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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

UN Official Says Russian Jails Add Up To Torture

Wrapping up a weeklong official visit to Russia, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson used a news conference Friday to draw attention to inhumane prison conditions, police torture and the plight of children in state institutions.

Robinson also signed an agreement with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov for a three-year, $3 million human rights education project.

She said her visit to Butyrka, a pretrial detention center in Moscow, confirmed the conclusions of United Nations Special Rapporteur Nigel Rodley that conditions in such Russian jails were inhumane.

Prisoners in Butyrka typically live 60 or even 80 to a cell intended for 30, and are allowed outside for only an hour a day. "That amounts to torture," Robinson said.

The human rights chief made her comments about Russian jails the same day the State Duma gave final approval to a long-awaited amnesty expected to free 80,000 to 94,000 prisoners, including many awaiting trial in places like Butyrka.

In meetings with Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo and Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, Robinson said she discussed "the very serious problem of beatings and other forms of torture by the police very soon after an arrest ... usually to secure a confession."

She said she spoke to Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov about the importance of defining torture as a crime. There is no article in Russia's criminal code that deals specifically with torture.

Robinson was critical of Russia's policies toward the growing number of children in state-run orphanages.

"I believe there is an over-institutionalization of children," she said. "Children with minor problems of disability have been institutionalized, whereas in other countries they would be cared for by their families with [state] support," she said. "I understand there are 600,000 children in institutions, and that number is going up by 100,000 each year."

Robinson also expressed concern about registration requirements for religious groups and nongovernmental organizations, which many groups say are too tough or are arbitrarily enforced.

"My information is that only 10 percent [of religious groups] have been able to register," she said.

At the news conference, Robinson, a former president of Ireland, fielded many questions about Kosovo.

She said she was glad that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had been indicted but that the question of his guilt or innocence would be decided by the international war crimes tribunal at The Hague.

She also said she had raised concerns to the tribunal's chief prosecutor regarding civilian casualties of the NATO bombings.

"I believe that the Serbian civilian population has suffered terribly," she said. "Civilians are the primary victims in all armed conflicts now."

Later in the day, Robinson signed the largest technical cooperation agreement that her office has ever concluded.

Yury Boichenko, head of the Foreign Ministry department in charge of cooperation in the sphere of human rights, said this week that the agreement with Russia consists of 13 UN-sponsored projects on human rights and democracy, including training workshops for teachers, a television program and the distribution of printed materials.