Kyrgyzstan’s Supreme Court has ordered the government to pay compensation to the family of a man who died after being subjected to police torture, in a decision that affirms the findings of the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) in Geneva.
The ruling, delivered on January 27th, marks the first time that Kyrgyzstan’s top court has recognized the binding authority of a decision from the HRC, a move that should significantly enhance the HRC’s role as a deterrent to future abuses.
It followed a protracted effort by the government to contest a compensation claim lodged by the family of Tashkenbaj Moidunov, who was killed in police custody in the local police station in the village of Bazar-Korgon in October 2004.
In response to a complaint filed by the Open Society Justice Initiative and Kyrgyz lawyer Tair Asanov, the HRC concluded in July 2011 that Kyrgyzstan had violated Moidunov’s right to life, the right to protection from torture and the right to an effective remedy. It also called for a proper investigation, prosecution and reparations.
Moidunov’s family subsequently sought compensation from the government, but the application was rejected; the family then won a favorable ruling from the first instance court, albeit for a payment of just 200,000 Kyrgyz soms (around $3,000 at the time). However, the government continued to contest the issue, leading eventually to the January decision from the Supreme Court affirming the compensation claim.
The family’s compensation claim was presented by lawyers Tair Asanov and Nurbek Toktakunov.
In its decision, the Supreme Court confirmed that Kyrgyzstan’s obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights require the state to provide compensation for human rights violations to either the victims or their relatives.
Kyrgyzstan has yet to implement other aspects of the UN HRC ruling, which included carrying out an impartial and effective investigation into Moidunov’s killing, and holding the perpetrators properly accountable. The government should also publish the UN HRC decision.
The Justice Initiative is also urging the Kyrgyz government to issue an apology to Moidunov’s family, and to offer them compensation that more properly reflects the damages sustained as a result of his death.
James A. Goldston, the executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative said: “We welcome this Supreme Court decision as an important affirmation that Kyrgyzstan recognizes its obligations under the international human rights treaties that it is party to. We urge the courts and government of Kyrgyzstan to ensure that all UN HRC decisions are fully implemented.”
Tair Asanov, co-counsel, added: “It is not an exaggeration to say that this court ruling is an important milestone in the history of Kyrgyzstan as a state of law. The authorities must have a clear idea that they may not go unpunished for the violation of human rights as the state is responsible for actions of each and every official.”
The torture and killing of Moidunov in Bazar Korgon was first brought to light by Azimjan Askarov, the Kyrgyz human rights defender and a journalist, who was himself detained and tortured in 2010 at the same police station. Askarov was subsequently given a life sentence for murder in a manifestly unfair trial, and remains in prison despite a call from the UN HRC for his immediate release.
The decision on Moidunov case is one of four rulings of the Human Rights Committee on deaths in custody in Kyrgyzstan in response to a series of complaints submitted by the Open Society Justice Initiative in cooperation with Kyrgyz lawyers and civil society groups as part of a broad effort to end police abuse in the country. The committee also found Kyrgyzstan responsible for arbitrary deprivation of life and the subsequent failure to carry out an effective investigation in the cases of Akunov v. Kyrgyzstan, Ernazarov v. Kyrgyzstan and Akmatov v Kyrgyzstan.
The government of Kyrgyzstan responded to a series of critical rulings from the UN human rights treaty bodies by securing the removal of a constitutional clause that has hitherto required the implementation of such decisions. The measure was among more than two dozen constitutional issues that were passed in a simple yes-no referendum vote on December 11, 2016.
However, Kyrgyzstan remains a party to a range of international human rights treaties, which require the implementation of HRC decisions. Even as revised, the Kyrgyz constitution still provides for the rights of individuals to appeal to international bodies in the case of rights violations.
In addition, the previous constitutional obligation should apply to all decisions issued while it was in force. The Supreme Court’s decision in Moidunov case is a clear confirmation that the amendment of the constitution does not change the obligations of the government to provide redress to the victims of human rights abuses.