Diplomatic assurances found wanting


The European Court of Human Rights has found that there would be a violation of the prohibition against torture if Russia extradited Aleksandr Ryabkin to TurkmenistanThe Court also found that there had been a violation of Article 5 § 1 (f) of the Convention (right to liberty and security) concerning Mr Ryabkin’s detention pending extradition and of Article 5 § 4 on account of the absence of judicial review of his detention.

The case concerned Mr Ryabikin’s complaint about the unlawfulness of his detention pending extradition and that, if extradited to Turkmenistan, he was at risk of torture and ethnically motivated persecution.

In January 2001, fearing that he was in danger because he had been a witness in a criminal case against two officials, he left the country for the United Arab Emirates and then Moscow. He was then informed that a criminal case had been opened against him in Turkmenistan and that part of his property had been confiscated. 

In 2003 Mr Ryabikin applied for refugee status in Russia. He submitted, in particular, that he feared persecution in Turkmenistan and that he was the subject of a criminal investigation. His request was ultimately rejected by the Russian migration authorities, and then by the courts, mainly on the grounds that:  the applicant had been allowed to leave Turkmenistan legally and without any hindrance; his family continued to reside safely in Turkmenistan; on arrival in Russia he had not immediately applied for asylum; and, the criminal proceedings in Turkmenistan were not in any way linked to his political, religious or ethnic background, but to his commercial activities.

In February 2004 the applicant was summoned to the St. Petersburg Passport and Visa Service and arrested on the basis of an international search warrant which included charges against him of embezzlement, an offence punishable under the Turkmen Criminal Code by eight to 15 years’ imprisonment. Kuybyshevskiy district court subsequently ordered his detention pending extradition to Turkmenistan.

On 9 March 2004 the European Court, under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court, requested the Russian authorities not to extradite the applicant to Turkmenistan until further notice. The same day, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Moscow issued a statement saying that the applicant’s appeal concerning his refugee status was pending and that his extradition to Turkmenistan prior to determination of his appeal might be in violation of national and international law.

Mr Ryabikin appealed against his detention on several occasions before the local courts. Ultimately, on 14 March 2005 Kuybyshevskiy district court decided to release him. The court noted that no decision on extradition had been taken by the Prosecutor General’s Office, in view of the application of Rule 39 of the Rules of Court. It further noted that the Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP) did not provide for the extension or alteration of a preventive measure in respect of a person arrested further to an extradition request. The district court directly applied Article 17 of the Constitution of Russia, which guarantees rights and freedoms in accordance with internationally recognised principles and norms of international law, and Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The extradition proceedings against the applicant are currently still pending. In their latest observations submitted to the European Court in July 2007, the Russian Government stated that the Prosecutor General’s Office of Turkmenistan had provided, in a letter, guarantees to the effect that, if returned, the applicant would not be subjected to ill-treatment.

The applicant submitted a number of reports on the situation in Turkmenistan, including documents issued by the OSCE, the European Parliament, the UN Commission on Human Rights, the US State Department, Amnesty International, Memorial, Human Rights Watch and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. Those documents indicated that persecution of ethnic minorities (including Russians), extremely poor conditions of detention, as well as ill-treatment and torture, remained a great concern in that country. The documents also indicated that accurate information about the human rights situation was scarce and difficult to verify, in view of the exceptionally restrictive nature of the prevailing political regime, described as “one of the world’s most repressive and closed countries” (Human Rights Watch 2007 World Report), and the systematic refusal of the Turkmen authorities to allow any monitoring of places of detention by international or non-governmental observers.

From the ECHR press release issued on 19 June

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