Torture in Central Asia: time to break the vicious circle!

Torture in Central Asia: it is time to break vicious circle!

Almaty, Bishkek, Brussel, Dushanbe, Paris, Vienna, Warsaw: June 26, 2019.
One night, in July 2018, police officers drove up the house of Shahboz Ahmadov in Yavon district in the South of Tajikistan and ordered the young man to accompany them to the local police station in order to help them solve the crime.  However, upon arrival, they, as it is reported, took him to the office, locked the door, accused him of stabbing a person, started to kick, beat, and stun him with electric shock until the man confessed. After Shahboz Ahmadov was kept in police custody for several days, the victim of stabbing informed police officers that Shahboz is not guilty. The police officers freed Shahboz, but warned him to keep silence about torture. But Shahboz went to forensic examination and filed a complaint to the General Prosecutor’s office. In the beginning, the investigation was initiated, and two alleged perpetrators were charged. However, the investigation had significant flaws and prosecutor’s office closed the case. Perpetrators remain unpunished, Shahboz did not get justice for his sufferings.
   
Unfortunately, similar  to Shahboz Ahmadov’s cases are widespread in all states of the Central Asia, although, unlike him, most of the innocent people are accused and judged based on confessions, received under duress; and many of torture victims and their relatives do not file complaints, having fear of reprisals from perpetrators, and they do not have hope to recover justice through criminal justice system. Frequently, relatives openly inform about torture only when a person dies out of torture.  
In 2018 the Coalition of NGO against Torture in Central Asia  registered 143 new cases in Kazakhstan, 377 in Kyrgyzstan, and  44 in Tajikistan on allegations of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.  In both, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, not a single independent NGO working in the field of torture, could register because of the repressive character of regimes;  the activists could not collect reliable national statistics. 
Today is the  United Nations International Day for Torture Victims. In this day, we are again address to the governments of Central Asian countries to abide by the principles and spirit of the UN Convention against Torture. All five Central Asian countries  are the parties of the Convention against Torture since the end of 1990s. Then, why two decades later are brutal torture and cruel treatment methods still widespread? 

For many years, local and international human rights groups regularly paid attention to practice of torture and they managed to achieve a lot. Civil community provided support to hundreds of victims in their fight for justice, formed political recommendations, tried to start a dialogue with people who leads internal politics, and advocated for changes in international platforms on human rights. Mostly because of these efforts the justice was achieved for dozens of victims, and perpetrators were punished. There were precedents in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan when torture victims or relatives of dead victims received some compensation for moral damage. Also, Central Asian NGOs provided rehabilitation services to torture victims and their relatives, especially in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.  
In all five countries an important progress is achieved  in strengthening legislation against torture, however, too often the legal human rights’ guarantees are not applied, and state officials, who violate them, remain unpunished. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan achieved some progress by having public control after places of imprisonment, and creating national preventive mechanism (NPM), although there are still such problems as insufficient financial resources for NPM in both countries. Tajikistan permitted limited monitoring of places of detention through the Commissioner for Human Rights.   Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan put significant efforts for implementation of Istanbul Protocol’s standards to the work of doctors, who conduct examination of torture victims. 

Nevertheless, in order to eradicate torture and cruel treatment, authorities have to publicly admit the real scale of the problem; publish comprehensive statistics on cases and investigations; provide full access to imprisonment facilities for independent observers, and solve rooted problems of the system. Judicial branch is not independent in all five countries, and in both, in practice and in legislation, the position of defendant is weaker compared to the position of prosecution. Law enforcement officers and officers of prisons often do not allow attorneys to visit their clients and have confidential talks.
 
Victims, attorneys, and human rights defenders are subjects for repressions from law enforcement officials if they report about torture,  so they stay vulnerable without having working mechanism of protection. None of the countries developed independent investigation mechanism on reports about torture. Conflict of interests hampers  effective investigation process, leads to considerable delays, and despite obvious evidence of abuses, often leads to the closure of cases. Doctors, who examine torture victims, are often pressured by the law enforcement bodies for the registration of injuries and other evidences of torture. None of the Central Asian countries properly recognizes and considers conclusions of independent forensic experts and psychiatrists in the court. Police  officers have lack of professional investigation skills, and therefore, they manage to get confession and fabricate evidence by duress. Successful fight against torture also requires fight against corruption in criminal justice system, since officials often use volnerability of suspects and detainees in their personal goals. 
For additional information on problems, recommendations and cases of torture victims, please, refer to the following documents: