GENEVA (26 July 2018) - The Committee against Torture this afternoon concluded its consideration of the sixth periodic report of the Russian Federation on the efforts made by the State party to implement the provisions of the Convention against Torture.
Introducing the report, Mikhail Galperin, Deputy Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation, noted that Russia had made a lot of progress in amending legislation on the penitentiary system and criminal justice, in order to achieve full protection of the rights of detainees and convicted persons, and to enhance their detention conditions. There were prohibitions and limitations on the use of force by correctional personnel, especially when it came to pregnant women, persons with disabilities, and minors. In addition, the authorities had organized further professional training on human and civil rights in the agencies of the Ministry of the Interior, with a particular focus on ensuring that the police did not use excessive force when managing demonstrations. There was ongoing training on the cases of the European Court of Human Rights pertaining to the Russian Federation.
In the ensuing discussion, the Committee Experts expressed concern that the Russian definition of torture was not in full compliance with the Convention, adding that there was reliable information that torture was practiced widely in the country, and indicating the need for a robust criminalization of torture. They further inquired about safety inside of the country’s justice system, complaints of torture, fundamental legal safeguards, access to legal counsel from the very outset of the arrest, access to a medical doctor, registration of detainees, video surveillance, administrative detention, violence against women in detention, organization of prison medical services, the high rate of death in custody, and non-refoulement. Other issues raised concerned the activities of the Russian military police in Syria and Ukraine, the Ombudsperson of the Russian Federation, functioning of the Public Oversight Committees which monitored detention places, plans to establish a national mechanism for the prevention of torture, reprisals against human rights defenders, excessive use of force, discrimination and violence against minorities, serious human rights violations in the North Caucasus region, Russian jurisdiction in Transnistria, and compensation for victims of torture.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Galperin thanked everyone involved in Russia’s dialogue with the Committee, including civil society, adding that the authorities would take into account all of the comments made.
Jens Modvig, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for having taken on board all of the Committee’s comments and questions.
The delegation of the Russian Federation included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defense, the Office of the Prosecutor General, and the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 30 July, at 10 a.m., to begin its consideration of the initial report of Seychelles (CAT/C/SYC/1).
The sixth periodic report of the Russian Federation can be read here: CAT/C/RUS/QPR/6.
Presentation of the Report
MIKHAIL GALPERIN, Deputy Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation, noted that Russia had made a lot progress in amending legislation on the penitentiary system and criminal justice, in order to achieve the full protection of the rights of detainees and convicted persons, and to enhance their detention conditions. There were prohibitions and limitations on the use of force by correctional personnel, especially when it came to pregnant women, persons with disabilities, and minors, as stipulated by the federal law of 28 December 2016. Rules stipulated the use of physical force or special measures by penitentiary system personnel and audio-visual devices were used to record. Any case of a detainee being harmed as a result of the use of force was reported to the prosecutor within one day, with supporting documentation provided. The federal laws of 7 March 2017 and of 26 June 2017 stipulated the treatment of pregnant women, women with children, and minors. Pregnant women could be moved only following a medical report. To uphold family ties, persons sentenced to life imprisonment could have one lengthy meeting with relatives per year. In order to tailor and differentiate sentences, the authorities had amended legislation regarding the length of daily physical exercise and had extended it to three hours instead of two hours and a half. The law of 19 July 2018 had broadened outside monitoring of detention facilities, particularly with respect to medical and psychological services. To improve the effectiveness of public oversight, there was a list of detention facilities that could be visited by external parties, in particular psychiatric facilities and those of special types with enhanced monitoring of detainees.
Turning to the issue of training, Mr. Galperin informed that the authorities had organized further professional training on human and civil rights in the agencies of the Ministry of the Interior, with a particular focus on ensuring that the police did not use excessive force when managing demonstrations. The Supreme Court had recently held a special session on the management of peaceful demonstrations. In all cases of violations by the law enforcement agencies, an investigation was conducted and relevant sanctions were applied. Training had also been organized for the military personnel and the judiciary throughout the country. There was ongoing training on the cases of the European Court of Human Rights pertaining to the Russian Federation, as well as interaction with the Office of the Ombudsperson. In conclusion, Mr. Galperin said the delegation would be happy to provide any additional information to the Committee.
Questions by the Country Rapporteurs
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for the Russian Federation, expressed concern about elements not included in the definition of torture contained in article 117 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation. Had measures been taken to bring the definition of torture into full compliance with article 1 of the Convention, specifically with regard to criminal liability for acts of torture, attempted acts of torture, or complicity in committing torture?
Mr. Modvig further reminded that the Committee had asked for statistical information about the application of articles 117, 286 and 302 of the Criminal Code, and whether any police or army personnel, and other public officials had been prosecuted directly for torture under article 117. From the provided statistics, it was not clear how many of the cases were against public officials, and how many were against private perpetrators. Because there was no clearly stated article in the Criminal Code criminalizing torture and only torture, the Committee was left in the dark as to how effectively the State party fought torture by means of how many indictments and convictions for torture had been made during the reporting period, Mr. Modvig stressed.
There was reliable information that torture was practiced widely in the country, indicating the need for a robust criminalization of torture, the Co-Rapporteur noted. Torture and ill-treatment were allegedly used to extract confessions. Reminding of a recent brutal video showing Russian guards beating a prisoner, Mr. Modvig underlined that questions about safety inside of the country’s justice system had again emerged. Who was investigating that case and when would it be concluded? Could the delegation comment on the fact that the lawyer of the victim had allegedly fled the country? What was the State party doing to ensure her safety?
Turning to complaints of torture, Mr. Modvig inquired about relevant disaggregated statistical data. The Committee had received information that in cases of complaints over abuse of power, there was a systematic issuance of illegal procedural decisions, such as refusal to open a criminal case, suspension of a criminal case, or termination of a criminal case. There seemed to be unwillingness of the leadership in territorial divisions to prosecute or otherwise sanction officials who made illegal procedural decisions. Did the State party have any plans or intentions to ensure that its obligations to investigate alleged cases of torture in a prompt, impartial and thorough manner were fulfilled?
Moving on to fundamental legal safeguards, the Co-Rapporteur wanted to know whether those safeguards applied from the very outset of deprivation of liberty. As for the right to notify, he asked whether the State party monitored the timing of detainees’ phone calls. How much time could pass from the time of the arrest and handover to the prosecutor? What were the rights of persons unable to speak Russian? Could suspects always access legal counsel from the very outset of the arrest, and could the counsel be present during the interrogation? What were the procedures if the suspect had no financial means to hire legal counsel?
With respect to access to a medical doctor, how did the medical examination proceed in practice? Who was present during the medical examination? How many reports of injuries had been recorded by the prison doctors and how many investigations had they given rise to during the reporting period? What body was responsible for the verification of evidence of bodily injuries of suspects? Did suspects have a right to request and receive a medical examination at any time and independently of the routine medical examination? What was the decontamination procedure and how was human dignity respected during such procedures? What was the procedure for the treatment of suspects being brought in with signs of withdrawal symptoms? How did the State party plan to ensure that prison doctors were aware of and complied with their duty to document and report signs of torture?
As for the registration of detainees, Mr. Modvig asked whether there was a digitalized national register. Would the register at any time be able to provide information about the whereabouts of all detained persons in the Russian Federation? Why could that information not be accessed by the relatives and the lawyer of a detainee? Did a secretly apprehended person have the possibility of having the legality of the deprivation of liberty evaluated by a court? Would such detention be entered into the register?
With respect to video surveillance, there was no information about the video surveillance of interrogations. Were there video cameras installed in interrogation rooms in police stations and remand centres, and what were the rules for videotaping and supervising of the recordings of interrogations? Had any cases of torture and ill-treatment been identified by means of video surveillance? How did the Russian Federation ensure that fundamental legal safeguards were enjoyed in practice? Did police officers have to wear individual ID badges?
The Co-Rapporteur asked the delegation to describe the facilities where persons were held in administrative detention. In which way did such facilities differ from ordinary criminal justice institutions? How many individuals had been deported from the Russian Federation per year during the reporting period? How did the State party ensure that such administrative decisions did not violate the principle of non-refoulement?
On violence against women in detention, the Committee was concerned that individuals convicted of abuse of women in detention were not subjected to appropriate sanctions. The Committee had not received any statistics about that apparently big problem in Russian detention centres and prisons, nor information about the measures to deal with the impunity that prevailed in that field.
As for the organization of prison medical services, Mr. Modvig underlined that there should be no reporting lines from the doctors to the penitentiary system. What was the number of full-time medical doctors working in the 67 health clinics in the penitentiary system? What kind of access did prisoners have to specialized medical treatment? Turning to death in custody, Mr. Modvig reminded that the mortality rate inside prisons stood at 4,000 deaths per 600,000 prisoners, which was one of the highest rates in the Council of Europe countries.
Moving on to non-refoulement, the Co-Rapporteur asked about the procedure for determining refugee status, the issue of extradition under risk of torture, and diplomatic assurances (the case of Alexey Kalinichenko).
CLAUDE HELLER ROUASSANT, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for the Russian Federation, inquired about the training of law enforcement officers, penitentiary personnel, and investigation officers on the fight against torture. How was that training evaluated? What was the composition and mandate of the Investigation Committee?
The armed forces in the Russian Federation had undergone a considerable modernization effort recently, due to the transition from conventional warfare to the so-called hybrid conflicts in Syria and Ukraine. Had the participation of the Russian military police in the conflict of Syria involved cases of violations of the Convention (namely forced deportation), and had sanctions been applied to the perpetrators?
The Ombudsperson of the Russian Federation had been granted A status in 2008 and in 2014. What was the method of selection of its members? How was the head of the office designated? What financial and human resources did the Office of the Ombudsperson and regional commissions have at their disposal? The functioning of the Public Oversight Committees, which could monitor detention places, was undermined due to the ongoing lack of funds, the Co-Rapporteur reminded. What were the criteria for the selection of members of the Public Oversight Committees? Did experts need to have an interdisciplinary background in the field of human rights and penitentiary issues? What was the level of independence of the committees from the authorities?
Did the State party plan to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention, and to set up a national mechanism for the prevention of torture, including with regional offices? Referring to the case of Sergei Magnitsky, who had died in custody in 2009, Mr. Heller Rouassant asked the delegation to comment on the criminal proceedings regarding that case. He also asked for comments about the disturbances in a prison in the province of Chelyabinsk in November 2012.
Different reports by non-governmental organizations had affirmed that in 2017 there had been persistent allegations of torture and ill-treatment in prisons and detention centres across the Russian Federation. One such case was that of prisoner of conscience Ildar Dadin. His case had not been investigated. Mr. Heller Rouassant reminded the State party that reprisals against human rights defenders working on the issues of torture and ill-treatment were a concern for the Committee against Torture. Russia’s Law on Foreign Agents of 2012 contained a vague concept of non-governmental organizations taking part in “political activities.” Did the State party plan to review the existing legislation on non-profit organizations?
Turning to the excessive use of force, the Co-Rapporteur reminded that the police had used excessive and unnecessary force to disperse peaceful anti-corruption demonstrators in at least 97 cities recently. He asked about the existence of protocols that governed the use of force.
As for discrimination and violence against minorities, such as the Roma population and other ethnic minorities, migrant workers, foreigners, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, Mr. Heller Rouassant noted that the authorities were quite reluctant about prosecuting such cases.
Mr. Heller Rouassant voiced concern that there were no court registers on the number of cases of torture, the number of confessions obtained through torture, types of sentences, and compensation for victims.
The Co-Rapporteur further raised the issue of ill-treatment and death in the armed forces, namely the practice of hazing (dedovschina) and serious human rights violations in the North Caucasus region, such as enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial killings. The situation of human rights defenders, journalists and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons in the Northern Caucasus, especially in Chechenia under the Government of Ramzan Kadyrov, had worsened since 2014. Mr. Heller Rouassant recommended to the State party to better monitor the situation of human rights in the Northern Caucasus, and to conduct an independent review of the criminal proceedings against individuals based on questionable evidence.
Turning to the situation in Ukraine and Crimea, Mr. Heller Rouassant underlined the discrimination against the Crimean Tatars, and the use of torture and ill-treatment to intimidate civilian populations.
Questions by Committee Experts
What was the position of international human rights instruments vis-à-vis the national Constitution?
Could the Public Oversight Committees monitor the situation in psychiatric institutions? The Committee Experts also raised the issue of involuntary hospitalization in psychiatric clinics, and asked for the explanation of relevant statistics.
How could the Committee know that the State party would prosecute perpetrators for torture and not for lower level offences? The Committee Experts asked about the results of criminal proceedings in a number of individual cases, such as that of Sergei Magnitsky.
As for the Universal Periodic Review recommendations that the Russian Federation had received on the protection of women from violence, the Committee Experts asked why the offence of domestic violence had been lessened. They further inquired about the problem of bride abductions in Northern Caucasus. What measures had the Government taken to repeal the lack of punishment for the perpetrators of sexual assault or rape in case of a settlement with the victim?
Would there be any change to the assessment of the work of the police? Could the State party comment on convicts escaping prisons in Krasnoyarsk due to the high-level of inter-prisoner violence? How would the State party ensure respect for the rights of female convicts with children?
Finally, the Committee Experts inquired about compensation to victims of torture and ill-treatment, and access to rehabilitation services. What measures had been taken by the Russian Federation to provide such services in a prompt manner? What was the number of victims of torture that had received rehabilitation services?
Replies by the Delegation
MIKHAIL GALPERIN, Deputy Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation, agreed that a clear signal should be sent that torture was not acceptable. The investigation of the incident of beating of a prisoner in the province of Yaroslav would send a very clear signal that torture was unacceptable. The penitentiary services were working daily to inform the authorities about that incident. All responsible parties had been arrested. The video surveillance system had demonstrated its effectiveness in identifying the responsible individuals. The lawyer of inmate Makarov had left the country; the authorities did not know why she had left. If she felt threatened, she would receive all protection measures. The authorities had not received any communication from the lawyer.
The investigative authorities had at their disposal all the tools for the investigation of acts of torture. The Russian Federation actively cooperated with the European Committee against Torture and there was unimpeded access to all detention facilities, including by the Ombudsperson’s Office. The country had received 27 visits from the European Committee against Torture. The authorities did not prevent the publishing of the reports of the European Committee against Torture.
The authorities treated matters of compensation to victims of torture very seriously. They were trying to develop a system of comprehensive payment of compensation through the preparation of a relevant draft law.
The law of 19 July 2018 would improve the monitoring of the rights of detainees in psychiatric institutions. Russian law enforcement agencies no longer applied the “stick” system.
As for the prerogative of the Supreme Court to implement the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, the authorities fulfilled and translated those judgments.
Turning to the staffing of the Public Oversight Committees, persons who had been put on trial and or were without the necessary legal background could not serve on those committees.
On statistical data of officials charged with torture charges, the delegation said that one person had been charged. Punishment was stricter – up to 10 years of imprisonment. More than 3,000 State officials had been charged with abuse of authority.
As for identical fundamental safeguards for all detainees regardless of the type of crime, the State had the same safeguard procedures for all citizens, except for those charged with terrorism, which carried a longer term of custody due to lengthy investigations. The protection of the basic rights and freedoms was one of the main goals of the Russian criminal justice system. The right of legal assistance was one of the general guarantees, according to the Criminal Procedures Code. Detainees had the right to inform, within three hours of their detention, their relatives about their detention. In case they refused, then within 12 hours the criminal investigating bodies had to do that. Detainees had no limitations on the right to a lawyer and interpreter.
Once detainees were brought to investigators, there should be a record of detention and interrogation within an hour. Administrative detention could not last longer than three hours. Administrative detainees were held in special facilities.
Administrative expulsion of foreigners or stateless persons could be ordered by the court if they had committed an administrative violation when entering the Russian Federation, such as unlawful crossing of State borders. The authorities took measures to prevent such entries. There was a mechanism for informing relevant consulates about the decision to expel a foreigner.
On attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons in Chechnya, the delegation noted that all reports of violence had been examined in due fashion and passed on to investigative authorities. The Ombudsperson’s Office had investigated those allegations and had found that they could not be confirmed.
With respect to the involuntary placement of persons in psychiatric facilities, courts could order it on the basis of a medical decision from a psychiatric panel. Safeguards for citizens would be strengthened. In 2016, courts had reviewed more than 25,000 decisions for involuntary placement in psychiatric facilities. More than 89 per cent had been resolved fully. In the majority of cases, the decision had been justified.
As for domestic violence and the kidnapping of brides, those questions did not fall under the mandate of the Committee against Torture, but the delegation would provide an answer in the spirit of cooperation. No such complaints had been received by the authorities.
Speaking of the escapes and violence in the Krasnoyarsk prison, the delegation explained that five inmates had escaped and that the reasons for their escape would be examined.
As for the extradition of individuals to States that requested them, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had developed relevant guidelines and safeguards.
In line with the Criminal Proceedings Code, transfers were carried in a way that ensured that persons were taken to facilities in their own region. Pregnant women and women with children, as well as persons with disabilities, were transferred in special vehicles or airplanes with toilet facilities and air conditioning, drinking water, and video recording.
Complaints by detainees were registered in ledgers with a date stamp and information about the destination of the complaint. Complaints sent to the administration and the penitentiary system could receive an oral reply during an interview. Harassment of any kind against those who had submitted complaints was prohibited by law.
In 2015, Russia had completed a reform of the medical service in the penitentiary system. Medical staff no longer operated under the authority of the penitentiary system. There were more than 20,000 medical positions. The provision of medical services to inmates was recorded and comprehensive. In case of any serious disease, inmates could contact medical staff at any time and medical experts could be invited at the expense of the State budget. If the medical staff identified any injuries on inmates, a separate examination report was issued in three copies. As a result of the improved medical services and the preventive approach to illnesses, the death rate in the penitentiary system had decreased by 27 per cent recently.
The Russian penitentiary system extensively used video cameras. The increase of oversight had led to a drop in the number of crimes committed by inmates and penitentiary staff. Police stations also used video recording, including in interrogation rooms. Penitentiary staff could not use force or special measures against inmates with disabilities. A number of persons with disabilities had recently been released, and the authorities were working to remove physical barriers for inmates with disabilities.
A Government decree of 2018 stipulated measures to improve the penitentiary conditions for women, women with children, and minors. There were 68 correctional facilities for women; the number of female inmates was dropping. The authorities had developed a plan to carry out special activities with family members for pregnant women and mothers with young children. Women with children could leave correctional facilities for a period of up to 15 days, without travel.
Turning to questions about the activities of the Russian military police, the delegation explained that each member had a ID number and any citizen could find out their name and rank by using that ID number. The results of an investigation were provided in writing to the person making the request. The Russian military police in Syria was acting on a mandate requested by the Syrian Government and no case of violence against the local population had been recorded. The military police had taken part in the transfer of civilian populations from the war zones. Before their departure to Syria, members of the military police underwent training on international humanitarian law. Those who violated the law were corrected and were not allowed to continue violations.
With respect to Crimea, the delegation stressed that the Russian Federation was committed to the fulfilment of its international obligations throughout its territory. Crimean citizens had consciously chosen to join Russia in 2014 through a free and democratic referendum. The Russian Federation had never held effective control of Transnistria, Moldova, thus the human rights situation there could not be discussed during the review of the Russian Federation. That was also true concerning the situation of south-eastern Ukraine.
As for the law on foreign agents, all the non-commercial activities of foreign organizations had to be registered in a transparent and open manner. Inclusion on that list in no way limited their activities and funding. In fact, those organizations received funding from the Russian State. The Presidential Council to develop civil society had existed since 2011. It was an advisory body set up to provide assistance and recommendations to the head of State on the development of civil society. It had 50 members representing well known Russian non-governmental organizations, journalists, lawyers, and other public figures, approved by the President.
On the appointment of the Ombudsperson, the delegation explained that he or she should be Russian citizens, at least 35 years of age, and with knowledge of human rights and freedoms, and experience in defending them. Candidates could be proposed by the President or the Parliament. There were three regional offices of Ombudspersons on the rights of indigenous people, created in 2008.
Second Round of Questions by the Country Rapporteurs
CLAUDE HELLER ROUASSANT, Committee Vice-Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for the Russian Federation, asked whether investigations into human rights violations in Chechnya were continuing, namely into alleged summary executions.
Turning to anti-terrorism measures, the Co-Rapporteur expressed concern about the use of torture on suspects and referred to the case of the Azimov brothers in connection with the terrorist attack in St Petersburg in April 2017. Mr. Heller Rouassant reminded that a set of amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Law (the so-called Yarovaya package) would provide additional powers to law enforcement agencies in the monitoring of electronic communication.
On Crimea, Mr. Heller Rouassant pointed out to deteriorating detention conditions, leading to death, and the absence of mechanisms to prevent torture. All detention centres in Crimea had been absorbed in the Russian penitentiary system and many detainees had been transferred to the Russian Federation.
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson and Co-Rapporteur for the Russian Federation, disagreed that the video recording of the beating of a prisoner in the province of Yaroslav by prison guards had shown effectiveness of video surveillance in prisons because the incident had taken place a year ago. In fact, the case showed that the authorities had not immediately reacted to the ill-treatment. Mr. Modvig also expressed disappointment that the delegation was repeating replies from the periodic report.
There was a clear need for the State party to reform its legal criminalization of torture. Were those who investigated prisoners’ complaints independent from the penitentiary system? How many injuries on prisoners had penitentiary medical doctors identified? Who was involved in the verification procedure?
How was independent and forensic investigation of death in custody ensured? Mr. Modvig also asked about the preservation of evidence by the prison administration. What was the proportion of HIV/AIDS inmates receiving treatment? As for the registration of detainees, Mr. Modvig asked whether there was a digitalized national register. Would the register at any time be able to provide information about the whereabouts of all detained persons in the Russian Federation?
Mr. Modvig asked the delegation to ensure that civil society was not hindered by administrative harassment.
Questions by Committee Experts
Reacting to the delegation’s comment that it was not in the mandate of the Committee against Torture to raise the situation of human rights in Transnistria, an Expert reminded of the complementarity of various human rights bodies and of the principle of extraterritorial jurisdiction.
What had been done by the Russian Federation to reduce the impact of the criminal sub-culture in the penitentiary system?
The Committee Experts also reiterated questions about the death in custody of Sergei Magnitsky, dropping of legal charges in case of reconciliation with victims, bride abductions in Northern Caucasus, and monitoring of psychiatric facilities.
Did the Russian Federation plan to support the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture? Remarking that compensation for victims of torture had been very low, Experts encouraged the State party to regulate it.
The Committee Experts also recommended that the State party make changes in the area of unannounced visits to detention places.
Replies by the Delegation
The delegation said that the investigation into the Azimov brothers case was ongoing. As for the alleged harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons in Chechnya, the authorities had investigated those claims and had found no factual evidence to support them.
With respect to the investigation of the death of Sergei Magnitsky in custody, the delegation explained that during the investigation there had been no evidence to support the hypothesis that he had died as a result of torture.
The dropping of criminal charges due to reconciliation with victims could not apply to very serious crimes, only to minor crimes.
When it came to domestic violence, the first offence was treated as an administrative offence, whereas the second one was treated as a criminal offence. There were 89 centres for victims of domestic violence in the country.
Turning to questions about the amount of compensation for victims of torture, the delegation affirmed that the amount was commensurate with the gravity of the crime.
The delegation emphasised that the Russian Federation could not exercise any jurisdiction in Transnistria, adding that it did not share any borders with Transnistria.
MIKHAIL GALPERIN, Deputy Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation, thanked everyone involved in Russia’s dialogue with the Committee, including civil society, adding that the authorities would take into account all of the comments made.
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for having taken on board all of the Committee’s comments and questions.
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