The United Nation’s chief torture inspector has wrapped up a trip to Dushanbe, where he found that police and prosecutors employ violence against detainees as their “main investigatory tool.” He called on “the highest levels of authority” to pledge “zero tolerance” for torture.
These findings coincide with reports by rights groups, who say Tajikistan’s prisons and detention centers are rife with abuse, and point to several suspicious deaths in the past year as proof.
Juan E. Méndez, the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, said at the end of his nine-day visit that though Dushanbe is taking steps in the right direction -- by introducing legal provisions defining torture and authorizing prosecution -- officials need to do more to put an end to the practice, which he says happens “often enough and in a wide [enough] variety of settings that it will take a very concerted effort to abolish it or to reduce it sharply.” From a UN statement issued May 18:
The Special Rapporteur also expressed concern at the relatively low penalty of five years for a first offense established with the new legal definition of torture of the Criminal Code, noting that such penalty does not seem to comply with the obligation to treat torture as a severe crime with commensurate penalties, as it allows for the application of amnesty and other forms of reduction and mitigation. “A relatively low penalty does not offer a strong disincentive to commit torture,” he stressed.
Mr. Méndez underscored that “confessions extracted by violence remain the main investigatory tool of law enforcement and prosecutorial bodies,” although the Code of Criminal Procedure has incorporated an exclusionary rule in line with the Convention against Torture, requiring that confessions and declarations obtained under torture or other mistreatment must be inadmissible in any criminal proceeding against a defendant.
“Pressure on detainees, mostly as a means to extract confessions is practiced in Tajikistan in various forms, including threats, beatings (with fists and kicking but also with hard objects) and sometimes by applying electric shock,” the human rights expert said in his preliminary findings.
Will the message get through?
Reading Tajikistan’s state media, it sounds like everything is under control. A story by Khovar news agency on Méndez’s May 18 meeting with President Emomali Rakhmon did not mention any of his findings, but gave the president plenty of opportunity to elaborate on his country’s progress.
The government’s policy, Rakhmon was cited as saying, is based on ensuring citizens’ rights and freedoms and aims to “improve legislation in accordance with the principles of a democratic, law-based and secular state, which are set out in the country’s constitution.”
“This process still has some difficulties and flaws, but the main thing is that we decisively and consciously chose this specific path – that is, the path of ensuring human rights and freedoms – and will stick to this path,” Rakhmon said.
Méndez was probably hoping for more when he said an official acknowledgement of the problem is an important first step. “If there is no recognition that there is a problem with mistreatment, whether systematic or not, mistreatment is not likely to go away. On the contrary, it is likely to increase as soon as attention shifts to other matters,” Méndez said.