Torture has always been a concern in Kyrgyzstan and is today acknowledged to be a widespread and routine practice in the criminal justice system. The situation has become particularly worrisome in the years following independence, which were marked by an economic decline, an increase in criminality and the emigration of experienced investigators. While the prescribed performance goals of resolved cases for police officers remained, internal control and oversight decreased and inadequately skilled investigators increasingly resorted to violence to obtain confessions. The problem has received particular attention after the violent ethnic clashes in June 2010 and the ensuing systematic torture committed by security officials.
The Kyrgyz Republic has carried out numerous legal reforms criminalising torture and strengthening procedural safeguards, such as the notification of family members or the prompt access to a lawyer, a judge and a medical exam. However, the legal reforms have not yielded the necessary results. This is attributed on the one hand to an insufficient regulation specifying the access to and functioning of the safeguards. A particular problem is the absence of a definition of factual detention, leaving it unclear from which moment a safeguard must be granted. In consequence, unofficial detention is widespread and most cases of torture happen before the official registration of the detainee. On the other hand, the responsible stakeholders such as lawyers, judges and doctors often lack independence from the law enforcement authorities and have insufficient capacities, personally as well as institutionally, to fulfil the required functions.
This situation is facilitated by a lack of oversight and accountability. Despite the criminalisation of torture since 2003, there have been almost no convictions due to the lack of an independent and effective investigation mechanism and a judiciary that is not responsive to torture allegations. The slow reform efforts and total absence of accountability for torture and ill-treatment committed after the June 2010 events put into question the willingness of the government to fight impunity.
The serious efforts taken over the last years to establish a system of independent and systematic monitoring have also not yet led to an improvement of the situation. Instead the independence of the Ombuds institution and newly established national preventive mechanism is being increasingly threatened. Also, they have so far been lacking effectiveness and have greatly relied on NGO support. While the strengthening of the monitoring system bears hope for improvements, this will not be achievable without further legal and institutional reforms and a genuine commitment to investigate all torture cases and bring perpetrators to justice.
Kyrgyzstan. Photo: Etienne Combier