2021/22 Theme: Incarceration and Human Rights

The Oak Institute’s 2021-2022 theme is Incarceration and Human Rights. Our goals for the coming academic year include exposing and addressing abusive incarceration facilities, police brutality, and human rights violations against imprisoned or confined refugees. We hope to explore topics such as slavery, mass incarceration in the U.S., racialized policing, prison abolition, settler colonialism, apartheid, and restorative justice.

We will be focusing on articles in the International Declaration of Human Rights surrounding violence, torture, detention and imprisonment; e.g. “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person,” “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” “everyone has the right to freedom from arbitrary arrest, detention or exile,” “everyone has the right to a fair trial,” and “everyone has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty”.

2021 Oak Human Rights Fellow: Olga Sadovskaya

The Oak Fellow for Incarceration and Human Rights is Russian human rights lawyer Olga Sadovskaya. Olga is vice chair of the Committee Against Torture, the largest and most notable anti-torture organization in Russia, which she and three other activists launched in 2000.

Olga Sadovskaya is a human rights lawyer working as the vice-chair of the Committee Against Torture in Russia, who has been working on issues surrounding torture for over 18 years. She began this human rights initiative in 2000 along with three other activists; Now the Committee against Torture is the largest and most notable anti-torture organization in Russia.

For the last 13 years, Olga Sadovskaya has served as the Deputy Head of the organization, during which time she and her colleagues have built a dedicated team that has won many international awards, including the PACE Prize of the Council of Europe and Martin Ennals Award Frontline Defenders Human Rights Award. Sadovskaya, individually, has received the Andrey Sakharov Freedom Award and was included in the shortlist for Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

During the early years at the committee, Sadovskaya’s role as an investigator included collecting evidence of torture in colonies, prisons, police, and psychiatric institutions. Over time, she transitioned to analysis and international defense with the European Court and UN bodies. Sadovskaya also trains lawyers on how to work with the European Court of Human Rights.

After years of experience with torture cases, Sadovskaya and her team have written and published a methodology for public investigation, which is now widely used by human rights organizations in Russia and the former Soviet Union. Olga has personally represented more than 300 victims of torture before the European Court of Justice, two of which have been included in the list of 20 most important cases that changed Russia.

The Committee Against Torture has created accountability for torture that was previously missing in Russia. Torture as an issue was scarcely talked about and often victims were scared and ashamed to speak out or believed it was not possible to get justice. However, the problems are still very prevalent. Investigations into torture are still very low in quality. This problem is amplified in the Chechen Republic, where Sadovskaya’s organization is the only one that continues to work on cases of tortures and abductions.

While working against state-sanctioned torture, Sadovskaya has faced personal threats, including the threats of murder, particularly for her work in Chechnya. The Committee’s office has been burned down several times and their cars have been destroyed. Olga is also periodically monitored and constantly at risk of being accused of baseless crimes.

Sadovskaya hopes to use the Oak Human Rights Fellowship as respite so that she can continue her work in Russia, as well as an opportunity to connect with Colby students and raise awareness on issues of torture and incarceration in Russia and around the world.