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11/16/03 - STOPPING TORTURE IN EURASIA - 2003-11-17

Torture by police and prison authorities continues to be a serious problem in many Eurasian countries. The issue was discussed at a recent meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. As U.S. Ambassador to the O-S-C-E Stephan Minikes said, “Torture should be an anachronism in the modern world, a thing of the past. . . . There is no justification for torture and it must be completely eradicated.”

In Turkmenistan, reports continue of torture and deaths in detention. Following the attack on President Saparmurat Niayazov a year ago, there have been many credible reports of people being tortured for their alleged involvement. They include a former Turkmenistan Ambassador to the O-S-C-E, Batyr Berdiev. Others have died in custody, apparently due to malnutrition and a lack of medical care. The government has thwarted all efforts by the O-S-C-E and others to investigate the reports of torture in Turkmenistan.

The government of Uzbekistan has acknowledged that serious abuses go on in its prisons and detention centers. The Uzbekistan government’s decision to invite the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, and its draft plan to implement his recommendations, are important steps forward. But much remains to be done. Two people have reportedly died in the custody of the Uzbekistan government this year, and four died last year. Each death was the likely result of torture. All of these cases need to be investigated fully and independently.

In Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, the beating of pretrial detainees remains a routine part of criminal investigations. There are also credible reports of torture in Chechnya and throughout Russia. It is up to these governments to hold accountable those who commit such acts.

As President George W. Bush said, the protection of fundamental human rights is the hallmark of a civilized society:

“Successful societies protect freedom with the consistent and impartial rule of law, instead of selectively applying the law to punish political opponents.”

Failure to improve human rights practices will greatly hinder development and progress in Eurasia.