Kazakh Court Again Orders Police to Pay Torture Compensation

Winning judgments from international human rights tribunals is always a challenge. But implementing them can be, in some countries, an even bigger challenge.

So it is encouraging to see that in Kazakhstan, a country not known for an established tradition of strong adherence to the rule of law, a city court has again ordered the local police to pay compensation to a victim of police torture, following a ruling of the UN Committee against Torture (CAT).  

The case of Rasim Bairamov v Kazakhstan is believed to be the second instance in which Kazakhstan has partially implemented a CAT decision, after last year’s compensation ruling in a similar police torture case, Gerasimov v Kazakhstan.

The complaint of Rasim Bairamov dated from 2008, when he was arrested under suspicion of robbery and detained at the police station in the city of Rudny, in northern Kazakhstan. Bairamov was detained for two and a half days without official registration or identification, and without access to a lawyer. Under pressure to confess to a crime he did not commit, he was beaten several times by two police officers, and was dragged by his hair along a corridor; he was also deprived of food, drink and sleep for more than two days before eventually agreeing to sign a confession.

His mother witnessed bruises several times when she managed to get access to him for a brief period. But despite this, and other irregularities that were documented by the mother, there was no effort to investigate Bairamov’s allegations of torture. He was eventually convicted of robbery, despite retracting the forced confessions before court, and sentenced to five years in prison.

A local legal group, the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR) filed a complaint in Bairamov’s name with the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) in 2012, with assistance from the Open Society Justice Initiative. In May 2014, during its 51st session in Geneva, the CAT issued a decision concluding that Bairamov’s treatment at the hands of the police amounted to torture. The ruling also found that the Kazakh courts failed to address or to investigate his torture allegations, as required by the UN Convention Against Torture, and that the authorities failed to duly ascertain whether or not statements, admitted as evidence, were made as a result of torture.

The CAT ruling included ordering Kazakhstan to pay compensation to Bairamov, and to take steps to ensure that similar rights violations should not occur in the future. A civil compensation claim in Bairamov’s name was subsequently filed by KIBHR with the court in the city of Kostanai; on December 12, the court ordered local police to pay damages in the amount of 100,000 tenge (around $550) to Bairamov.

In addition, the court ruling also highlighted Kazakhstan’s obligation to comply with ratified international treaties and implement decisions of international human rights bodies if the state authorized the international bodies to consider individual complaints.

The Bairamov ruling follows last year’s ruling by the Kostanai court ordering a compensation payment in favor of Alexander Gerasimov, who had won a similar judgment over his torture by local police in the city, who were similarly trying to force him to confess to a crime he did not commit.

Roza Akylbekova, director of KIBHR, welcomed the ruling, calling the decision “an important step towards remedying the breach in Bairamov’s rights, and towards Kazakhstan fulfilling its international treaty obligations.”

Anastassia Miller, Bairamov’s lawyer, noted that her client had been moved to tears when he heard about the court’s decision, showing a level of emotion not previously seen during his long and sometimes difficult pursuit of justice. She described Bairamov as an incredibly courageous young man, who “just could not believe that justice had finally been served.”

The Justice Initiative has supported these two cases and others before the UN human rights tribunals involving torture and deaths in police custody in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan, as part of a broader effort to end abusive police practices in the region.

In the words of Anastassia Miller, “Court decisions such as this one are immeasurably important in that they can restore people’s faith in justice, and in the hope that the state will respond when their human rights are violated.”

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