A United Nations report released on Tuesday includes Russia on a list of 66 countries that continue to hold detainees in secret prisons, Reuters reported on Wednesday. The report is set to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in March.
The report alleges that in addition to suspects of terrorism, figures from the political opposition and people blamed for “extremist” activity were also being illegally held in secret facilities.
Aside from Russia, countries on the list included Algeria, Egypt, China, Sudan, and the United States. The vast majority, 55 countries, had only begun secret detentions after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
“Secret detention as such may constitute torture or ill-treatment for the direct victims as well as their families,” says the report. The authors stress that those guilty of such crimes should be held accountable and that their families should be afforded proper compensation.
The true purpose of such secret prisons, the report goes on, is to cover up the fact that detainees are tortured or subjected to other degrading treatment in order to extract information from them; or, alternatively, to keep them quiet.
Secret detentions have been used by Nazi Germany, in the Gulag system of the former Soviet Union, and by the Latin American dictatorships of the 1970s and ’80s, and are in gross violation of the Geneva Conventions, says the report. The authors stress that such detentions are wholly unjustifiable, regardless of allegations by countries that they are an unavoidable necessity for national security.
The report was of particular relevance in light of a dramatic increase in Russian detentions under charges of extremism. Rights advocates have long maintained that legislation from 2002 defining extremism is uselessly vague, giving law enforcement agents free reign to arrest oppositionists and other activists deemed undesirable to the state. In the past few years, extremism charges have been filed against at least one poet, the families of victims in the Beslan school massacre, opposition leader Garry Kasparov, many newspapers, a channel airing South Park, and countless political oppositionists.
A source of significant concern has been the Russian Internal Ministry’s Center for Extremism Prevention (known as Center “E”), which Amnesty International has accused of torture to extract confessions from criminal suspects. Activists say that many of these suspects are arrested on vague or nonexistent grounds, such as in the case of Konstantin Makarov, who was kidnapped and tortured by Center “E” officials in retaliation for organizing an opposition rally last October.
In November, activists from the opposition movement Solidarity obtained an internal police memo indicting Center “E” and other police officials of conspiring to illegally detain activists holding solitary demonstrations in Moscow. Russian legislators began this month to discuss legislation that would greatly hinder activists’ ability to hold such demonstrations, drawing even more scorn from rights advocates that the government was doing everything it could to stifle political dissent.