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05.11.2015

Ukrainian authorities slated over Odesa May 2 investigation

   

As anticipated, the International Advisory Panel which scrutinized the investigation into the tragic disturbances and fire in Odesa on May 2, 2014, has reported grave inadequacies which constitute a failure to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights.  The Panel concludes that a year and a half after the events, there has still been little progress, and points to reasons for this.  Given evidence suggesting police complicity, as well as omissions, and the failure of the emergency services to respond in time to the fire, the investigation should have been carried out by a body independent of the Interior Ministry.  Incredibly, considering that most of the deaths were due to the fire at the Trade Union Building, an investigation into which it took the emergency services 40 minutes to appear only began in December 2014. 

The report should be unpleasant reading for the Ukrainian authorities, but, if properly reported*, is no good news for Russia’s propaganda machine either.  The latter has from the outset pushed a narrative about a suppose ‘massacre’ by Ukrainian ‘radicals’, and especially claimed that pro-unity (or pro-Maidan) activists set the Trade Union building alight deliberately.  It is clear that the original disturbances in the centre were provoked by ‘pro-federalist’ (or anti-Maidan) activists, and there is no evidence that the fire was pre-planned.  Forensic examinations showed that the fire began in five places, and four “could only have been started by the acts of those inside the building”, i.e. pro-federalism supporters.  The initial fire began in the foyer and earlier reports by the 2 May Group have made it clear that there can be no way of knowing which Molotov cocktail was responsible.  As reported, incendiary devices were being hurled out of and into the building.

The Panel criticize the efficient division of roles in investigating the events, and the lack of proper funding.  It calls the quality ‘deficient’, saying that the authorities failed to show « sufficient thoroughness and diligence in initiating and pursuing the investigations.  It cites the failure to address the fire-fighters 40 minute delay as the “most striking example of a lack of diligence”.  One of the problems here was that at the initial stage, the investigation into emergency services failings was left with the local police.

There is serious criticism of the termination of proceedings against two suspects, formally on the grounds of lack of evidence.  Oleksandr Hrybovskyj was suspected of taking part in the disturbances earlier (in which 6 people were killed).  Although formally the investigation was terminated for lack of evidence, in fact, he was exchanged at the respect of the Security Service [SBU] for SBU officers held prisoner in the conflict zone in Donbas, “some of whom were gravely ill.  It was suggested that certain AntiMaidan activists who were active in the conflict zone had specifically requested the exchange of Mr Hrybovskyj.”   The SBU told the Panel that they had not initiated this exchange. The second person is Vsevolod Horodetskyj, a pro-unity activist who was “suspected of using a wooden club to inflict injuries on persons who had jumped from the burning Trade Union Building, and of preventing them from obtaining medical help, as well as of organising other persons to act in a similar manner which, according to the charges against him, had led to the death of eight persons (this was from the initial charges against him in Aug 2014.).  He was under only a personal undertaking not to abscond, and on Feb 9, 2015, the case was terminated under the same article (lack of evidence).  This was overturned at the application of a victim on July 3, 2015, and an investigation is pending. He is not under any restraint measure.

The Panel was also critical, as has been the 2 May Group, about the prosecution of 21 people without individualized charges.

Worth quoting:

“the investigation into the conduct of the fire service cannot be regarded as independent, given the structural links between the emergency services and the Interior Ministry. These concerns again highlight the need for an independent and effective mechanism for the investigation of serious human rights violations committed by law enforcement officers and other public officials.

In addition, the Panel considers that it is of central importance for the purposes of maintaining the confidence of all sectors of the public in the criminal justice system that the authorities, including the judicial authorities, are seen to act in an impartial and equal manner in the conduct of the investigations and court proceedings.”

“The Panel considers that the events in Odesa on 2 May 2014 were of such importance that the authorities were required to provide sufficient information about the investigations to facilitate meaningful public scrutiny. While the authorities provided a considerable amount of information, there was no effective communication policy in place, with the result that some of the information provided was difficult to understand, inconsistent, and unevenly presented and was provided with insufficient regularity.”

As regards involvement of victims and next-of-kin:

“The Panel notes with regret that, in contrast to the Maidan investigations, the investigatory authorities did not take any co-ordinated measures directly and regularly to ensure that victims and next-of-kin were informed about the progress of the investigations.”

“The Panel considers that substantial progress has not been made in the investigations into the violent events in Odesa on 2 May 2014.While this outcome may be explained to some extent by the contextual challenges, the Panel considers that the deficiencies identified in this Report have undermined the authorities’ ability to establish the circumstances of the Odesa-related crimes and to bring to justice those responsible.”

The report can be downloaded here

Halya Coynash

 

* The first reports demonstrate seriously edited and therefore manipulative reporting, for example from Sputnik

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