Global perspective Human stories

Kyrgyzstan must do more to prevent torture, end impunity for abuses – UN expert

Juan Méndez (right), UN Special Rapporteur on Torture
Juan Méndez (right), UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

Kyrgyzstan must do more to prevent torture, end impunity for abuses – UN expert

An independent United Nations human rights expert has urged the Kyrgyz Government to prevent abuses, torture and ill-treatment, and to end impunity by ensuring that alleged perpetrators are held responsible.

Juan E. Méndez voiced concern that there is “a serious lack of sufficiently speedy, meaningful, thorough and impartial investigations” into allegations of torture and ill-treatment, as well as lack of effective prosecution of law enforcement officials.

“I heard multiple allegations of corruption in the administration of justice which demonstrates how deeply ingrained it is in the criminal law system,” he said in a statement to the press in Bishkek, the capital, at the end of his visit, which began on 5 December and ended yesterday.

A key element of his fact-finding mission was interviewing people held in various types of detention facilities as well as victims of torture and ill-treatment in Bishkek, Osh and Jalalabad.

“The use of torture and ill-treatment is a widespread phenomenon, usually committed by the operative investigative officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs during the first hours of apprehension and interrogation for the purpose of extracting confessions,” said Mr. Méndez, who is the Special Rapporteur on torture.

“I have received multiple allegations of torture that share the same pattern of being subjected to asphyxiation through plastic bags and gas masks, punched, beaten with police truncheons and applied electric shock committed by police officers during arrest and first hours of informal interrogation,” he stated.

“The use of torture by the criminal investigation police is exacerbated by the reliance placed on confessions in the judicial system,” added the expert, who also met with senior State officials, representatives of civil society, lawyers and human rights advocates.

He stressed that Kyrgyzstan needs to revamp the framework of procedural safeguards against torture, including by creating a meaningful and transparent system of access to assistance of counsel from the moment of arrest, and to ensure that it is implemented in good faith.

“Almost all detainees indicated that they were subjected to mistreatment or beating since the moment of apprehension and delivery to a police station for the purpose of extraction of confessions by means of torture,” said the expert.

“Other allegations were that the judicial system is slow, inefficient and corrupt, which leads to a situation where many persons are deprived of their liberty in places of detention that are completely inadequate for long-term detention and held in pre-trial detention for up to a year.”

Mr. Méndez said the conditions in detention centres he visited ranged from adequate to dreadful, with unsanitary conditions, almost no ventilation, no windows or daylight.

“I recognize that many of the problems observed are caused by a lack of resources and I encourage international donors to support the Government in its attempts to improve prison conditions,” he stated.

“However, some important steps could be taken that are not resource-dependent, such as establishing stronger legal and procedural safeguards. In addition, greater use of non-custodial measures for accused persons, particularly those accused of petty crimes, would significantly contribute to more humane conditions of detention.”

The expert reports to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in an independent and unpaid capacity.