Toilets in pre-trial detention centers and detention rooms recognized as instruments of abusing people

Toilets in pre-trial detention centers and detention rooms recognized as instruments of abusing people
Toilets in pre-trial detention centers and detention rooms recognized as instruments of abusing people
12 February 2021, 17:00PoliticsPhoto: Youtube
After protests in late January, early February, several thousand people were arrested and taken to the special detention centers in the Moscow region. Many of them visited such places for the first time in their lives and were stunned by what they saw.

Bowls "Genoa" were called torture - in open toilets people are forced to relieve themselves in plain sight.

Julia Suntsova

A video from the Center for the Temporary Detention of Foreign Citizens (TsVSIG) in the village of Sakharovo in New Moscow flew around social networks and the air of opposition TV channels.

An eight-bed cell with iron bunks without mattresses and bed linen was filled with twice as many people. For those who did not have enough beds, they arrange for themselves a place to spend the night on the floor. Instead of toilets, there is a hole in the floor. A hole in the corner of the cell itself. The partitions are half human height, the door is missing. Since Soviet times, the so-called bowls "Genoa" have been installed here - floor toilets, which involve squatting when using them.

It is possible to fulfill one's natural needs only in the sight and hearing of the inmates. The neighbors have a particularly good view from the upper tiers of the beds.

In some cases, video cameras are mounted directly above the toilets.

Many administratively arrested admitted that visiting such toilets was the worst thing they had to endure during the entire period of isolation.

The current norms were approved back in July 1995 by the Instructions for the design of objects of the internal affairs bodies of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia. According to them, the cabins must have partitions 1 meter high from the bathroom floor. Visibility on the part of those around them is made on purpose - so that the inmates do not plan suicide and so that "life does not seem like sugar".

In December 2015, however, the ECtHR judgment in the case of Shafranski v. Poland was already passed, in which the insufficient separation of the bathroom from the rest of the cell was recognized as an unsatisfactory condition of detention, among other violations of Art. 3 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Thus, the practice of the ECHR obliges the national authorities to organize access to the bathroom in such a way that it is separated from the living part of the cell and provides detainees with the necessary minimum of privacy. The Court reiterates that, in accordance with the position of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), a sanitary facility that is only partially separated from the cell is unacceptable if the cell contains more than one inmate. Toilets inside the cell should be equipped with partitions up to the ceiling.

For more than a decade, human rights activists have been striving to replace Genoa bowls in special detention facilities with ordinary toilets. Public monitoring commissions also filed a lot of complaints about toilets in temporary detention facilities, special detention centers for administrative detainees, rooms of the temporary detention center for foreign citizens.

“Toilet devices, the so-called Genoa bowls, can be seen today not only in special detention centers, but also in temporary detention facilities and in old cells of various Russian pre-trial detention centers. Sergei Magnitsky talked about them in his diaries, which were written in Butyrka prison in 2009, and characterized the Genoa bowls as nothing more than torture devices that humiliate a person. After the publication of the complaints and appeals of Sergei Magnitsky, after his death, repairs were made in Butyrka's cells, and the Genoa bowls were replaced with ordinary toilets. I think that after the special detention center in Sakharov became known throughout Russia and the whole world, money for the repair of premises and the installation of modern toilets in the cells will be allocated. But Russia is big, and I doubt that all special institutions will also be lucky with prompt repairs”, - says Zoya Svetova, a human rights activist, a member of the Moscow POC in 2008-2016.

In the capital's Lefortovo detention center, for example, similar toilets are still preserved - a slightly different cone-shaped design. These floor-standing toilets are also equipped with a low partition that does not block a person from prying eyes.

“These latrines are terrible because, if in special detention centers and in temporary detention facilities, prisoners can still curtain these “toilets” with the sheets or towels to relieve themselves without prying eyes, and the administration does not prevent them from doing this, then in the pre-trial detention center curtains are strictly prohibited. Moreover, the toilets there are under constant video surveillance.

The SIZO (detention center's) administration explains this order of things with the security requirements, allegedly under different conditions the arrested can commit suicide in these "blind zones". But, of course, this is slyness on the part of the FSIN - to assert that such an arrangement of toilets saves from suicide, it is just that in this way the officers want to control the prisoners, without leaving them the slightest privacy.

From time to time, in the toilets, prisoners are still killed, often then these deaths are passed off as suicides, and no "transparency" of these toilets helps. Several complaints have been submitted to the European Court of Human Rights, where such toilets and control over prisoners were characterized as a form of torture. In the Norwegian prison in Oslo, where I ended up with other journalists from Russia, there is no video surveillance either in the cells or in the toilets. This struck us, and we asked why this is so - is it not dangerous that the prisoners can, by closing themselves in the toilet, commit suicide? We were told that toilets should not be monitored because this is a gross violation of human rights, period.

Maybe initially, when these bowls "Genoa" were mounted in Soviet times, the laws concerning the rules of internal maintenance did not pursue the goal of humiliating prisoners. But today, the preservation of these norms and the lack of desire to bring them into line with international penitentiary standards testifies to the fact that the administrations of the FSIN institutions think only of themselves, about how convenient they are, and completely ignore the observance of the rights of prisoners”, - notes Zoya Svetova.

After the January rallies, the Standing Commission No. 10 of the Human Rights Council under the President of the Russian Federation issued recommendations, where she once again said, as they say, things that are obvious to everyone about toilets:

“Fencing the toilet from the living area of the cell is important because:

- allows the person who is in the toilet not to be in the field of view of other persons, experiencing embarrassment and inconvenience, but to feel in solitude;

- protects people in the living area of the chamber from smells and sounds from the toilet cubicle; - helps to prevent psychological stress and conflicts in the cell".

Andrey Babushkin, a member of the Human Rights Council under the President of the Russian Federation, notes that, among other things, Genoa bowls are difficult to use for people with disabilities and people with injuries.

- In our recommendations we write that the height of the chamber partition should be at least 180 cm, that is, not less than human height. Ideally, the booth should be completely isolated from the living part of the cell - and neither smells, nor sounds, and even more so the views of the person in the toilet stall should not be accessible to other people.

Unfortunately, in most of our special detention centers, where today those who are administratively arrested are serving their sentences, such complete privacy is not ensured”, - sums up the member of the HRC.

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