Political will lacking to eradicate torture by the police
On the eve of International Day in support of Victims of Torture Yevhen Zakharov, Co-Chair of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group told a press conference that it is political will that is badly needed if the use of torture by police officers is to be stopped. He believes that is a systemic problem and requires joint efforts by the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA], the courts, the Prosecutor Generals Office, parliament and society in general.
There are two aspects to the problem: the conditions in temporary holding facilities [ITT] and centres for the reception and distribution of vagrants; and the use of unlawful violence during detective investigation.
There has been improvement, Yevhen Zakharov notes, with regard to conditions in custody. The new mobile groups which include both MIA representatives and members of the public have been instrumental in highlighting problems. Some ITT were closed altogether after investigations were carried out, while in others the conditions have improved. At the same time the lack of funding makes it impossible to all that is necessary to improve conditions.
The problem remains of torture being applied in order to extract confessions. This is despite efforts to stop such practice from MIA management, and the creation of a Department within the MIA for monitoring human rights observance.
He mentions too that the Prosecutor Generals Office does a very bad job in investigating such cases. “If you look at court statistics, you can see that there are a pitiful number of cases under Article 127 of the Criminal Code which punishes for torture. If cases arise, they are more likely than not treated under Article 365, for abuse of ones official position.”
Another problem lies in the governments failure to create an effective system of legal aid where each person detained can have a lawyer called at the States expense to defend their interests when charges are being laid and a decision made as to whether the person should be remanded in custody.
Kateryna Levchenko, Advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs, pointed out that mobile monitoring groups are an important mechanism for countering torture and ill-treatment in the work of police stations. 41 visits have been made this year, with 377 for the whole of last year. The most widespread infringements uncovered by mobile groups are first of all failure to register people detained in the relevant logbook, failure to tell people detained their rights; the lack of sufficient natural lighting in cells; space per person not complying with norms, and others.
According to information from the Head of the Department within the MIA for monitoring human rights observance, Oleh Martynenko, as the result of MIA reaction to unlawful behaviour by police officers, over the first five months of 2009 17 people were convicted of abuse of power; 40 – of exceeding their powers; 2 – for murder; and one for causing bodily harm. 674 were held to answer for offences of a non-criminal nature. In one case this was for unlawful methods of running an investigation, detective work; 3 were for infringements of the time limits for being held in custody; one for unlawful use of special means and 2 – for unlawful behaviour towards people detained. Last year 65 people made complaints in person to assistants to the Minister about ill-treatment from police officers, while overall 90 statements regarding ill-treatment were considered. Over possible cases where police officers had infringed the absolute ban on the use of torture and ill-treatment, 119 official checks were initiated, of which 25 were carried out by officers of the Internal Security Service, 50 by a special team inspection, and 44 by officers of other services.