Which goal lies at the core of the work of your organisation Committee against torture?
It started with Nizhny Novgorod Society for Human Rights, which had an analytical department that decided to conduct a survey among prisoners in pre-trial detention centres. Resulting from that survey, the analytical centre gathered 100 allegations of torture – different types of violence. They sent these to the prosecutor’s office, and asked them to conduct investigations on that matter, told them that “look, we gathered a big statistic, 100 documents”. The prosecutor’s office answered that they had reviewed each allegation, and that none of them were substantiated. Accordingly, there was allegedly no torture in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast. At this point, the analytical department of Nizhny Novgorod Society for Human Rights understood that torture is not only a big problem, but also a problem that the state completely denies the existence of. It is like the problem of the emperor without clothes. Everyone knows that it [torture, red.] is there, but the emperor says that it’s not. This led the analytical centre to found its own organisation, which got the name “Committee against torture”. The focal work of that organisation became working with complaints about torture. In doing so, we understood that collecting information from people who had suffered from torture was not a very effective working method, because with that one could object that we had checked everything but not proved anything. We didn’t have any good answer to that objection. Therefore, we realized the need to conduct our own investigations, so that we would have something to answer. This defined the approach according to which we have been working for nineteen years now.
How has the situation regarding torture changed during that period of time?
I wouldn’t say that the situation concerning torture is changing radically. That is, I can’t say that the problem is about to be solved, that it’s close to its logical completion and resolution. But when we started working twenty years ago, the problem of torture was highly latent. There were no complaints, no official allegations, no investigations or evidence of any kind on that matter, no court judgements on torture. Twenty years later, the problem is no longer latent, and we believe that our organisation is to thank for that. Now, everyone knows about torture, everyone talks about them, and there are judgements, court rulings. There are statements on the state level that torture actually exists. Its systematic character is still being denied, but nonetheless, the facts about torture themselves are not denied. The fact that in the last twenty years, the problem has completely stepped out of the shadow and stopped being latent, is a very important step, in our opinion. Furthermore, this context of reduced latency gives people an opportunity to speak out about it if they have been subject to torture. That is, people understand that it’s generally possible to bring someone to justice for torture, it’s possible to get a compensation, it’s possible to have an investigation. And it’s not embarrassing to speak about the fact that you‘re a victim of torture, because latency stems from shame and the impossibility to step over that line and tell that you’re a victim and have been tortured. That is, the problem isn’t solved, but people started talking about the issue so broadly that it allows us to prepare for the next step of solving the problem.
Is the Committee working with cases of torture in Chechnya?
It’s impossible for a human rights organisation to have an office in Chechnya, because it simply wouldn’t survive. It wouldn’t exist for more than a couple of weeks before something would happen to it. It would be put on fire, ruined, destroyed, or all of the three. Therefore, no human rights organisation can currently afford to have a permanent office in the Chechen republic. It’s too dangerous, not only for the workers of the human rights organisation, but also for people who go there with some information or complaints. Nonetheless, if the organisation manages to ensure the complainant’s security by getting him out of the region, maybe with his family, then work on cases regarding torture is possible. But it would be unrealistic to expect any court rulings against the perpetrators. Moving a case for investigation from one region to another is very difficult. Even if one succeeds moving the case, there are still no particular hopes concerning the efficiency of the investigation. The main court to count on is The European Court of Human Rights. Gathering evidence and proving that torture has taken place is possible. For example, we conducted an investigation together with the LGBT Network on the case of Maksim Lopunov, who was practically held hostage for two weeks, beaten and subjected to inhumane conditions. But the main point here is the safety of the complainant. Because as soon as someone files a complaint about themselves being tortured by the Chechen republic, it becomes life threatening for that person to stay in the region.
Why is it important for the Committee to take part in the Forum?
I think it‘s important first and foremost not to answer the question why being in the Forum is important to the Committee, or why it’s important for me as a representative of the Committee to be in the Board, but rather what we can do for the Forum as its members. Because after all, what he have here is a mutually advantageous collaboration. The interaction between the Forum and its members is a kind of synergy. We can support other Forum members; we can share our expertise, among other things regarding survival in crisis situations or work on particular categories of cases. Periodically we can provide legal aid in the form of consulting; we can participate in acts of solidarity supporting our colleagues and friends. For example, we’re very actively supporting our colleagues in Ingushetia, that’s very important for us. It’s easier for us to do that as members of the forum, easier and more practical, since we have a large number of organisations supporting their colleagues who are in critical situations.