On 17 October, EPLN presented its report on torture in Russian prisons, as well as Russian-controlled prisons in occupied Ukraine, during the 136th session of the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva.
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The endemic use of torture is by far the most serious problem in the Russian penitentiary system. Media and human rights activists have reported over 100 cases of torture in recent years – a figure that is probably underestimated.
Reliable sources indicate that torture is also used in some 40 penitentiary institutions in areas of Ukraine currently under Russian occupation.
EPLN highlighted a series of systemic factors that contribute to the perpetuation of this practice.
- Forced recruitment of prisoners by the prison administration to maintain order in detention has not been abolished: many reported cases of torture are carried out by prisoners acting as proxy for the prison administration.
- Serious institutional shortcomings have a negative impact on the investigation of allegations of torture and organize impunity for perpetrators. The subordination of medical personnel to the prison administration does not allow for systematic and reliable recording of bodily injuries of victims of torture. Similarly, the lack of independence of investigative bodies from the perpetrators denies victims of torture the right to an effective and impartial investigation of their allegations.
- The legal framework is not in line with international standards and is insufficient to fully address the problem. A recent amendment to the Russian criminal code did introduce a definition of torture into the national legal framework, but failed to make it a separate crime or to cover acts of torture committed by persons acting in an official capacity (i.e. prisoners recruited by the prison administration).
- Independent monitoring has been neutralized by years of a repressive policy. Human rights defenders who report cases of torture face criminal prosecution, and lawyers cannot bring recording devices into detention. Public Monitoring Commissions (PCMs), originally set up to prevent ill-treatment in places of detention, are now composed exclusively of former law enforcement officials: NGOs members and individuals considered “foreign agents” are not allowed to be members of these commissions. In addition, the Russian Constitutional Court has recently given its green light to a practice of prison staff to interrupt prisoners’ interview with PCM members if they discuss matters other than the conditions of detention.
Concerning Ukraine, EPLN indicated that:
- Russia now controls 39 prisons and colonies in the occupied territory of Ukraine. It also created filtration camps and illegal detention sites where hundreds of people opposed to the occupation are regularly subjected to torture and ill-treatment and have no access to medical assistance.
- Prisoners of war are held in penitentiary facilities, in clear violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. NGOs and international organisations, including the UN Mission have regularly been denied access to these facilities, but nevertheless managed to document numerous cases of ill-treatment.
- Prisoners detained on Russian territory are recruited by the private military company Wagner Group to fight in Ukraine alongside Russian forces, with the active participation of the prison administration and Russian authorities. This recruitment takes place in a legal vacuum, subjecting prisoners to forced labour and arbitrary detention.