Preventing Torture in Russia

The Russian Federation is a party to the Convention against Torture, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and its first Optional Protocol. Both these treaties prohibit the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The 1993 Russian Constitution provides in Article 21(2) that "no one shall be subjected to torture, violence or other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment."

However, as detailed in a major Amnesty International report, "Torture in Russia" (April 1997, AI Index EUR 46/04/97), the systematic and widespread use of torture and ill-treatment by Russian official personnel persists unabated, in police custody, in pre-trial detention, in prisons and in the army. Members of ethnic minorities, such as Chechens and those from the Caucasus, are especially victimized by these abuses.

Common forms of torture used by police officers include the slonik ("elephant"), in which a suspect is chained to a chair with a gas mask put over his or her head; the police would then either cut off the air supply until the victim begins to suffocate (sometimes to the point of losing consciousness), or spray tear gas into the mask. Other methods include severe beatings, sexual abuse, and cruel forms of physical restraint such as the lastochka ("swallow") and konvert ("envelope").

Numerous individual cases of torture, ill-treatment, and death in custody of men, women and children throughout Russia are detailed in the report. Attempts to take legal action are described, often leading to nonexistent or inadequate investigations, or even harassment and further abuse.

The report also describes conditions of detention in Russia amounting to torture, with numerous cases in which prisoners have died from overcrowding, lack of oxygen and unsanitary prison conditions. It cites an example from July 1995 when 11 prisoners died of heat stroke in the Siberian city of Novokuznetsk, where 25 people were being held in cells meant for 10 and the temperature rose as high as 118 to 124°F.

The report also documents the use of torture and ill-treatment by both sides of the armed conflict in Chechnya, including the use of electric shock torture and rape. Furthermore, the brutal hazing of army conscripts, blamed for scores of deaths each year, also shows no signs of abating.

The accompanying petition is in support of the constructive recommendation, by Amnesty International and the UN Committee Against Torture, for the Russian Federation to implement a specific set of legislative and procedural provisions addressing the problem of torture within its detention and prison system, thus better fulfilling its international agreements as well as the requirements of its own Constitution.

Thank you for your support. Feel free to contact me for additional information at the address below, or at

- L. Romans, AI Group 22

Please send completed petitions to:

Amnesty International Group 22 (attn: SURAN)
218-51 Caltech
Pasadena, CA 91125