Prisoners' rights and the international commitments of Belarus in the field of human rights
The National Report for the Universal Periodic Review (second cycle), prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has been published.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a mechanism of the UN Council on Human Rights seeking to review the human rights situation in all countries of the world. Belarus passed the first cycle of the UPR in the UN Council on Human Rights in 2010. Belarus accepted 74 out of the 94 received recommendations; in 2012 Belarus submitted to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights an interim report on the implementation of the recommendations of the first cycle of the UPR. This report was analyzed in the framework of the monitoring of the situation of prisoners. In September 2014 the Belarusian human rights activists sent to the Council their own materials for UPR.
Their report contains several paragraphs related to the questions which were studied during the monitoring of conditions in penitentiary institutions, conducted by HRC "Viasna". It is very important to assess objectively the verity of the information, presented in the official report, as well as the coverage of the issue by the state, represented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Investigation of torture and facts of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment
As stated in paragraph 165 of the report, "In Belarus there is a clear mechanism for identifying and responding to all cases of cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees and persons under custody. Existing procedural rules allow supervisory and other bodies to ensure an immediate objective and comprehensive consideration of such complaints by conducting additional investigation and official inspections, which can result in instigation of criminal proceedings under sufficient reasons." In fact, there is no system of passing written appeals by detainees, accused or convicted persons directly to an independent body empowered to investigate cases of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The provision in the law that such appeals shall not be subject to censorship is violated on a regular basis: there is ample evidence of the prison practice of delaying complaints of convicts about violations of their rights; the practice of submitting such appeals in unsealed envelopes is tacitly supported, too. The law prohibits passing such appeals to other persons, in particular, through lawyers and relatives, under the threat of penalty.
As a rule, appeals of the prisoners' relatives to the prosecutor's office with complaints of ill-treatment by prison staff are sent to the territorial divisions of the Department of Corrections of the Ministry of the Interior. This practice has evolved under the influence of Presidential Decree № 498 "On additional measures of work with citizens and legal entities" datedOctober 15, 2007, according to which the complaints of citizens need to be considered by the bodies which are responsible for considering such appeals on their merits in specific spheres of social activity, irrespective of the original addressee of the complaint. In particular, the issues of execution of criminal sanctions are referred to the competence of the Department of Corrections of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the regions of Belarus, Minsk and Minsk region.
The procedure of appealing the actions of MIA officers against prisoners was studied by the HRC “Viasna”.
For instance, the wife of the convicted P. Kuchura filed an appeal with the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus due to his poisoning with fumes of chlorine in September 2014 in the penal colony No. 15 in Mahiliou. inspection on the application was started by Mahiliou inter-district department of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus on May 27, 2014, whereas the statement had been submitted back on November 5, 2013. The head of the Mahiliou region department of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus forwarded the first appeal, dated November 11, 2013, to the Department of Corrections Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus for consideration on its merits in conformity with the competence of the latter. The actions of the head of the Mahiliou region department of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus were appealed to the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus, which found no violationsin the actions of the official and dismissed the appeal by its reply dated April 12, 2014. P. Kuchura's wife also appealed to the court against the actions of officials of the Investigative Committee, but the complaint was left without consideration. After she sent numerous complaints to various authorities, including repeated complaints to the Prosecutor General, the latter eventually saw the basis for holding an inspection, which was formally started nine months after the incident. The refusals of the investigator to instigate criminal proceedings on the fact have been abolished five times already, with reference to the incompleteness of the inspection. Contrary to the practice established by the Istanbul Protocol, Piatro Kuchura hasn't been examined by an expert yet. Without examining the victim, the experts point to excessively long period of time since the poisoning as a circumstances that prevents the establishment of the fact of poisoning.
An inspection on the fact of the death of A. Akulich (who had been serving an administrative arrest) was started on appeal of his mother at the end of May 2012. As a result of the inspection, the investigator issued rulings to refuse from instituting criminal proceedings, which were repeatedly canceled on the applicant's complaints. As a result of the repeated consideration of her appeal by court in September 2014 there were discovered numerous shortcomings of the inspections. In February 2015 the investigator again refused to instigate a criminal case. The investigation found no violations of the law in the actions of the police officers who beat the agonizing prisoner, handcuffed to an iron lattice door.
An inspection on the fact of the death of prisoner I. Ptsichkin in the remand prison in Minsk lasted since August 2013. The investigation of the criminal case against the prison medics, whose incompetence in execution of their duties resulted in the prisoner's death, was suspended. The mother of the deceased states that the investigation concentrated on proving his relation to drug trafficking. She strongly disagrees with the conclusions of the investigation and plans to appeal this decision. The results of the examination, studied by her, indicate that there were no traits of drugs or alcohol in her son's blood. However, nether she nor her lawyer have been allowed to familiarize with the materials of the completed inspection so far. Instead, the mother was informed about the inadmissibility of disclosure of information obtained by her in the course of the investigation, under threat of criminal penalties.
These cases allow for making a statement about an unsatisfactory level of the investigation of cases of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners, including in terms of the principle of immediate inspection.
In none of these cases the officers working in the penitentiary institutions were removed from their duty positions during the inspections, which raises doubts that the investigative bodies really created conditions for objective and all-sided investigation of the circumstances of the case, excludingconditions forexercising pressure on witnesses and victims for this period.