New York—The United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) has found the government of Kazakhstan responsible for the 2007 torture of a detainee in police custody and subsequent attempts to intimidate the victim into silence.
The decision underlines concerns about both the widespread use of torture in Kazakhstan and the lack of official accountability. It follows a complaint filed by the Open Society Justice Initiative and the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law on behalf of Alexander Gerasimov, a 42 year old construction worker in the city of Kostanay in northern Kazakhstan.
In March 2007, Gerasimov was interrogated by local police for more than 24 hours about an alleged murder in his neighborhood. In an attempt to force a confession, a group of at least five police officers beat him severely and threatened him with sexual violence. The abuse included repeatedly tying his hands and holding him down on the floor while suffocating him with a polypropylene bag until he lost consciousness. They repeated this process several times, leaving him bleeding from the abrasions to his face.
Gerasimov was eventually released without charge. As a result of his injuries he spent 13 days in hospital, and a month undergoing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
When Gerasimov filed a complaint about his treatment, the investigation was conducted by the same police unit that had tortured him, and no charges were brought. After he complained to the Committee against Torture, he was subjected to intimidation, including confrontations with the same police officers who had been involved in torturing him. The CAT determined that a letter it received at this time in his name, supposedly withdrawing his complaint, had been signed under duress.
The ruling concludes that Gerasimov’s treatment amounted to torture, and that his right to petition had been interfered with. It also concludes that the government failed to establish safeguards to prevent such abuse, and that it had neither conducted an effective investigation into the complaint, nor protected the victim from further intimidation.
Roza Akylbekova, director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau on Human Rights and the Rule of Law, said in a statement: “This decision finally sets the record straight with regard to the torture Gerasimov suffered and the unacceptable conduct of the investigation into his complaint. It also highlights systemic failings in the prevention and the investigation of torture, failings that the government of Kazakhstan needs to rectify urgently.”
James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative said: “This is one of the first decisions adopted by the UN treaty bodies with regard to Kazakhstan. Its implementation will be a litmus test of the government’s commitment to and respect for its international obligations.”
Following the ruling, Kazakhstan has 90 days to inform the CAT of what actions it is taking to provide redress to Gerasimov and what steps it is implementing to prevent similar abuse in the future.
Appropriate internationally-recognized safeguards against torture include steps such as: ensuring that the names of detainees are properly registered; ensuring that anyone detained gets early access both to a lawyer and to a proper medical examination; and establishing regulations to ensure that all complaints of torture are properly investigated.