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27.04.2009

Discrimination of prisoners an ongoing problem

   

At a press conference given by Donetsk Memorial on Observance of Prisoners’ Rights in 2008, the following main elements of the organization’s fourth annual report were highlighted.

The number of prisoners is falling

The fall continued in 2008 of the number of prisoners in Ukraine which as of 1 January 2009 came to 145,946 prisoners. However the rate of the fall was three times lower than during previous years. For each 100 thousand head of population there are 314 prisoners, this being almost three times the figures in countries of Western Europe.

No improvement over prisoners’ rights

Despite the positive trend towards lower numbers, there were no noticeable improvements in the area of human rights during 2008, with the level of rights abuse remaining high. This is less to do with the conditions, as the behaviour of penal staff with the prisoners. As in previous years one cannot say that respect for human dignity has become a dominant factor in penal system policy, and the existing manner of treating prisoners is based on strict demands from the staff of absolute obedience. This is exacerbated by the lack of an effective mechanism for making complaints.

Protests from prisoners are punished and concealed

There is no let up in the number of protests from prisoners. The management of the Department for the Execution of Sentences [the Department] claims that these are due to external factors “that somebody needs to stir prisoners up”. The results of investigations into such events are not usually published, the public are sometimes given incorrect information about the real course of events, and incidents of beatings or ill-treatment are denied. Punitive measures are applied against prisoners who protest or make complaints.

The Department management ignores suggestions from leading human rights organizations to carry out objective investigations into reports of conflict or incidents in penal institutions with this significantly narrow the possibilities for an independent assessment of human rights violations.

Access to information about the human rights situation in penal institutions is extremely limited. It is standard practice to not provide answers or give only partial answers to requests for information. No measures of response are applied against those members of staff who breach information legislation.

Public control is limited

Cooperation with the public, in the first instance, with nongovernmental organizations is limited to issues of material assistance to the system and particular services to prisoners of a legal or consultation nature.

The Department management demonstrates inability to work with human rights organizations which have their own views on what is happening and who criticize the Department. There is no public control over observance of prisoners’ rights and over the behaviour of those in charge.

As far as normative documents are concerned, the Department gives preference to issues of security and safety at the expense of human rights. The commitment made on joining the Council of Europe in 1995 to subordinate the Department to the Ministry of Justice has not been fulfilled.

There is widespread corruption among penal staff, especially over the granting of release on parole. It is difficult to assess the scale of the problem, and there is also no information regarding an active and public response to cases of corruption.

Not one of the sixteen suggestions made in the last report have been followed. There is no response from the Department to the recommendations or the report altogether.

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