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How amendments to the Penal Code are (not) working

17.12.14

Oleksandr Bukalov from Donetsk Memorial reports that amendments to the Penal Code which allowed life prisoners to have long visits are still encountering resistance from the Penitentiary Service.  The amendments were passed by the Verkhovna Rada in April 2014 after long discussion of the need for amendments.  The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture [CPT] had recommended back in 2000 that Ukraine improve conditions for life prisoners.

The amendments were however resisted by the State Penitentiary Service and even though the long visits have now been permitted, the Penitentiary Service has been insistent in calling for the new amendment to be deferred. 

Thus far 169 or 10% of the total number of life prisoners have already received long visits, however there has not been one from the Zamkova Corrective Colony No. 58; the Kyiv and Odessa SIZO [pre-trial detention centres which, despite the name, also hold life prisoners].  The Penitentiary Service claims that this is for want of applications from the prisoners, however there are reports that some prisoners have been refused permission to have a long visit  because of the lack of place to hold them.  Bukalov notes that the law does not envisage refusals on such grounds and that the administration of such institutions is effectively in breach of the law.  There are also reports that bribes have been demanded and taken from prisoners for such visits.

The amendments also granted prisoners the right to organize their pension if they became entitled to this while serving their sentences.  This had been prohibited up till May 2014 despite the ban on discrimination.  From May to October 2014 the Penitentiary Service reports, 170 prisoners had availed themselves of this right. Of these 95 have already had pensions awarded, 63 are still waiting, and 12 prisoners’ applications have been turned down by the Pension Fund.

Bukalov stresses the need for a thorough analysis of why these amendments are being obstructed. In the case of visits for life prisoners, it is vital that prisoners are informed of their right to such visits and that any prison staff caught demanding or taking bribes for a visit are dismissed.  According to CPT standards, the responsibility for ill-treatment lies not only with the immediate perpetrator, but also on all those who are obliged to know about this and do nothing to stop it.