Didenko: Anyone can become a victim of torture
Human rights organizations are calling on the government to draw up a draft law to initiate the creation of a mechanism for preventing torture among Ukrainian law enforcement bodies. Spokesperson for the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, Andriy Didenko warns that in Ukraine anybody can become a victim both of torture and of an unfair trial. He learned this through his own experience.
Andriy Didenko “It so happened that I know very well about torture by the police and in places of confinement since I served 8 years for a crime I didn’t commit. In Ukraine anybody can become a victim of torture. According to social surveys, each year more than 600 thousand Ukrainians are subjected to various forms of torture, beating or other degrading treatment. The situation must and can change. In 2006 Ukraine committed itself to the UN to create a mechanism for preventing torture.
BBC: The conditions in Ukrainian prisons are largely, of course, bad, yet are there no exceptions. For example, in one of the penal colonies in the Vinnytsa region, the Mohylyov-Podilska colony, they recently built a football field, a fountain, and in the institution not far from Kryzhopil, prisoners earn more than, for example, cleaners in the outside world. After a harsh regime colony prisoners say that such a colony is like a resort.
Andriy Didenko You know those are exclusive institutions and overall the situation in penal institutions is quite different. If in such colonies there are, say, 250 prisoners, in the vast majority the number is much higher. And probably their treatment is entirely different. Of course if such colonies became the trend, and the State treated prisoners as human beings, the situation with torture and with everything else would also change.
Can one give an overall figure for the number of deaths in police custody during the year as a result of torture? Is the figure increasing or falling?
Andriy Didenko I can give as an example that in just the last 3-4 months about 6 people have died from police torture. That’s only from torture in police custody. As far as penal institutions are concerned the figures are very hard to estimate since people die and their deaths are attributed to illness or something else. It’s very hard to follow what happens in penal institutions, what the conditions are like and what kind of unlawful measures are used. This subject remains closed as it has since Soviet times.
And is there a problem in general with testimony being beaten out of people? How many people are serving sentences for crimes they didn’t commit?
Andriy Didenko The problem is that there is always some kind of logic when torture is applied. A person is forced to testify against himself in order to fabricate a criminal prosecution. There are also a lot of such cases. There are cases where a person is serving life, like for example, that of Oleksandr Rafalsky. The lawyer in this case is Arkady Bushchenko, Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. In that case there are serious grounds for believing that torture was applied. And he’s serving a life sentence. There’s also the Bondar case where there is also every justification in believing that he was tortured and he’s serving life. Then there’s the case of Osypkov who had his earlobes cut off when they used torture. That is, torture is common with the police. Yet when they torture people in penal institutions, there is no logic, after all there’s no gain in it. And that is a relic of the Soviet punitive system when they begin to tell you about the conditions and when there are features like the GULAG.
If we return to the problem of torture by the police, how long can such lawlessness continue? Should there be trials or should the human rights move increase its powers?
Andriy Didenko We’re involved in that campaign now. This year the Ministry of Justice drew up a draft law on creating a National Preventive Mechanism against torture. However it was done behind closed doors and is called Amendments to the Law on the Human Rights Ombudsperson. No human rights organization was involved in preparing this draft law. International practice shows that such legislative work needs the maximum amount of public involvement both in drawing up and introducing such mechanisms and in monitoring their implementation. Yet the draft law contains the instruction to not include the public in this process (it says there is no need – translator), which is why today we are holding a peaceful protest outside the Cabinet of Ministers and Verkhovna Rada. We will be directly referring to this draft law. People who have suffered from torture are voluntarily coming to express their concern that there isn’t such a mechanism in Ukraine. I mean public control over the actions of the authorities. That is basically our main aim. Our programme is aimed at ensuring that there is finally a National Preventive Mechanism against torture and that it’s created with the participation of the public and with wide public discussion. That will make it possible to prevent torture.
Do you think that the government will listen to your proposals?
Andriy Didenko It’s obviously a very difficult process. Very lengthy however we hope for constructive dialogue between the public and the government. We are appealing in fact to international institutions and telling them that Ukraine signed a Protocol which obliged it to create this Preventive Mechanism by 2006.
In Russia, for example, groups of young people have appeared who attack police officers. As an example of social opposition to the police. Is something like that possible in Ukraine?
Andriy Didenko Of course. When a person is tortured, when they use prohibited methods of physical force, then these people and their relatives can protest in some way. When there isn’t the kind of mechanism that can foresee and prevent torture, and force the government to punish the perpetrators. That’s the main thing, there must be liability. If there is a crime, there must be punishment.