Tajikistan: UN human rights expert calls for clear pledge to ‘zero tolerance’ of torture

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, today said he was encouraged by recent legal changes in Tajikistan, like the introduction of a new criminal provision defining torture and providing penalties for it.

However, he called for a “sustained effort and commitment from the highest levels of authority and a clear pledge to ‘zero tolerance’ of torture.”

“If there is no recognition that there is a problem with mistreatment, whether systematic or not, mistreatment is not likely to go away. On the contrary, it is likely to increase as soon as attention shifts to other matters,” said Mr. Méndez at the end of his first mission to the country from 10 to 18 May. “The broad awareness raising campaign on prohibition of torture in international and domestic law initiated by the Tajik authorities is a step in the right direction,” he said, “but it is difficult at this stage to assess the actual impact of the normative changes on the ability of citizens to enjoy and enforce their right to physical and mental integrity under all circumstances.”

The Special Rapporteur also expressed concern at the relatively low penalty of five years for a first offense established with the new legal definition of torture of the Criminal Code, noting that such penalty does not seem to comply with the obligation to treat torture as a severe crime with commensurate penalties, as it allows for the application of amnesty and other forms of reduction and mitigation.

“A relatively low penalty does not offer a strong disincentive to commit torture,” he stressed. Mr. Méndez underscored that “confessions extracted by violence remain the main investigatory tool of law enforcement and prosecutorial bodies,” although the Code of Criminal Procedure has incorporated an exclusionary rule in line with the Convention against Torture, requiring that confessions and declarations obtained under torture or other mistreatment must be inadmissible in any criminal proceeding against a defendant. “Pressure on detainees, mostly as a means to extract confessions is practiced in Tajikistan in various forms, including threats, beatings (with fists and kicking but also with hard objects) and sometimes by applying electric shock,” the human rights expert said in his preliminary findings.

“I am unable to say whether the practice is less prevalent or systematic in recent times; I am, however, persuaded that it happens often enough and in a wide variety of settings that it will take a very concerted effort to abolish it or to reduce it sharply,” he stressed. “Efforts to that effect should be focused on the early moments of apprehension, in particular by effectively applying the existing norm about access to a lawyer from that very moment, by systematically excluding confessions not ratified before a judge, and by aggressively investigating, prosecuting and punish every instance of torture.”

Mr. Méndez also voiced concern at the lack of safeguards against illegal extradition or rendition from and to other countries where a person may be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as there seems to be no meaningful opportunity for judicial review of these measures that are generally conducted by the law enforcement bodies under the direction of the Prosecutor General. The Special Rapporteur noted that the transfer of most pre-trial detention facilities to the Ministry of Justice seems to have resulted in an improvement in their physical conditions and in the treatment of inmates held in them, and commended it for “the humane and decent conditions we found in colonies of ‘strict’ and ‘enforced’ regimes.”

During visits to temporary facilities for short-term detention managed by the Ministry of Interior or the State Committee for National Security, Mr. Méndez had unmonitored conversations with the detainees: “They had no complaints to make about the treatment by IVS guards,” he said, ”although some of them asserted that they were indeed mistreated when interrogated in the offices of investigators.” During his nine-day mission, the independent expert met with Government officials, civil society members and representatives of UN agencies and international organizations. He also gathered first-hand information from victims and their families, and visited places where persons are deprived of their liberty in and around Dushanbe, Khujand, Isfara, Istarafshan and Kurgan-Tube.

The mandate of Special Rapporteur on torture covers all countries, irrespective of whether a State has ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Republic of Tajikistan ratified the Convention in 1995.

Check the full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12166&L...