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Olga and the paradox of fighting torture: Revealing legal dysfunctionality, building trust

December1st, NizhnyNovgorod (Russian Federation) – Olga Sadovskaya does not shout, or carry banners in the streets; nor does she complainabout the threats and insulting graffiti she regularly findspainted on the fence around her house.

This sober 36-year-old lawyer, whopractices yoga in her spare time, has put her legalskills and intellectual rigor in the service of the cause of righting abusesand fighting torture in her home country, Russia, by keeping it on the top ofthe political agenda.

AsDeputy Director of the Committee Against Torture, the award-winning human rightsorganization providing psychosocial and legalassistance to victims, she focuses on winning legalvictories in torture cases by thorough investigative groundwork, sophisticated medicalreports and legal expertise.

“Everyone should care about torture because anyone could be the next victim,” Olga says. “If torture is condonedor indeed widespread, it means that the State’s legal system is not workingproperly, not only when torture is involved, but at all levels.”

Torture works like a litmus test. If it is accompanied by impunity, thelegal system is dysfunctional. “There is no guarantee that the law will workproperly in ordinary, day-to-day situations, as when someone asks for a bankloan, sues for damages, needs her child to be protected from abuse or hermother to be provided with anaesthesia”, sheexplains.

The work pays off. In the 13 years she has been with the Committee, sheand her colleagues have filed 84 complaints at the European Court of HumanRights, managed to put more than 100 police officers in jail for torture, with clientsreceiving almost 46 million roubles (700,000 USD) in compensation, and severallives being saved by evacuation from Chechnya.

Olga describes her work as a constant challenge given the RussianGovernment’s attempts to close down independent human rights organizations. For lack of substantive arguments, theGovernment accuses the Committee – partially funded by international donors, asmost NGOs – of being a foreign agent, in order to prevent it from accessing fundsthat allow it to function.

This is a commonly used tactic againsthuman rights activists. Ratherthan simply banning an NGO, some States block its access to external funding by a variety ofrestrictive measures– legal, administrative or practical – which bein, less obvious, are lesslikely to drawinternational condemnation.

Although, as a result, the Committee might run out of money within threemonths, Olga keeps ploughing through her cases with unwavering faith that herwork is about restoring trust in the State.

– by Lori Brumat in Geneva

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OMCTwishes to thank the OAK Foundation, the European Union and the Republicand Canton of Geneva for their support. Its contentis the sole responsibility of OMCT and should in no way be interpreted asreflecting the view(s) of the supporting institutions.

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