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REGION: Central Asia

In “Istanbul Protocol Implementation in Central Asia: Bending the Arc of the Moral Universe,” Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) discusses insights from their project to implement practices to end systematic torture in three Central Asian countries: Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan. From 2011 to 2019, PHR, along with the Open Society Foundation (OSF) and the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJ), conducted a project to implement new institutional practices in accordance with the Istanbul Protocol (IP); which is a United Nations training manual containing the global standards for investigating torture allegations. Based on this project, PHR learned lessons that the authors suggest be applied to similar projects to combat systematic torture and ill-treatment.

PHR’s project attempted to improve investigative and documentation techniques to end torture and ill-treatment in three phases: assessment, capacity building, and policy reform. During the first phase, the PHR engaged with representatives from local non-governmental organizations and the United Nations to evaluate the presence of torture in the three countries, conduct IP trainings, and attend local coalition meetings to learn local attitudes toward torture in the system. Subsequently, in the second phase, PHR met with policy reform stakeholders and began drafting a National IP Plan of Action to build laws and resources for medical and legal experts. In the last phase, PHR reformed criminal, medical, and forensic laws, as well as forensic institutions, and created new monitoring mechanisms for implementation of the new mechanisms that comply with IP national standards.

The results of the project showed that, to combat torture in these three countries, there needed to be a strong legal framework with reformed criminal, medical, and forensic laws, as well as a monitoring mechanism that ensures state actor compliance. For states to properly criminalize torture, they needed to undertake legal, administrative, and judicial reforms to criminalize acts of torture, prevent false confessions under torture, provide reparations for victims of torture, and conduct anti-torture training for all law enforcement personnel. In addition, forensic laws needed to be reformed to give state forensic institutions, as well as the health professionals who are employed there, independence from law enforcement, prosecution, and military authority to ensure accurate documentation of forensic examinations of individuals who are identified to be possible victims of torture. With this independence, state health actors should be given the authority and resources to train their professionals to recognize and document signs of torture at the time a person is detained.

In addition, PHR found that there must be a mechanism with the authority to monitor the necessary conditions for torture investigation and documentation, the training of legal and medical professionals, and the overall performance of the documentation system. Based on the PHR’s findings during the assessment phase, the PHR found that giving state actors the responsibility to monitor compliance with IP implementation resulted in concealment and continuation of ill-treatment. Thus, the PHR found that the state should mandate an independent body to take over the monitoring functions and publicly report its findings to ensure accountability for violations of the IP standards.

Moreover, PHR took away several key lessons from the project that can be used to combat torture and ill-treatment on a global scale. The ratification of relevant international treaties, such as the UN Convention against Torture and its Optional Protocol and other UN human rights treaties, is important to ensure accountability and monitor torture prevention efforts. In addition, governance and political will must be harnessed to consistently implement the IP and remedial anti-torture actions and involve actors from within state institutions. Good governance and political will can help build partnerships between state and local actors, whose cooperation can ensure necessary policy reform. Further, for effective torture investigative and documentation techniques to be functional, there need to be criminal procedure rules that respect individual rights and display a will to eradicate corruption. However, these measures cannot happen without adequate resources and funding, which countries should secure for the long term.

PHR also makes the general observation that civil society needs to take the initiative to implement these investigative and documentation techniques in their respective states. It is important to for civil society and government actors to ensure the implementation of IP standards and monitor these changes to combat torture and ill treatment practices.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

Istanbul Protocol Implementation in Central Asia: Bending the Arc of the Moral Universe

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