Torture and Cruel Treatment in the Russian Police

Public Verdict Foundation

16/1 Khokhlovsky pereulok

Moscow 109028 Russia

Tel/fax: +7-495-916-1199



Torture and cruel treatment in the Russian police.

Urgent need for comprehensive reform


Law-enforcement bodies widely use torture and cruel treatment in their work. No significant changes have been made in order to improve the situation during this year. Russian human rights NGOs continue to receive new petitions from victims of torture and cruel treatment by law-enforcement officers. For example, the Public Verdict Foundation received more then 40 new petitions from victims of torture and cruel treatment by law-enforcement officers in 2009. The Foundation’s partners in different regions are in a similar situation.

The monitoring of mass media conducted by the Public Verdict Foundation reveals an increasing number of publications describing unlawful acts of the law-enforcement bodies. While January publications mentioned only 32 crimes committed by the officers of the system of internal affairs (the total number of publications was around 1000), there were already 70 cases described in the articles in June 2009 (there were more than 7500 publications in the Russian printed media). Most of them reported the unlawful use of force by law-enforcement officers. The monitoring also showed that public attention to high-profile cases makes the media cover similar cases in different regions, committed both recently and some time ago. Apart from the description of the crimes themselves, the journalists start analysing the reasons and roots of the existing problem.

According to the official statistics, within the first six months of the year state officials and officers of the system of internal affairs committed around 44 thousand offences. 94% of that number was malfeasance committed by policemen[1].

The most high-profile cases of the first half a year were: the tragedy in the south of Moscow, which happened when the head of the Tsaritsyno Police Department shot two and wounded six people in a trading centre, a number of car accidents where law-enforcement officers took place and corruption cases.

There were no significant changes in the nature of torturing practices and cruel treatment used by the police this year[2].

The analysis of the judicial decisions on the cases executed by the Foundation shows that law-enforcement bodies widely use torture and cruel treatment in order to force out confessions or necessary evidence, as well as to demonstrate their superiority. Policemen use physical force both in order to deliver detainees to the police departments (most often – to the alert units’ premises and detention cells for administrative offenders) and inside them. Before being sentenced for the unlawful use of violence, a significant proportion of convicts used to be criminal detectives, officers of the patrol police service and neighbourhood police. It is worth noting that a significant proportion of the convicts for torture are the heads of the district police departments and their deputies.

In cases where those guilty of torture and cruel treatment are eventually brought to responsibility, the prosecution of their immediate superiors, who allowed such crimes to be committed, is almost never even discussed.

One of the main problems, which accounts for the continuing violations and unlawful use of force, is the problem of impunity and lack of an effective investigation for such cases in the country. Such fundamental principles of investigation as quickness, thoroughness, independence and access of the victim to the investigation, are constantly violated[3].

For example, the evidence can be gathered late, which often leads to the loss of evidence highly important for determining the circumstances of the crime and makes it impossible to bring the guilty to criminal responsibility.

The structure of the Russian law-enforcement system implies indirect dependence of investigative bodies attached to the Russian prosecution office on policemen, against whom they have to initiate legal actions on the charges of torturing and cruel treatment. According to the statistics of the Foundation, in the overwhelming majority of the cases torture is used by the officers of criminal investigation departments, who on other criminal cases work closely with investigators from the RF prosecution office.

The procedural legislation offers investigators the opportunity to make it more difficult for a victim to access the materials of the investigation. It is most obvious at the stage of pre-investigation checks.

There are no measures which the administration of the investigative committee attached to the RF prosecution office could take in order to execute effective control over the violations, committed by investigators both at the stage of pre-investigation checks and during the preliminary investigation. Deliverance of unlawful procedural decisions to dismiss criminal complaints, resolutions to suspend or even terminate the execution of cases, which are later reversed by the courts of appeal as unlawful, are a common practice. It is worth noting that, as a rule, the resolutions, acknowledged by a head of the investigative body as untimely and ungrounded, are reversed only upon the complaints of the victims, rather than by his own initiative. It is also important that in the most cases investigators guilty of negligence, failure to take necessary measures or delivering unlawful decisions, are brought to neither disciplinary nor criminal responsibility, which further strengthens arbitrariness and replicates the practice of ineffective investigations.

All the factors mentioned above clearly indicate a deep crisis of the law enforcement system in Russia and the urgent necessity of a comprehensive reform. The reform should address all sides of the system, including training, recruiting policy, procurement, management and last, but not least, assessment of police work. Respect for human rights should become a core element of the reform concept.

Russian human rights NGOs are actively involved in the elaboration of recommendations of what steps it is necessary to take to reform the bodies of internal affairs. For instance, a working group, created on the initiative of the Public Verdict Foundation, worked out a number of recommendations[4], which were submitted to the RF President’s Administration and to the Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights Council under the President of the Russian Federation.

Russian authorities recognize the problem of police abuse. In a number of public statements the Minister of Interior affirmed that levels of violations and even crimes committed by police officers are impermissibly high (for example, during his speech at the “government hour” at the State Duma on October 7th, 2009 he acknowledged that the number of criminal cases initiated against policemen on malfeasance charges had increased by 20%; at the same time the increase of the number of criminal cases against higher ranked police officers was even higher – 20,5%. The Minister reported that September’s statistics alone reveal 372 new criminal cases and 4,328 officers being brought to disciplinary responsibility[5]). Recently there have been certain changes, such as:

·         the Code of professional ethics of Russian policemen was adopted

·         the Minister of Internal Affairs has been ordered to establish a special department which would provide social and psychological support to policemen, to raise the competitiveness of the recruitment process in regional police and for executive posts and check the professionalism of Moscow policemen,

·         polygraph (lie detector) testing is being introduced into the work involving  police staff

·         the Ministry of Internal Affairs has launched a project aimed at informing society about its work. For example, The Russian Newspaper regularly publishes articles by the Minister of Internal Affairs reviewing the current situation in the Ministry and giving prospects for its development. For instance, in one of these articles[6] the Minister noticed that “the process of organisational, managerial and structural changes of the system of internal affairs is stepping up onto the next level and requires ever deeper comprehensive qualitative alterations”. Among the high priority measures the Ministry sees the modernisation of the whole human resources and training system, as well as a circumspect and consistent decrease of the average age of the staff at all levels and the introduction of effective promotion mechanisms for talented and highly professional young specialists. Another article emphasised that “one of the basic principles and aims of the Ministry’s development is to create a system which would  provide social services to citizens. It means that it should ensure and protect their constitutional rights and freedoms, legality and order, personal and public security”[7].

·         On August 22, 2009 the Minister of Internal Affairs during his speech at the meeting of the control headquarters in Kazan, gave 30 days to take measures to eradicate corruption. Leading experts believe that there have not been any drastic changes.


The measures taken can be seen as small steps towards a change in the law-enforcement system. However to the moment no proposals have been made to provide for comprehensive reform.

As for the problem of the lack of the effective investigation of torture and cruel treatment cases we believe that in order to fulfil the international responsibilities of Russia in this sphere and taking into account a particular danger of such crimes as torture and cruel treatment the following measures should be taken by the Russian authorities:


·          To introduce the internationally recognized definition of torture in the Russian legislation;

·          To work out and to introduce guidelines on the application of international standards of effective investigation of torture and cruel treatment cases;

·          To improve the quality of investigation (by interrogation officers of the Investigation Committee attached to the Prosecution Office of the RF) of criminal cases on torture committed by functionaries, including the necessity to provide quick, thorough and independent investigation; To create conditions favourable for bringing to responsibility both officers guilty for committing a crime and those who did not take measures in order to stop it;

·          To consider the possibility of introducing a new chapter into the Criminal Procedure Code of the Russian Federation regulating the rights of an applicant during preliminary checks;

·          To consider the possibility of creating either in the system of Investigation Committee attached to the Prosecution Office of the RF, or independently, a special department which will specialize only in investigation of cases of abuse of power including torture cases;

·          During investigation of torture cases to pay special attention to the aims of officers using torture;

·          To study in detail the social roots of torture and cruel treatment, to make social portraits of the officials using torture. This data can be taken into account in further elaboration of the measures to increase the efficiency of the work of the law-enforcement bodies and to shape the personnel policy.

·          To work out the state statistical mechanisms of recording torture and cruel treatment cases as a separate type of crime

[1] Source:

[2] A thorough analysis of the cases of torture and cruel treatment, describing typical characteristics of these crimes committed by the Russian law-enforcement bodies, can be found in the paper “Investigation practice and judicial decisions on the cases of torture and cruel treatment: Analysis of the cases executed by the Russian human-rights organisations”

[3] A more detailed information on the problem of investigation of torture and cruel treatment cases can be found in the attached analytical report “Investigation practice and judicial decisions on the cases of torture and cruel treatment: Analysis of the cases executed by Russian human rights organisations”

[4] The paper “Memo on police reform” with recommendations is attached.

[5] Source:

[6] Source:

[7] Source:

Rights in Russia,
23 Nov 2009, 01:53