Russia reluctantly opens the lid on torture

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Europe’s highest profile anti-torture body has found widespread torture in Russia’s North Caucasus. This depressing account is disclosed in a rare expert report.

For only the second time ever the Russian government has agreed to release the torture related findings of Europe’s highest profile anti-torture body, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT). After 25 visits to Russia in the course of nearly 15 years the Russian government has agreed to publish the report of the CPT’s 2011 fact-finding visit to the North Caucasus. During its visit the CPT found that ‘a significant proportion’ of persons interviewed by it had been ill-treated by law enforcement officials. ‘Frequently’ the abuse was of such severity that it amounted to torture. 

The CPT’s critical assessment of the treatment of people detained by police in the Chechen Republic, Dagestan and Ossetia is underpinned by multiple cases of abuse. The Council of Europe’s expert body describes these cases as “but a small selection of those found by the delegation … in which the findings were clearly indicative of torture/severe ill-treatment by law enforcement officials.”

In one of numerous instances highlighted in the report the CPT interviewed a victim of police abuse who had been interrogated by police in November 2010 in the southern Russian city of Vladikavkaz. Police officers allegedly beat the handcuffed man and placed a gas mask on his head with its eyeholes covered over. The victim was then placed down on the floor and subjected to electroshocks. 

Upon visiting the police facility in question in 2011, the CPT stated in its new report that it “.. found, in a cupboard, a gas mask, the eyeglasses of which had been covered by sticking thick paper to them.” It added: “Neither the operational officers present nor the commander … could provide a convincing explanation of why such a customised gas mask should be present in that cupboard.” Photographs of the said gas mask are attached to appendix III of the CPT’s report. 

Report raises more questions

This and other depressing images contained in the report clearly lend force to the argument why robust, independent monitoring of all places of detention is essential in the country. Russia has not yet signed or ratified the UN torture prevention treaty, OPCAT, which allows for such access by independent experts.

The release of the 2011 CPT report, while a welcome move by the Russian authorities, also raises the important question of what disturbing findings are contained in the reports of the CPT’s 20+ other visits to the country? If this newly published report is indicative of the general treatment of persons by police in Russia, then their contents do not bode well.