Archive for May, 2012
A recent European Court of Human Rights case finds that the excessive use of tear gas, especially when people are detained or deprived of their liberty, can amount to inhuman and degrading treatment
The use of tear gas by law enforcement officials against demonstrators and detainees is widely documented as a method of crowd control. However, examples of its excessive use are occurring with alarming frequency, for example recently in Bahrain, the West Bank, Turkey and Honduras where the use of tear gas has lead to civilian deaths.
A number of IRCT member centres have been campaigning against the use of tear gas in their countries and in particular its use against peaceful demonstrators and people deprived of liberty which many human rights organisations consider amounts to torture or ill treatment.
The Centre for Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and their Relatives (CPTRT) in Honduras has also raised its concerns about the use of tear gas by security forces, particularly in places of detention and against those demonstrating, such as the demonstrations that took place against changes to education in March 2011. . The issue was raised by the CPTRT during the recent visit of the UN Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) to Honduras and the SPT confirmed that it would look into the issue. The CPTRT also intends to ask the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights for its view on the use of tear gas in prisons and against demonstrators.
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has expressed its concerns over the use of such gases in law enforcement. The CPT considers that:
“… [P]epper spray [tear gas] is a potentially dangerous substance and should not be used in confined spaces. Even when used in open spaces the CPT has serious reservations; if exceptionally it needs to be used, there should be clearly defined safeguards in place. For example, persons exposed to pepper spray should be granted immediate access to a medical doctor and be offered an antidote. Pepper spray should never be deployed against a prisoner who has already been brought under control.” (CPT/Inf (2009) 25, paragraph 79)
The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV/HRFT) has vast experience in treating people who have been exposed to tear gas in five of its treatment and rehabilitation centres for torture survivors in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Diyarbakir and Adana. The HRFT decided to conduct further scientific studies on the physical effects of tear gas as its wide use by security forces during demonstrations; it has caused severe injuries and in some cases deaths from exploding bomb canisters and the inhalation of toxic chemicals used in the gas.
The HRFT (Istanbul Centre) has studied 64 cases of people affected by tear gas and evaluated the early side-effects of these chemical agents in these cases based on age, gender, psychological findings as well as other injuries. The research shows that complaints and physical side effects caused as a result of exposure to the tear gas chemicals were highest during the first three days following exposure.
The HRFT considers that “tear gas is a weapon derived from chemical agents” and that “the use of these agents amounts to torture and ill-treatment when used against people whose liberty has been deprived.”
The recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the case of Ali Güneş fully supports the HRFT’s position on this issue.
In the recent case of ALİ GÜNEŞ v. TURKEY (Application no. 9829/07), the ECtHR found for the first time that the use of tear gas against people whose liberty has been restricted can amount to a violation of Article 3 ECHR. The Court stressed that there can be no justification for the use of tear gas against an individual who has already been taken under the control of the law enforcement authorities. Ali Güneş, a high school teacher and member of the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers (Eğitim-Sen), was in one of the thirteen allocated areas where demonstrations were allowed to take place during the 2004 NATO summit in Istanbul. He complained about having been sprayed with tear gas by police officers, even after being arrested. The incident was widely reported in the national press and Mr Güneş was able to produce as evidence a photograph published in the daily newspaper Sabah showing him between two police officers who were holding him by the arms, and one of whom was spraying his nose and mouth with gas at very close range. He also relied on medical reports which showed that his eyes had been affected by the gas.
In its judgment, the Court referred to previous cases in which it had considered the use of tear gas for the purposes of law enforcement, and where it had recognised that its use can produce effects such as respiratory problems, nausea, vomiting, irritation of the respiratory tract, irritation of the tear ducts and eyes, spasms, chest pain, dermatitis and allergies. Given the effects the gases cause and the potential health risks they entail, the Court considered that “the unwarranted spraying of [Mr Güneş’s] face in the circumstances described must have subjected him to intense physical and mental suffering and was such as to arouse in him feelings of fear, anguish and inferiority capable of humiliating and debasing him”. By spraying him in such circumstances the police officers subjected Mr Güneş to inhuman and degrading treatment within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention.
The IRCT welcomes the clear indication from the European Court of Human Rights that tear gas should not under any circumstance be used against persons whose liberty has been restricted and considers that this sends an important signal to countries in the region that the excessive use of tear gas by security forces should not be condoned.
The outcome of the Turkish case should be of vital interest to other regions, where the oppressive use of tear gas is being used with alarming frequency, such as in Bahrain and Honduras. As the CPT has stated, clearly defined safeguards should be put in place where the use of tear gas is required. In addition, further protection against the excessive use of tear gas should be supported by more scientific research on the long-term effects of exposure to it, in particular to build on previous studies, such as those carried out by the HRFT and the US-based organisation Physicians for Human Rights.
The decision of the European Court in the case against Turkey, supported by an increased understanding of the long-term health effects of tear gas exposure, will give civil society organisations the increased ammunition needed to campaign against the excessive use of tear gas by law enforcement authorities.
Lea aquí (.DOC) la versión española
Rachel is interning at the IRCT with the Advocacy and Legal Team after completing her European Master’s in Human Rights and Democratisation; she is also a Qualified Solicitor.
Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – essentially the world’s top human rights chief – is currently visiting Zimbabwe this week. On her first investigatory mission, Ms Pillay will spend one week in the Southern African country to follow-up on decades of allegations of severe and gross human rights violations, including torture and political violence during the 2008 elections. The government, of course, is denying that torture is practiced in Zimbabwe, despite testimonies to the contrary. Zimbabwe will again have elections this year – 2012.
Speaking of the United Nations, the UN’s Committee against Torture is winding down their semi-annual review of countries. This round included, among others, Canada, Cuba, and Albania. The Committee also requested Syria submit a report following a year-long clashes with protester and thousands of accusations of human rights violations and torture. Syria refused to come.
Finally, last week Al Jazeera reported that we – the IRCT – had sponsored a forensics expert to perform a second autopsy on a young man in Bahrain after his parents requested assistance and suspected possible torture. The Bahrain Public Prosecutor agreed to look further into the case, but we have officially called on him, Nayef Yousif, to not ignore the evidence presented in the autopsy conducted by forensic pathologist Dr Sebnem Korur, a leading international expert, winner of the first International Medical Peace Award and an instrumental contributor to the Istanbul Protocol.
Editor’s note: This is the sixth post in an ongoing series from Russian member centre Committee Against Torture on their use of a Joint Mobile Group to investigation human rights violations, such as torture. See the first, second, third , fourth and fifth post.
Abducted, torture and left in a basement cell while handcuffed to a steam heating pipe for three and a half months; Islam Umarpashayev had disappeared. Chechen Special Police Task Force had showed up at his house after Islam had posted a message critical of police treatment on the Internet using his cell phone. After four months, his family is desperately seeking their missing son. Read the full story in last weeks blog post.
Applying to the European Court of Human Rights and Islam’s release
While Islam Umarpashayev, who was abducted torture and detained, remained in a basement and chained to a steam heating pipe for almost four months, his father and other relatives were trying to find Islam on their own.
On 15 January 2010, Irisbay Umarpashayev applied to the Chechen representation of the interregional nongovernmental organisation Committee Against Torture, asking human rights defenders to conduct a public investigation in connection with his son’s kidnapping.
It was evident that there was a chance to save Islam, but one had to act quickly. By 3 March the Committee Against Torture applied to the European Court of Human Rights, which granted the application a priority status and communicated it to the government. That was the key step contributing to Islam’s release.
One day at the beginning of spring, the captive was visited by OMON (Chechen special police task force) headquarters head Aslan Khizriyev. He told Islam that his father was applying to all instances, including the Strasbourg court. According to Khizriyev, Commander Alikhan Tsakayev was very bothered by that fact, and, therefore, Islam would soon be released; but, in exchange for freedom, he would have to say that he had been either in the Moscow region or Dagestan and do his best to make his father Irisbay withdraw his application from the ECtHR. The visitor removed Islam’s handcuffs and since then the captive could move around the room.
On 2 April Islam had his beard cut, and in the evening, he was taken to the Oktyabrsky District Department of Internal Affairs. There he met his father. The police told the Umarpashayevs that they should return in several days to sign false testimonies that law enforcers would prepare by that time. He added that, failing to do so, they would be deprived of all security guarantees.
Sabotage of the official investigation and attempts to put pressure on the victims
However, the father and son decided not to sign any forged documents, but ensure punishment of perpetrators by all means. Several days later Islam flew to Nizhny Novgorod for treatment and rehabilitation accompanied by Committee Against Torture staff. Lawyers from CAT obtained detailed explanations from victims and witnesses and submitted them to investigative authorities.
By doing so, the Umarpashayevs and human rights defenders representing their interests tossed a challenge to rather powerful people, like Chechen OMON commander Alikhan Tsakayev — officer in the order of Akhmat-Khadzhi Kadyrov and Ramzan Kadyrov’s protégé. It is obvious that unlawful detention of a captive at the OMON premises is not possible without the commander’s knowledge. Thus, criminal proceedings upon the fact of Umarpashayev’s abduction had the prospects of becoming a criminal case against one of the closest and mightiest supporters of the omnipotent Chechen president.
Thus, it was not a surprise that the victims’ family faced intimidation.
On 12 April 2010, the father and one of Islam’s brothers were taken to the Oktyabrsky District Department of Internal Affairs where law enforcers urged them to bring the victim back to Chechnya as soon as possible and withdraw their applications; otherwise they would have “big problems.” Around midnight the police called Committee Against Torture Chairman Igor Kalyapin and demanded that he should send Umarpashayev back to Grozny with “the first train”. The hostages were released late at night only after lengthy negotiations and personal involvement of the Chechen Interior Minister.
Taking in account the situation, human rights defenders filed a petition to Russian Investigative Committee Chairman Alexander Bastrykin for the criminal case instigated in connection with Umarpashayev’s abduction to be referred to an investigative authority of another Russian region or to the Central Office of the Investigative Committee. However, the petition was dismissed.
The Committee Against Torture managed to ensure that the victim’s father and his family were enrolled into a witness protection programme. But in practice, state protection measures were limited to supervision by just another local policeman – senior lieutenant Khanpasha Altanbayev. Soon Altanbayev sided up with the team intimidating the victim’s family. On 17 August 2010, he told Irisbay that they should immediately go to see the OMON commander. One of Irisbay’s sons did not want to let his father go there alone and volunteered to accompany him; they were taken to a private house in Grozny, where they met with Alikhan Tsakayev who for several hours put severe moral pressure on them.
After that incident, the CAT had to bring Irisbay to Nizhny Novgorod as well. There the Umarpashayevs were accommodated in a special flat guarded round-the-clock.
Soon Chechen investigators who were basically stonewalling the investigation changed their strategy to morally wearing down the victims and exhausting human rights defenders’ financial resources.
They started sending notifications requiring Islam and Irirsbay to arrive in Grozny for participation in investigative actions – identification of Special Police Task Force officers, examination of the scene of action, confrontations, etc. Islam and Irisbay, accompanied by CAT staff kept going to Grozny, but each time it turned out that the investigative action had been postponed “for objective reasons”. At the end of 2010 and beginning 2011 there were several such situations. In response to victims’ representative’s remarks that Islam’s trips to Chechnya from Nizhny Novgorod for participation in investigative actions not conducted “for objective reasons” were neither easy, nor cheap, a special investigator of the Investigative Administration of the Investigative Committee for Chechnya said that “in accordance with the Russian Code of Criminal Procedure, the victim should be located at the place of the pre-trial investigation.” It was impossible not to go; it would give the authorities a reason to claim that the victims were ignoring the investigation and issue a decision on compulsory attendance. And then anything could happen to the father and son.
Obviously, the idea was to make the victims and human rights defenders give up and stop seeking justice.
In addition, OMON commander Tsakayev refused to provide pictures of all his subordinates, and there was no power in Chechnya that could oblige him to observe law. As a result, on 28 September 2010 Islam was shown only 12 pictures; nevertheless, he recognized two of his jailors.
Since that moment and until the end of spring 2011, there were no meaningful investigative steps taken in Grozny.
In May 2010 Russian Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin also urged Investigative Committee Head Alexander Bastrykin to transfer the criminal case to an investigative authority of a different region. Bastrykin dismissed Lukin’s request as well.
Transfer of the criminal case to a federal investigative group
Meanwhile, Umarpashayev’s case received wide coverage in Russia and on the international level.
On 17 December 2010 following a personal request of Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg, the third petition for transfer of the investigation to the Central Office of the Russian Investigative Committee was sustained by Russian Investigative Committee Head Bastrykin. The case was referred to an investigative group from Moscow headed by special investigator, Colonel of Justice Igor Sobol.
On 11 February 2011 Sobol conducted the first investigative step – examination of the scene of crime, i.e. Special Police Task Force base in Grozny. It was almost empty; only one officer came out to meet the group (he was immediately identified by the victim). Islam showed the building where he had been kept, the wash-house where he had been washed, and even wolves and bears whose food he had been promised to become.
Since that moment one of the key obstacles on the way of the investigation – inaction of bullied Chechen investigators – has been removed. However, the local police are now opposing the inquiry with special cynicism and ostentation.
We would like to thank Committee Against Torture for writing and submitting this article.
Editor’s note: This is the fifth post in an ongoing series from Russian member centre Committee Against Torture on their use of a Joint Mobile Group to investigation human rights violations, such as torture. See the first, second, third and fourth post.
The Interregional Committee against Torture are investigating the enforced disappearance, ill-treatment and almost four-month long unlawful detention of Grozny resident Islam Irisbayevich Umarpashayev at a Chechen Special Police Task Force (OMON) base. The crime took place between December 2009 and April 2010, later the victim was released due to international pressure. The investigative authorities of Chechnya cynically stonewalled the investigation. In February 2011 the case was referred to the Central Office of the Russian Investigative Committee; however, Chechen law enforcers are still opposing the investigation with unparalleled vigor.
For Chechnya this case is an example of a unique situation when an abducted and released individual has not only described the circumstances of the crime and people in charge of it, but is also actively seeking justice and prosecution of perpetrators.
Islam Umarpashayev’s enforced disappearance
At the beginning of winter 2009, 23-year old Islam Umarpashayev posted a comment online accusing the police of cruel treatment of Chechen residents and urging the population to put an end to it. Islam had connected to the Internet via his personal cell phone.
In the early morning of 11 December 2009, armed people who introduced themselves as agents of the Oktyabrsky District Department of Internal Affairs of Grozny turned up under the pretext of a passport check at the home where Islam lived with his parents and brothers. The family was orders to produce their cell phones. Having inspected them, the agents asked who owned the Sony Ericsson – the cell phone Islam had used to access the Internet. Islam stepped forward and was immediately led away. They told Islam’s father that it was just “for a couple of hours for a talk.” When the latter tried to protest, the agents threatened to shoot him.
Soon after the armed men had left, Irisbay, Islam’s father, went to the Oktyabrsky District Department of Internal Affairs, together with a lawyer he had hired, to find out the reasons for his son’s detention and his further fate. However, the duty officer told them that Islam was not in the building and the department staff had not detained anyone that night and morning. Further attempts of relatives to establish his location failed – Islam disappeared without a trace following unacknowledged detention. On 28 December 2009 the Interdistrict Investigative Department of Grozny instigated criminal proceedings no. 6804228 regarding Islam Umarpashayev’s abduction.
Islam Umarpashayev’s unlawful detention at the OMON base
Later the Islam described the events that followed his detention. He was placed in a white car with blacked-out windows, his head was covered with a jacket, and the car drove away in an unknown direction. Some 40 minutes later, the captive was led out of the car and taken downstairs to a basement. Later he would give a detailed description of that place in his statement.
There were several people standing around him. All of them were Chechen, except for one Russian man that the rest called Kostya. Kostya showed Islam a print out of his chat history and started asking questions: “Why do you hate the police? Where is the weapon which you are going to use to kill us? Who are your accomplices? Where are militants hiding?” Islam had nothing to say, and the agents started beating him.
“The beatings were long and painful, and if I actually knew about weapons and militants, I would have told them, but I had nothing to say”, Islam said later.
In about an hour the tormentors became convinced that Islam really knew nothing about militants and had no links to them, and the “enhanced” interrogation stopped. Before that, a man, who introduced himself as Head of the Chechen OMON Headquarters, came to the basement and ordered them to stop the beatings as Islam’s relatives had been trying to find him.
Islam was kept in the basement handcuffed to a steam heating pipe for three and a half months.
A few days after the abduction, several Chechens, introducing themselves as Organized Crime Department officers, came to see Islam and asked him the same questions as Kostya. When Islam refused to cooperate, they threatened to “throw him to the bear” and left. No one asked Islam any questions after that. He was sometimes given food – first once in two or three days, and later every day. At some point they even put a bed and a mattress into the basement. Islam was escorted to the toilet at nights and once in two months allowed to wash himself.
Only shaving was prohibited, and soon Islam grew a long “Wahhabi” beard. Prohibiting shaving suggests that the victim was basically “fattened for slaughter”, ie. being prepared to be presented as a killed militant. Human rights NGOs have documented many instances when bodies of young men detained by law enforcers were later found among bodies of “militants killed in a fight”.
Step by step, the captive started looking around and concluded that he was kept at the Chechen OMON base in Grozny. Eventually, his guards also stopped concealing that fact.
In his statement Islam has described the place of his confinement and surrounding territories with all possible details — layout, wall colour, door material, pipe connections, location of air conditioning units, fencing structure and configuration, number of staircase steps. The building where he was kept was located to the right from the entrance gate, in front of a two-storied headquarters building with a large inscription “OMON”; there were several buildings looking like private houses nearby. The premises were surrounded by a fence made of concrete slabs. Behind the headquarters building one could see barracks, a bathhouse where he sometimes had a chance to wash himself and a mosque. Right in front of the exit from the improvised prison one could see a house that belonged to Special Police Task Force commander Alikhan Tsakayev, as Islam inferred from guards’ conversations. Behind the house there was an enclosure with several wolves and bears, the ones whom Islam had been promised as food. Sometimes Islam heard cries and pleas for mercy from a neighbouring room where superiors beat common policemen for disobedience.
Thus December, January and February passed and March began…
Read next week for part two of this story on the investigation into Islam’s enforced disappearance, torture and unlawful detention.
Many torture victims have historically used the protest method of hunger striking to fight for change
Guarded by the Bahrain Defence Force, Al-Khawaja has not consumed food in about three months in protest of his ongoing mistreatment – both torture at the hands of military and police officials, and judicial mistreatment by the military court that found him guilty and delivered a life sentence for his involvement in last year’s protests. He further accused authorities of force feeding him during recent weeks, an accusation that they, of course, deny.
Hunger strikes have a long history among political dissidents, detainees, and, the politically powerless to advocate or coerce authorities into policy changes. It can be both a powerful tool for enacting change, and, by its nature, can also be extremely dangerous and even deadly for its participants. Some famous examples of hunger strikers include:
• Mohandas Gandhi during the British rule of India;
• Irish republicans in particular have a long history of hunger striking; but this tactic was famously used during the early 1980s by Bobby Sands and other prisoners of the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland. Ten hunger strikers died in 1981;
• Among the longest and most deadly strikes were those that took place in Turkey, with the final wave beginning in 2000, over the government’s prison policy – the state was building new prisons that the protesters feared would be used for long-term solitary confinement for political dissidents, regardless of whether they had even been formally charged with a crime.
• At Guantanamo Bay, hunger strikes have been ongoing since 2005, when more than 120 detainees were on hunger strike at one point. Since then, this number has varied as the U.S. government has continued to force feed the strikers. It is unknown how many detainees remain on hunger strike today.
As hunger striking is often a tactic of absolute last resort, many torture victims have employed hunger strikes to protest their treatment and perhaps ongoing torture and detention.
Al-Khawaja is one such example; during his detention, which began in April of last year, he has been severely tortured by Bahrain authorities. In fact, his previous visit to the Bahrain military hospital where he is today was after such a severe beating in prison that he underwent surgery to have titanium plates inserted into the sides of his head.
Other U.S. prisoners, in California’s Pelican Bay Prison, have also engaged in limited hunger strikes in protest of long-term solitary confinement. They have since requested a formal ruling from the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Juan Mendez, who has previously deemed long-term solitary confinement as torture.
Detainees at Guantamao Bay have too used hunger striking to protest their treatment and ongoing detention. However, rather than trying or freeing the Guantanamo detainees, or ceasing the ongoing torture and ill-treatment there, the U.S. government has instead been force-feeding hunger strikers since 2005 – both a violation of patients’ autonomy and another form or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
Force-feeding hunger strikers is often a highly controversial issue, none the least because it questions medical ethics and physicians adherence to set principles, such as ‘do no harm’, and requirements of patient consent. The World Medical Association has come out against force-feeding as it violates medical ethics, such as respecting patient autonomy, primary obligations to patients over employers, preventing maltreatment, and preventing harm. This is especially true in cases, such as in Guantanamo, where authorities are force-feeding hunger strikers well before the fast becomes life-threatening. Furthermore, the process of force-feeding itself – often inserting feeding tubes down an uncooperative patients’ nose or throat – can cause immense pain and suffering.
Most important to consider is that the vast majority of hunger strikers do not want to die. Death is not the goal, and a hunger strike is generally not considered suicide. It is a measure of last resort for an often powerless figure fighting for policy change, to end torture and mistreatment or for release from degrading and arbitrary detention.
The 26th of June is a little under two months away. While that may be an obvious statement of fact for anyone with a calendar, for those in the global anti-torture movement – or anyone who wishes to fight against torture – the 26 June is the annual day to come together in honour of torture victims.
The UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture is commemorated each year by victims of torture, their families, those active in the global anti-torture movement and their supporters. The 26th of June was selected as this day as it is the anniversary of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) coming into force in 1987. UNCAT is the cornerstone document in international anti-torture work as all countries that ratify it are obligated to introduce legislation and mechanisms to prohibit and prevent all forms of torture or cruel, inhuman degrading treatment or punishment.
Already, more than a dozen organisations around the world – torture rehabilitation centres, advocacy groups and human rights defenders – have announced their plans to mark 26th June. Last year, nearly 100 groups, from Peru to the Philippines, and from South Africa to Sweden, marked the day through activities as diverse as marches, demonstrations, and seminars as well as through thought provoking performances of music and drama.
This year’s theme for the day is rehabilitation: that rehabilitation is a right of every torture victim and that it works in undoing some of the effects of these heinous crimes. While torture is horrific, healing is also possible. Rehabilitation makes dignity, health, and economic independence for torture survivors a possibility.
So, YOU have two months until 26 of June. What are you doing? Find out more about what you can do to help at our website.
The world needs to know CIA torture was pointless, thus public release is imperative
The four-year long investigation on CIA’s detention and torture practices after 9/11 by the US Senate Intelligence Committee is close to an end.
Did the harsh “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by CIA produce counter-terrorism breakthroughs or no more than wrong leads? Could information have been obtained in other ways?
According to Reuters, “the backers of such techniques, […] maintain they have led to the disruption of major terror plots and the capture of al Qaeda leaders.”
Most of the speculation around this question though, seems to be confirming that the Bush administration made an enormous mistake by choosing to ignore the immense body of knowledge disproving the effectiveness of torture.
To make it clear, the report needs to be made public. Activists and human rights organisations, including the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, are therefore pressing for its release.