Today, the UN Committee Against Torture published its recommendations for Russia on implementation of the Convention Against Torture.
As we have previously reported, in July of this year, there was a review of the sixth periodic report of Russia on compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Apart from the official delegation, Russian human rights defenders and journalists participated in the report’s review. They provided their alternative reports dedicated to the observance of the Convention by our country.
Based on the results of this review, the UN Committee Against Torture experts (hereinafter – the Committee) prepared their recommendations for Russia. Let us point out some of them.
In particular, the Committee expressed concern with the fact that in the period from 2012 to 2015 only two cases of violent abductions were investigated in Chechnya, whereas the European Court of Human Rights issued over a hundred rulings for this type of cases for the same period of time. The Committee is also concerned about reports on targeted attacks and repressions against human rights defenders, journalists and defense lawyers dealing with cases of human rights violations, as well as about unwillingness of power authorities to bring the culprits to responsibility. The experts of the Committee specifically pointed out the case of attacking the group of journalists and human rights defenders in Chechnya in March 2016 during the press-tour, as well as the arrest and taking into custody of head of the Grozny branch of Memorial human rights center Oyub Titiev.
With this regard, the Committee recommended that Russia takes all the steps required for:
– prompt, objective and effective investigation of all past and present cases of human rights violation, including abductions, arbitrary apprehensions, tortures, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions at North Caucasus, punishment of the guilty parties and providing the victims with compensation for damage inflicted;
– ensuring safety of torture victims and their families, defense lawyers, journalists and human rights defenders, so that they are protected against prosecutions by state authorities and that the reports about such prosecutions, including the above-mentioned cases in Chechnya, were investigated in order to bring the culprits to responsibility.
The Committee pointed out that in its previous comments Russia was asked to provide information on the progress of implementation of recommendation on detention facilities monitoring, as well as on what measures the state was taking in order to prevent harassment and attacks against human rights defenders, and how these cases are investigated. In present circumstances the Committee pointed out that the state did not perform sufficient measures for sorting out these problems.
The Committee members also expressed concern that the continuing absence of financing of the Public Monitoring Committees (hereinafter – PMC) led to decrease of visits to detention facilities. The Committee pointed out that a lot of people with work experience in law-enforcement became members of PMCs, which influences their objectivity and independence. The Committee expressed concern with regard to reports of the cases when PMC members were denied access to detention facilities and it was prohibited to bring in photo and video equipment.
– provide for effective and independent functioning of PMC, including by providing sufficient personnel and financial resources and ensuring that the PMC composition complies with the requirements established in the legislation, aiming at providing their objectivity and independence;
– provide free access to PMC members to all detention facilities, including psychiatric establishments, so that they are able to have confidential conversations with the detained, and that any authorities, including the prison administration, who obstruct their work, are subjected to corresponding punishment;
– take all the measures required for relevant authorities to promptly respond to the PMC conclusions and recommendations;
– consider providing an opportunity for NGOs to regularly monitor detention facilities in addition to monitoring by PMC.
The Committee once again emphasized the concerns with regards to reports of cases of intimidation, abduction, arbitrary apprehensions, tortures and assassinations of human rights defenders, defense lawyers, journalists and political leaders and absence of effective investigation of such acts, including the high-profile cases of Anna Politkovskaya assassination in 2006 and of Natalya Estemirova assassination in 2009. In addition, the Committee expresses concern with regard to continuous reports stating that law “On foreign agents” is often used for clampdown on human rights organization and, ultimately, leads to stopping their activity.
With regard to this, the member state should urgently:
– ensure that human rights organizations are able to freely perform their work and activities;
– take action to protect human rights defenders, defense lawyers and journalists against intimidations and attacks, investigate all the reports of such acts, prosecute and punish the culprits and provide the victims and their families with compensation for damage inflicted, including effective means of legal remedy and adequate compensation;
– ensure that human rights defenders, journalists and defense lawyers are not subjected to repressions, including to administrative intimidations for their connection with treaty bodies of the United Nations organization, including the UN Committee Against Torture.
In addition, the Committee expressed regret as to the fact that Russia has not yet criminalized torture as a separate crime in the Criminal Code. The Committee once again appealed to Russia to qualify torture as a separate crime.
The Committee expressed concern with regard to the reports that in practice the guarantees against torture are often not applied with regard to the detained. The Committee expressed regret in relation to the information that defense lawyers are often denied the right of access to their clients under custody. The Committee is still concerned with the fact that the detained may be deprived from their right of communication with their relatives. According to the reports, prison doctors often refuse to conduct appropriate and confidential examination of bodily injuries. The Committee also expresses concern about absence of information on centralized register of detainees and on the rules regulating the use of video surveillance in detention facilities.
Russia should provide for all the main legal guarantees from the very start of the period of restraint of liberty to all detainees both at the level of legislation and in real practice. In particular, the following should be provided:
– all the detainees should have real and prompt access to qualified independent lawyer or free legal support, especially during interrogations at police departments; the right of notifying a relative or other person in order to inform about the causes of apprehension and the whereabouts of detention. Russia should regularly monitor that law-enforcement officers provide these legal remedies, punish for any failure to comply with these remedies, as well as collect and provide data on cases when officials were subjected to disciplinary or other actions for incompliance with these remedies;
– the right to request and undergo medical examination by an independent doctor from the very beginning of the period of restraint of liberty; medical examinations are conducted out of the audibility limit and beyond the vision of police officers and the prison personnel; medical workers are not subjected to any illegitimate pressure or reprisals when performing their duty;
– all cases of restraint of liberty are immediately registered in the centralized register of persons kept in custody, and all family members of the detainees and their defense lawyers had a right of access to information related to this detainee;
– video recording of all interrogations, as well as video surveillance, is performed at all detention facilities where detainees may be located, except for cases of violation of rights of detainees to privacy or to confidential communication with their defense lawyer or a doctor. Such records should be kept in safe premises and provided to investigators, detainees and their defense lawyers.
The Committee is deeply concerned with numerous credible reports on the practice of torture and brutal treatment in Russia and with the fact that torture complaints rarely lead to criminal prosecution.
The Committee strongly urges Russia to fight the situation where tortures are unpunished, including through high-ranking government officials publicly and categorically proclaiming prohibition of tortures, and everyone applying them will be brought to criminal responsibility.
Taking into consideration the answers from the Russian delegation that the prosecutors are informed about each cases of torture or brutal treatment with the detainees within one day with confirming documentation, the Committee is still concerned with regard to consistent and numerous reports, demonstrating the absence of prompt, objective and effective investigation of reports of torture or brutal treatment.
The Committee is also concerned with regard to information that many torture reports are rejected by the investigators at the stage of pre-investigation check and do not lead to initiating criminal proceedings. The Committee also expresses regret with regard to absence of statistical information with details on the number of received complaints of torture by official authorities representatives, on the number of investigated complaints, on the number of criminal cases initiated against the guilty parties. The Committee also expresses concern with regard to reports on insufficient manpower and financial resources allotted to the Investigative Committee department which investigates the crimes of law-enforcement agencies representatives.
– promptly, effectively and objectively investigate all the incidents and claims of torture and brutal treatment, bring to responsibility all the persons declared guilty and publicly announce the results of such criminal cases;
– abstain from checking the torture complaints in the framework of pre-investigation check and immediately initiate criminal proceedings;
– strengthen the potential of the special unit of the Investigative Committee which is in charge of investigating the crimes of law-enforcement agencies representatives, including by providing free access to all detention facilities, as well as to the evidence and providing sufficient manpower and financial resources to enable the unit to effectively operate in all the Russian Federation constituent entities;
– collect and provide to the Committee statistical data with details on the number of received torture complaints, on the number of complaints that were investigated, and on court proceedings.
The Committee recommends that Russia ratifies the Optional protocol to the Convention Against Torture and creates the national preventive mechanism.
Russia needs to ensure that all individuals, especially the detainees, are able to have confidential communication about tortures with an independent investigative authority. Russia needs to take all measures necessary to protect the detainees, who complain of tortures, from reprisals.
The Committee expressed concern with regard to reports that the victims rarely receive compensation and even when they do, the sum of it remains minimal. No statistical data on compensations provided to torture victims is available.
The Committee strongly urges that Russia ensures that all the victims of torture, including the relatives of the disappeared persons, receive the redemption for damage, including adequate compensation and rehabilitation, involving the cases when the criminal is not identified or convicted for committing a crime. Russia should collect and provide the data to the Committee on total number of applied lawsuits on compensation for moral damage, on the number of satisfied lawsuits, as well as on the amount of compensation awarded by the courts.
While acknowledging various educational programs for state officials in Russia, the Committee still is concerned with the fact that the education on human rights issues, including on prohibition of torture, is not mandatory for all law-enforcement officials, military and judicial officials. The Committee is also expresses concern with regard to the fact that not all medical workers who work with the convicts pass the training in accordance with the Istanbul protocol on torture.
– provide for mandatory training of law-enforcement officers, prison personnel, judges, prosecutors, judicial officers, lawyers and military officers on issues related to the Convention and absolute prohibition of torture;
– make the Istanbul protocol an integral part of preparation for all medical workers and other state officials engaged in work with convicts;
– implement educational programs on investigation methods which do not involve putting pressure on a person.
The Committee asked Russia to provide information on subsequent measures with relation to the Committee’s recommendations regarding the investigation of tortures and brutal treatment, the case of Evgeny Makarov and attacks against human rights defenders and journalists, by 10 August 2019. With regard to this, it is proposed that Russia informs the Committee about the plan of implementation of some of all outstanding recommendations, contained in the conclusive comments, in the forthcoming reporting period.
“We are satisfied with the fact that the UN Committee Against Torture in its recommendations touched upon all the relevant issues which were raised by human rights defenders in their alternative reports. Especially we would like to emphasize the recommendations concerning public monitoring, providing for effective operation of special units of the Investigative Committee, investigation of cases concerning enforced disappearances in the Northern Caucasus, – lawyer with the Committee Against Torture Dmitry Kazakov, the author of alternative report, comments. – Certainly, now a lot of will depend on what recommendations will be considered possible to implement by the Russian Federation. As early as at the stage of reviewing the report we noted skeptical attitude of the officials to reinforcement of special units of the Investigative Committee, which are responsible for investigation of the crimes committed by law-enforcement officers. And, when describing the extension of the PMC, the Russian representative failed to mention the prohibition to “foreign agent” NGOs to nominate their members to the committees. That is why we are waiting for the reaction of Russia to the issued recommendations with a mild scepsis”.
Every four years the Russian Federation should report to the UN Committee Against Torture on what measures were taken to eradicate torture. Our country accepted this responsibility in 1987, when it ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. According to the current procedure, the UN Committee conducts official consultations with human rights organizations and other NGOs before the report. By these consultations the Committee members aim at receiving additional information on the situation with torture in the country from the people who deal with torture victims in the practice of their work.
Based on the results of the official report review the UN Committee Against Torture experts will submit their recommendations to the Russian authorities. The member-state is proposed to inform the Committee on its plans within the forthcoming reporting period of recommendations, contained in the comments.