Human Dimension Implementation Meeting,
Warsaw, 28 September 2009 – 9 October 2009
Working session: Rule of Law II
Chairman of NGO “Committee Against Torture” (Russia)
Two years ago we conducted a sociological research in order to find out how often people in Russia are abused by state agents. The research was performed by the Sociology Institute of the Russian Academy of Science in five Russian regions. The result was mind-blowing – one person out of five claimed that at least once in his/her life he/she had been abused by law enforcement staff.
Some scholars say that this horrifying situation occurs because many law enforcement agents lack proper education, the Russian law is not perfect, etc. I agree that these factors greatly influence the work of the police in any country. BUT I strongly disagree that they are the key reasons for the present-day situation in Russia.
First of all, I should say that cruel, inhuman treatment or tortures are expressly and unambiguously prohibited by the RF Constitution, federal laws and numerous norms regulating the work of the police as a whole, its various departments and individual officials. Tortures are qualified as abuse of office, i.e. a grave crime which can be punished by 3 to 10 years of imprisonment. Nevertheless, tortures are used, and it happens much too often. What is the reason for that? Every Russian citizen knows that not all rules, laws and norms are to be observed. The great Russian historian – Nikolay M. Karamzin – wrote 200 years ago: “The severity of Russian laws is commonly mitigated by non-mandatory execution”. As you can see, the situation has not changed much in two hundred years. Many Russian regulations exist only as a declaration, or even as a camouflage.
It is very easy to identify such regulations – one is not punished for violating them. Prohibition of torture is one of such inoperative norms. It is evident that it is no use improving the existing legislation, adding new regulations until their execution becomes BINDING, until one is held RESPONSIBLE for breaching them. At the present moment torture cases in Russia reach the court only when there is a lot of public attention attached to them, when mass media is actively involved or when such cases or taken over by NGOs that are capable of granting the victims professional legal aid for free during a long period of time.
At the same time, in Russia there is a special state body having the necessary jurisdiction to investigate each torture application. This is the Investigation Committee under the RF Prosecutor’s Office. Our organization’s staff mainly consists of practicing lawyers. We have managed to take several dozens of torture cases to court, and I can assure you that in the majority of cases prosecutorial investigators do not only fail to conduct an effective investigation, but vice versa – actively try to prevent punishment of perpetrators.
This can be explained by the fact that most often tortures are used by police officers upon the request of investigators who investigate the gravest crimes. Thus, the investigator is supposed to investigate the offense encouraged either by himself or his colleague (most often these investigators work in the same regional office).
I am sure that the only possible solution to this problem of impunity and disregard of law is to change the system of law enforcement bodies’ interaction while investigating into the allegation of police abuse, in particular, tortures. But this requires involvement of highest-level policy-makers. At present, obviously, there is no such inclination among RF leaders.