Human Rights Committee Faults Kyrgyzstan for Death in Custody
NEW YORK—The government of Kyrgyzstan has been found guilty of turning a blind eye to the torture and death of a prisoner who died after suffering abuse in a crowded cell, in circumstances that were never properly investigated.
The ruling against Kyrgyzstan from the UN Human Rights Committee in the case of Rakhmonberi Ernazarov, adopted at its meeting in Geneva on March 25, underlines that it is the duty of the state to take responsibility for the security of all prisoners, including ensuring protection from violence at the hands of other detainees.
Ernazarov was arrested in November 2005, following a complaint that he had allegedly sexually abused the father of his former girlfriend. Despite being at increased risk because of the nature of the charges against him, he was placed in a cell with six other men who subjected him to sustained abuse. Sixteen days after the arrest, Ernazarov was found in his cell unconscious and bleeding profusely from cuts to his throat, wrist and ankle; he subsequently died in hospital.
The other occupants of the cell and the state authorities claimed that the death was suicide. However no proper, independent investigation into the death took place, while the victim’s family was not given appropriate access to the investigation.
The complaint was brought before the HRC in March 2011 by the Open Society Justice Initiative and Saidkamal Akhmedov, a Kyrgyz lawyer acting on behalf of the victim’s brother.
In its ruling, the Committee found that the government of Kyrgyzstan violated the right to life of the victim, by not taking adequate measures to protect him; that it failed to prevent his torture; and that his family had been denied the right to a remedy due to the failure to conduct a prompt and proper investigation.
In particular, the Committee found that the investigating authorities failed to explain the numerous cuts on the body, failed to question key witnesses, locate and investigate the weapon that caused death, and failed to explain why the investigation was conducted by the same institution in custody of which Ernazarov was tortured and killed.
It called on Kyrgyzstan to provide Ernazarov’s brother with an impartial, effective and thorough investigation into the circumstances of the death, the prosecution of those responsible, and reparation including appropriate compensation.
The Committee also noted that Kyrgyzstan is under obligation to prevent similar violations in the future.
James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, said:
“This ruling underlines the responsibility of all states to protect those in custody from harm, not only from police and guards, but from other detainees. We look forward to the effective implementation of this decision, including the payment of reparations to Ernazarov’s family. We urge Kyrgyzstan to take the needed steps to ensure effective state control over all places of detention, and to establish an independent mechanism for investigating reported abuses.”
Kyrgyzstan was given six months to implement the Ernazarov decision and inform the UN about actions taken. This is the second death-in-custody ruling against Kyrgyzstan from the HRC in response to complaints submitted on the victims’ behalf by the Justice Initiative. In September 2011 the Human Rights Committee found Kyrgyzstan responsible for the death in police custody of Tashkenbai Moidunov, and for similarly failing to carry out a proper investigation.
The Justice Initiative has supported a series of cases before the UN human rights tribunals involving torture and deaths in police custody in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, as part of a broader effort by the Open Society Foundations to end abusive police practices in the region.