Statement by Russian human rights defenders: ‘We don’t want death squads and torture. We want security and the rule of law.’

25 March 2024

Published by Public Verdict Foundation and other signatories [see below]

Source: Facebook

In the interests of Russian society, the prohibition on torture must be absolute

We stand in solidarity with Russian society in its demands for a just punishment for the perpetrators of this savage act of terror against innocent civilians. We feel pain and suffering as we empathise with the victims, their relatives, and all those affected by the terrorist attack. We feel horror and dismay, looking at the footage of what took place in Crocus City Hall. Nevertheless, we endeavour to keep proceedings civilised to avoid encouraging or fuelling the spread of terror and violence.

The point of terrorist acts is intimidation through the use of violence and the killing of people at random. The barbaric attack at Crocus City, Moscow, fully meets this definition – people were slaughtered mercilessly, in cold blood. Quite understandably, many people feel shock, horror, and a thirst for revenge.

Yet in looking at the many videos that recorded these terrible events, we discern no urgency to save people whatsoever on the part of police officers stationed in the very same building complex. Instead, we see hundreds of people murdered like sitting ducks by ruthless criminals in an horrific and barbaric act of terror. But the savagery of the few does not give everyone else licence to commit violence. No crime, even the most heinous, can be used to justify torture. This applies first and foremost to law enforcement agencies, which should be safeguarding the law. 

It is the direct responsibility of law enforcement agencies to prosecute and prevent crimes. For this purpose, criminal justice systems in many countries, including Russia, have drawn up detailed rules that have their basis in law and whose purpose is to maintain law and civil order, and prevent justice from descending into vigilantism and revenge. 

These rules include a prohibition on torture and inhumane treatment, regardless of whether the criminal stands accused by the security forces or not. The prohibition of torture is a guarantee against savagery and a prerequisite for a fair trial and fair punishment. Torture as a modus operandi turns law enforcement agencies into mechanisms of violence and degradation of the law. Compliance with the prohibition of torture must be monitored by the highest authorities: the courts, public prosecutors, and investigative bodies, etc. The lack of any response on their part is a sign of their tacit approval of torture and violence.

A severed ear – a prisoner being forced to eat his own ear; torture by electric shock; images of lowered trousers; suspects in court cages, beaten, bloodied, and unconscious; and prisoners with bits of tape and bags left sticking to them… This is the footage government agencies have used to report to society at large on their work in prosecuting terrorism. 

But it is a mere illusion of effectiveness of law enforcement agencies. These images just shine a light on something that all Russian human rights organisations already know to be true. We are shown ghoulish practices of criminals being tortured and mistreated, spurring demand from part of society and among politicians for just such barbaric reprisals against terrorists. Many people view this spectacle of cruelty as a disgusting attempt to show resolve and to cover up the failure by the security forces to prevent the terrorist attack as well as the lack of effective action in the early hours of the tragedy.

Counter-terrorism is not the same as the excessive and barbaric abuse of terrorists. Effective counter-terrorism involves stopping mass murder, preventive measures, identifying terrorist networks, and building up effective security systems. Counter-terrorism means that punishment for those who perpetrate, organise, and commission such acts is certain. There is demand in our society for exactly these measures. Yet this is the very thing we are not seeing, not now nor in the investigation of past terrorist incidents.

Torture, which they are proud of and present as a spectacle to society, is a way for them to continually expand the boundaries of acceptable violence in society and to normalise criminality within law enforcement agencies themselves. If those who should be fighting crime and terrorism instead commit crimes themselves and report them as achievements in the fight against terrorism, then the next step will be total non-compliance with the prohibition of torture. In such a scenario, law enforcement agencies would totally break up and transform into an extra-legal punitive paramilitary squad threatening each and every one of us. This would be a threat to the security of all citizens. Russian society has no need of this. Here, the demand for security outweighs the demand for barbarity and cruelty.

Translated by Lindsay Munford