United Nations Launches Investigation into Extrajudicial Killing and Torture of Russian Anti Corruption Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky

January 20, 2011

The United Nations has launched a broad based investigation into the death in custody of Russian anti-corruption lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky. Through the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Extrajudicial Executions, Torture and the Independence of Lawyers and Judges, the United Nations has launched an unprecedented investigation into the circumstances surrounding the false arrest, denial of medical care, torture in police custody and death of 37-year old lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

The UN investigation was triggered by the application from REDRESS, a powerful UK-based advocacy organization dedicated to assisting torture victims and making torturers accountable around the world.

More than one year after Magnitsky’s death, Russian authorities failed to carry out a full, effective and impartial investigation into the allegations capable of leading to the truth of what occurred and as appropriate, the prosecution of those responsible,” said REDRESS in their application to the UN Special Rapporteurs.

REDRESS has requested that UN Special Rapporteurs launch their own investigation into the Sergei Magnitsky case given the failure of the Russian authorities to bring to trial those responsible for Mr. Magnitsky’s torture and murder and in light of the promotions and rewards to complicit officials issued by the Russian authorities last year.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Dr Mendez has acknowledged the beginning of a formal investigation into Magnitsky case. Three UN Special Rapporteurs – Dr Juan Mendez, UN Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Prof Alston, UN Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, and Ms Knaul, Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges – have taken up the investigation.

To assist with their investigation, REDRESS provided the UN Special Rapporteurs with substantial documentary evidence of torture and extrajudicial execution available in this case. In their 100-page application to the UN, REDRESS has identified the specific Russian state bodies responsible for ordering and carrying out Magnitsky’s torture in police custody and denying him any legal remedy during 358 days in detention. REDRESS provides specific evidence of the complicity of the Russian Interior Ministry, the Russian Federal Security Service (a successor organisation to KGB), General Prosecutor Office, State Investigative Committee, detention centre officials and Moscow city and district judges in Mr. Magnitsky’s death.

REDRESS said in its application:

The methods used against Magnitsky, singly and in combination- the inhuman detention conditions, the isolation from his family, the lack of regular access to his lawyers and the intentional refusal to provide adequate medical assistance resulted in the deliberate infliction of severe pain and suffering, and ultimately his death. These measures were designed to increase his discomfort and to put further pressure on him to confess and testify against others. The methods were also used to force Magnitsky to retract his testimonies against Russian officials. The acts were committed by officials as set out above. For these reasons, the acts were of such a severity and carried the requisite purpose to have amounted to torture in violation of Article 2 (1) and Article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture.”

REDRESS also highlighted in their application particular serious violations by the Russian Federation of a number of UN conventions that amounted to torture.

Magnitsky’s treatment in Butyrka detention centre… was contrary to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners which provide that “sick prisoners who require specialist treatment shall be transferred to specialized institutions or to civil hospitals. Where hospital facilities are provided in an institution, their equipment, furnishings and pharmaceutical supplies shall be proper for the medical care and treatment of sick prisoners, and there shall be a staff of suitable trained officers.”

The continued rejection of his requests to see his wife, children and mother was contrary to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.”

The detention of Magnitsky in these cells violated recognised minimum standards of the conditions of detention, such as the UN Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment … and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, which apply in Russia by virtue of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

The lack of adequate treatment exposed him to acute pain and suffering over almost four months and appears to have ultimately caused his death in detention. The denial of necessary medical treatment to Magnitsky, despite repeated requests, therefore violated his right to life. It also exposed him to a level of distress and hardship of an intensity that went beyond the unavoidable level of suffering inherent in detention and was in clear violation of international standards prohibiting torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

REDRESS has stressed that the Russian government is under clear obligation to launch an immediate investigation into Magnitsky’s torture and that such investigation must be transparent and void of any participation from the senior state officials involved in Magnitsky’s persecution and the $230 million corruption he exposed.

To comply with its obligations, it is incumbent on the Russian government to order a prompt, independent and thorough investigation that is subject to public scrutiny. Accordingly, the investigation must be fully independent of the institutions and persons accused by Magnitsky to be involved in the tax fraud and allegedly involved in his torture. The independent nature of the investigation is particularly important as the individuals alleged to be involved in this case include high ranking government officials, whose investigation requires political consent. The investigation must be able to pronounce on the responsibility of the Russian government if proved to have known and be involved in Magnitsky’s torture and eventual death and identify any individuals responsible, irrespective of their rank and position,” said REDRESS.

Sergei Magnitsky (8 April 1972 – 16 November 2009), an outside lawyer for the Hermitage Fund, discovered that Russian police were involved in misappropriating his client’s investment companies and embezzling $230 million of public funds through the largest tax refund fraud in Russian history. Magnitsky testified against the state officials involved, and in retribution they arrested him, detained him for 12 months without trial and tortured him to withdraw his testimony. Despite the systematic physical and psychological torture, Magnitsky refused to change his testimony. He died on 16 November 2009 at the age of 37 leaving a mother, wife and two children. Sergei Magnitsky was posthumously awarded 2010 Integrity Award by Transparency International, a leading international civil society organisation fighting corruption.

More information:

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Dr Juan Mendez was tortured himself during the former Argentinean dictatorship. As a result of his involvement in representing political prisoners, the Argentinean military dictatorship arrested him and subjected him to torture and administrative detention for more than a year. During this time, Amnesty International recognised him as a “Prisoner of Conscience.” Dr Mendez holds extensive background and human rights awards in the field of human rights and transitional justice.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Prof. Philip Alston is an international law scholar and human rights practitioner. He was appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General in 1988 to suggest reforms to make the United Nations human rights treaty monitoring system more effective. His major reports in 1989, 1993, and 1997 provided the impetus for continuing efforts by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Council to streamline and improve the rather unwieldy monitoring system.

UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Ms. Gabriela Knaul has a long-standing experience as a judge in Brazil and is an expert in criminal justice and the administration of judicial systems.

REDRESS is a human rights organisation that helps torture survivors obtain justice and reparation. REDRESS works with survivors to help restore their dignity and to make torturers accountable.


Juergen Schurr, Legal Advisor

+44 20 7793 1777



Full text of the REDRESS application to the United Nations about the failure of the Russian Federation to investigate the torture in custody of anti-corruption lawyer Sergei Magnitsky:


United Nations Human Rights Council homepage and information on the UN Special Rapporteurs:



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