Despite certain positive changes the problem remains very serious
26 June is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Protests to mark this day took place in many Ukrainian cities. This is a report of the press conference which took place in Kharkiv.
26 June 2012
The use of torture is a flagrant violation of human rights and strongly condemned in international law, in particular in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN International Convention on Civil and Political Rights; the European Convention on Human Rights which stated that nobody shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Torture and ill-treatment in Ukraine is a systemic phenomenon as human rights organizations have repeatedly stressed in their reports which are used by national and international organizations to assess the general human rights situation in the country.
The press conference was given by:
Yevhen Zakharov, Co-Chair of KHPG
Marina Shuhalyova, from the KHPG Advice Centre
Yevhen Zakharov: “Today is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. On this day in 1986 the Convention against Torture came into force. On this day our organization tries to give a summary of our work in fighting torture during the year; review new trends; new cases and tell journalists about this. In 2010-2011 the number of allegations of torture increased significantly. In 2009 sociological research showed that the estimated number of people who had suffered was a little higher than 600 thousand; over a year – in 2010 around 790 thousand; in 2011 0 984 thousand. This number thus grew steadily. We are talking about victims of torture and other forms of unlawful violence by the police.
In 2010-2011 the conditions in some remand units where the number of people is much higher than the number of places worsened significantly. This is connected with the fact that there were more prosecutions, the courts passed more orders to remand people in custody and the number of places remained the same. At the same time the penal system was very poorly financed, with the public funding which was already insufficient not received in full with only 50% of the amount needed received. It therefore follows that there was much less money for providing food and medical treatment for prisoners which led in particular to an increase in the mortality rate in places of confinement by 45% as against 2010. Mr Zakharov noted that in the Lukyanov, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Crimean and Kherson SIZO [remand units] the conditions were very bad with the number of places much lower than the number of people. “Therefore as far as I’m aware, in the Simferopo SIZO they have put in three-storey bunks so that each person has a bed for the night”. He also say that the State Penitentiary Service should be given its due, that despite enormous difficulties with funding it had completed long-term construction work begun earlier. In Lukyanov this was a block for women and a block for minors; in these blocks the conditions are good. Mr Zakhaorv noted that in 2012 the situation has somewhat improved. In the first six months of this year 17 people have approached the KHPG Advice Centre with complaints about torture, while in the network of Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union [UHHRU] there have been complaints from 99 people. For comparison, during the first 6 months of 2011 KHPG received 88 such complaints; while the UHHRU network which has 15 advice centres run by 15 members of the Union, there were 240. Mr Zakharov links this significant reduction with the following factors: “Firstly, the new Interior Minister Zakharchenko stated, and would seem to genuinely want this, that he sees one of his main tasks as to eradicate torture. Secondly, the Prosecutor in 2012, and in fact in 2011, began to pay attention to such types of complaints, began to initiate more criminal investigations than before. Whereas previously this was several dozen cases, now the number is over 100. Thirdly, the European Court of Human Rights adopted a pilot judgement Kaverzin v. Ukraine on torture which imposed harsh conditions, very stiff demands on the Ukrainian State to make significant changes to legislation, and practice in order to eradicate torture. This judgement is to a large extent based on our reports and asserts what we have spoken about for many years. For example, that one of the reasons for this situation is that the Prosecutor does not want to investigate allegations of torture due to an internal conflict of interest: on the one hand it supports the prosecution, on the other it is supposed to ensure that the police obey the law. It has no interest therefore in criminal prosecutions “falling apart” since the sentences are based on confessions received through coercion.” When the European Court of Human Rights finds a violation of the right to a fair trial due to unlawfully received evidence, the only way of implementing this judgement would be to revoke all sentences which is what the High Court should do. Mr Zakharov also added that a large role has been played by discussion and adoption of the new Criminal Procedure Code which contains a fair number of measures against the use of torture. Reform of the Prosecutor’s Office is also under discussion. “This is clearly all together and has led to a reduction in the number of allegations of torture. However there are unfortunately no statistics. The new Human Rights Ombudsman V. Lutkovska has begun visits to places of confinement together with members of human rights organizations – there have already been a good few such visits and there will be still more. A model is being created for an “Ombudsperson” national preventive mechanism: such visits will be carried out by a separate department together with human rights organizations. At present a list of the places of confinement with the most problems is being drawn up and it is to those places that visits will be made this year. “Despite certain positive changes which I have spoken about, over all this problem remains very serious, systemic which was noted by the European Court. This pilot judgement Kaversli v. Ukraine binds the State to take serious measures. If there is the political will for the police to work different and to really reject assessment of their work based on the number of solved criminal cases as previously, in principle the need for violence at detective inquiry stage will disappear. But then the number of cases solved will fall to a very law figure. This is absolutely inevitable since unfortunately more often than not they don’t know any other ways in Ukraine for solving crimes. Particularly with the current staff in the police, in particular in the investigation service.”
Marina Shuhalyova tells of the case of Ivan Romanov.
“The case is linked with psychiatry and violence in the police. Who is Romanov? I received permission from his mother to speak openly, to give his full name. This is a young men, born in 1984, with invalid status from child linked with a psychological disorder. In July 2010 he was beaten by police officers from the Kievsky District Police Station in Kharkiv who needed, it would seem, to “write off” a crime. The police tried to force Ivan’s mother to testify against her son which she didn’t do. After being beaten, Ivan Romanov ended up in the fourth city ambulance hospital with very serious head injuries. In his recommendation the neurologist wrote that Ivan Romanov needs further hospital treatment with a neurosurgeon which is evidence of the severity of the injury.
However the court ordered that Romanov be remanded in a SIZO. The cell he was held in was overcrowded, and the detainees slept in turns. “It is impossible to call these conditions acceptable. These conditions can be called torture, torment for a person, particularly for a person who is unwell”, she said. “Thanks to certain actions by the investigator, Yana Fedorchenko, measures of a coercive medical nature were applied, and having been held in SIZO for 7 months, he was sent to a Ukrainian psychiatric hospital with strict surveillance in Dnipropetrovsk. I have visited him there twice. The first time they didn’t allow me to meet him although I am his legal representative; the second time I was able to meet with him. Before being placed in hospital he weighed 120 kg., when I met him 70 maximum, his hands were twisted as when a person is paralysed, they had applied treatment which was harmful for him. We submitted a complaint against the actions of the police which the Prosecutor of course rejected but on 16 January 2012 our complaint over unlawful use of measures of a medical nature was accepted by the Kievsky District Court. A review is now underway of all actions by police officers.
… we lodged a complaint over the decision to refuse to initiate a criminal investigation against investigator Fedorchenko with the Kievsky District Court in Kharkvi and our complaint was allowed. That ruling was appealed and in June the cassation level issued a ruling that the Romanov case be sent for examination to an appeal court. The Court of Appeal in December applied an incorrect norm of the law … It has turned out that we have as it were jumped from the first instance court to the cassation court because the appeal did not apply the necessary law and issued a wrongful judgment. This case could be reviewed in view of all the circumstances which we are presenting in all our complaints. This is for the future, we’ll see how it ends. I would also like to add that to hide Ivan’s illness from the Prosecutor’s office, investigator Fedorchenko took the medical records from the hospital and we even have a record that the medical records with such and such a number were taken by senior investigator Fedorchenko on a particular date. That is, we have been up till now unable to get an independent expert assessment and it was only after turning to the head of the investigation department that the medical records were put where they’re supposed to be and we could make a copy”.
Answering journalists’ questions, Yevhen Zakharov said that there are few people who make complaints of ill-treatment. If one compares the number of complaints with the estimated number of people who have suffered according to the sociological research, it is merely the tip of the iceberg. If we say that in 2011 there were around a million victims, and 12 thousand complaints over a year and half have been received by the Prosecutor, then only very few make complaints. They make complaints when the beating is such that there is proof, the person ended up in hospital, was taken from the police station by ambulance, there are pictures of the beatings and injuries. This was the case with Zvenigorodsky who simply died after being taken out of the regional police department and put in a park from where an ambulance took him to the hospital where he died. That was on the same day, 30 March 2011 that the Prosecutor General’s Office had an extended meeting where there was talk of the need to fight such a phenomenon. And this case was not stall since the latest campaign began. Now all three police officers have been convicted in this case with a fairly large sentence.
Prepared by V. Batsunov