The essence of the activity therapy centers (LTPs) in Belarus
As part of the monitoring of places of detention of citizens in the Republic of Belarus the Human Rights Center "Viasna" proposes to your attention an article about the system of ATCs, the legislation on compulsory isolation of those suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction and its practical application.
The article also provides a brief analysis of the compliance of the applicable national legislation on the compulsory isolation of individuals suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction, the provisions of the Constitution and the international standards of human rights.
I. Historical Context. A system inherited from the Soviet Union
The first activity therapy center appeared in the USSR in 1967 on the territory of the Kazakh SSR. Afterwards, the ATC system was actively used for forced isolation of those suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction who violated the public order and rules "of the socialist way of life". Citizens were sent to the ATCs by order of the district courts for a period of 6 months to 2 years. The court's decision was final and without appeal. The escape from ATC was a crime under the Criminal Code. Human rights activists in the Soviet Union called ATCs a part of the Soviet penal system.
On 25 October 1990 the Committee of Constitutional Supervision of the USSR adopted a Conclusion, in which some norms of the then Soviet Union legislation in this area, including the Soviet republics were recognized as inconsistent with the Constitution of the USSR and international standards of human rights. The Committee came to the conclusion that, according to the law, compulsory treatment in ATCs (i.e., the restriction of freedom, which is close to the criminal conviction ) applied to persons who have not committed any crimes.
After the collapse of the USSR the system of ATCs was abolished in most former Soviet republics. Activity therapy centers were eliminated in Russia by a Decree of the President of Russia Boris Yeltsin, which entered into force on 1 July 1994. Currently, ATCs are used only in Belarus, Turkmenistan and the unrecognized Transnistrian Moldovan Republic.
In Belarus, the ATC system wasn't used since 1991. Revival of the practice began in the late 90-ies, and has become widespread in recent years. ATCs are subordinated to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA). Isolation of citizens in the ATCs is regulated by the Law of the Republic of Belarus No. 104-3 of 4 January 2010 “On the procedure and conditions for sending citizens to activity therapy centers and the conditions of stay in them", the Code of Civil Procedure of the Republic of Belarus (paragraph 12 of Chapter 30 (special proceedings) and the internal regulations of ATCs, approved by the ruling of the Ministry of Internal Affairs No. 264 of 9 October 2007.
II. National legal framework
For a long time, the procedure of sending and keeping in ATCs used to be regulated by the Law "On measures of forced influence on alcoholics and drug addicts who regularly violate public order or the rights of others", which was adopted by the Supreme Soviet of the Belarusian SSR on 21 June 1991 and subsequently amended in 1994, 2000 and 2008. In December 2009 the House of Representatives of the National Assembly passed a new Law "On the procedure and conditions of sending citizens to activity therapy centers and the conditions of stay in them", which entered into force on 4 January 2010. The law introduced amendments to the Code of Civil Procedure of the Republic of Belarus, chapter 30 of which (special proceedings) was supplied with paragraph 12 "Peculiarities of consideration of the cases of a citizens to ATCs, the duration of stay in ATCs and the cessation of stay in ATCs".
An activity therapy center is an organization which is apart of the system of internal affairs of the Republic of Belarus, established for isolation, medical and social rehabilitation with compulsory labor of citizens suffering from chronic alcoholism, drug addiction or substance abuse, as well as the citizens who are obliged to reimburse expenses spent by the state for the maintenance of their children in public care, in the case of systematic violations of labor discipline by these citizens due to the consumption of alcoholic beverages, narcotics, psychotropic or toxic substances;
In accordance with Art. 4 of the Law, the following persons can be sent to ATCs:
Citizens ill with chronic alcoholism, drug addiction or substance abuse, who had been brought to administrative liability three or more times a year for administrative offenses while intoxicated or in a state caused by the consumption of narcotic drugs, psychotropic or toxic substances, had been warned about the possible sending to to the ATC in accordance with the Law and were brought to administrative liability for administrative offense while intoxicated or in a state caused by the consumption of narcotic drugs, psychotropic or toxic substances during one year after receiving such warning;
Citizens who are required to compensate the expenses spent by the state for the maintenance of their children in public care, in the case of systematic violations of labor discipline by these citizens because of the use of alcoholic beverages, narcotics, psychotropic or toxic substances.
Persons, who are not subject to sending in ATCs:
Citizens who have not attained the age of 18;
Men over 60 years old;
Women over 55 years old;
Women who are raising children under the age of one year;
People with 1-2 rate disabilities;
Citizens who have been diagnosed with diseases preventing them from being kept in ATCs.
According to Article 5 of the Law, the persons who have been brought to administrative liability for administrative offenses in a state caused by the consumption of alcohol, narcotics, psychotropic or toxic substances more than three times a year, are sent to the health care institutions for examination and diagnosis of chronic alcoholism or drug addiction. According to Art. 5 of the Law, a citizen has the right to appeal against the direction for examination to a superior official of the internal affairs agency, the prosecutor's office or the court.
In the case of diagnosis of chronic alcoholism, drug addiction or toxic substance abuse, the related medical conclusion is passed to the head of the internal affairs agency, who within 10 days after receiving it shall issue a warning to the citizen about the possibility of sending to the ATC. This warning is declared to the citizen in respect of whom it is issued, and a printed copy is given to him. According to Art. 6 of the Law, the citizen has the right to appeal against the warning to a superior officer of internal affairs, the prosecutor's office or the court.
In accordance with Art. 7 of the Law, the head of the internal affairs, within 10 days after receipt of the information about the administrative punishment of a person who has been warned about the possibility of sending to the ATC, committed in a state caused by the consumption of alcohol, narcotics or toxic substances, during one year after the warning, directs the citizen to a medical examination.
Within ten days after the receipt of the medical report that the citizen is ill with chronic alcoholism, drug addiction or substance abuse and has no illnesses preventing his stay in the ATCs, applies to the court for sending the citizen to the ATC.
For instance, a citizen swore in a public place while in the state of intoxication. After that, he was detained by police, taken to the court and was sentenced to an administrative punishment in the form of a 15-day arrest for disorderly conduct. A few weeks after his release the police detained him for drinking alcoholic beverages in a public place, as a result of which he was fined. After this, he received two more administrative punishments during the year, being fined for appearing in a public place in the state of intoxication degrading public morals. All these events occurred during one year, and the district police department sent him to a medical examination in order to establish the illness with alcoholism. After the receipt of the appropriate medical report, within ten days the citizen was warned by the head of the district police department about the possibility of being sent to the ATC if he would be held administratively liable for an offense committed in a state caused by the consumption of alcohol, narcotics or other intoxicating substances.
The next time he is detained in the state of alcohol intoxication for an offense committed in this state, and he will be held administratively liable during the year after the warning, the police will again bring him to the hospital to confirm the illness with chronic alcoholism. A police officer will pass all documents to the district court of general jurisdiction, which will issue a ruling about the direction of the person to the ATC (isolation) for one year within the framework of the special court proceedings (in accordance with Art. 361-393.12 of the Code of Civil Procedure of the Republic of Belarus). The case is considered with the participation of the prosecutor and the person who is subject to the direction to the ATC. In case of absence of the latter, the judge sanctions the forced bringing of the person to the court. The court verdict can be appealed within ten days. The defendant has the right to use the assistance of a counsel.
Thus, the isolation in the ATC is not a punishment for a particular administrative offense and is a consequence of the citizen's illness with chronic alcoholism and the previous offenses committed in the state of alcoholic intoxication, for which he has already been punished within the framework of the administrative proceedings.
In accordance with Art. 393.9 of the Code of Civil Procedure of the Republic of Belarus, the court shall consider the case within ten at an open session with the participation of the defendant, who may be represented by his counsel. The court's decision can be appealed to a higher court. According to Art. 8 of the Law, the period of isolation in the LTP is 12 months. However, in some cases referred to in Art. 55 of the Law (multiple disciplinary actions, the absence in the ATC for more than a day without a valid excuse and the untimely return to the ATC from a social leave), the court can extend the period of one's stay in the ATC for up to 6 months.
The legal status of the people isolated in ATCs remains unclear. They are not sentenced to deprivation or restriction of liberty or punished with administrative arrest.
The law stipulates that persons detained in activity therapy centers have the same rights as the citizens of the Republic of Belarus, but with some restrictions, which stem from the need for isolation and medical and social rehabilitation with the use of forced labor, as provided by the law. In practice, this means that those kept in the ATC have no right to arbitrarily leave it, must abide by the internal regulations and are subject to control and supervision. According to Art. 47, The persons who are kept in ATCs are obliged to work, the refusal from employment or refusal to work ensue disciplinary action against such persons (placement in a disciplinary cell for up to ten days). After receiving several disciplinary punishments, the stay of the person in the ATC can be prolonged for six months on a court decision. The isolated persons are subject to personal examination and searches of personal belongings. They are not allowed to keep personal documents, money or other prohibited items; the safety of their personal documents and money is ensured by the administration of the ATC.
Article 16 of the Law provides for the use of physical force and special gear by the personnel of the ATCs and the interior troops against isolated individuals in accordance with the legislative acts of the Republic of Belarus.
* The Constitution of Belarus
In accordance with Article 26 of the Constitution, no one can be convicted of a crime unless his guilt is proved in the manner prescribed by law and the court verdict which entered into force. Imprisonment can only apply to a person who has been found guilty of a crime, that is, if the guilt was confirmed by the court verdict. However, the duration and conditions of isolation in ATCs are in many ways comparable to the deprivation of liberty and are is nothing but a deprivation of liberty according to the international standards in the sphere of human rights,.
Article 14 of the Constitution establishes the work as a right, not as an obligation. Thus, the forced labor of citizens stipulated by the Law of the Republic of Belarus "On the procedure and conditions of sending citizens to activity therapy centers and the conditions of stay in them" is in complete contradiction with the Constitution, being applied outside of the execution of the court verdict in connection with a crime committed by the individual.
* The Law "On Health Care"
The forced treatment of persons suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction is contrary to the Law of the Republic of Belarus "On Health Care". According to this law, medical treatment in Belarus is voluntary and not compulsory. Article 46 provides for one exception: the involuntary treatment of persons who suffer from diseases that pose a threat to public health and refuse from treatment. In this case, compulsory treatment is appointed by the court within the framework of special civil proceedings (Articles 391-393 of the Civil Procedure Code). The official list of diseases that pose a threat to the public was adopted by the Ministry of Health in 2002. Alcoholism and drug addiction are not included in it.
The legislation of the Republic of Belarus provides for two more exceptions to the voluntary nature of medical care. First, it allows for compulsory treatment on a court sentence relating to the prosecution for an offense. This kind of compulsory medical measures is regulated by the Criminal Procedure Code of the Republic of Belarus. Another exception relates to compulsory psychiatric treatment of persons who suffer from mental illness and present a threat to themselves or others.
The compulsory medical measures used in the ATCs are outside of the existing provisions stipulated by the legislation of Belarus, referred to above. The practice of forced medical measures established by the Law of the Republic of Belarus "On the procedure and conditions of sending citizens to activity therapy centers and the conditions of stay in them" is contrary to the Law of the Republic of Belarus "On Health Care" and violates the legal rights of citizens and their personal integrity.
Such utterly expressive policy of "medical and social rehabilitation" is of particular concern in a country where the work of law enforcement causes a lot of criticism. In the case of ATCs such "rehabilitation" is used towards thousands of ill people (about 4,000-5,000 people per year), which are in need of a real medical or social assistance.
Over the past few years, the government of Belarus has introduced a number of new rules that have expanded the scope of the law and further restricted the rights of persons suffering from addictions. For example, the Presidential Decree No. 18 dated 24 November 2006 allows the state to take children from families of alcoholics or drug addicts without a court verdict. Under this Decree, the district court (within the framework of civil proceedings) obliges such parents must reimburse the state for the expenditures for raising their children in state institutions and are subject to forced employment. Such parents are given the status of "obligated persons", as it is stamped in the passport. In case of systematic violation of labor discipline related to alcohol consumption, an “obligated person" may be sent to the ATC.
For the avoidance of forced work, these individuals are subject to administrative arrest, and then – to the criminal liability in the form of restriction of freedom with the direction to an open penitentiary institution with the obligation to work. Belarusian President Aliaksandr Lukashenka personally spoke about the need for Belarus to establish labor camps for persons deprived of their parental rights and stated that the norms of human rights must not spread on them.
III. International human rights standards
The Law of the Republic of Belarus “On the procedure and conditions for sending citizens to activity therapy centers and the conditions of stay in them" and the practice of sending citizens to ATCs, their involuntary treatment and forced labor are also serious violations of international treaties on human rights ratified by the Republic of Belarus. In particular, they are contrary to Article 8 and Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (prohibition of forced labor and the right to personal liberty), Article 6, which guarantees "the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain a living by work which he freely chooses or accepts" and Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and cultural Rights (the right to the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to freedom from forced treatment). Likewise, the practice includes forced labor, which is prohibited by the ILO Convention No. 29, signed by Belarus, which defines forced labor as "all work or service which is performed by a person under the menace of any penalty and which that person does not take voluntarily". Exceptions are provided for in the case of forced labor sanctioned by a court verdict. However, in this case the isolation in the ATC is imposed by the court in a civil rather than criminal proceedings – that is, not in connection with a committed offense, which is not provided for in the Belarusian legislation.
Thus, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" believes that the current practice of forced isolation of people suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction is in contradiction with international standards of human rights and violates the rights guaranteed to citizens by the Constitution of Belarus.