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27.06.2006

Prisoners’ rights and countering torture: does the situation in Ukraine comply with civilized standards?

   

Kyryllo Bulkin: Today is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.  What is the situation like with prisoners’ rights in Ukraine?  The participants in our program took part today in a press conference on precisely that theme, so it will be interesting to hear their views and assessment.

Yevhen Zakharov:

When we talk about torture, this mainly involves torture at the hands of the police, primarily during the detective inquiry stage  Then later in penal institutions this torture may be on a different level, when a person is held in very harsh, inhuman conditions. Such conditions are sometimes themselves defined as a form of torture.

As far as Ukraine is concerned, torture in the police force can be compared to a huge iceberg: we see the tip, but there is a huge mass underneath which is entirely concealed from view.  Such use of torture during the inquiry stage is a crime, a crime against the person detained.

This crime has a high degree of latency in the sense that most crimes like this, the overwhelming majority, are simply not seen, are not found out about, not recorded. There are no complaints, and that’s it. And the visible tip are those few that end up in the public view.

There have been surveys that asked people who’d been detained by the police whether or not they’d been beaten, and they said that they had. There may be up to half a million such people each year. That is a huge number. And if one looks at criminal investigations launched specifically in connection with such cases, you see that last year only 5 people were convicted. Overall there were 53 such criminal cases.

Arkady Bushchenko:  Torture remains fairly widespread.  It is to be regretted that our criminal justice system views torture as an integral part of prosecution of criminals, prosecution of suspects. Due to the fact that our units which should be fulfilling their role in fighting crime are very badly equipped and don’t use the proper modern methodology, they use torture in order to achieve the task which society demands from them. The system thus actively encourages those within the system to use torture.

There is certainly a problem. One can say that at present there are certain moves in the right direction. One observes, firstly, the acknowledgement by the state that the problem of torture exists, and secondly, the first steps aimed at improving the situation. However these steps are fairly unsystematic, uncoordinated and at time do not achieve their objective.  Therefore, at the present time, the problem lies in finding a systematic approach for overcoming this evil.

- These are the views of our guests on the situation with fighting the use of torture in Ukraine. It would in fact have been interesting to also hear the views of the Human Rights Ombudsperson and State Deputy of Ukraine (we presently have this rather paradoxical combination) Nina Karpachova. Ms Karpachova promised to take part in today’s program, but literally in the last hour she suddenly informed us that she would be unable to do so.

Well I imagine that the opinion of today’s guests, representatives of well-known human rights organizations, will be no less expert.

However at the moment I suggest we listen to a representative of the enforcement structures.  

This is an assessment of the present Ukrainian situation in the field we are speaking about, from a Police Colonel, Candidate of Law, Professor of the Department of Criminal Law of the Kharkiv National University of Internal Affairs , Oleh Martynenko.

Oleh Martynenko: -  If one considers the statistical indicators, then each year in Ukraine the number of offences from among the personnel decreases, and against the background, for example, of neighbouring Russia we look much better. Although much worse than other European countries.

There has also been a positive shift in the mentality of officers of internal affairs agencies, because the activities of human rights groups over the last three years has noticeably altered the awareness of these officers about observing human rights. And now perhaps it would be hard to find any police officer who didn’t know about this, and didn’t observe these standards.

However it’s another matter that the10% which, according to preliminary estimates, is the percentage of cases of torture among crimes committed by police officers, is not the sort of figure that gives us grounds for relaxing.  These are the cases which got a lot of publicity and that people know about, however behind them there is a much greater layer of offences which are hidden from civic monitoring. In this area, certainly there is a lot of scope for work by the police force itself, and human rights organizations, and any form of civic control over the activities of the enforcement agencies.

-  A question now to you – developing on what we just heard. Mr Martynenko said that we are far ahead of Russia, but behind European countries. Would it be possible to provide any figures showing how we’re ahead, and how we’re behind?

Yevhen Zakharov:  Torture in general has been recorded in 114 countries. One can understand the cases when a police officer can’t restrain himself when dealing with a criminal who simply drives him mad, and he applies physical force. That does happen.

It is another matter if one compares the statistics for punishing illegal actions here and in other countries. The statistics show that they punish much more for such things, because the court system is much better and there isn’t the impunity you find here.  Here, unfortunately, it is very difficult to get anybody punished for using unlawful violence against people. That is as regards beatings by the police.

As for prisoners, then if one compares the number of prisoners per 100 thousand head of population, then the number here is much higher than in other European countries. For example, even in neighbouring countries like Bulgaria, Poland, the Czech Republic, and others it doesn’t exceed 100 per 100 thousand of the population, whereas here it’s close on 400.  That means that in Ukraine 27.7% of those convicted of a crime end up in a penal colony where the conditions are pretty harsh. However the conditions are considerably worse in pre-trial detention centres [SIZO], and these hold from 40 to 45 thousand people.

- In your opinion what needs to be done first to improve the situation? And does the present government have the potential to do it?

Yevhen Zakharov: - I think it does have the potential, because if you look at the development of events, you see that that upper tip of the iceberg is becoming bigger and more visible. This has particularly been evident over the last 3 years. One can say that the problem has been recognized, that the leaders of the country and of the police force, for example, acknowledge the seriousness of the problem and that it needs to be solved, and are trying to find ways of overcoming it. That is indeed true.

It’s another thing, however, that in such a space of time, one can’t change people’s mentality when they’re accustomed to thinking that in fighting crime you can do anything uncover the crime, find the culprit, force him or her to say that he or she is guilty, and so on.

That notion dates back to Vyshynsky who said that “a confession is the queen of evidence”. And so they demand a confession from those they consider committed the crime. Unfortunately they don’t know how to investigate a crime differently.

It’s therefore extremely important to teach people something different, get them to understand that one mustn’t do this, that this itself is a crime, that they will be punished for it, that is, change the situation.

Do you know, the prosecutor’s office had even terminated cases due to the lack of any evidence of a crime when the Department of internal security of the police produced material that there were such crimes. There are such cases  

This must be overcome and we need to change the attitude of the prosecutor’s office. Through general pressure of society on the state authorities, I think it will be possible to gradually achieve this.

As for the [State Penal] Department, it needs to become more open. It is an extremely closed system, in which people are totally in the power of the administration, they can’t even complain about it in any way. This cannot continue.

 

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