Where We Work | Central Asia: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan

Throughout Central Asia, there is a culture of systematic impunity for torture and ill-treatment. In the absence of effective legal investigations, the judicial systems largely depend on self-incriminating statements and confessions obtained through torture and ill-treatment.

While Kyrgyzstan has a stated policy of zero tolerance for torture and ill treatment, a 2012 PHR investigation found evidence of brutal torture methods such as beatings, asphyxiation, electric shock, and rape threats. Following these findings, PHR advocated for policy changes and began training local medical and legal professionals to investigate and document such human rights violations.

Through partnerships with local organizations, PHR has advocated for policy reform, and for comprehensive training for medical and legal professionals in the Istanbul Protocol, the international standard for torture investigation and documentation. We have also advocated for an Istanbul Protocol National Plan of Action for Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Since 2011, PHR experts and our partners have trained hundreds of medical, legal, law enforcement, and justice professionals in the region.

These trainings have resulted in a number of promising developments. In 2014, two Kyrgyz police officers were sentenced to 11 years in prison for the torture of several minors. This was the first case, ever, of criminal punishment in Kyrgyzstan under the torture statute of the Criminal Code.

PHR’s greatest victory in Tajikistan came in May 2016, when, after sustained pressure by PHR and local partners, the parliament revised the Criminal Procedure Code to allow for independent forensic medical evaluations. PHR’s work has continued to change the culture of impunity for torture: in 2018, two state officials were jailed after evidence by a PHR-trained medical professional showed that their torture and ill-treatment of a political prisoner had driven the prisoner to suicide.

In Kazakhstan, PHR has worked with the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Justice and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe to effectively implement Istanbul Protocol norms. This effort has included official recognition of Istanbul Protocol standards, policy reforms, and trainings for forensic experts, attorneys, prosecutors, judges, policy makers, and others.

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