NEW YORK—A court in Kyrgyzstan has for the first time enforced a ruling of the UN Human Rights Committee independently of any criminal conviction, ordering a compensation payment in the case of Turdubek Akmatov, who died in 2005 after being severely beaten in police custody.

When the Kyrgyz authorities repeatedly blocked the criminal investigation into Akmatov’s death, his family took his case to the Human Rights Committee, supported by lawyers from the Open Society Justice Initiative and by local counsel.

The committee concluded on October 29, 2015, that Kyrgyzstan was responsible for the arbitrary deprivation of Akmatov’s life and for his torture, and that the investigation conducted by Kyrgyz authorities had not been effective. The ruling included a call for compensation to be paid to the family, as well as for an effective investigation and for the prosecution of those responsible for Akmatov's death.

While the government made no efforts to implement the committee’s findings, the family took a number of steps to secure justice, including filing a lawsuit against the Ministry of Finance which seeks payment of the compensation ordered. This led to an order from the district court in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek instructing the Finance Ministry to pay 200,000 Kyrgyz soms (about USD 2,800).

In its ruling, the district court stated that the “subpar work of the law enforcement in investigating the death of Akmatov has serious consequences for society and the state.” It noted that the frustration of the family’s 13-year struggle to secure a proper account of what happened “negated the results of state efforts to strengthen the rule of law or to build trust in law enforcement bodies.”

The court also concluded that Kyrgyzstan was legally obliged to implement the views of the Human Rights Committee, on the basis of its accession to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant’s First Optional Protocol. It also decided that “it is necessary to be guided by the Views of the Human Rights Committee that indicate that persons, whose rights were violated, have the right to recover moral damages independently of any related criminal proceedings.”

The decision may still be subject to appeal.

Masha Lisitsyna, senior legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative, said: “This ruling reaffirms the right of an individual to seek and receive a measure of justice from the UN Human Rights Committee when the domestic justice system fails. Regrettably, the compensation ordered is too low, and 13 years is too long to wait for justice. But the ruling marks another step forward in the battle to eradicate torture and abuse in a system that so clearly failed Akmatov and his family.”

Sardorbek Abdukholikov, counsel representing Akmatov’s family in Kyrgyzstan, said: “This court decision highlights the need for Kyrgyzstan to fulfill its international obligations under the UN treaties. It also reinforces the right of victims to access justice, which is critically important to improve human rights in our country.” 

Following the Human Rights Committee ruling in 2015, it still took Akmatov’s family another three years to secure the court approval needed for the compensation payment. The delay, and the inadequate level of the payment ordered, underlines the need for Kyrgyzstan to take further steps to create an effective system for compensating the victims of torture, in place of the current system which requires a judicial process.

The Akmatov 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. KyrgyzstanErnazarov v. Kyrgyzstan and Moidunov v. Kyrgyzstan.