UN investigates jailed Russian lawyer’s death

UN commissioners have started their own investigation into the high-profile lawyer Sergey Magnitsky’s death while in custody.

The 37-year-old – who worked for the law firm Firestone Duncan on behalf of Hermitage Capital fund – died from heart failure in a Moscow detention center while awaiting trial for alleged tax crimes on November 16, 2009.

The incident caused uproar both in Russia and abroad. Some believe the Magnitsky case was politically motivated. His supporters and colleagues claim the lawyer’s death was the fault of prison officials who denied him the medical attention he needed when he fell ill. Russian prosecutors, however, say they have not found any evidence of that.

Now the UN is launching an inquiry into the case, Hermitage Capital said in a statement, reports Interfax news agency. The UN is going to check information submitted to them by Redress – a London-based human rights organization that works to combat torture and to support survivors.

“The investigation is carried out by UN special commissioners who deal with issues of extrajudicial killings, torture and, also, the independence of lawyers and judges,” the statement reads. The commissioners are going to establish the circumstances and reasons for Magnitsky’s arrest, the conditions that he was kept in while in custody and why he was not given proper medical attention, “which resulted in his death”.

They are also going to check the facts detailed in a report submitted to the UN by Redress, in which it is claimed that Magnitsky was kept in inhumane conditions, deprived of the right to meet his family, given very limited time to see his lawyers and, also, was “deliberately” denied medical care.

All these actions, the human rights activists claim, can be qualified as “torture” and therefore “violate articles 2(1) and 1 of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment”.

The human rights watchdog has also got a list of suspects who could be involved in organizing the “torturing” of the lawyer, writes gazeta.ru online news outlet. Those include employees of Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Federal Security Service, the Prosecutor General’s Office, Moscow courts and detention centers.

Magnitsky’s colleagues hope that the UN investigation will make “Russian authorities observe international obligations” and open criminal cases against officials who were allegedly involved in organizing the lawyer’s torture.

The case has been closely watched in Europe and across the Atlantic. On December 16, the European Parliament backed a resolution that calls on member states to introduce sanctions against 60 Russian officials involved in the Sergey Magnitsky case. The move was met with a sharp reaction from the Russian State Duma which called the resolution a rough interference into the country’s internal affairs.

Earlier, the Canadian parliament's subcommittee on human rights adopted a resolution to deny visas and freeze the Canadian assets of Russian officials allegedly linked to the death of Magnitsky.

The death of the Hermitage Capital lawyer was one of the incidents that prompted President Dmitry Medvedev to propose a law abolishing the arrest of severely ill suspects in financial crime cases. Medvedev also ordered an inquiry into the investigation of the death of the lawyer.