Kazakhstan Court Orders Damages in Police Torture Case

A city court in Kazakhstan has ordered the local police authorities to pay compensation to Alexander Gerasimov for his torture by police in the town of Kostanai in March 2007, in an important step forwards for police accountability in the Central Asian country.

The decision followed a ruling in May last year by the United Nations Committee Against Torture (UN CAT), in a case brought against Kazakhstan on Gerasimov’s behalf by the Open Society Justice Initiative and the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (KIBHRRL). The CAT ordered Kazakhstan to pay compensation to Gerasimov, over his torture by police officers who were seeking to force him to confess to a crime he did not commit.  

The Kostanai court highlighted Kazakhstan’s obligation to respect the international treaties it has ratified, and to comply with the decision of the international human rights bodies if the state accepted their competence to decide on individual cases.

Roza Akylbekova, director of KIBHRRL, welcomed the ruling, saying: “The court confirmed the basic principle that the state should take responsibility for the acts of its representatives and should provide remedies to the victims”.

“This decision is an important step towards rectifying the injustices that the victims of worst human rights violations, including crimes such as torture, continue to suffer when the government simply states that it cannot find who exactly did them harm, so there is nothing to do,” she said.

The Gerasimov case marked the first decision rendered by the CAT on violations of the Convention Against Torture by the government of Kazakhstan.

The damages awarded by the Kostanai court, of 2 million tenge (about 13,000 USD), are significantly lower than the sum recommended by the expert who carried out a comprehensive evaluation of Gerasimov’s case as part of his  legal claim; no rationale was given for how the compensation was determined by the court.  Its decision can be appealed within fifteen days. 

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative, said: “We hope that this important court decision will prompt the government of Kazakhstan to focus now on its wider obligations under the UN CAT ruling. Beyond providing remedies and paying compensation to the individual victim, Kazakhstan must implement proper controls and monitoring of the police, to ensure similar violations do not continue.”

The Justice Initiative has supported a series of cases before the UN human rights tribunals involving torture and deaths in police custody in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, as part of a broader effort by the Open Society Foundations to end abusive police practices in the region.