UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Committee Against Torture strongly criticized Russia in a report for failing to investigate widespread allegations of torture and stepping up intimidation and reprisals against human rights advocates and journalists.
The panel of 10 independent experts expressed concern at the discrepancy between the high number of complaints of torture and ill treatment that it received from detainees and the relatively low number of criminal cases opened by authorities in response leading to prosecution.
The report on Russia's compliance with a 1987 treaty against torture and other degrading punishments also expressed serious concern about numerous allegations that detainees have been tortured to extract confessions which were then used as evidence in court, and at Moscow's failure to ensure all detainees the right to a lawyer.
The committee called on Russia to take "immediate and effective measures to prevent all acts of torture and ill-treatment throughout the country and to eliminate impunity of those allegedly responsible."
It pointed to the increasing intimidation, harassment and attacks against people and organizations monitoring and reporting on human rights.
The committee urged the repeal of a new law backed by President Vladimir Putin that expands the definition of treason so broadly that critics say it could be used to call anyone who opposes the government a traitor. It called for another new Putin-backed law requiring human rights organizations that receive foreign funding to register as "foreign agents" to be amended, saying the term "seems negative and threatening to human rights defenders."
The panel issued the report at the end of a four-week session in Geneva which included two meetings on Russia. A high-level Russian delegation reported on a number of new treaties ratified by the government, its establishment of a committee to investigate crimes which is independent of the state prosecutor's office and Public Oversight Committees to monitor detention facilities.
The U.N. committee welcomed the moves but expressed concern about "the impartiality and effectiveness" of the Investigative Committee following reports that its head, Alexander Bastrykin, arranged for the abduction of the deputy editor of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper in June and threatened him with physical harm in retaliation for publishing a critical article.
It was not investigated by Russia and did not lead to any disciplinary action, the report noted.
The panel also raised concerns about the independence of the Public Oversight Committees, citing reports of reprisals against committee members including the prosecution of Alexei Sokolov, a campaigner for prisoners' rights. It noted that the committees must obtain advance authorization to visit detention facilities and urged that they be allowed to carry out unannounced visits.
In the case of whistleblowing Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, the committee said only one relatively low-level prison official had been prosecuted in connection with his death in jail, even though the Public Oversight Committees said a number of investigators and penitentiary officials, including the lead investigator in the criminal case against him, should have been investigated as well.
The panel called for a prompt and impartial investigation of these officials to "ensure that all those responsible for his torture and death are prosecuted and punished with sanctions appropriate to the gravity of the crime."
Magnitsky was arrested in 2008 by the same Interior Ministry officials whom he accused of using false tax documents to steal $230 million from the state and died a year later of untreated pancreatitis at the age of 37.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly for a bill that would end Soviet-era trade restrictions — which Moscow has long sought — but combined it with a measure named for Magnitsky that would punish Russian officials involved in human rights violations. The legislation must now be approved by the Senate.
The U.N. committee also urged Russia to investigate and bring to justice those responsible for the killings of crusading journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 and human rights activist Natalia Estemirova in 2009, and for the alleged beating of human rights lawyer Sapiyat Magomedova by police in the Caucasus province of Dagestan in 2010.