Committee against Torture
9 November 2012
The Committee against Torture this morning began its consideration of the fifth periodic report submitted by the Russian Federation on how it implements the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Introducing the report, Georgy Matyushkin, Deputy Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation, said that according to the Russian Constitution, the Convention against Torture had greater legal power compared to domestic law. That law established, just as the Convention, an absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. All State and municipal authorities were obliged to apply the provisions of the Convention without any limitations and torture and other acts prohibited by the Convention were prosecuted under the Criminal Code, regardless of the status and official position of the offender. Since Russia presented the report in 2010, the Russian authorities had been continuing to pursue their policy aimed at improving legislation and law enforcement practice. The objective was to reduce the number of persons in pre-trial detention centers during the pre-trial stage of criminal proceedings and those serving sentences in places of deprivation of liberty.
Felice Gaer, Committee Rapporteur for the report of the Russian Federation, appreciated the data on monitoring of detention facilities that the State party provided but wondered how often inspections had revealed rights violations and what the results were. Ms. Gaer was concerned that financial reasons may make it difficult for ombudsmen to visit detention facilities, many of which were located far away from the capital, asking whether steps to ensure the independence of ombudsmen of the executive branch had been considered.
Alessio Bruni, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the report of the Russian Federation, said while ill-treatment in prison facilities had increased over the years, reaching 7,400 cases in 2009, criminal action had decreased. How could this be explained? He was also concerned that in some cases solitary confinement could be imposed for up to six months even though the Special Rapporteur on Torture urged all States to abolish solitary confinement which may have irrevocable repercussions.
Other Committee members asked whether authorities considered incorporating into national law all elements of the definition of torture as set forth in the Convention. An Expert was concerned that the duration of custody was not limited and that access to lawyers and relatives was sometimes hampered. It was pointed out that there was a problem of enforced disappearances in the north, particularly in Chechnya, and that timely access to lawyers remained an issue of grave concern.
The delegation of the Russian Federation consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Investigative Committee, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defense, the Federal Migration Service, the Federal Penitentiary Service, the Office of the Prosecutor General, and the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. this afternoon when it will hear the replies of Gabon, which presented its initial report to the Committee on 8 November. The Committee will hear the replies of the Russian Federation at 3 p.m. on Monday, 12 November.
Report of Russian Federation
The fifth periodic report of Russian Federation can be read via the following link: CAT/C/RUS/5.
Presentation of the report of Russian Federation
GEORGY MATYUSHKIN, Deputy Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation, introducing the report, said according to the Russian Constitution, the Convention against Torture had greater legal power compared to domestic law. That law established, just as the Convention, an absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. All State and municipal authorities were obliged to apply the provisions of the Convention without any limitations and torture and other acts prohibited by the Convention were prosecuted under the Criminal Code, regardless of the status and official position of the offender. Cooperation with this Committee was one of the priorities of the Russian authorities and the recommendations provided by the Committee became a reference point for all competent public authorities.
The Russian Federation had presented its fifth periodic report in 2010, the head of delegation went on to say. Over the past two years, the relevant reforms had been receiving new impetus and this enabled major achievements in terms of implementing the safeguards established by the Convention. Authorities had been continuing to pursue their policy aimed at improving legislation and law enforcement practice. The objective was to reduce the number of persons in pre-trial detention centres during the pre-trial stage of criminal proceedings and those serving sentences in places of deprivation of liberty.
The number of court rulings ordering detention as a measure of restraint had been reduced by 25 per cent in 2011, if compared to 2009, and by almost 40 per cent compared to 2007. Investigative authorities and judges had become more careful with imposing such a strict measure of punishment as detention. Measures of restraint not involving the isolation of a person from society were being used more frequently during preliminary investigations. To encourage this practice for many economic crimes, the Criminal Procedure Code had been amended and now excluded the possibility of imposing detention on remand for those charged with such crimes. Amendments had also been adopted to provide for the possibility to change the detention for a less strict measure of restraint when the accused was diagnosed with a severe illness preventing him or her from being held in custody.
In parallel, the Russian Federation was further humanizing criminal punishment. A new type of punishment which did not involve the isolation of a person from society had been applied since 2010: the limitation of freedom. This meant that a convicted person must respect certain restrictions – for example he or she could not leave the house at a certain time of day, or he or she could not participate in mass events without prior consent. Over the past eighteen months, more than 36,000 convicts had been sentenced to this type of punishment. Another type of punishment would be introduced in 2013; compulsory work. This was an alternative to the deprivation of liberty and it would be served in special penitentiary centers. Furthermore, the Criminal Code had been amended in 2011 to exclude the lower limits of sanctions in the form of deprivation of liberty from a number of corpora delicti, and some actions had been made punishable by sentences not involving the isolation of a person from society. Thanks to these measures, courts were more often imposing sentences that did not involve isolation from society.
Russian authorities had taken consistent measures to improve the situation of persons held in custody, Mr. Matyushkin went on to say. The Government had adopted a concept for developing the criminal-executive system and the federal programme providing for large-scale reform, with the objective of aligning the situation with recognized international standards. In the framework of this programme, more than 9,000 additional places had been set up in the isolation wards and 26 new isolation wards meeting international standards would be set up. Today, an average sanitary space for a detainee exceeded the norm of four square meters per person as set by Russian legislation.
In terms of institutional reforms, Mr. Matyushkin mentioned the establishment of the Investigative Committee. That body, which was independent from the Prosecutor’s Office and other Governmental agencies, carried out preliminary investigations of criminal cases. Also, a special subdivision for investigating the illegal use of force by law enforcement officers had been established within the Investigative Committee in 2012.
Russian authorities were pursuing the comprehensive reform of the law enforcement system. In 2011, after broad public discussions, the Federal Law “On Police” had adopted norms relating to the rights and liberties of police officers and the enforcement of public control over police activities.
The system of educational institutions, which had been established within the law enforcement and penal correction systems, provided for vocational training of personnel as required by international human rights instruments. Also, the system of inspection of detention facilities by public watchdog commissions, as established by the 2008 Federal Law “On Public Oversight of Respect for Human Rights in Places of Forced Detention and on Assistance to Inmates of Places of Forced Detention”, had proved effective. Those commissions had about 700 members and they conducted more than 1,500 visits to places of detention annually, without receiving special permissions from the administration of the facilities concerned.
The Russian Federation had developed and was successfully implementing its domestic remedy against unreasonably long judicial proceedings, said Mr. Matyushkin. This mechanism had been established by a 2010 federal law which stipulated the possibility of fair compensation when citizens’ rights to legal proceedings were infringed within a reasonable timeframe. The effectiveness of this remedy, confirmed by numerous cases in Russia, was recognized by the European Human Rights Court in 2011.
Russian authorities were confident that their efforts, including those undertaken in collaboration with international authorities, would help further improve legislative and law enforcement practices so as to better secure the conventional rights of citizens.
Questions from Rapporteurs on Russian Federation
FELICE GAER, Committee Rapporteur for the report of the Russian Federation, appreciated the sizable delegation present today. The Russian Federation saw the Convention as one of the key elements in the promotion and protection of human rights and the Committee fully agreed with this.
The Rapporteur wondered whether the Government was considering amending its rules to allow detained persons to contact their family members themselves rather than having police officers contact them on their behalf. Also, had any police officers been disciplined during the reporting period for failing to notify family members or to grant detained persons access to a lawyer, she asked. And could the delegation comment on the extent to which interrogations were videotaped, whether this could be denied and if so, under what circumstances?
The Rapporteur appreciated the data on monitoring of detention facilities provided in the report but wondered how often inspections had revealed violations of rights and what the results were. It was not stated whether any officials had been disciplined or prosecuted, whether anyone had been sentenced, and whether authorities planned to take further measures to avoid impunity of perpetrators?
Ms. Gaer noted that for financial reasons it was often difficult for ombudsmen to visit detention facilities, many of which were located far away from the capital. This could undermine their independence from the authorities – was the Russian Federation considering taking steps to ensure the independence of ombudsmen of the executive branch?
According to information available to the Committee, the membership of public oversight committees had changed over the past four years and non-governmental organizations voiced concerns about their independence. Had other ways of making the appointments been considered, Ms. Gaer wondered. For instance, the council of the public chamber, which currently did the appointment, could transfer this competence to the ombudsman.
Regarding the structures the delegation had mentioned, a key question was whether this led to investigations, said Ms. Gaer. Was there any data on the number of reported violations? And how many requests for criminal investigations for torture or ill-treatment had the public oversight committees sent to the Federation, and what were the outcomes, enquired the Rapporteur.
She appreciated the data on the prosecution of law enforcement officers that the Russian Federation had provided. However, she was surprised that the number of prosecutions was very low compared to the high number of complaints. How could this be explained?
There might be a discrepancy in the position of the Russian Federation as to whether human rights defenders deserved protection or not. The report said they did not merit special protection while a 2001 decision of the Constitutional Court made reference to the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, meaning that courts recognized the vulnerability and protection needs of this group of persons.
As far as minority issues were concerned, it would be appreciated if the delegation could indicate what measures were being taken to investigate claims of Roma deaths at police stations, beatings of Tajik people and harassment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The Rapporteur requested data on the number of cases declared inadmissible by courts due to the use of torture and statistics about complaints of police torture and ill-treatment, also asking the delegation to comment on various specific allegations of torture.
ALESSIO BRUNI, Committee Co-Rapporteur for the report of the Russian Federation, said it was reported that law enforcement at times took people to a secret places of detention, where they used brutality, and only then took them to official detention centres, so that signs of torture were not recorded as part of detention. Could the delegation comment on that?
Hazing among the armed forces was of concern to the Co-Rapporteur. The Committee had recommended that the Russian Federation apply a zero tolerance policy regarding this practice but this was not the case. The Russian Federation itself had concluded that it had been unable to alter radically the unfortunate situation. While many instruments were in place to tackle this shameful practice, apparently they did not succeed. What stronger measures could authorities take to criminalize hazing and automatically expulse perpetrators from the army?
Mr. Bruni noticed that ill-treatment in prison facilities had increased, reaching 7,400 cases in 2009 according to medical reports, while criminal action had decreased over the years. How did the delegation explain that?
Russian law provided for solitary confinement for up to six months for male inmates who persistently breached prison rules. At times there were almost 2,000 such cases, which was an incredible number, the Co-Rapporteur noted, underlining that the Special Rapporteur on Torture had urged all States to abolish solitary confinement which may have irrevocable repercussions.
The Co-Rapporteur asked how the increase of complaints alleging the use of torture in remand centres could be explained. It seemed that the figures jumped from four cases in 2004 to 90 cases in 2009. This contradicted information provided in the report, according to which no cases of torture had been brought to light in remand centres.
The report provided statistics on complaints of sexual violence against minors and women in detention. In many countries, this was unfortunately a significant issue, but in Russia this phenomenon appeared almost non-existent. Could the delegation comment on this?
Mr. Bruni also asked the delegation to detail the size of punishment cells compared to ordinary cells and to explain the increasing number of deaths in detention.
Questions by Other Committee Members
An Expert said the Russian Federation had been asked numerous times to revise its definition of torture. While the State party said it had brought legal certainty to the definition, the International Commission of Jurists said this was not the case and the definition had only been introduced in the form of a note to article 117 of the Criminal Code. Were the authorities considering incorporating all elements of the definition of torture as set forth in article 1 of the Convention?
A Committee member said timely access to a lawyer apparently remained a big problem and there were numerous reports that this was only granted when the initial questioning took place. Another problem was the lack of the provision of an ex officio lawyer in administrative cases. The Committee had also been informed that in some cases such lawyers were persuading their clients to confess and their independence had been questioned on numerous counts.
An Expert was concerned that the duration of custody was not limited and that access to lawyers and relatives was sometimes hampered, also pointing to reprisals against lawyers when they reported the harsh treatment of their clients.
Another Committee member said there was a problem of enforced disappearances in the north, particularly in Chechnya, and a lack of investigations. Apart from this, would it not be useful to create a national register of complaints for enforced disappearances to increase registration?
While an administrative offense was by definition not a criminal offence subject to detention, people seemed to be detained for up to 15 days. An Expert asked who made this decision, whether people could appeal to a court and, if so, to which one. It was also pointed out that the temporary asylum did not prevent extradition, therefore rendering temporary asylum null and void, and Committee members wanted to know whether the Russian Federation planned to increase funding to public monitoring commissions and whether it intended to accede to the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
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