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Central Asia Initiative

Prison Hands

Although the scale of torture and ill treatment varies among the countries of Central Asia, they share a culture of impunity in which perpetrators of torture and ill treatment are rarely punished and justice for victims is elusive. Torture is widespread at police stations, pre-trial detention centers, prisons, and other detention places in every country in Central Asia. A high degree of corruption and lack of public education and awareness about torture contribute to the silence in which torture occurs. The victims or their relatives fear to press for punishment of perpetrators and do not trust the judiciary and the legal system.

While Central Asian governments have adopted anti-torture laws and policies and some (Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan) have claimed to have “zero tolerance” for torture, many cases of alleged torture are not investigated and cases that are investigated rarely result in convictions. Governments have also tried to “define down” torture to ill-treatment or abuse of authority, thus avoiding domestic and international censure.

Impunity is reinforced in other ways. Judicial and police capacity and responses are weak or absent. Victims are isolated and have no trusted, safe place to report torture. Leaders fail to acknowledge these horrific crimes and to speak out forcefully. The result is that crimes of torture and ill treatment often go undocumented and unreported to authorities. Arrests are difficult to make and legal cases are rarely brought to court. The problem of impunity for torture and ill treatment also contributes to the threat of reprisals to those who pursue justice, accountability, and redress.

One of the most effective ways to break this cycle of impunity is through investigation and documentation of torture and ill treatment. In recent years, human rights organizations and lawyers have strengthened their efforts to bring perpetrators to justice, but essential medical evidence continues to be lacking. In the region, those engaged in human rights work in general, and anti-torture work in particular, are largely lawyers; health professionals are essentially unengaged. The potential for short- and long-term gains in implementing IP standards for the effective investigation and documentation of torture and ill treatment is significant.