[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur on torture Juan E. Mendez [official profile; press release] concluded his nine-day visit to the Republic of Tajikistan [BBC profile] on Friday, stating that he was pleased with the country’s recent modifications designed to aid in eradicating torture, but that mistreatment of suspects remains the norm. Mendez is especially encouraged by the recent introduction of a new criminal provision that defines torture and provides penalties for it. He does believe, however, that “a relatively low penalty does not offer a strong disincentive to commit torture.” Mendez urged the total elimination of pressure tactics on detainees to elicit confessions, including threats, beatings and applying electric shock, and hopes that the regulation of the legal profession will achieve this goal by finding ways of “meaningful enforcement”:
Amendments in substantive and procedural law, and internal regulations and instructions issued by various agencies are a welcome change … It is difficult at this stage to assess their actual impact on the ability of citizens to enjoy and enforce their right to physical and mental integrity under all circumstances. They will require sustained effort and commitment from the highest levels of authority and a clear pledge to “zero tolerance” of torture … If there is no recognition that there is a problem with mistreatment, whether systematic or not, mistreatment is not likely to go away.
Mendez was also encouraged by the improvement of the conditions of pre-trial detention facilities, as they offer food and work opportunities, contact among inmates and medical and religious services. He was, however, disturbed by the extremely limited allowance of contact with inmates’ family members. Following his visit Mendez will offer the Tajik government a report with recommendations to aid it with eliminating torture and ill-treatment.
Poor prison conditions continue to draw criticism worldwide. In October Mendez recommended that governments ban solitary confinement for juveniles and prisoners with mental disabilities [JURIST report]. In July jailed Iranian journalist Isa Saharkhiz urged UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur Dr. Ahmad Shaheed to investigate prison conditions in Iran [JURIST report], alleging that the maltreatment of both political and general prisoners in Iran amounts to crimes against humanity. In California in June at least 400 inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison initiated a hunger strike [JURIST report] in protest of solitary confinement. Inmates of Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit (SHU), a long-term isolation ward where one-third of the prison’s population is held in solitary confinement, instigated of the strike. The Washington Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in January that holding death row inmates in solitary confinement indefinitely [JURIST report] is not an impermissible increase in the severity of punishment.