At the Novopushkinsky Mini-Park on Anna Politkovskaya's commemoration day, Moscow, October 7, 2012. Photo by Semyon Charny for the "Caucasian Knot"

26 November 2012, 23:00

UN Committee Against Torture reminds Russia of need to investigate murders of Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova

In its report on the situation with human rights in Russia, the UN Committee Against Torture criticizes the recently adopted laws on public associations and treason, points out to the failures in the investigation into well-known cases of violence against citizens, and calls on the Russian authorities to investigate and punish the persons, responsible for the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, the observer of the newspaper "Novaya Gazeta" and human rights defender Natalia Estemirova.

Recommendations of UN experts include cancellation of amendments to Laws on NGOs and treason

The report of the UN Committee was dedicated to the execution of international obligations with regard to torture and other degrading forms of punishment. It was prepared by ten experts of the Committee at the end of the November session of the United Nations in Geneva that held two meetings on the situation in Russia.

The UN Committee called on Russia to take "immediate and effective measures to prevent any cases of torture and ill-treatment throughout the country" and "to eliminate impunity of guilty persons." The report also points out to the increasing cases of intimidation, persecution and attacks on human rights defenders and organizations that monitor the execution of the Russia's international obligations.

Among other things, the authors of the report criticize a series of the laws, adopted after massive protests and the inauguration of Vladimir Putin's third presidential term, including the entered into force in November order of registration of a public organization in the register "foreign agents", if the financing of its activities is paid by Western foundations and the amendments to the Criminal Code that extend understanding of treason, espionage and disclosure of state secrets.

The "Caucasian Knot" reported that a number of human rights defenders, working in the territory of Northern Caucasus, called the initiative of the lawmakers toward NGOs a "crackdown", and representatives of the two largest Russian human rights organizations the "Memorial" and "For Human Rights" stated that did not intend to give up foreign grants and that they would challenge the law at the European Court. The amendments, concerning the punishment for treason, were also criticized by human rights defenders, who were concerned that the new law would be widely used to suppress their activities.

Among other issues, the UN Committee Against Torture calls on Russia to investigate the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, the observer of the newspaper "Novaya Gazeta", committed in 2006, and the murder of Natalia Estemirova, a staff member of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) "Memorial", who worked in Northern Caucasus, committed in 2009. The authors of the report also call on the Russian authorities to pay attention to the beating of lawyer Sapiyat Magomedova by policemen in 2010.

They also expressed their serious concern about the independence of the public monitoring commissions that monitor prisons, with reference to reports of pressure on members of the public commissions. Besides, the authors of the report highlighted the lack of reaction of the Russian law enforcement agencies on numerous complaints of torture, even the most resonant ones, and noted that only a small number of criminal cases, instituted under such complaints, were brought to court, the "Gazeta.Ru" reports.

Russian officials claim progress in fight against torture in country

Prior to the preparation of the report, the Committee of the United Nations in Geneva considered the fifth periodic report of Russia on the compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. When introducing the report, Georgy Matyushkin, Deputy Minister of Justice, has stated that the Constitution ensures the absolute prohibition of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The Deputy Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation has also emphasized that in recent years, Russia took a number of regulatory measures to combat torture and ill-treatment of prisoners and that the country is taking steps to reduce the number of persons in custody as a pre-trial restriction measure.

The Deputy Minister has reported the reduction of the number of judgments of taking in custody as a pre-trial restriction measure, the more frequent use of pre-trial restriction measures, not related to the suspect's isolation from the society during the preliminary investigation, and the use of punishment that imposes restrictions on movement instead of imprisonment. According to the Deputy Minister, throughout last 18 months, more than 36,000 prisoners were sentenced to the above form of punishment, and in 2013, Russia will introduce a new kind of punishment community service, Georgy Matyushkin has noted.

The Deputy Minister has reported that Russia improves the situation of persons, kept in prisons and detention facilities: in SIZOs (pre-trial prisons), more than 9000 additional beds were implemented, and at present, in average, Russia provides more than four square meters to each detainee. The Deputy Minister has particularly mentioned inspections of Russian prisons, held by independent experts, and noted that 700 members of the special commissions on the issue carry out more than 1500 visits to prisons each year without special permissions of penitentiary institutions.

In their preliminary observations, members of the Committee have approved such visits to prisons; however, they have expressed their doubts about the financial possibilities of human rights defenders to travel to remote areas of Russia, where most of prisons are located, and they also expressed their concern about reports of an increasing number of cases of ill-treatment of prisoners in Russian prisons. This was stated by the report, published on the website "UN News Centre".

The UN Committee Against Torture has expressed its concern about the report of the Russian government, the authors of which had concluded that "in pre-trial detention facilities, no cases of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment were revealed."

The above report contradicts the information about the situation in other countries throughout the world and the information, available from Russia. This was stated by Felice Gaer, Vice-President of the Committee. "We see that only a small number of investigations ... end in prosecuting [of those persons, who use torture]," Felice Gaer stated.

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