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28.05.2009

Reminding them of your rights breaks down their impunity

   

Every 14th person living in Ukraine has experienced torture from police officers, with almost 100 thousand of such cases just in the last year. Radio Svoboda reports these figures as being reflected by the joint estimates made by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and other human rights organizations.

At the same time most of the victims are frightened to tell anybody because they don’t believe that the State is capable of protecting them from arbitrary lawlessness and revenge.

A specially created Internal Security Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA] investigates crimes committed by law enforcement officers and punishes those guilty yet the amount of violence in police stations is not falling as a result.

Each year over 2.5 thousand people turn to the Internal Security Service alleging unlawful actions by the police. The actual number of cases of torture is several times higher. According to Kharkiv region Human Rights Assistant to the Minister of Internal Affairs Yury Chumak, a major reason is the feeling of impunity. If each victim stood up for their rights, aggression from police officers would become a thing of the past.

As reported here already, Svitlana Pomilyaiko and another woman colleague were subjected to torture after being taken in for questioning over the theft of two computers from their work. According to the women’s testimony, the two officers questioned them separately, trying to force both to make confessions
Svitlana Pomilyaiko recounts: “They hit me on the head and put a bag over my head. I bit through one and then they put another one on and I lost consciousness. They squeezed us with tweezers, placed us in a cell with criminals, demanding that we confess to the theft of the computers. We refused to admit to a crime we hadn’t committed. After eight hours they let us out in the city, beaten and exhausted, as calmly as though for them it was an everyday procedure.”

Svitlana took more than a month to recover, lost her job and remained with two children to look after, virtually without means to live on. She no longer believes in justice from the Ukrainian police and fears vengeance from her former tormenters.

Three officers have been dismissed and the proceedings against them are continuing. However this case is an exception since most officers who torture people get away with it, Yury Chumak says. He reiterates the danger of such impunity.

According to KHPG Co-Chair Yevhen Zakharov, a fundamental change in the principles of work of the law enforcement agencies is needed. He points out that the tradition of beating out confessions is long entrenched.

“The norms which demand that an investigator solves most crimes need to be abolished. In Europe the percentage of crimes solved is no higher than 40%” He stresses that it is unacceptable that police officers should be punished more for a low percentage of solved crimes than for rough treatment of suspects. In order to avoid problems, law enforcement officers don’t formalize the detention until they have beaten out a confession. In such cases, he notes, a person is tortured, yet there is no evidence that he or she was even in the police station.

However it also depends on the person detained, and human rights activists recommend that people immediate make use of their right to a phone call, as guaranteed by the Constitution. They should inform their relatives of where they are and ask them to get in touch with a lawyer. And they should refuse to answer any questions without a lawyer being present. This right is also guaranteed by law. Then torture will become simply impossible, they believe.

From material at life.pravda.com.ua

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