26 June is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture
At a press conference held by KHPG and La Strada – Ukraine on Monday, particular attention was given to the appalling use of specially trained units in penal institutions, as well as the intransigence of the Department for the Execution of Sentences
As well as an overview and general assessment of the situation and prospects for countering torture, participants gave journalists very specific examples of torture and ill-treatment in the police and penal institutions.
In particular, attention was paid to the appalling events of 22 January this year when a spetsnaz [special force] unit brutally beat prisoners in the Izyaslav penal colony No. 31.
Other such examples were cited, as well as cases where prisoners have not received medical aid, and about the so-called “press huts” [where prisoners are placed with certain criminal types in order to break down resistance, etc], and cases of psychological torture.
On the subject of the use of spetsnaz in Ukrainian penal institutions, Yevhen Zakharov mentioned that a fact-finding team from the European Court of Human Rights is presently in the Khmelnytsky region investigating the circumstances around the case of Druzenko and others v. Ukraine. On 15 January the European Court declared admissible the application from13 prisoners against brutal beating by spetsnaz in Penal Colony No. 58 on 30 May 2001 and 28 January 2002.
Yevhen Zakharov added that the penal system was extremely closed, and that prisoners do not have the opportunity to complain about the unlawful actions of the administration, and when they do try to fight against arbitrary rule, they are subjected to severe pressure.
He drew attention to the comment from the UN Committee against Torture that the use of antiterrorist forces in the middle of a penal institution was prohibited and constituted intimidation and ill-treatment of prisoners.
He reported that the Professional Aid to Victims of Torture Fund founded by KHPG in 2003 had enabled more than 100 people to receive qualified legal aid. More than 40 cases have also been taken to the European Court of Human Rights. The case of Afanasyev v. Ukraine was won in the European Court. In its decision the Court found that the claimant had suffered ill-treatment while being held in a district police station and that his complaints had not been investigated properly.
The Court is in communication with the Ukrainian Government over around 15 cases.
Kateryna Levchenko (President of the International Womens Rights Centre “La Strada – Ukraine) spoke of the unwillingness of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences to investigate allegations of unlawful violence or other offences. She stressed the importance of creating the national preventive mechanisms against torture set out in the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) which Ukraine ratified almost a year ago. These envisage visits to penal institutions by independent observers. Ms Levchenko stressed that the Department must become a civilized institution subordinate to the Ministry of Justice.
Oleh Martynenko (Advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs on Human Rights and Gender Issues) mentioned positive aspects emerging as a result of the Ministry of Internal Affairs endeavouring to create mechanisms enabling greater openness. Particularly noteworthy are the mobile groups making spot checks on police stations and the MIA Public Council for the Observance of Human Rights, with regional public councils also.
The tasks ahead are still great. All participants stressed the vital importance at this stage of ensuring that the national preventive mechanisms are put in place and function properly.
KHPG and La-Strada-Ukraine are grateful to the International Renaissance Foundation for making the press conference possible.
Yevhen Zakharov, Co-Chair of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group and Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, member of the Board of the International “Memorial” Society
Kateryna Levchenko, President of the International Womens Rights Centre “La Strada – Ukraine”; National Deputy
Oleh Martynenko, Advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs on Human Rights and Gender Issues, Police Colonel
Victims of torture