Human Rights Committee Finds Russia Responsible for Torture of Chechens
The United Nations Human Rights Committee has found Russia responsible for violating the rights to fair trial and to be free from torture of six Chechen men who were unlawfully detained and tortured, in the North Caucasus region, between September 2004 and February 2005 before being convicted of terrorism related charges. See Human Rights Committee, Taysumov et al. v. Russia, Communication No. 2339/2014, Views of 11 March 2020, UN Doc. CCPR/C/128/D/2339/2014. The Human Rights Committee reminded Russia of its obligation to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the torture allegations and to prosecute those responsible, as well as to compensate the complainants and implement measures to provide “full redress” for the violations. See id. at para. 11. While Russia is obligated to submit to the Committee an update on the measures it has taken to comply with the judgment within 180 days of this judgment, in the past, Russia has failed to conduct effective investigations and hold perpetrators accountable for similar human rights violations. See id. at paras. 2.10, 12. In similar cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Russia has often paid the compensation ordered by the Court, but has refused to prosecute the individuals allegedly responsible for torture. [Open Democracy; HRW] Relatedly, the victims in this case had first complained to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled the application inadmissible, without explanation, in 2012. See Human Rights Committee, Taysumov et al. v. Russia, paras. 8.3.
In 2013, organizations TRIAL and Stichting Russian Justice Initiative (SRJI) submitted the communication on behalf of the victims in the context of “a systematic practice of unacknowledged detention and torture in the investigation of cases allegedly related to terrorism” in Russia, which various human rights bodies have denounced. See Human Rights Committee, Taysumov et al. v. Russia, paras. 2.1, 2.10; TRIAL, Arbitrary Arrest, Torture and Unfair Trial. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among other organizations, have long documented torture and arbitrary detention in the North Caucasus region, in particular. In this case, federal authorities, local police officers, and paramilitaries in different cities in the republics of Chechnya and Dagestan detained the six complainants on separate dates in 2004 and 2005. See Human Rights Committee, Taysumov et al. v. Russia, paras. 2.1, 2.10.
All six men alleged that they were not informed of the reason for their arrests, held incommunicado for days or weeks, and subjected to torture and severe ill treatment by State agents seeking to force them to confess to crimes related to terrorist activities. See id. at paras. 2.4. Their arrests were not formalized until days or weeks after they had been detained and they “were not brought promptly before a judge.” See id. at paras. 2.3-2.5, 9.5. The courts used their confessions obtained through torture as valid evidence, despite their retraction and torture complaints, resulting in sentences that ranged from 13 to 20 years in prison. See id. at paras. 2.6, 9.2. Although they appealed, and some also sought discretionary relief, the Russian courts did not address their allegations of torture and due process violations and maintained their convictions. See id. at paras. 2.6-2.8. Authorities either never investigated the claims of torture or assigned those investigations to the officers allegedly responsible for the torture. See id. at paras. 3.1., 9.3., 9.4.
The six men alleged that Russia violated their rights under Article 7 (freedom from torture) read alone and in conjunction with articles 2(3)(right to effective remedy), and articles 9(right to liberty and security of the person) and 14(right to fair trial) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The Human Rights Committee first considered whether the complaint was admissible under the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR. See id. at para. 8.1. The Human Rights Committee assessed whether it was precluded from examining the complaint given that the six men had previously submitted a similar complaint before the European Court of Human Rights. See id. at para. 8.3. However, because that the European Court found the application inadmissible in September 2012, the Committee determined that the complaint before it was not duplicative. See id. Unlike some regional human rights bodies, the Human Rights Committee’s can decide a complaint so long as “[t]he same matter is not being examined under another procedure of international investigation or settlement,” meaning that complaints that have not – or are not being – examined on the merits elsewhere are not duplicative. See ICCPR-OP1, art. 5(2)(a); IJRC, Exhaustion of Domestic Remedies in the United Nations System (2018), 16.
The Committee also dismissed the State’s argument that the complainants failed to substantiate their claims and abused “their right of submission” under Article 3 of the Optional Protocol. See id. at para. 8.2. Further, the Committee reiterated that individuals do not have to exhaust extraordinary remedies (in this case, a request that the Russian Supreme Court review their case), finding that the State failed to show that a request to the Russian Supreme Court would have provided “an effective remedy in the circumstances of the case.” See id. at paras. 8.4-8.5.
The Committee did not find admissible two of the complainants’ allegations of a violation to their right to a presumption of innocence, under article 14 of the ICCPR, based on having been referred to as “terrorists” in the media; the Committee determined that they “failed to sufficiently substantiate these allegations for the purposes of admissibility” by not including any additional explanation or information. See id. at paras. 5.3, 8.7. However, it admitted and considered on the merits the allegations under articles 7, 2(3), 9(1-4), and 14(3)(g). See id. at para. 8.8.
The Committee analyzed the six men’s allegations, finding that they were tortured and forced to confess while in detention. See id. at para. 9.2. The men alleged that they were beaten with rubber sticks, iron whips, and subjected to electrocution. See id. Some were also suffocated using gas masks or plastic bags, and their families were also threatened. See id. The State, for its part, failed to present explanations regarding the alleged torture and only argued that the men’s claims “were properly assessed by [national] courts.” See id. Considering that Russia was unable to present detailed evidence contradicting the men’s claims, the Committee gave “due weight” to the complainants’ allegations and found that there was not sufficient evidence to “conclude that the investigation into the allegations of torture was carried out promptly or effectively or that any perpetrators were identified.” See id. at paras. 9.2-9.3. The Committee acknowledged the State’s argument that it had conducted an investigation into some of the allegations in 2005, but concluded that the 2005 investigation lacked impartiality given that the investigator was also implicated in the torture. See id. at para. 9.4. The Committee held that the lack of an investigation and the use of the men’s confessions obtained through torture to establish guilt before national courts resulted in a violation of Article 7 of the ICCPR, read separately and in conjunction with articles 2(3), 9(2-3), and 14(3)(g) (right not to be compelled to confess guilt). See id. at paras. 9.4, 10.
The Human Rights Committee also found that the State did not provide sufficient information or evidence to refute the men’s claims that they had been unlawfully detained, without being informed of the reasons for their arrest or brought promptly before a judge. See id. at paras. 9.5, 9.7. The Committee, drawing on its General Comment No. 35 and previous Article 9 jurisprudence, stated that national law must provide for “legal limits on the duration of detention,” define when a judge authorization is required for arrest, and ensure that the detained person is promptly brought to court. See id. at para. 9.6. Additionally, individuals “deprived of their liberty must be assisted in obtaining access to effective remedies to enforce their rights.” See id. at para. 9.6. In this case, the Committee found that the men were detained without given a reason for their arrest or charges against them, and were only brought before a judge several days or weeks after their arrest to verify the legality of their detention. See id. at para. 9.7. Thus, the Committee held that Russia violated Article 9(2-3) and did not separately examine the allegations under Article 9(4) of the ICCPR. See id. at paras. 9.7-9.8.
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