Police torture in Russian takes place against the backdrop of a chaotic criminal justice system. The political crisis that arose in the course of dismantling the Soviet Union's authoritarian political system has stalled desperately needed reforms of the Soviet-era criminal justice system, leaving it in great disarray. In addition, unrelenting economic crises have meant drastic reductions in public expenditure across the board, which left the criminal justice system with inadequate funding. The police, procuracy, and judiciary all face high turnover rates, underfunding, increased workloads, and corruption; further, they all suffer from an acute lack of public trust. The legal profession, which was severely underdeveloped in Soviet times, has grown but is still far from effective and professional. Corruption and unethical practices are widespread.
The Police Force
Opinion polls conducted in recent years have shown that Russia's police force is in a deep crisis of legitimacy: Russian citizens do not trust their own police. One poll found that in 1998 more than 50 percent of respondents assessed police performance as bad or very bad. Thirty percent believed police are primarily concerned with protecting their own interests instead of those of citizens, and 15 percent believed police mainly protect the interests of the mafia.196 According to data from the Scientific Research Institute of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, around 60 percent of crime victims do not want to report crimes to the police as they see them not as a protector but as a source of increased danger.197 A television opinion poll carried out by the daily program Segodniachko on NTV (Russia's independent television channel) on December 10, 1998, found that the vast majority of Russians believe the police beat detainees. The question, "Do you believe that police sometimes beat detainees?" generated a record number of calls that were not, as is usually the case, evenly divided between "yes" and "no." Of the 22,871 people who phoned the studio during the half-hour program, 21,910 answered in the affirmative, 758 believed police do not beat detainees and 203 people answered that they did not know. In June 1998, the daily newspaper Segodnia [Today] reported that an opinion poll in Moscow found that 43 percentof Muscovites would not contact the police under any circumstances, including opening the door to their apartment to police officers, and 37 percent feared police as much as criminals.198
Personnel, Recruitment, and Turnover
Since the early 1990s, the police force has experienced a serious turnover problem. Attracted by much higher salaries, large numbers of police officers, detectives, and investigators have left the police force to join private security firms or become lawyers or businessmen. According to Vladimir Vorozhtsov, an aid to then-Minister of Internal Affairs Sergei Stepashin, some 1.2 million employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, or 80 percent of its entire staff, have left their jobs for employment outside the ministry since the early 1990s.199 The police chief of Arkhangel'sk province, Boris Uemlianin, told Human Rights Watch that around 50 percent of police detectives work in the force for only three years. Detectives with working experience as detectives of more than ten years constitute only about 5 percent. Uemlianin added:
If we look at criminal investigation- it's three and a half years since I worked as head of the criminal investigation department.... Only a few are left with whom I worked, from over forty people, around 15 percent.200
Uemlianin further said that in order to become an effective detective, one needs to have at least three years of experience. Vitalii Bartoshevich, deputy chief of police in Irkutsk province, told Human Rights Watch that more than 50 percent of police detectives leave the force within five years.201
These high turnover rates obviously also result in the loss of institutional memory. In his book about the police, a journalist with the Moscow-basednewspaper Obshchaia gazeta, Maksim Glikin,202 quotes two police detectives as saying:
The continuity has stopped, the normal transfer of experience. Before, in criminal investigation, there were gray-haired men with twenty years of experience and in the first two or three years you weren't even allowed to come close to something serious.... Now, a detective who has worked for three years is considered senior.203
Yet, simultaneously with this outflow of experienced officers, the number of employees of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs has grown since the collapse of the Soviet Union. According to Stepashin, the size of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs now exceeds the number of Ministry of Internal Affairs employees the Soviet Union had and is relatively one of the highest in the world.204 According to the daily newspaper Novye izvestiia, there is currently a police officer for every ninety-three inhabitants of Russia.205
Recruitment standards have also been lowered. The percentage of investigators with a legal education is no more than 50 percent.206 A police chief in Irkutsk even said that at most 34 percent of police investigators had a legal education.207 One procurator reflected with a bit of amusement and exaggeration that "if they don't have a criminal record, they are accepted automatically."208Former police officer Oleg Egorov told Human Rights Watch that when he started working for the police in 1992, recruitment procedures were fairly strict and included background checks and a psychological test. However, once accepted into the force, proceedings were less strict:
I initially applied for a job with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, didn't know where I would go [to work], and for myself thought that I could count on precinct inspector at the most. But when they had received all the documents, ran all the [background] checks, they called me in and said: "Write a statement, you're going to the crime police." That shocked me. They took me downstairs to the department for criminal investigation, introduced me to the chief, with the deputy, and said: "You'll start today." They explained to me what I had to do.209
Despite this grim picture, Boris Uemlianin expressed hope that recruitment and professional preparation of police officers would improve over the next few years in Arkhangel'sk province and elsewhere. Vladimir Alferov of the Ministry of Internal Affairs told Human Rights Watch that most police investigators without a law degree are taking courses in the evenings.210
Material Difficulties and Workload
Policemen receive low salaries211 and face massive workloads and extremely poor working conditions. Maksim Glikin has also described how the lack of equipment affects police work: police precincts often have only one computer for ten to fifteen people; and xerox machines are a rarity. As a result, he claims detectives spend nearly half their time copying documents by hand.212 Mikhail Pashkin of a Moscow police union said that he knows of police departments that have one telephone for seven detectives.213 According to Glikin, a country-wide police database has recently been developed, but many police officers do not yet know how to use it and it is poorly maintained. Also, much information is still keptin non-computerized card form. By his account, the number of fingerprints alone on such cards is around thirty million. Glikin also decries the absence of special telephone lines for fast and reliable police communications.214 At the same time, all of the police officers and chiefs Human Rights Watch spoke to complained that workloads have increased drastically over the last few years.
Police Extortion and Violence215
The scale on which police extort money from ordinary citizens is dramatic. In a 1998 study on corruption in Russia, President Boris Yeltsin's former political advisor, Georgii Satarov, stated that grassroots corruption in Russia is "deeply entrenched in the everyday life of society" and "penetrates into all spheres where a citizen has to interact with the state or, vice versa, the state summons a citizen." The study concluded that law enforcement agencies (and especially the police) are the second most corrupt state agencies, trailing only the housing system.216
The propiska (obligatory residence permit) system, for example, commonly serves as a pretext for police extortion, especially against nonethnic Russians.217 The conduct of the Moscow police is particularly predatory: it is not uncommon for a person from the Caucasus or Central Asia to choose not to leave the house rather than confront the likely prospect of having to pay a police bribe or worse. Police extract what amounts to a monthly "tax" from UNHCR-recognized refugeesresiding in Moscow who, due to that city's restrictive rules, cannot obtain residence permits; the alternative to paying the "tax" is certain eviction, incarceration, or the threat of deportation.
Traffic police are possibly the most notorious of all police divisions for their corrupt practices. It would be difficult to find a driver in Russia who has never paid an on-the-spot "fine" to a traffic police officer for any violation of traffic rules, real or imagined. Asking for a receipt more often than not prompts threats and worse. Failure to pay results in having one's licence revoked. Police are further reported by the media as being closely linked to the prostitution business or even controlling it.218 Human Rights Watch researchers have even seen policemen forcing elderly women who were begging passers-by for money to pay bribes to be allowed to beg at a specific location.
This kind of extortion is frequently accompanied by senseless violence.219 In the course of researching torture practices, Human Rights Watch also found numerous cases of violence by traffic police and in drunk tanks. The media, furthermore, regularly report about violent crimes committed by police officers that are unrelated to their duties. In some cases, officers have tried to justify gratuitous violence by fabricating criminal proceedings against their victims.220
There are also widespread allegations of police corruption involving large sums of money. A procuracy official in St. Petersburg, for example, recounted to Human Rights Watch how an official in the economic crime unit of the local police was allegedly involved in a car import scheme that evaded taxes on a large scale.221 Maksim Glikin discusses similar alleged scams, including bribery in the registration of weapons, and the establishment of special charitable organizations as a cover for shady business deals.222
The procuracy appears to be facing personnel problems similar to those in the police force, although in an interview with Human Rights Watch the Procuracy General's office would not confirm this. Lower-level procuracy staff interviewed for this report, however, said that numerous qualified and experienced officialshave left for better paying jobs in the private sector and have been replaced with young and inexperienced staff. For several years, the Procuracy General has allowed procurators, as an apparent consequence, to hire fourth- and fifth-year law students as procurators' assistants. In addition, workloads appear to have increased significantly, while a new criminal code brings several new categories of crimes under the jurisdiction of the procuracy.223 As a result, according to some law enforcement specialists, the quality of investigations has suffered. Mara Poliakova, who worked as an instructor at the Procuracy General's Institute for Improving Qualifications of Top Personnel from 1979 to 1997, said she saw the professional qualifications of procuracy personnel decline throughout her years of training:
In the course of many years I saw that professionalism is the problem of problems. During the last years, I noticed that [the level of professionalism] started to fall dramatically, even that low level [of professionalism that existed previously] disappeared.... If you judge even by those who came previously and who come now to us at the Institute for Improving Qualifications of Top Personnel.... For the first time we started teaching law school students. Our institute is the Institute for Improving Qualifications of Top Personnel. An institute for improving qualifications, improving, and people started coming to us...to improve qualifications which they didn't have. They didn't even have a degree, what qualification can there be then?224
Elena Topil'skaia of the Leningrad province procuracy commented:
When I started working, in order for an investigator to be put on a case of premeditated murder under aggravating circumstances, you needed to be a senior investigator with five years of experience. Now, children, practically, start to work and are immediately put on several contract killings, and they investigate [those] as they see fit.
Today, cases are much more complicated, voluminous, and the skills of investigators have become much lower, because people capable of working try to find better paying work, and here students work, today's and yesterday's, or people who are about to leave on pension.225
However, Anatolii Korotkov, first deputy head of the investigation department of the procuracy general's, claimed that there are no specific material or personnel problems in the procuracy:
Mostly, in the procuracy there is a stable situation with employees. Vacancies are between 3 and 5 percent. The outflow has ended, although there used to be an outflow at one time, but now everything is stable, even more so, there are many people who want to come and work in the procuracy because it is the most stable agency, which makes for the smallest number of mistakes.226
Judicial vacancies and a rise in the number of court cases have clogged Russia's dockets. Russia has around 15,000 judges for a population of approximately 147 million people; proportionally about half the number of judges in the Netherlands. According to Viacheslav Lebedev, chair of Russia's Supreme Court, the number of vacancies hovers at around 1,000.227 The newspaper Novye izvestiia reported 1,169 vacancies in November 1998.228 At the same time, the number of court cases has grown significantly over the last few years, resulting in an increased workload for judges.
Courts suffer from severe underfunding, especially since the August 1998 economic crisis. In an April 1998 interview, Lebedev said that salaries are paid on time but there is no money for operating the courts. After the August crisis, salary arrears appeared and the material situation at courts has deteriorated even further. The telephones and heating of many courts have been turned off, and signs asking citizens to bring in their own stationary are the rule rather than exception. Some courts are located in rented buildings that the Ministry of Justice can no longerafford. Courts have large debts to security firms.229 According to Lebedev, district courts can sometimes not even send decisions to province courts for appeal hearings because the postal system will not accept mail from courts until they have paid off their debts.230 In the winter of 1998, many courts were apparently threatened with closure due to heat and electricity cuts. Izvestiia reported in December 1998 that all twenty-three courts in Tomsk province had ceased functioning and that courts in various other regions were on the verge of following this example.231 The workload of criminal law judges has also reportedly increased significantly in recent years.
The Legal Profession
The Russian constitution grants everyone the right to qualified legal assistance and guarantees free legal aid to the poor.232 Unfortunately, this provision has not yet led to any significant improvements in the position of detainees and defendants.
In Soviet times, there was a deficit of lawyers. That problem is quickly being resolved, in part by numerous former police and procuracy investigators becoming lawyers, attracted by the higher salaries. However, many lawyers-especially if appointed by an investigator or judge-do not sufficiently represent the interests of their clients, if they do not outright cooperate with the prosecution.