Human Rights in Ukraine


Amnesty International publishes its 2009 report


The authorities failed to respond adequately to rising racist attacks. Refugees and asylum-seekers were at risk of enforced return. Torture and other ill-treatment in police detention continued, and perpetrators of human rights violations enjoyed impunity.


There was continuing political instability. After friction between members of the ruling coalition, President Viktor Yushchenko dissolved parliament on 8 October, and issued a decree proposing elections on 7 December. At the end of the year the validity of that decree was being contested in court. In April, NATO decided not to offer membership to Ukraine, but in December agreed to intensify co-operation, using the existing framework of the NATO-Ukraine Commission to review Ukraine’s progress towards a Membership Action Plan. In June Russian President Dmitry Medvedev warned Ukraine that there could be “serious consequences” if it joined NATO. An EU-Ukraine summit in September resulted in a framework for closer ties between Ukraine and the EU, but stopped short of offering the prospect of membership.


The alarming increase in violent racist attacks against foreigners resident in Ukraine, noted in recent years, continued. Inadequate provisions in the law, poor police responses, and a failure to acknowledge the gravity of racially motivated crimes led to virtual impunity for the perpetrators. Some officials demonstrated a lack of understanding of the seriousness of the issue, a lack of political will to tackle racism and a denial that the problem existed. In August, the terms of reference for an inter-ministerial working group to combat xenophobia and racial intolerance were approved by the Vice-Prime Minister, but it was not clear that this group had authority at a high enough level to be effective.

"...the Kharkiv Human Rights Group registered 197 complaints of torture and ill-treatment..."

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance recommended that Article 161 of the Criminal Code – one of only two articles that refer directly to racist crimes – should be amended to facilitate the prosecution of anyone who incites racial hatred, and that the scope of Article 161 should be extended to include all people under Ukrainian jurisdiction and not just citizens.

On 23 April, four young men, one of them a minor, were sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment each for the murder of Jeong Kwon Kang. Jeong Kwon Kang, a citizen of South Korea, was attacked in April 2007. The Consul of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea said that his attackers wore spiked boots and stamped on Jeong Kwon Kang’s head “until his brains came out”. According to the prosecutor’s statement, one of the attackers stated that he wanted to kill Jeong Kwon Kang because of his nationality. Jeong Kwon Kang died on 17 May 2007 as a result of the severe head injuries he received during the attack. In May 2007, the four young men were charged with grievous bodily injury and hooliganism. In November 2007, after prolonged lobbying by the Embassy, the suspects were charged with murder and with “hatred aimed at humiliating the national honour and dignity of a person” under Article 161. However, the General Prosecutor’s Office appealed for the racist element of the charge to be dropped. It explained in a letter to the Embassy in October that Article 161 referred to the spreading of racial hatred, and the accused had not committed any acts that could be classified as propaganda, agitation or demonstration of racial hatred. The appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court.

In November 2006, Vyacheslav Manukyan, a Ukrainian of Armenian ethnic origin, had filed a civil suit against the police on the grounds that he had been subjected to discrimination. He was told by the police authorities that he was stopped frequently for document checks because his “characteristic appearance” made it necessary for them to check “the legality of his presence on the territory of Ukraine”. On 27 March 2008 the Kharkiv District Administrative Court ruled that the police had acted “impartially, conscientiously and thoughtfully in accordance with the principle of equality before the law and avoiding any unfair discrimination”. Vyacheslav Manukyan appealed against this decision, and on 29 July the Appeal Court declared that the police officer had failed to inform Vyacheslav Manukyan of his rights, but upheld the ruling of the first court that the behaviour of the police was not discriminatory. The Court ruled that the phrase “characteristic appearance” had not meant only ethnic origin but everything about his external appearance.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

The Ukrainian authorities continued to forcibly return asylum-seekers to countries where they would be at risk of serious human rights violations, and to disregard asylum procedures.

On 4 and 5 March 2008, the authorities forcibly returned 11 ethnic Tamil asylum-seekers to Sri Lanka where they were at risk of serious human rights violations including torture and other ill-treatment. All 11 asylum-seekers were registered with UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, in Kyiv, and six of them had applied to the Ukrainian authorities for refugee status. On 27 February the six applications were rejected by the Khmelnitskiy migration services for procedural reasons. They were not given the right to appeal.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Local human rights groups continued to receive complaints of torture and other ill-treatment in police detention centres and prisons. In 2008, the Kharkiv Human Rights Group registered 197 complaints of torture and ill-treatment; of these complaints 136 concerned ill-treatment by police and 49 by prison staff.

Sergei Ushakov, his wife Anna and his mother-in-law were detained by police in Frunzenskiy district in Kharkiv on 27 June in connection with the murder of Anatoliy Logvinenko on the night of 26/27 June. Sergei and Anna Ushakov were detained without access to a lawyer or any formal record of their detention. Anna Ushakova stated that she was threatened and beaten and forced to sign a statement implicating her husband in the murder. Sergei Ushakov also said he was beaten and forced to sign a confession. His lawyer observed that he had wounds on his wrists which did not seem consistent with the normal use of handcuffs. Anna Ushakov was released on 28 June, and Sergei Ushakov was released by the prosecutor on 1 July because of the absence of any proof linking him to the murder. Both complained about the ill-treatment on 1 July. However, while they were giving their testimony in the Deputy Prosecutor’s office a group of policemen came into the office and forcibly took them back to the Frunzenskiy district police station. The couple described how they were again forced to sign false testimonies. Anna Ushakov was released the same day and Sergei Ushakov the following day. While they were in the police station both were concealed from the Prosecutor and at one point Sergei Ushakov was forced to leave the building through a window and was driven around Kharkiv for several hours to conceal his whereabouts. Sergei Ushakov was charged with murder on 4 July and was remanded in custody on 21 July. The case was continuing at the end of the year.


On March 15, the Kyiv Court of Appeal sentenced Mykola Protasov to 13 years in prison and Oleksandr Popovych and Valeriy Kostenko to 12 years each for the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Heorhiy Gongadze went missing on 16 September 2000 and his headless corpse was found two months later in a forest on Kyiv’s outskirts. His widow, Myroslava Gongadze, stated that the organizers of the killing and those who ordered it should also be on trial. In June, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe expressed concern that the investigation had been limited to bringing to justice only the perpetrators of the crime and that no progress had been made in the investigation into the officials who ordered the murder. It called on the Ukrainian authorities to intensify their efforts to strengthen the independence of investigative bodies, in particular the prosecution service, and decided to resume consideration of the case.

In July, the General Prosecutor’s Office again refused to open a criminal investigation into allegations that Aleksandr Rafalskiy had been tortured by police officers on several occasions in 2001. In a letter to Aleksandr Rafalskiy’s parents, the Prosecutor General stated that there was no need to open an investigation into such “minor violations”. Police detained Aleksandr Rafalskiy in Kyiv on 13 June 2001 in connection with a murder investigation. He stated that police officers beat him as they apprehended him and then subsequently in the police station on Vladimirska Street in Kyiv where they placed a black plastic bag over his head and tightened it around his neck with a belt, nearly suffocating him repeatedly. They then placed a gas mask on top of the bag on his face. On 16 July 2001, he was taken to the police cells at Stavishche in Kyiv region where electric wires were reportedly attached to various parts of his body and he was given electric shocks. On 30 June 2004, Aleksandr Rafalskiy was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder. All complaints to the authorities calling for an investigation into the allegations of torture were unsuccessful.

Amnesty International delegates visited Ukraine in February, July and September.

The full report is available on the same site

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