Nationality does not predispose a person to crime


Human Rights Aide to the Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA] for the Cherkasy region, Volodomyr Batchaev speaks about cooperation between the police and the public, about law enforcement officers “sins” and about prejudice in society towards the Roma.

You have been Human Rights Aide for almost a year – what changes have taken place in the work of the police during that time?

A year ago the vast majority of heads of district police stations would not have imagined that their temporary holding facilities [ITT] would face checks with these from representatives of civic and human rights organizations. This is now regular practice. The Public Council working in the region must not be seen as a foreign body which the organism rejects, but needs to be introduced step by step. We need to be seen not as enemies or as yet another controlling body, but as consultants, assistants. I don’t have the right to impose disciplinary penalties - I can only identify infringements and inform the head of the regional police about them.

Asked about possible conflict with the management of the Cherkasy police, Mr. Batchaev said that thus far there has been no such problems and that the head of the region’s police Mykola Kapliy expressed his principled position of not allowing human rights violations and observing the law.  He added that this had been confirmed in practice.

“Last year I initiated 48 checks on the basis of appeals made by members of the public, infringements identified by mobile groups, etc. 25 police officers were held to answer for human rights infringements as a result, these including high-level managers.

For example, during a check of the Mankivska District Police Station, the mobile group found that conditions did not meet basic norms: the cells were dirty, the beds old, there was no water and there were often problems with providing meals. We sent a letter to the Head of the MIA Department and the ITT is now closed while repairs are being carried out.  The Head of the ITT was penalized for not carrying out his duties in a proper fashion.

One painful issue involves human rights violations during detention or remand in custody. Of the 25 officers held to account over violations, more than half were punished specifically for these types of offences. The most flagrant example was a case with the district police inspector of a Cherkasy district station who was searching for local vandals. Somebody pointed to two young lads whom he detained towards evening. Seemingly he was so tired that he couldn’t question them and placed them in a cell of 2 by 2 with a bench and left them there until morning.  Then he got caught up on something and the lads sat there for almost 24 hours. None of the procedures which are mandatory in detaining people were observed. In my opinion this was an extremely serious violation and we all need to be safeguarded from unlawful deprivation of liberty. The district inspector received a warning, while the officer who left the lads over night without any documents got a serious reprimand.

You devote a lot of attention to the Roma minority. Do they really need defence?

Definitely. A negative view of the Roma has developed over a long period. As well as a romantic image of gypsy life, people have the fixed impression that each Roma is a criminal. Clearly there are some reasons for this, and there are specific types of crimes like fortune telling with an element of fraud, tricking people out of their money which people from that ethnic group take part in, yet the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly stipulates that no person should be persecuted on an ethnic, racial or any other basis.

In talking with people from the Roma community, I have on many occasions heard complaints of unlawful behaviour by police officers caused specifically by such stereotypes. Unfortunately the vast majority of police officers do assume that each Roma is a potential offender. They are constantly stopped, checked, searched, have their fingerprints taken, and special databases are created. This attitude outrages the Roma many of whom are law abiding citizens. The Roma community in the Cherkasy region is not large – around 1300 people however all their members fight for their rights. There is even a civic organization “Romany Rota” whose leader is the well-known writer Voldomyr Bambula. We have received some understanding: the police will not violate their rights as a national minority, however nobody will protect gypsies involved in criminal activities. At my initiative, the Head of the MIA Department for the region, Mykola Kapliy, signed an instruction regulating work with representatives of the Roman community. These requirements were passed on to each police officer.

Awareness needs to be changed in the first instance through educational work and specific examples. We explained to police officers about such concepts as hate speech. A seminar was recently given by the Roma organization “Cheriki” and attended by nearly 20 officers from different police services and representatives of several Roma communities.

The police officers were wary towards accounts by the Roma of violations of their rights, but even exchanged phone numbers towards the end and agreed to work together. After the meeting, Volodymyr Bambula gathered the district leaders of the community and called on them to reject any unlawful behaviour at least with regard to children and pensioners.

It’s obviously too early to talk of any global changes and we can’t hope that the situation will improve overnight. .. I can recall my very interesting case. Mykolaiv investigative officers once arrived to arrest a suspect, who was trying to get a job with a Roma businessman. The person in question saw men in uniform and fled. The police accused the employer of hiding the man saying that the businessman was just the same as the purported offender since he was a gypsy. The officers left and 3 days later the suspect returned and was detained by the Roman community and handed over to the police. The Head of the CID then even expressed his gratitude to the Roma.

The creation of a negative image of the Roma in society is to some extent “thanks to” our media  At one stage Cherkasy newspapers teemed with headlines about Roma people committing crimes. When I suggested they cover the case mentioned above they refused – not interesting.

Volodomyr Batchaev was born in 1963 in Moscow. He is an engineer by profession, however from 1966 to 2008 worked in Internal Affairs bodies, with direct involvement in the area of control over human rights observance in the work of the police. Since 23 April 2008 he has held his present position.

(slightly abridged)

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