BISHKEK (13 December 2011) – At the conclusion of his visit to the Kyrgyz Republic undertaken at invitation of the Government from 5 to 13 December 2011, Juan E. Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or punishment, delivered the following statement:
I would like to thank the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic for this invitation and for its cooperation before and during the visit. I am grateful to all my interlocutors, including senior State officials, representatives of civil society, lawyers and human rights advocates, detainees and victims of torture and ill-treatment who I met in Bishkek, Osh and Djalal-Abad. I would also like to express my gratitude to the OHCHR Regional Office for Central Asia in Bishkek, as well as OHCHR mission to Osh for its assistance prior to and throughout the mission.
The purpose of my visit is to engage key actors on various aspects relating to my mandate and assist the Government, in an objective and impartial manner, in its efforts to prevent mistreatment of any sort and to eradicate practices of torture. A key element of my visit was interviewing persons held in various types of detention facilities and reporting on their treatment and conditions. To that end, my report will promote accountability for abuses, torture and ill-treatment, ensuring that alleged perpetrators are held responsible in conformity with international law.
My fact-finding is fully effective only if I enjoy unrestricted freedom of inquiry. In this context, I would like to express my appreciation to the Government for facilitating my unrestricted access to most of the places where persons are deprived of their liberty. Overall access was by and large granted in SIZOs, under the jurisdiction of the State Service for Execution of Punishments. However, I regret that, on several occasions, I had to wait for duty IVS facility officers to gain permission from their superiors and on two occasions (at Uzgen IVS and Belovodsk IVS), I had to interrupt my visits due to unacceptable restrictions to my working methods.
I take this opportunity to share some of my preliminary findings and conclusions:
Torture and ill-treatment
I have concluded that the use of torture and ill-treatment is a widespread phenomenon, usually committed by the operative investigative officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs during the first hours of apprehension and interrogation for the purpose of extracting confessions. I have received multiple allegations of torture that share the same pattern of being subjected to asphyxiation through plastic bags and gas masks, punched, beaten with police truncheons and applied electric shock committed by police officers during arrest and first hours of informal interrogation. Police custody, police temporary holding facilities (IVS), the premises of criminal police departments of the MIA, and detention facilities of the State Committee of National Security, were places most often cited as to where ill-treatment occurred. The use of torture by the criminal investigation police is exacerbated by the reliance placed on confessions in the judicial system.
Investigation of torture allegations
I am concerned also that there is a serious lack of sufficiently speedy, meaningful, thorough and impartial investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment, as well as lack of effective prosecution of law-enforcement officials. The Interim Government launched an effort to curtail and punish the abuses that resulted from the repression of the June 2010 events. The efforts made to investigate the allegations of torture and ill-treatment, however, proved to be largely ineffective as far as prompt, thorough and independent investigations; justice administration and fair trial standards are concerned. I heard multiple allegations of corruption in the administration of justice which demonstrates how deeply ingrained it is in the criminal law system.
The open recognition of the existence of torture and ill-treatment by the Prosecutor General and the two subsequent orders issued by the Prosecutor General in April and September of 2011 reflect a clear political will to combat torture and ill-treatment, by, inter alia, strengthening prosecutorial control and oversight of prosecutorial negligence in cases of torture and ill-treatment. In contrast, I heard of no such instructions communicated by the responsible officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to condemn torture and ill-treatment, or to declare unambiguously that torture and ill-treatment by police officers will not be tolerated and that any public official responsible for having been found in perpetrating torture will be held to account.
The Government officials with whom I met could not cite one instance in which a public official was sentenced by a court for committing torture or ill-treatment. During the first ten months of 2011, eight criminal cases were initiated against police officers by the Ministry of Internal Affairs; only two of those cases were submitted to court, and no decision has yet been reached.
Further, it appears that there have been no convictions for torture, and very few prosecutions, if any, since Article 305-1 was introduced into the Criminal Code in 2003. I learned that during the first nine months of 2011, the office of the Prosecutor General received 200 complaints regarding abuse of power and 31 complaints regarding torture, out of which 13 criminal investigations were launched and 18 cases dismissed. During the same period of time, 36 persons were punished with disciplinary measures. We were told that in 2011, for the first time five police officers were convicted of abuse of power. They received suspended sentences and their cases may be on appeal.
Administration of justice
In all places I visited, most detainees indicated that they received the court warrant confirming their arrest within the first 48 hours. At their hearings, however, the State-appointed lawyers and judges were seen as being formally present to rubberstamp decisions of the investigative officer rather than to undertake ex officio investigations or even routinely to ask persons brought from police custody how they have been treated. Almost all detainees indicated that they were subjected to mistreatment or beating since the moment of apprehension and delivery to a police station for the purpose of extraction of confessions by means of torture. Another factor hampering the administration of justice is corruption, which is widely perceived as being endemic.
Other allegations received in relation to the administration of justice were that the judicial system is slow, inefficient and corrupt, which leads to a situation where many persons are deprived of their liberty in places of detention that are completely inadequate for long term detention and held in pre-trial detention for up to a year.
Conditions of detention
The conditions of IVSs and SIZOs visited varied from being adequate (SIZO N 1 in Bishkek and SIZO N 25 in Osh) to unsatisfactory (most IVSs) to dreadful with unsanitary conditions, almost no ventilation, no windows or daylight (Kara Suu district of Osh province). Inmates are housed in old buildings built as early as the 1940s. There is no medical assistance in IVSs and health emergencies are handled by simply calling an ambulance.
In the basement of SIZO N 1 and Colony N 47, inmates serving life sentences live in dreadful conditions, confined in virtual isolation and solitary confinement, because of the absence of penal colonies designed for them. These cells are designed for detention lasting no more than 24 hour. Their conditions are unacceptable.
I recognize that many of the problems observed are caused by a lack of resources and I encourage international donors to support the Government in its attempts to improve prison conditions. However, some important steps could be taken that are not resource-dependent, such as establishing stronger legal and procedural safeguards. In addition, greater use of non-custodial measures for accused persons, particularly those accused of petty crimes, would significantly contribute to more humane conditions of detention.
I would like to express my appreciation to the Government for inviting me to visit the country and facilitating a successful mission and I look forward to a long-term process of cooperation with the Government to combat torture and ill-treatment.
Juan E. Mendez (Argentina) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment on 1 November 2010. He is independent from any government and serves in his individual capacity. Mr. Mendez has dedicated his legal career to the defense of human rights, and has a long and distinguished record of advocacy throughout the Americas. He is currently a Professor of Law at the American University – Washington College of Law and Co-Chair of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association. Mr. Mendez has previously served as the President of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) until 2009, and was the UN Secretary-General Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide from 2004 to 2007, as well as an advisor on crime prevention to the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court, between 2009 and 2010.
Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/torture/rapporteur/index.htm
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