11 December 2021
by Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee against Torture, member of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council, and winner of the MHG award for the protection of human rights
I’ve dealt with the issue of torture in Russia for over a quarter of a century now. And all this time, I’ve maintained two lines of argument:
1) The main reason why torture is so widespread and continues to be used to the extent that it does is impunity. Officials who aid and abet the use of torture, use it directly themselves, and provide cover for this crime so that it invariably goes unpunished.
2) Torture goes unpunished in our country not because of a complete lack of any regulations, prohibitions, or pieces of legislation, but because in order to establish that torture took place, an investigation must be carried out in conjunction with the launch of criminal proceedings. This is the only way to establish by whom and in what circumstances the serious offence was committed. It’s the only way to bring the perpetrators to justice. According to Russian legislation, such an investigation into every complaint of torture must be conducted by a specific government institution which has exclusive jurisdiction, rights, and responsibilities in this regard. That institution is called the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (ICR). And it’s the poor functioning, indeed undermining, of this institution which explains the systemic impunity for torture in our country and, consequently, its extremely high prevalence.
Thus, the problem of torture has nothing to do with an absence of norms; rather, it is entirely down to an absence of proper law enforcement.
I have articulated and maintained these two lines of argument over the course of 25 years of my own work and the 20 years in which our Committee against Torture has existed.
And over the past year, I have been working intensively, lobbying and promoting the concept and the necessity of introducing the specific crime of torture to the Criminal Code, and a specific article, i.e. on TORTURE.
In the Federation Council, the concept already has the support of several senators, and a working group has been formed and is preparing a draft bill to that effect.
At today’s conference, organised by the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG), my colleagues asked me to explain why this new regulation, this new article, should be added to the Criminal Code at all, and what difference it makes to those responsible for undermining the Investigative Committee under which article they fail to carry out an investigation: “abuse of power” or “torture”.
Some of my colleagues probably suspect that I have been losing it a little in my old age and started thinking that the articles of the Criminal Code work by themselves, like the laws of physics, without any action on the part of law enforcement, and that all one need do is to document some misdeed or other, and it will automatically start to disappear, or that the entire law enforcement system will suddenly start tackling it relentlessly…
No, dear comrades and colleagues!
I’m quite in my right mind and have no such expectations of this new article. What’s more, I have great sympathy for the position of the security agencies: the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the FSB, who consider this article to be redundant. Yet I still maintain that the ability of the Investigative Committee’s investigators to effectively conduct investigations into complaints of torture is key to the successful fight against torture. Also crucial here is genuine public scrutiny and effective government oversight of detention facilities where torture is most often used – whatever department these sites come under (whether MVD, the Federal Penitentiary Service, the FSB or the Ministry of Defence).
Still, I consider the introduction of the specific crime of torture into the criminal legislation to be a vitally important step forward.
Why is that? I shall attempt to answer this question today during the MHG’s online conference.
Translated by Lindsay Munford