On fighting torture and ill-treatment in the Kharkiv region
In an interview, Yury Chumak, Human Rights Aide to the Minister of Internal Affairs, spoke of certain improvements in the Kharkiv region and ongoing issues which need to be resolved.
He notes that there has been a considerable improvement in the conditions in temporary holding facilities [ITT], special detention centres and centres for the reception and distribution of vagrants. Following a suggestion from the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, all ITT have had UV bacteria-killing lights installed. There are water heaters so that detainees can take a shower at any time of the year, fridges have been bought where they can keep food products, and repairs have been carried out. Yury Chumak considers that the conditions now meet, if not European standards, then Ukrainian norms. He believes that the attitude of police officers has also changed, and says that earlier they were inclined to think that the worse the conditions, the better, that this would act as a deterrent.
The mobile units also help since monitoring of the conditions in ITT is now carried out not only by the colleagues of the police officers in those ITT, but together with representatives of the public.
Progress as far as actual torture is concerned, is less noticeable. Police officers’ work remains assessed in terms of the number of cases “solved” (thus increasing the temptation to “solve” a case by beating a confession out of somebody, etc.) Yury Chumak says that this is an unwritten rule. He cites a prominent case from last year in Kharkiv in which a young woman was raped and murdered. Police officers, in trying to find the murderer, detained and held over the legally established period several dozen people. The crime was solved in the end however the rights of a number of innocent people were violated.
Asked about the role of the Prosecutor’s Office, Yury Chumak says that there has yet to be created an independent body overseeing observance of the law by police officers since the Prosecutor’s Office is in an ambiguous position, since it also supports the prosecution in court. If the case is prominent, then the Prosecutor also wants it solved as soon as possible. Although the Prosecutor’s Office is also supposed to supervise the police, they often turn a blind eye to infringements involving coercion. He says that the creation of their body, the Department for the Monitoring of Human Rights Observance by the Police was linked with that problem. He mentions that at the present time a National Committee against Torture is being created and hopes it may organize work in this area.
He mentions another problem which is that officers now avoid beating and go for methods which do not leave traces or only those which are classified as light injuries.
With regard to the case involving rape and murder, a woman who at first was questioned as a witness, alleges that she was beaten in order to force her to confess to the murder. The Prosecutor’s Office has refused to initiate a criminal investigation. Presently KGPG lawyers are appealing this decision and seeking to have a criminal investigation launched.
The Case of Svitlana Pomilyaiko
[As reported earlier, two women were taken in for questioning after two computers went missing from their work. According to the women’s testimony, the two officers questioned them separately, trying to force both to make confessions. Svitlana was kicked and had a bag put over her head. Natalya also had tweezers used to press her nipples. Svitlana could hear her friend’s screams, yet neither woman signed a “confession”. They were released, but only after both signed statements that they had no criticism against the police. Both have medical reports from the hospital which they went to following their release. Only Svitlana Pomilyaiko decided to make a formal complaint.]
Yury Chumak says that the police officers who took part in the alleged actions have been dismissed. In this case the Prosecutor’s Office did launch a criminal investigation, but the police got it revoked in court. Two appeals were lodged, by the victim’s lawyers and by the Prosecutor’ Office of the Ordzhonikidze District. At appeal level, the court found that there were grounds for initiating a criminal investigation and this was done, though there seems little movement on the investigation. Mr Chumak was told by the victim that the case isn’t going anywhere: they don’t terminate it, but they don’t do anything either.
He was asked about the case of Petro Bushmanov who was detained by police in July, allegedly beaten in the Dzherzhynsky District Police Station, had drugs planted on him and money demanded. The Prosecutor’s Office initiated a criminal investigation, and the police officer allegedly involved has been remanded in custody. The investigation is continuing.
Asked whether some people who have confessed to a crime and later deny it make up stories of being beaten in order to escape punishment, Mr Chumak says that there may be such cases. On the other hand, if there were no real cases of beating out confessions, there would be no grounds for trying this on.
Asked about measures that really counter torture, these are, in the first place, making sure that all procedural measures are carried out in special rooms with video recording facilities. At present there is a catastrophic shortage of these, with only one per police station. The number must be increased, but this involves major financial outlay.
Secondly, any person being questioned by the police must have access to a lawyer. On 30 September 2009 the Constitutional Court found that everybody is entitled to legal aid at any time, dealing with any State body.
On 30 December 2009 the Kharkiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office initiated a criminal investigation under Article 127 § 2 of the Criminal Code (torture) against officers of the Department for Fighting Organized Crime over alleged torture of a businessman from whom they tried to extort money. Yury Chumak sees a degree of progress in the fact that the investigation is over torture, not as usually exceeding official powers through violent means (Article 365 § 2).
From an interview taken by Volodymyr Batsunov and published at http://maidan.org.ua/special/pk/