22.12.2003 | Konstantin Reutskiy, Lugansk

Tradition of indifference


I want to draw the attention to the situation with the observance of rights of the so-called «street» children. The situation is stable. This means that the rights of these children are abused permanently and everywhere, and nobody is worried by that except the children. Yet, we are not used to listen to their opinions, and they cannot express their opinions properly.

I have been working with such children for several recent years, and I understood that the majority of our citizens and, first of all, our law-enforcers are absolutely legally ignorant. I believe that, in order to meet the European standards of human rights, it would be cheaper for Ukraine to renew completely the personnel of law-enforcing organs than to waste money and efforts for retraining, especially since the retraining seems to be hopeless. Maybe, this opinion is rather exaggerated, but it is not more exaggerated than the opinion, which is shared by almost all law-enforcers, that homeless children are criminals and have no other future except prisons and penal colonies. On the basis of this presumption of guilt, the militia officers try to fulfill the preventive punitive functions. Frequently they practice rather specific preventive measures, after which the minor suspects need the medical aid. To whom the boy should complaint against the militia officer, who squeezed a tube of glue on the boy’s head? To whom, if everybody, including the boy himself, is sure of his guilt? I believe that many law-enforcers would be surprised, if they would learn about the existence of the Convention on children’s rights or the Convention on human rights, which Conventions, by the way, are operating in Ukraine along with the national legislation. I hope that many arbitrary actions of militiamen are caused by the common legal ignorance or, to put it mildly, the narrow specialization of our law-enforcers. However, this fact may not excuse them.

The Lugansk rehabilitation center «Postup» for the children belonging to the risk group worked with 45 children, 30 of them were criminally active and were regularly detained by the officers of militia department in charge of children. The inquiry methods applied to these children should be described in separate (illustrated!) book. Scores of the methods of humiliation and suppression, from the banal beating to not less banal jamming of fingers in doors or handcuffs (the so-called «friendly handclasp»), are applied, not to mention the permanent psychological violence and threats. We conducted the poll and learned that more than 80% of the minors, who had been detained because of the suspicion of some crimes, underwent the violence in one or another form. We are in the desperate state: we have tens of children’s evidence, but are unable to do anything for the improvement of the existing situation. It is senseless to start criminal cases, because no one of these intimidated children would testify in court: they understand that this will complicate their future life. We cannot even publish these facts without the risk to get under the pressure of the militia system, which guards its corporative interests selflessly. These people would acknowledge their wrongfulness only after the order from higher organs. We also may not worsen the lives of the children, since we know that the «corporation» will not forgive them for this «revolt». Thus, this is a vicious circle, the guilty remain unpunished, and the impunity generates new violations.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that this situation would be impossible, if the majority of people would not approve, directly or indirectly, of such actions of law-enforcers. According to the results of the above-mentioned poll, about 40% of the respondents reckon that such measures are justified, and only 25% answered that this was a serious violation of human rights. These are the cultural traditions that have formed in our society. We believe that law-enforcers must have the authorities, noticeably exceeding the authorities necessary for the fulfillment of their social functions. We are giving the indirect consent for this arbitrariness. Nobody is surprised, when several militiamen recollect in a tram how they were beating a drunkard the day before. Any European would be shocked, but it is a cultural norm for us. However, this norm is a very serious obstacle in the way of progress of our society and can result in another dictatorship, instead of the establishment of the long-expected public order.

Common citizens also frequently apply violence to the minor offenders. The citizens conduct their own «investigations», during which the suspected undergo even crueler torture and cannot be sure of the inviolability of their life. Some of the minors, with whom the rehabilitation center «Postup» dealt, told about the cases, when such «investigators» tied them, naked, to a tree for several hours in winter demanding from them the confession and return of the stolen property. Some people held one of the boys by his legs lowering him from the 12th floor with his head down, other people tried to drown another minor in sewage for the theft of empty bottles. We know about many incidents astonishing with the senseless cruelty. Such incidents happen every day, but most often we know nothing about them, since the children carry these secrets to basements and heating mains, where they live. Frequently the homeless minors, both girls and boys, undergo sexual violence on the side of adults, but the victims very rarely complain to militia.

Thus, the «street» children form one of the most unprotected social groups, they are completely outcast by the society and cannot hope for anybody’s help. Such attitude is criminal from all points of view. On the one hand, it is immoral and inhumane; on the other hand, these children will turn to the people inimical to the society, the people with the destructive life position generated by present social isolation.

Today everyone must acknowledge his own role in this process. Everyone is involved. It is time to think about the reasons of our passivity in the situation, where we can render the real help. Many people sympathize with homeless children, but too few people want to do something. Where are the tenderness and warmth, of which our people were always proud? The historical experience shows that a nation, where the economic values prevail over the ethical ones, is doomed to the social catastrophes and degeneration. If our ethical feelings are so deadened that we cannot realize the importance and inviolability of the indefeasible rights, which are given to everybody without any exceptions, then we should follow the example of more developed societies, where these values are absolute.

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