Summary of the NGO report on the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by the Republic of Belarus

NGOs are deeply concerned about the situation with the practice of using torture and other types of degrading treatment in Belarus, the absence of the system of investigation and punishment for torture and degrading treatment, absence of the state’s activity aimed at the improvement of the existing situation. The following problems are the most important:

The Criminal Law of the Republic of Belarus doesn’t have article defining punishment for using torture, inhuman and humiliating treatment as it is demanded by the norms of the Convention. That is why the state doesn’t keep records of such crimes and control them.

The state doesn’t provide for effective and impartial investigation of such crimes. That is why the investigation of all the facts of using torture and degrading treatment that became known are almost immediately closed and criminal cases are not opened. Persons who suffered from torture and claimed about the crime are not given any protection. They are practically deprived of the right for rehabilitation and compensation.

This problem is especially urgent in cases of impunity for compulsion to confess during the investigation of crimes, unprovoked and disproportionate use of force during the dispersal of peaceful meetings and for using torture in correctional institutions. Belarusian legislation hasn’t set the frame norms of using physical force, special means, weapons and special equipment during the provision of public security, the regime in correctional institutions and preventing crimes that would meet the requirements of the principals of proportionality and adequacy.

The outrageous fact of such practice was the detention of more than 600 people in Minsk on December 19, 2010 and the way the detained were treated – additional information has already been given.

Procedural norms and enforcement practice do not provide for proper guarantees of the rights of the detained. It concerns the simplified order of the arrest (without court’s approval), absence of guarantees of lawyer’s presence from the moment of detention, not informing the relatives of the detained about the detention. These conditions create the real danger for detained to become the subjects of threats and torture by law enforcement officers (especially KGB officers, who are not the subjects for legal procedural limitations) in order to get confessions.

The institutions of legal system and lawyers are under stringent administrative controls. Judges are appointed and fired directly by the President of the Republic of Belarus. Judges leave without considering the appeals against violations of procedural norms during detentions and against the prison conditions. There are problems with the access of lawyers to their clients and the provision of confidentiality of their conversations. We are very concerned about the cases of persecution of lawyers for their professional activity on political grounds and debarring them.

We are concerned about the growth of the number of prisoners in Belarus, what becomes the reason of overcrowding of correctional institutions. (Taking into account the fact that guaranteed national sanitary norm 2,5 square meters per person is inadequate). The state is practically not controlling the situation by not counting the number of prisoners in cells and not banning the placing prisoners to cells where they don’t have a sleeping berth.

The majority of correctional facilities in Belarus should be found not acceptable for keeping prisoners in them because of the existing prison conditions, 4 pre-trial prisons and25 percent of temporary detention centers. Minimal sanitary norms of illumination, ventilation, daily walks are not provided in these facilities (absence of toilet, washbasin and drinking water in cells). Prison staff carries no responsibility for keeping prisoners in unacceptable conditions.

Timely medical examination, recording of injuries and proper medical aid are not provided in correctional institutions. The main reason is the dependent status of doctors (they are subordinate to heads of correctional facilities) and the absence of the system of independent investigations of the facts of getting traumas at the time of being kept in custody.

The conditions of transporting the prisoners are very difficult (including keeping in prison vehicles and special premises). In practice prisoners spend lots of time in overcrowded rooms without the possibility to use toilet, they get no food.

The Republic of Belarus does nothing to promote the idea of inadmissibility of the use of torture and degrading treatment. There is no any information on this topic in studying programs of the students of law enforcement educational establishments. The state does not admit the possibility of the use of torture and its danger in Belarus. It is significant that during the reporting period the topic of torture not a single time was the topic of discussion of Belarusian state bodies including with independent NGOs.
In practice of extradition of accused in criminal cases to other countries (mainly to Russia), Belarus doesn’t estimate the threat of using torture to these persons in these countries. There is no such demand in Criminal-Procedural Code of the Republic of Belarus.

There are no mechanisms of independent (public) control of correctional facilities. The created structures (such as public and supervisory commissions) exist just nominally and have no necessary power in investigating the appeals against use of torture and inhuman conditions in “closed” facilities. The staff of such commissions is formed by the bodies of justice of the Republic of Belarus at their wish and secretly, excluding the participation of HR defenders.

As the result of our assessment we can state that during the reporting period.

Belarus hasn’t taken any real and adequate measures aimed at the realization of the norms and principles of the Convention and previous recommendations of the Committee.

The situation in the Republic of Belarus in the sphere of using torture has significantly worsened, especially against the background of internal politics aimed at the control of civic society and the decision of political problems by force.
October 31, 2011.

The report is prepared by Belarusian NGOs: Committee Solidarity, Legal Initiative, Belarusian Helsinki Committee*, Legal Transformation Centre, Platform, Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, In partnership with the Penal Reform international, and in cooperation with and the support of the Belarusian Human Rights House and the Human Rights House Foundation.

Recommendations to the government of the Republic of Belarus

* In this and other texts as BHC and Belarusian Helsinki Committee.