Death caused by disregard of the human rights
Author: Nikolay Borisov, www.kommersant.ru
Human rights activists call the Russian State Duma to introduce urgent amendments to the current laws regulating the stay of people with HIV, tuberculosis and other severe diseases in places of confinement. This is the conclusion of the study initiated by the Risk Group Project aimed at the protection of rights of such inmates.
Addressing the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia, project activists ask to ensure that health departments are not subordinated to the administration of correctional facilities and pre-trial detention centers, to prohibit admission of the inmates with severe health conditions to punitive isolation wards and not to hinder the activities of public inspectors. The activists point out that 7% of all people living with HIV in Russia stay in places of confinement, that is why improving the situation of inmates living with HIV could have a positive effect on the response to HIV in the country in general.
The Risk Group project targeted at the protection of rights of inmates with HIV, tuberculosis, syphilis and other infectious diseases in the Russian penitentiary institutions is implemented by the Rus Sidyashchaya NGO with support of the Emergency Support Fund for Key Populations in EECA.
According to the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia, in 2014-2017, 32% of deaths among inmates were caused by HIV.
Thus, today HIV is the most widespread cause of death in places of confinement. To illustrate this situation, project participants tell the story of D (told by his lawyer, Maria Eismont): when D was admitted to the pre-trial detention center, he tested positive for HIV, but was not informed about the test result. That is why he failed to receive antiretroviral treatment and learned about his diagnosis only a year after. By court decision, D was released from further imprisonment with a diagnosis “advanced stage of AIDS.” “In fact, he was released to die,” comment representatives of Rus Sidyashchaya NGO. “This case also demonstrates that administrators of the penitentiary facilities release people with severe health conditions not to benefit such people but to improve their own statistics.”
After reviewing the cases of inmates with HIV and tuberculosis, human rights activists say that managers of pre-trial detention centers and correctional facilities do not use the opportunities to release such inmates from punishment when it is necessary: “Though there is a list of severe health conditions that hinder further service of punishment, members of relevant medical commissions often fail to disclose the real diagnoses of such inmates.” Project activists even found some pre-trial detention centers where such medical commissions did not exist at all. Thus, in December 2018 Olga Vekovshinina, member of the Sverdlovsk Regional Public Oversight Committee found a severely ill inmate B in Correctional Medical Facility N51: “He had respiratory failure, his skin was dry and pale, he had emaciation and was not able to speak, he could hardly whisper words as all his oral cavity, oesophagus and respiratory tract were covered with fungus.” An application for release was submitted to Nizhny Tagil court straight away, but the man died: “His death was caused by disregard of his rights, which led to the disregard of his severe health condition.”
Rus Sidyashchaya NGO questions accuracy of the reports prepared by the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia and stating that in the recent five years the number of deaths among Russian inmates due to health conditions decreased by 33%, in particular due to tuberculosis — by 38.6%, due to HIV — by 24.2%. “Such a sharp decline of death rate may be a result of manipulations with statistics rather that provision of proper treatment to the inmates,” says Aleksey Fedyarov, Head of the Legal Department at the NGO. “Often to ensure such a “mortality reduction effect” correctional facilities take all possible measures to urgently release incurable patients, who die soon after leaving the institutions, which allows to improve the death rate statistics in such penitentiary facilities.”
Human rights activists point out that the cornerstone of the human rights violations in places of confinement is lack of public control:
“Correctional facilities and pre-trial detention centers use their status of closed settings and hide the facts of human rights violations. If we have public control, very unpleasant stories will emerge.”
Based on the study, the Risk Group Project activists make a number of conclusions. First of all, they call to ensure that health departments are not subordinated to the administration of penal colonies and pre-trial detention centers and prohibit admission of the inmates with severe health conditions to punitive isolation wards. “Medical departments of pre-trial detention centers and correctional facilities do not recognize the diagnoses established by the “outside” doctors,” underline human rights activists. “Unless the diagnosis is confirmed by medical department of the facility, the patient is not able to receive the required treatment. As the repeated diagnostics may take weeks or even months, it leads to the aggravation of the patient’s health state, and in case of HIV — to the development of opportunistic infections.”
During the writing of this article, Kommersant did not manage to get a comment about this situation from the penitentiary service. Vasiliy Makiyekno, retired colonel of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia says that correctional facilities are often located in remote areas and it is difficult for civil doctors to get there: “It is too expensive to bring people, organize transport, so sick inmates do not have access to emergency care.” He also said that before being placed to a punitive isolation cell, inmates are examined by a doctor, who would not allow placing a sick person there. “Formally, health workers are not subordinated to the administrators of correctional institutions,” says the expert. “Of course, often there are some informal relations, but if an inmate dies in such an isolation cell, the doctor will have a tough time. He may face not only disqualification or dismissal, but also a criminal case.” “In general, oversight is ensured by the prosecutor’s office. There is also internal control: if there are any problems in the facility, sooner or later they cause an explosion,” says Vasiliy Makiyekno, adding that public oversight requires high qualification of the oversight commission members.
“Taking into consideration the work done, we call the deputies of the State Duma to make relevant amendments to the Federal Law “On public control of human rights in places of detention and assistance to persons in places of detention” and to the Criminal Procedure Code,” summed up Aleksey Fedyarov. “We need to get the message that there is such a need across to the deputies.”
Newspaper Kommersant N127 dd. 22.07.2019, p. 5