Young people in conflict with the law also face torture or ill-treatment
New research has been published on prevention of torture and ill-treatment of children and adolescents in conflict with the law in Ukraine.
The two studies – Torture and Ill-treatment of Children in Ukraine and The Rights of Children in Social Rehabilitation Institutions in Ukraine: Special Report on Implementation of the National Preventive Mechanism were prepared by the Kharkiv Human Rights Group and Kharkiv Social Research Institute.
The reports found that children who have broken the law or are suspected of having broken the law face violence both when being detained and questioned (with the main aim being to get testimony, confessions) and in places of confinement. Physical violence is most often in the form of beating, however some of the kids spoke of torture through asphyxiation (gas mark or bag over the head) or blows using means that don’t leave obvious marks on the body.
The Head of the UNICEF Office in Ukraine, Yukio Mokyo said that UNICEF welcomes the creation of a National Preventive Mechanism as a step towards overcoming the problems linked with torture and ill-treatment. She added that the adoption of a Conception Framework for the Development of Juvenile Justice and the adoption of a new Criminal Prosecution Code would also help to observe children’s rights in the criminal justice system. She pointed out however, as shown by the research, that children are victims of physical violence; they’re illegally detained in police stations and forced into making confessions; left without legal assistance. She said that UNICEF urges Ukraine to take the measures need to ensure that all children who come into contact with the law are treated with respect; are not humiliated but helped to become active members of society in the future.
Around 100 minors serving sentences in special educational institutions or released from places of confinement were surveyed, as well as minors in social rehabilitation schools and colleges. One described how there were only police present, no parents, lawyer or other adults. One of the officers beat them and put handcuffs on him. He said he was held in handcuffs about half an hour and in the police station all day. One of his friends had a bag put over his head and was on one occasions hit so hard that he went flying into the wall.
The survey showed that when being detained and interrogated, violations were most often seen in the failure to inform relations about the detention and the minor’s whereabouts; not providing defence at the right time; beatings; threats; the creation of inhuman conditions.
Ill-treatment was also seen in many places of confinement – social rehabilitation schools and colleges; reception and distribution centres for minors; SIZO and prison colonies. However the mechanisms are missing which would enable children to complain of torture or ill-treatment.
Yevhen Zakharov, Co-Chair of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group pointed out that there are no special normative actis regarding minors in conflict with the law, regarding investigation of complaints of torture or ill-treatment; rules for the use of physical force; special means and weapons in respect to minors by all law enforcement bodies; rules for medical treatment; involvement in work in educational colonies. He says that these need to be drawn up in accordance with international standards and implemented.
In order to prevent torture or ill-treatment, the Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Commissioner’s Office has created a National Preventive Mechanism [NPM] according to the model Ombudsperson +. That means that members of civic institutions concerned about people, including minors, will be able, after the relevant training, to carry out visits to places of confinement together with members of the Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Commissioner’s Secretariat. Regular visits to places of confinement will help to reduce and prevent abuse and violence against minors.
Denis Kobzin, Director of the Kharkiv Social Research Institute says that the NPM visits have shown that the social rehabilitation system in Ukraine is outdated and does not meet contemporary standards of humane treatment of children.
This, he says, is seen in everything – from the procedure for placing minors in places of confinement to the banal lack of a toilet on the premises. These factors, as well as the total ban on contact with the outside world creates serious risks for minors who can be there for months, sometimes years, leading to violations of children’s rights.
Valeria Lutkovska, Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Commissioner pointed to the need to introduce an effective system for prevention of offences by minors and reforming existing social rehabilitation institutions, humanizing institutions for re-educating minors who have overstepped the law. She said that her Secretariat’s monitoring had shown that the rights of minors in conflict with the law are not being fully observed in Ukraine.