Committee against Torture
5 November 2008
The Committee against Torture this afternoon heard Lithuania’s response to questions raised by Committee Experts on the second periodic report of that country on how it is implementing the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Responding to a series of questions raised by Committee members on Tuesday, 4 November, the delegation, which was led by Arûnas Kazlauskas, Secretary of the Ministry of Justice of Lithuania, said that, in terms of preventative measures, if a detained person did not receive the assistance of a lawyer as provided for in the rules governing detention, by a rule adopted on 10 June 2005 by the Supreme Court, all evidence obtained while in detention was thrown out. There was a 30-day time limit for administrative arrests, and those could be appealed. As for preventive detention, that was covered by the 1996 law on detention, which had recently been amended by a law that would come into force in April 2009. The new language clearly prohibited the use of violence or intimidation against detainees. The new law also explicitly provided the right of detainees to telephone contact with family members and set out the procedure for making complaints and replying to them, setting a time limit of 14 days for a response.
Providing information on conditions in prisons, the delegation noted that occupancy rates in prisons were as high as 138 per cent. They were also seeing a similar situation of overcrowding in hospitals in detention centres and jails, and violence was a problem in detention centres and prisons. In that connection, there had been a number of amendments to improve the rules of the administration of justice in prisons. With respect to future plans to improve prison conditions, there were 15 different detention and penitentiary facilities with an overall capacity of 9,060 and an actual occupancy rate of only 7,800. The situation of overcrowding only pertained to the pre-trial facilities and the prison hospitals. Among steps to address prison conditions were the building of separate facilities that had been built to house up to 80 inmates serving short sentences, under 90 days; the reconstruction of an open prison colony, creating 430 new places; and the complete refurbishment of one the buildings in the Vilnius Prison Facility. Renovation had also been carried out in other pre-trial and correctional facilities. A strategy had been adopted by the Prison Administration up to 2030 to ensure that construction and renovation of facilities continued, in particular for pre-trial detention.
The Committee will submit its conclusions and recommendations on the report of Lithuania towards the end of the session on Friday, 21 November 2008.
As one of the 145 States parties to the Convention against Torture, Lithuania is obliged to provide the Committee with periodic reports on the measures it has undertaken to fight torture.
When the Committee reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 6 November, it is scheduled to begin consideration of the initial report of Serbia (CAT/C/SRB/1).
Response of Lithuania
Responding to a series of questions raised by Committee Experts on Tuesday, 3 November, the delegation of Lithuania said that, with regard to the definition of torture, the Criminal Code did not provide a detailed definition of the term of torture. But that definition had been given in the case law of the Supreme Court in its rulings in this area. In addition the Criminal Code covered torture since its execution included other crimes, and the number of articles relating to this had been expanded, for example, by inclusion of articles on inhuman treatment or punishment and genocide. In addition, the commission of such acts could be considered aggravating circumstances in other crimes.
Accordingly to statistical data, in 2005, there had been three cases of criminal offences committed by police officers for abuse of office or exceeding their authority by illegal use of violence. In one case, the perpetrator was banned from working in civil service for two years. In another, the perpetrators had been absolved of criminal responsibility. In 2006, three such cases of criminal offences had been detected, and in one case the police officer had been found guilty of a criminal offence and sentenced to pay a fine. In 2007, two cases of criminal offences had been detected. In one case, the perpetrators were banned from working in civil service for two years; in another case, no information existed in the court register. In the first six months of 2008, one criminal offence had been detected and the material and the indictment had been passed on to a court, the delegation said.
Regarding the prevention of torture, the delegation said that detainees in Lithuania had the right to contact a lawyer and members of their family. Foreign detainees had the right to contact their Consular Office or Embassy.
With respect to the right to asylum, the delegation said that the main legal norm in this area was the Law on the Legal Status of Aliens in Lithuania, which set out the rules governing asylum requests, among others. Decisions to grant or refuse an asylum request were made by the Migration Department in the Ministry of the Interior. Asylum-seekers had a panoply of rights, the right to live in a registration centre, assistance in preparing the necessary documents, the right to an interpreter, free use of public transportation, and the right to study in school. They were also eligible to receive a small living stipend. The Migration Department had to adopt a decision in 48 hours on whether to provide an asylum-seeker with a temporary asylum document. Decisions on applications for refugee status then had to be decided within three months of the receipt of the temporary document, though that period could be extended to up to six months. At both stages, the decisions of the Migration Department could be appealed. If there was a mass influx of asylum-seekers into the European Union, the Lithuania Government could provide a temporary stay permit for a period of one year, with the possibility of an extension for a further year.
In cases where asylum was not granted, the Migration Department performed a thorough examination to determine whether the asylum-seeker would be put in danger of being tortured, or subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment if he was returned to his country of origin. Should it be established that he might face such danger, the asylum-seeker would not be expelled from the Republic of Lithuania.
With regard to individuals who posed a threat to Lithuanian national security, all options would be explored to ensure that the individual would not be expelled to a country where he would be under threat of torture, the delegation said.
There were two separate registration centres for foreigners, one for men and one for women. The residents could move about freely by day, but at night there was a curfew and the necessary staff to ensure order. The centres had a medical service that was available throughout the week. Meals were served three times a day. Starting in January this year, a social worker and a psychologist were also on staff at the centres. In 2007, some 143 individuals were accommodated at the centres for an average of 40 days each. There were an average of 28 persons at any one time in the centres and at present there were 32 people living there.
On rights of detainees, the delegation recalled that the right to a defence was enshrined in the Constitution and the Criminal Code from the time of detention or first interrogation. A person did not have the right to defend himself, so a lawyer would be appointed irrespective of the detainee's wishes. If the detainee did not have funds, guaranteed State legal assistance was provided. In 2007, 130 persons benefited from primary (or full) legal assistance, and in 2008, 150 individuals benefited from it. Those were mostly women. In terms of secondary (or partial) assistance, in 2007 and in 2008 thousands of individuals and families had benefited from it.
In terms of the laws governing detention, if a detained person did not receive the assistance of a lawyer, by a rule adopted on 10 June 2005 by the Supreme Court, all evidence obtained while in detention was thrown out.
The delegation noted that there was a 30-day time limit for administrative arrests, and those could be appealed. As for preventive detention, that was covered by the 1996 law on detention, which had recently been amended by a law that would come into force in April 2009. The new language clearly prohibited the use of violence or intimidation against detainees. The new law also explicitly provided the right of detainees to telephone contact with family members. It also set out the procedure for making complaints and replying to them, setting a time limit of 14 days for a response.
Responding to questions on conditions in prisons, the delegation noted that the detention facility in Vilnius had a separate prison with space for 864 individuals. That was now occupied by 950 persons, or in other words had an occupancy rate of 110 per cent. Other prisons had occupancy rates as high as 125 per cent and 138 per cent. They were also seeing a similar situation of overcrowding in hospitals in detention centres and jails.
Violence was a problem in detention centres and prisons, the delegation agreed. Citing statistics of violence in such settings, there had been two cases of murder in 2004; one in 2005; zero in 2006; four in 2007; and zero in 2008. For bodily harm, there had been 142 cases in 2004; 140 in 2005; 152 in 2006; 175 in 2007; and 66 in 2008. In each case a criminal investigation was initiated. There were no statistics on measures taken against individuals in those cases, as those were being carried out by the Public Prosecutor's Office.
The delegation noted that there were 175 disabled inmates as of 1 October 2008 in the Lithuanian prison system. In practice, there was no problem of violence against disabled inmates. There were provisions in the legal code on penitentiary regulations for better conditions for disabled inmates. There were specially equipped rooms for the disabled, located on the ground floor, and elevators for their use.
Furthermore, the delegation noted that there had been a number of amendments to improve the rules of the administration of justice in prisons. In 1999, the Minister of Health had issued health regulations pertaining to prison facilities, stipulating that prisoners needed three square metres each in communal prison facilities, such as kitchens or libraries; five square metres in their cells; and seven square metres each in hospital facilities.
Minors were kept in separate cells from adults, the delegation said. Minors were kept in a facility that housed women on one floor, and minors on another. Girls were kept in the same facilities as women. Currently, there were 250 inmates in the women's prison, of whom two were minors. However, as that prison had a capacity of 408, there was no problem in keeping the minors separate from adults.
With respect to future plans to improve prison conditions, the delegation noted that in Lithuania there were 15 different detention and penitentiary facilities with an overall capacity of 9,060 and an actual occupancy rate of only 7,800. The situation of overcrowding only pertained to the pre-trial facilities and the prison hospitals. Among steps to address prison conditions were the building of separate facilities that housed up to 80 inmates serving short sentences, under 90 days; the reconstruction of an open prison colony, creating 430 new places; and the complete refurbishment of one the buildings in the Vilnius Prison Facility; renovation had also been carried out in other pre-trial and correctional facilities. A strategy had been adopted by the Prison Administration up to 2030 to ensure that construction and renovation of facilities continued, in particular for pre-trial detention.
In the event of the declaration of a state emergency, the delegation noted that in such situations there was a requirement that individuals carried identity documents on them. If an individual did not have those documents on them, they could be detained for 24 hours to ascertain their identity. That was only theoretical, however, as Lithuania had never declared a state of emergency.
Turning to the issue of trafficking in persons, the problem was seen in Lithuania as a global one, and therefore comprehensive measures had been adopted to address it. At the national level there was an anti-trafficking strategy and an anti-trafficking law, which met the standards of the United Nations, the European Union, Interpol and Europol. In February 2008 a convention was signed with the European Union on trafficking in persons and a draft bill was under consideration to provide reparations to victims of trafficking. In 2006, Parliament had adopted a law which required the provision of a stay for victims of trafficking so that they would not be expelled from the country while they cooperated with the law enforcement authorities. The delegation highlighted that the United States State Department list had for four years running placed Lithuania among those countries making the greatest efforts to combat trafficking in persons.
Each year, the State financed programmes for victims of violence, including victims of trafficking. A lot of attention was also being paid to the identification of victims of violence, and a system to identify them already existed among the Government and international and national organizations. The number of victims had since fallen dramatically between 2007 and 2008. In addition, there were special programmes for the police on this subject.
Regarding domestic violence, the delegation noted that the Criminal Code did not specifically define such crimes as opposed to violence that occurred outside the home. However, in investigating such cases the Procedural Code did set out specific procedures, including for the separation of the alleged perpetrator from the home while the case was being investigated. There were also preventive measures, such as provisions for psychological counselling to perpetrators. A Working Group had been tasked with studying the subject in all its aspects, and subsequently the Ministry of Justice had drafted a bill to amend the Criminal Code, for example, to provide reparations for victims of such violence. That draft legislation was currently being looked at by other government offices and ministries.
Concerning the military forces, the Criminal Code did assign criminal liability for violent activities against subordinates and among military staff. For cases of violence against subordinates, in 2005, there had been four investigations launched and three convictions handed down; in 2006, there had been three preliminary investigations, with no court cases; in 2007, there had been one investigation with three convictions; and in 2008, one preliminary investigation was undertaken, but no ruling was available yet. For cases of violence among military of equal rank, in 2005 there had been nine preliminary investigations with six convictions; in 2006, 16 investigations had led to seven convictions; in 2007, 17 investigations had brought nine convictions; and in 2008, so far nine investigations had led to six convictions. There were no special military courts to adjudicate such cases, which were tried in the regular courts.
The delegation noted that, since 1992, the Government had investigated 226 cases of genocide and war crimes, 50 of them related to the Holocaust. Of those, 19 had gone to the courts for criminal trial. Since 2005, 36 investigations had been started, five of which had gone to the courts. Yesterday, the case of Yitzhak Arad had been mentioned. As of today, that case had been closed.
On reparations, the existing legislation provided for two alternatives for payment of compensation to victims of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment. There was a special fund from which compensation was paid to victims. In 2006, 76 claims were made on the fund, and 26 were granted compensation; in 2007, 136 such claims were made, with 54 claims paid out; and in 2008, 72 requests had been received so far, with 33 awarded compensation. There was also a separate mechanism for paying out compensation to victims of public officials.
With regard to the refusal by the Vilnius municipality to issue a permit for an anti-discrimination event sponsored by the European Union in 2007 which included the rights of homosexuals, the delegation said that the motive for that refusal had been the threat of violent demonstrations. Unfortunately, the decision was not appealed by those sponsoring the event, so they could not say what the disposition would have been if it had been brought to trial. Arguably there was some room for improvement in the right to assembly in Lithuania.
Experts Comments and Requests for Complementary Information
LUIS GALLEGOS CHIRIBOGA, the Committee Expert serving as Rapporteur for the report of Lithuania, said that there was a need for a specific definition of torture and of domestic violence in Lithuanian legislation. It was hoped that the problem of overcrowding in prisons and in temporary detention facilities would be resolved. He also called for replies to the Committee's requests for additional information on individual communications.
ALEXANDER KOVALEV, the Committee Expert serving as co-Rapporteur for the report of Lithuania, singled out improvements in training for law enforcement and penitentiary authorities and in prison conditions in Lithuania for praise.
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