely not a good thing, but since they were trying for the sake of such important thing as a struggle against crime, the attitude to them on the national scale is rather loyal», – Chikov explains.

It is necessary to get away with the system of unspoken silent permissiveness, says Kalyapin: «In reality a police officer realizes that one can use torture, but one cannot go too far so as not to get caught. You can apply torture, but in such a way that there are no traces, not to disable the victim. And once you use torture you must obtain a result. And what the defendant will be saying about torture after he has confessed, is not of much importance. He may say whatever he wants, no one is going to check it anyway and he will be still convicted by the judge».

In addition, there is another problem: the investigator, who needs to investigate a torture case, is in subordination with regard to people who actually apply torture. Actually, they are his colleagues, with whom he has been working for years and sometimes decades on exposing grave crimes. This is a problem of conflict of interests, which should have been resolved by creating a special branch in the Investigative Committee of the RF, aimed at investigating crimes committed by law-enforcement officials, in order to exclude this dependency between the torture case officer and the investigator. In practice this branch functions only nominally, Chikov points out, it cannot perform the task it was created for.

«For the investigators who are dealing with investigation of torture complaints, it is necessary to eliminate the motive, which makes investigating such cases so unappealing for them. In order to eliminate this motive such cases shall be investigated by officers who come from different territory with the police officer accused of torture. For every investigator it is a very traumatic situation when he has to investigate the case against his colleague. Although they may wear different uniform, they investigate a certain category of crimes together for many years: grave crimes, murders, violence. It’s elementary like ABC – eliminating the conflict of interests», – Kalyapin emphasizes.

Mechanisms that do not work

As to the Russian laws to fight torture, they are not so bad in their own right, the human rights defender thinks. The problem is that specific mechanisms stay unrealized. «There are remarkable departmental orders signed by the General Prosecutor of the RF for the Prosecutor’s Office and by the Chairman of the Investigative Committee for the Investigative Committee. These orders regulate the investigators’ work, in particular, their, work on exposure of crimes committed by law-enforcement officials. They are systematically violated by the same investigators who investigate crime complaints. And, as a rule, supervisors of these specific investigators turn a blind eye to these violations, and the violators of these orders remain unpunished. This is the evidence of lack of political will», – Kalyapin emphasized.

According to Pavel Chikov, a high-profile story about Dalniy police department is rather indicative. After this incident a number of criminal cases involving the police officers (different cases, not necessarily involving violence) have dramatically risen in Tatarstan. If in 2011 there were only 30 cases, in the following three years — almost 500. Out of these 500 cases dozens involved violence. «These cases were initiated after the direct order of Aleksandr Bastrykin [Chairman of the Investigative Committee of the RF — Editorial comment], who came to Kazan and declared that it was necessary to look through all the materials related to torture for the last five years, and in presence of medical documentation and agreement of the applicant criminal cases shall be opened and taken to court», – Chikov says. According to his observations, at the moment the practice of using violence by the police in the Republic of Tatarstan ceased to be common, only isolated cases remain.

What kind of reforms are needed

Human rights defenders emphasize: it is necessary to conduct a comprehensive reform of police and change the practice of judges who ignore the regulation that evidence obtained under torture cannot be taken into account in court proceedings. The branch of the Investigative Committee on investigating the crimes of the officials shall normally function: «It continues to be a virtually half-dead body. We are aware only of several cases which these investigators had a chance to work with. And, as a rule, these are high-profile cases», – Natalya Taubina emphasizes.

Kalyapin thinks that it is the Investigative Committee that must change the situation with torture: «It is for the Investigative Committee to execute 21 Article of the Constitution, where it is established that torture is prohibited. The Investigative Committee must speak out and pronounce that yes, indeed, torture and use of illegal violence amount to a crime, and that no one doing it will escape from responsibility. But the Investigative Committee does not say that. Most part of the facts of such violence use remain completely unpunished».

Human rights defenders-«agents»

Only a tiny percent of people who faced the torture problem apply to human rights defenders. Kalyapin says that in his opinion about 90% of victims do not apply anywhere — either to the state official agencies or to human rights organizations. «A man remained alive, he was not brought to any criminal responsibility, so praise the Lord, he is trying to forget it as soon as he can, to go on living and to be reminded of this horror that he lived through as rarely as possible», – the human rights defender thinks.

The number of people who apply to human rights defenders depends a lot on how well-known the organization is, what image it has and what the image of the human rights groups currently have in general. «In the past few months the number of applications to our organization has decreased. I do not think that it is because there has been less torture. Judging by the actions that are reported by our applicants, there has been more torture, not less, because these actions became more insolent and daring», –Kalyapin says.

The human rights defender thinks that the decreased number of applications is related to the law on «foreign agents» and its law enforcement practice. «People tend to have less confidence in human rights defenders due to this defamation campaign. And people are a bit afraid of specifically our organization, because there have been a lot of high-profile publications about the Committee Against Torture being «foreign agents», – Kalyapin is convinced. The Committee Against Torture, Agora and The Public Verdict make up an exhaustive list of organizations dealing with legal aspect of the torture problem, rendering legal assistance to the victims, says Kalyapin. All the three organizations at various times have been declared «foreign agents» and compulsorily included in the appropriate register of the Ministry of Justice of the RF. The Committee Against Torture has been dissolved – there is the Committee for Prevention of Torture, a new legal entity that works without foreign funding.

Agora and the Committee Against Torture have been declared «foreign agents» precisely for their suggestion to reorganize the Investigative Committee in order to make it a more radical and effective tool for struggle with torture, says Kalyapin: «That’s our suggestions to Aleksandr Bastrykin that were considered to be notorious «political activity».

Source: Agency of Social Information
Author: Georgiy Ivanushkin