On June 16th in Geneva during the 26th United Nations Human Rights Council session a side event Human rights in Belarus and Turkmenistan: Enforced disappearances and torture took place. The event was organized with the support of Human Rights Watch and Civic Solidarity Platform.
Speakers of the event included human right defenders and relatives of the involuntary disappeared from Belarus and Turkeministan:
Dzmitry Bandarenka, Iryna Krasovskaya,
Olga Zakharova and
Georgy Dzhibladze. The speakers talked about tortures and enforced disappearances in Belarus and Turkmenistan which are still taking place causing inhuman sufferings.
In her speech We Remember founder Iryna Krasovskaya described the situation in regard to the disappearance of her husband, Anatoly Krasovsky, back in 1999. Mrs. Krasovskaya talked about the leaked evidence that the high-ranked officials were involved in the kidnapping and possible murder of Anatoly Krasovsky, as well as three other disappeared persons in Belarus: Yuri Zakharenko, Viktor Gonchar, Dmitry Zavadsky. She talked about the PACE Memorandum Disappeared Persons in Belarus which summarized the details of the horrifying crimes of the enforced disappearances in Belarus in 1999-2000.
Iryna Krasovskaya concluded with the most recent developments in the case of her disappeared husband:
For those 15 years we, relatives, tried all possible mechanisms to find the truth. My daughter and I won the case against Belarus in the UN Human Rights Committee in 2012. The Human Rights Committee concluded that Belarus had violated its obligation to investigate properly and take appropriate remedial action regarding Mr. Krasovsky’s disappearance (violations of article 2, paragraph 3, read in conjunction with articles 6 and 7 of the Covenant). The HRC requested Belarus to provide the victims with an effective remedy, which should include a thorough and diligent investigation of the facts, the prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators, adequate information about the results of its inquiries, and adequate compensation to the authors. The State party should also take measures to ensure that such violations do not recur in the future.
The Belarus response was that “… Under the Optional Protocol the State Parties have no obligations on the recognition of the Committee’s rules of procedure and its interpretation of the Protocol’s provisions, which could only be efficient when done in accordance with Vienna Convention on the Law Treaties (1969). Any communication registered in violation of the provisions of the Optional Protocol to the Covenant and Political Rights will be viewed by the State Party as incompatible with the Protocol and will be rejected without comments on the admissibility on the merits. Decision that may be taken by Human Rights Committee on such declined communications will be considered by the State Party’s competent authorities as invalid”.
This means that not one single decision of the UN HRC under ICCPR won by the citizens against Belarus was respected and acted on by the state of Belarus.
The end of Mrs. Krasovskaya's speech was very personal:
I am fighting for the truth about disappearance of my husband and other people in Belarus for 15 years. During these years of struggle we have secured numerous decisions, resolutions, requests, and appeals from international organizations, Parliaments, Presidents of different countries addressed to the Belarusian authorities to investigate the cases of disappearances. We still are waiting for the transparent investigation. There is no political will from the Belarusian authorities, especially from the President, to investigate their own crimes.
However, the involved in the crime of the involuntary disappearances must remember that all dictatorships end sooner or later and that there is no statute of limitations for the crime of disappearances.
I have a hope that one day Belarus will sign and ratify the UN International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced
Disappearance. Justice will come and perpetrators will be punished.
People in Belarus will learn the truth about disappearances of Yuri Zakharenko, Victor Gonchar, Anataly Krasovsky, Dmitry Zavadsky. Without justice there will be no future for free and independent Belarus.
I hope that one day we can find the graves of our beloved. We can bring them flowers and finally say: Forgive us.
The participants handed in recommendations to the UN member states in regard to ending the practice of torture and involuntary disappearances. Please read the full texts of the recommendations below:
RECOMMENDATIONS TO END ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCES AND TORTURE IN BELARUS AND TURKMENISTAN
16 June 2014
Enforced Disappearances and Torture: A Growing Problem in the Post-Soviet Area
Enforced disappearances and torture are among the gravest violations of human rights and are recognized as crimes in the International Convention on Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances and in the Convention against Torture.
Torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment continue to be among the most serious problems in many UN member States. In some member States, including many countries of the post-Soviet region, torture is widespread and systematic and is practiced with impunity. Prosecution rates against perpetrators are dramatically low compared to its incidence. Over the last decade torture in the context of the war on terror has become a particular problem, as torture of terrorism suspects has become common throughout the world.
The crime of enforced disappearances is often associated with military dictatorships of the 20th century or with situations of violent conflict and war. As these countries made transitions to democracy, the quest for justice for forced disappearances was a major topic of international discourse. However, a growing problem of enforced disappearances in the countries of the post-Soviet region has been rarely discussed at the same level of concern.
Enforced disappearances in the post-Soviet region often target political opponents of the government, civic activists and journalists. They are also committed during counter-terrorism operations against terrorism suspects. They take place with alarming occurrence against civilians in the course of armed internal conflicts. A large number of crimes committed in the recent past remain uninvestigated, including massive disappearances during the wars in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus.
As governments and inter-governmental organisations have failed to address numerous past cases of enforced disappearances in a number of countries in the post-Soviet region, an atmosphere of impunity prevails. This not only denies justice and effective remedy to victims and their families but often becomes a breeding ground for other crimes such as short-term abductions, torture, and murder.
Recently international attention has been drawn to the problem of enforced disappearances in this region due to the situation in Ukraine. Enforced disappearances, abductions and torture have been committed against protesters during the Maidan events, later in Crimea, and most recently by anti-government insurgent forces in the East of the country against journalists and civic activists. Anti-government insurgents have also abducted members of OSCE monitoring missions.
There are two countries in the region that practice enforced disappearances and torture to silence some opponents of the regime and intimidate others: Belarus and Turkmenistan.
According to information from reliable sources and reports of witnesses, from the first years of Alexander Lukashenka’s rule in mid-1990s, secret group was created within Belarus’s law enforcement and security agencies to assassinate dangerous criminals and political opponents of the regime and to destroy their corpses so all evidence of the crime would disappear without a trace. This group included former and acting officers of special services and was often referred to as a “death squad”. Its victims included several leading political opponents of the regime and a leading journalist. These crimes have been a subject of a special PACE report in 2004. None of these crimes has been effectively investigated despite of international and domestic outcry.
More recently, in 2008-2014 there were at least a dozen cases in which unknown individuals, suspected to be security officers, kidnapped civic and political activists in order to intimidate them. In several cases the victims were beaten during their ordeal and threatened with murder. All were eventually released.
On 19 December, 2010 police violently dispersed a mass demonstration in Minsk against fraud at presidential elections, brutally beating hundreds of participants, including women and the elderly. Numerous cases of torture and degrading treatment were committed during the weeks following arrests of more than 600 protesters. Some detainees were tortured in the course of investigation in an effort to compel them to plead guilty. These massive violations have been described in detail in the OSCE Moscow Mechanism report on Belarus in 2011 . Since then, such major events as elections or international sport or cultural events have been accompanied by arrests and ill-treatment of civic and political activists. None of the allegations of beating by the police and torture and ill-treatment in detention has been investigated.
Beginning in the late 1990s’ several dozen people have disappeared into Turkmenistan’s prison system. Most were acting or former high-ranking officials or other public figures who were sentenced to life or lengthy terms of imprisonment following patently unfair trials. In many cases, the government has branded them as “terrorists.” Information on the most prominent cases can be found in the 2003 report of the OSCE Moscow Mechanism Rapporteur and in the materials of the “Prove They Are Alive!” campaign .
The 2003 OSCE report revealed numerous due process violations, including evidence of torture of persons under investigation and repression against relatives of the accused. These people faced evictions and a series of other deprivation of their rights. Moreover, the authorities have denied them any information about their loved ones in custody. In these several dozen cases, prisoners have been held incommunicado since the time of their detention more than 11 years ago. For all this time, neither relatives nor the public have received any official information about the fact of whether these people are still alive or dead or the state of their health. These people have in fact forcefully disappeared in the Turkmenistan prison system.
Both Belarus and Turkmenistan regularly report to the UN bodies about their successes in social policies and claim that their judicial and penitentiary system are in line with their international commitments. Unlike rogue regimes, they engage in dialogues with international community on select issues. However, their record on engaging with the UN on issues that embody the core of their repressive rule is quite different. On these issues, neither government implements most UPR recommendations or concluding observations and recommendations of treaty bodies, and neither hosts visits by the relevant UN thematic mechanisms. Their partners in dialogue should not deceive themselves: these regimes are complicit in crimes of torture, enforced disappearances and perhaps even extrajudicial executions.
Recommendations to UN member states
We ask member states of the United Nations to take the following steps:
Regarding the general situation in the post-Soviet region:
1. Member States should establish effective mechanisms to investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and abductions in accordance with international standards of effective investigation and address the problem of impunity for the use of torture and for committing the crime of enforced disappearances and abductions, including by cooperating with other States in the investigation and persecution of person, suspected of authorizing, participating, committing, or attempting to commit torture and ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and abductions.
2. Member States should effectively investigate past crimes of enforced disappearances, in particular in North Caucasus in Russia, Belarus, Turkmenistan, and Ukraine (in Kiev during the Maidan events, Crimea, and the Eastern regions), bring perpetrators to justice and provide remedies to the families. In taking these measures, States should fully cooperate with inter-governmental organisations.
3. Member States that exercise de-facto control over territories that are de-jure recognized by the international community as part of the territory of another state, should accept full responsibility and be held accountable for ensuring the implementation on these territories of all international human rights obligation and in doing so should fully cooperate with inter-governmental human rights bodies and local and international civil society organisations. This should include providing unimpeded access to representatives of monitoring missions of international bodies to these territories. This in no way should be interpreted as legal recognition of annexation or changes of borders.
1. Renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus to ensure continued international attention to systemic and systematic human rights violations in this country, including torture and enforced disappearances, and in the light of lack of cooperation of Belarus with most UN human rights mechanisms. The resolution should:
• urge an effective investigation into indiscriminate and disproportionate force used by police against participants of the protest demonstration in Minsk on 19 December 2010, all allegations of torture and ill-treatment, including degrading conditions of detention, of people arrested and detained in connection with the 19 December 2010 events, and subsequent allegations of degrading treatment of political prisoners;
• urge the Belarusian authorities to conduct an effective investigation of all cases of enforced disappearances and abductions, both from 1999-2000 and in recent years, bring perpetrators to justice, and provide remedies for the relatives;
• call for the release of all political prisoners and lift travel bans and other restrictions on those political prisoners that have been released from jail.
2. Urge Belarus to join the International Convention on Protection of All Persons from Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances.
3. Urge the government of Belarus to take concrete steps towards the full and absolute prohibition and elimination of torture, inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment in detention centres, prisons, penitentiary colonies and closed institutions; include the definition of torture in domestic law in conformity with provisions of Article 1 of the International Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; ratify the Optional Protocol to CAT; implement in full the recommendations of the UN Committee against Torture from 2011 .
4. Call on the government of Belarus to grant access to independent governmental and non-government organisations to all detention facilities in the country, including police lock-ups, pretrial detention centres, security service premises, administrative detention areas, detention units of medical and psychiatric institutions and prisons.
5. Call on the government of Belarus to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms, particularly by permitting visits by the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as accepted by Belarus in the context of the Universal Periodic Review, as soon as possible.
6. Include the above recommendations in the UPR of Belarus in 2015.
1. Given that following the second cycle of the UPR in April 2013, Turkmenistan voluntarily accepted a number of recommendations, including recommendations on the access to persons serving long-term prison sentences, on combatting torture and on improving conditions in the penitentiary system , demand from the government of Turkmenistan the following:
• clarify the fate of persons serving long-term prison sentences (see a list of cases prepared by International “Prove They Are Alive!” Campaign ) and communicate this information to relatives of the prisoners and the international community;
• provide a substantive reply to the requests of the UN special procedures regarding persons serving long-term prison terms;
• allow access to the imprisoned by representatives of appropriate independent bodies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and relevant mandate holders of the UN special procedures, and ensure that lawyers and relatives have full and repeated access to the detainees;
• allow international inspection of the penitentiary facilities, including the strict regime prison Ovadan Depe.
2. Publicly express concern about the human rights situation in Turkmenistan, particularly about the fate of the disappeared in Turkmenistan’s prisons, during the next session of the Human Rights Council by raising concerns about the situation in Turkmenistan under item 4 of the HRC agenda and/or adopting a group statement by several UN member states on the situation of the disappeared in Turkmenistan’s prisons, calling on Turkmenistan to provide information about their fate in a timely manner.
3. Insist, in your dialogue with Turkmenistan, on real progress in demonstrating tangible results in the implementation of concluding observations of the Committee against Torture . This should include clarification of the fate of the persons serving long-term sentences.
4. Urge Turkmenistan to join the International Convention on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances.
5. Raise these issues during bilateral meetings and consultations with the government of Turkmenistan.
6. The Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights should act on the issue of the disappeared in Turkmenistan’s prisons, taking into account that the situation with a number of the disappeared persons remains unresolved since 2003 and 2004, when the issue was addressed in the UN General Assembly resolutions . In particular, OHCHR could request information about the disappeared from the Turkmenistan government and request visits to the prisoners by representatives of OHCHR.