Warsaw Human Dimension Conference Plenary Session 6: Rule of Law II

Warsaw Human Dimension Conference Plenary Session 6: Rule of Law II

Prevention and Eradication of Torture; Protection of Human Rights and Fighting Terrorism; Abolition of Capital Punishment

As prepared for delivery by Michael G. Kozak,
Head of Delegation
Warsaw, October 10, 2023

The United States is working with fellow participating States and civil society organizations to prevent and eradicate torture. As Secretary Blinken has said: “Our pursuit of accountability, as well as our support for survivors, continues so long as victims of torture exist.”

There is incontrovertible and mounting evidence that Russian Federation forces in Ukraine continue to use torture or inhuman and degrading treatment against Ukraine’s civilians, detainees, and prisoners of war, particularly in areas under their occupation. And as Ukraine has taken back more of its territory, more reports of torture have emerged. Perpetrators must be held to account.

At the end of a week-long visit to Ukraine in early September, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Alice Jill Edwards concluded that there is a consistent pattern of torture in Russia’s detention centers, particularly torture of Ukraine’s soldiers held by Russia’s forces. This abhorrent treatment included electric shocks, beatings, hooding, and mock executions and other threats of death. In a June 2023 report, Edwards said there was evidence that Russia’s forces were “consistently and intentionally inflicting severe physical and psychological pain and suffering on Ukrainian civilians and POWs.” Her report indicated the torture was often aimed at extracting intelligence and forced confessions from detainees or used punitively against those who expressed support for Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials have reported discovering 80 torture chambers in areas formerly occupied by Russia’s forces. Ukraine’s Human Rights Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets said that 9 out of 10 detainees released reported being tortured.

The United States is concerned about reports of sexual violence by Russia’s forces against both women and men in Ukraine. Special Rapporteur Edwards has reported that while some women have come forward with complaints of sexual torture or crimes, many may be deterred by the fear of stigmatization. Men have reported sexual torture in detention, including former prisoners of war who have said their captors beat them in the genitals and told them it was in order to prevent them from procreating.

Ukraine’s Office of the Prosecutor General has opened thousands of criminal cases and investigations for alleged crimes by members of Russia’s forces against children, including at least 75 cases of torture. This includes a large group of children held in a basement in the village of Yahidne in Ukraine’s Chernihiv region in appalling conditions. Other cases involved children held in torture chambers together with adults, as well as 13 cases of sexual violence against children, the youngest only four years old.

We have also not forgotten the reports last year of Ukraine’s civilians subjected by Russia’s forces to summary executions, torture, and other grave abuses in the towns of Bucha, Irpin, and Hostomel. Local authorities in Bucha reported approximately 1300 bodies were recovered, many of which had their hands tied behind their back and appeared to have been summarily executed. Some bodies showed obvious signs of torture and mutilation.

The April and July 2022 Moscow Mechanism Expert Mission reports documented reports of torture committed by Russia’s forces in Ukraine as well as the discovery of torture chambers in the Bucha area, including bodies with their ears cut off or their teeth pulled out. The July report also raised alarm about Russia’s forces handing detained persons over to the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics and letting these two puppet entities impose the death penalty following proceedings that failed to meet even the most basic fair trial standards.

Within Russia, torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment continues to be practiced with impunity. The problem is particularly acute in Russia’s Republic of Chechnya, where Russia’s federal authorities take no action to hold accountable Chechen officials credibly accused of unconscionable abuses, including widespread torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances. Throughout Russia, reports of torture and other prohibited treatment in places of detention are common, and perpetrating officials rarely face consequences for their actions.

In Belarus, there has still been no accountability for thousands of credible accounts of torture – and in a few cases, death – of protestors and dissidents at the hands of authorities following the rigged elections in August 2020. During pretrial detention preceding her June 2023 conviction, human rights defender Nasta Loika was subjected to electric shocks and exposure to extreme cold; she was also denied access to medical care. Political dissident Maria Kalesnikava suffered from a perforated ulcer as a result of being deprived appropriate nutrition during her time in a punitive isolation cell. She underwent emergency surgery, but her health continues to be of great concern, because she reportedly is not receiving needed medical care. In April 2023, former presidential candidate Viktar Babaryka was rushed to the hospital for lifesaving surgery after having spent time in a punitive isolation cell. Babaryka reportedly showed signs of beating so severe that he was unrecognizable upon arriving at the hospital. 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski is one of the many political prisoners held incommunicado in Belarus; authorities continue to deny visits from family members and his attorney. Political prisoners Mikalai Klimovich and Ales Pushkin died in custody in May and July 2023 respectively after authorities failed to provide timely medical attention.

In Türkiye, there were credible reports of torture of individuals imprisoned and in detention. Human rights NGOs report police tortured and mistreated peaceful demonstrators, including at LGBTQI+ Pride demonstrations. We urge Türkiye to thoroughly investigate these allegations and hold those responsible accountable.

We commend Azerbaijan for taking steps to hold a number of perpetrators accountable for physical abuse, including for alleged torture and other ill-treatment by military officials in the 2017 Terter case. However, there continue to be credible reports of torture and other prohibited treatment by Ministry of Internal Affairs officials. There have also been reports of rape and threats of rape against detainees. We urge Azerbaijan’s authorities to investigate such reports and hold those responsible to account.

The United States remains concerned by reports of government security services in Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan still using torture. In Turkmenistan, we emphasize the importance of resolving the longstanding problem of enforced disappearances. Eighteen months since the 2022 unrest in Kazakhstan, while 25 security service personnel have been convicted for torturing detained persons, most torture cases have been dropped due to official claims of lack of evidence. We encourage those governments that have stated their interest in ending torture to implement announced reforms and fully avail themselves of the OSCE’s expertise.