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Human Rights Defender Natalia Taubina on the UN, the Alternative Report and Torture in Russia

9 November 2012 

Source: (info)
There continue to be many complaints in Russia about torture and inhumane treatment. This is discussed in a report submitted by a group of Russian human rights organisations to the UN Committee Against Torture. Among the authors of the report, which demands that the Criminal Code should provide for punishment of those guilty of torture, are representatives of three NGOs based in Moscow - Public Verdict Foundation, Memorial, the Institute for Human Rights - and the Committee Against Torture based in Nizhny Novgorod. One of the authors, human rights defender Natalia Taubina, spoke about the report to Dinara Setdikova, a Radio Liberty correspondent.

‘This Alternative Report, prepared by a coalition of Russian NGOs, covers various aspects of the way our country fulfils its obligations, as laid down by the Convention against Torture. This concerns the use of torture by the police; the situation in penal institutions; the problem of institutionalised bullying; and other forms of cruel, humiliating practices within the army. The report also deals with psychiatric institutes and the problems there of cruel treatment, and the absence of appropriate methods of oversight over compulsory treatment; the absence of effective investigations into all these crimes; and the absence of rehabilitation procedures for victims. Immediately after the previous report had been reviewed in November 2006, the Russian Federation adopted a series of legislative and regulatory measures aimed at improving the situation; unfortunately these good initiatives did not lead to positive changes in practice. Take the creation by the Investigating Committee of a special subdivision with the task of investigating crimes by officials, for example. This did not lead to any reduction in torture by the police.’

But isn’t there some progress?

Since the last report was reviewed the only progress has been the passing of a law about public oversight, and the creation of public watchdog commissions. And this is a chance for civil society to implement independent monitoring of places of detention. But in practice we see that even this mechanism is subject to constant pressure from the authorities.’

Why did Russian officials respond to this report in an aggressive way and declare that there was no need to wash our dirty linen in public?

'The Russian Federation itself submitted a report to the UN Committee and the Committee will be considering the report of the Russian Federation. Unfortunately, it is not very informative about law enforcement practice and is based on a recital of legislative changes and official government statistics that quite weakly reflect real practice and do not provide any information about what is really happening on the ground.’

Are there any recommendations in the report about what should be done?

‘Yes, there are a few pages of recommendations. The report also raises the issue of the effectiveness of investigating crimes connected with torture and inhumane treatment; issues related to the conditions of the penitentiary system; problems in the army; and the implementation of the decisions of the European Court, and so on. If our recommendations were carried out, we would hope that the situation would change for the better.’

You are presenting your report to the UN and proposing your recommendations. Do you think it’s possible that the Russian authorities could be influenced by this report?

‘On the basis of the review it conducts, the UN Committee Against Torture will prepare its own final comments. This document will reflect positive aspects, issues with which they are concerned, and will present a list of recommendations, which, as the Committee considers, Russia must carry out in order to largely meet its responsibilities under the Convention.

‘According to the results of the previous review in 2006, the Committee came up with a list of 20 recommendations. Part of these were accepted by the Russian side, such as the creation of the Investigative Committee as a separate body outside the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

‘This was the recommendation of the Committee Against Torture. The Russian Federation accepted this recommendation and this was a positive step. But the matter was not followed through to the end, and in practice the Investigative Committee has not begun to investigate cases of torture any more effectively.’