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Human Rights in Ukraine. Website of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
№11
2007

Monthly bulletin Prava Ludyny (Human rights)

Implementation of European Law

26.10.2007

Strasbourg again finds against Ukraine over detention conditions

   

On 25 October, the European Court of Human Rights issued its chamber judgment over the case of Oleg Yakovenko. It found that Ukraine had violated Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights because of the conditions Mr Yakovenko was held in, the failure to provide proper medical care, and the way he was treated when being transported between two detention centres. The Court also concluded that Article 13 (the right to an effective remedy) had been violated.

It is very much to be hoped that the government will take heed of such judgments since the damages awarded have become bitterly meaningless. Mr Yakovenko died in May of this year, aged 32.  He had suffered from tuberculosis and was HIV-positive during his period of detention.

The following is a brief summary from the ECHR press release which can be found at: http://www.echr.coe.int

In June 2003 Mr Yakovenko, on probation following a conviction for burglary, was arrested and placed in police custody, again on suspicion of burglary. The applicant alleged that he confessed to that crime after being subjected to ill-treatment in police custody and retracted his statements when on trial before Balaklavsky District Court. In November 2005 he was found guilty as charged and sentenced to three years and seven months’ imprisonment, later reduced on appeal in October 2006 to three years and six months.

Awaiting that conviction Mr Yakovenko was detained in the Simferopol Detention Centre (Simferopol SIZO). As the police, prosecution and judicial authorities who dealt with his case were based in Sevastopol, he was transferred each month to the Sevastopol Detention Centre (Sevastopol ITT). Between June 2003 and April 2006, he spent in total about one year in that facility.

The applicant claimed that Sevastopol ITT was constantly overcrowded: he was held in cells of 15 to 22 m2 with 25 to 30 inmates. To corroborate that claim, the applicant submitted a letter of 10 May 2005 from the Head of Sevastopol City Police Department which stated that 240 inmates were held in the detention centre, which was designed to hold a maximum of 82 detainees. The applicant further alleged that inmates had to take turns to sleep, that the lights in the cells, situated in the basement, were permanently on and that the ventilation system was often out of order.

Mr Yakovenko alleged ill-treatment while in police custody; inhuman conditions of detention in Sevastopol ITT and when being transported to and from that facility; and, lack of medical care.

The Court rejected the claim of ill-treatment since Mr Yakovenko had not appealed against the prosecutor’s office’s refusal to institute criminal proceedings over his allegations.

The Court found that the applicant had been held in seriously overcrowded conditions and that the sleeping conditions had also adversely affected his health. It also agreed that the lighting and ventilation had been inadequate.

 “In the light of its findings above concerning overcrowding, sleep deprivation and lack of natural light and air, the Court concluded that the conditions of the applicant’s detention in the Sevastopol ITT had amounted to degrading treatment. Accordingly, there had been a violation of Article 3.”

It found a further violation of Article 3 in the failure to provide timely and appropriate medical care to the applicant in respect of his HIV and tuberculosis infections

“no urgent medical measures, as stipulated in Decree No. 186/607 on the treatment of detainees with HIV/AIDS, had been taken. Notably, he had not been given antiretroviral treatment, had not been monitored for infections and had only been registered as an HIV patient at the local anti-AIDS centre in May 2006. Instead, the authorities had continued to send him to the Sevastopol ITT, which had no medical staff”

Article 3 was also found to have been violated over the crammed conditions Mr Yakovenko endured for a total of about 64 trips to and from Sevastopol over a period of two years and eight months.

The Court also considered that Mr Yakovenko’s inability to register a complaint about his conditions to have constituted denial of an effective remedy.

Against torture and ill-treatment

06.11.2007

Project aimed at preventing police torture

   

People who have been subjected to physical or psychological coercion by law enforcement officers will now be able to receive legal aid within a joint programme being run by the European Commission and civic organizations.  The project will run in four regions in West Ukraine.

Within the framework of this 18-month project on preventing torture in police stations in the Transcarpathian, Lviv, Rivne and Chernivtsi regions, there will be centres for documenting torture which victims can turn to, as well as a help line.

In order to monitor the situation, there will be mobile groups of lawyers who will periodically carry out spot checks of district police stations. As the director of the project Andriy Hnyda explains, police officers most often infringe a detained person’s right to call their relatives, their right to a lawyer and to a medical examination.

According to the head of the Lviv Centre for Documenting Torture, Oleh Ilnytsky, “People don’t only complain of beatings, but of infringements of criminal investigation procedure, the rules for dealing with juveniles and those with psychological disorders”. Over four months of pilot work, the centre has received around fifty complaints. One appeal has already been sent to the UN Committee against Torture.  Mr Ilnytsky adds, however, that people do not always dare to complain out of fear of police retaliation.

Against torture and ill-treatment

09.11.2007

Open letter from KHPG to the Head of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences

   

As reported here, in January 2007 following a brief hunger strike by prisoners and a subsequent visit by a Department commission, a special unit was brought into the colony, with men in masks and military gear.  They brutally beat around 40 prisoners, those who told the commission about the prisoners’ demands.

The letter below refers to later events. .

Dear Vasyl Vasylyovych,

In the Department’s penal institutions there are prisoners transferred in January and February 2007 from the Izyaslavsk Penal Colony No. 31 after the events linked with the use of a special forces unit in the colony.

The prisoners are held in penal colonies: No. 16, 50, 59, 77, 87, 105, 110 and 117. 

 We wish to inform you that some of the prisoners who suffered from the behaviour of the special units brought into Izyaslavsk Penal Colony No. 31 on 22 January 2007 have lodged applications with the European Court of Human Rights over the violations to their basic rights. Their applications have been registered with the Court and now await consideration.

The prisoners moved from Izyaslav Colony to other penal colonies were witnesses of these events.

We do not question the right of the colony administration to use their powers to maintain discipline, including through the imposition of disciplinary penalties. However, according to our information, some of those prisoners who were moved in connection with the events of 22 January are now having disciplinary penalties imposed far more often than was the case before the events in question.

This change in the treatment of prisoners may be interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights as a violation of Article 34 of the European Convention on Human Rights since if arbitrary disciplinary penalties are imposed on witnesses this infringes their right to give testimony without fear. Furthermore, these witnesses are under the protection of the European Agreement relating to Persons Participating in Proceedings of the European Court of Human Rights of 1996.

The only way of ensuring the interests of maintaining discipline while at the same time avoiding accusations against the government in the European Court of violating Article 34 of the European Convention is strict observance of procedure protecting a prisoner from arbitrary use of disciplinary penalties.

We would draw your attention to the fact that in accordance with Article 8 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a “convicted person is entitled to legal aid. To receive legal aid, those convicted may use the services of a law or other specialists in the field of law who by law have the right to provide legal aid personally, or on the instruction of a legal entity”.

You will be well aware that the implementation of this provision is in practice impeded by the fact that the overwhelming majority of convicted individuals cannot afford to pay for a lawyer.

Therefore, in order to ensure observance of the proper legal procedure and protection of the above-mentioned convicted prisoners, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group is taking upon itself the commitment to provide each of them with the assistance of a lawyer on each occasion where the administration deems it necessary to impose disciplinary penalties or to take other actions which worsen the prisoner’s position.

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group would therefore ask you to issue the necessary instructions to the administrations of the relevant penal colonies, in order that they:

- inform the prisoners transferred from Izyaslavsk Penal Colony No. 31 in connection with the events of 22 January 2007 that the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group is committing itself to provide free legal aid during proceedings over threatened use of disciplinary penalties;

- inform the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group in advance of any disciplinary proceedings in relation to the above-mentioned prisoners so that our lawyer has the opportunity to ensure effective legal representation for the prisoner.

Yours sincerely,

Yevhen Zakharov, Iryna Rapp, Co-Chairs of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Against torture and ill-treatment

16.11.2007

Family of wrongfully convicted mother awarded 2 million UAH

   

The Voroshilovsky District Court in Donetsk have awarded 2 million UAH in material and moral compensation to the mother and three orphaned children of 28-year-old Svitlana Zaitseva.  Ms Zaitsevsa died of tuberculosis contracted while imprisoned for a murder that she didn’t commit.

In 2001 she was sentenced to seven and a half years imprisonment, however a year later the real killer was found, and she was totally cleared and released. She returned home, however, with tuberculosis.  She died in April 2006 leaving three children. The post-mortem from doctors whom Svitlana had, until her imprisonment, only visited in connection with her pregnancies, concludes that she had tuberculosis of both lungs contracted in a penal institution.

Svitlana Zaitseva, who “admitted” committing the murder during the criminal investigation and the trial, did not attempt to have the law enforcement officers who had forced her to confess, brought to justice either while imprisoned or after being released. She apparently told her grandmother that she had been beaten in the SIZO [pre-trial detention centre] and threatened with loss of her parental rights and that she wouldn’t survive her time in the SIZO.

A report in UNIAN based on material from the newspaper Fakty I kommntari. 

The right to a fair trial

28.11.2007

Corruption in the Ukrainian judiciary: public assessment

   

According to the results of the “Hidna Ukraina” [“Decent Ukraine”] project, 59% in western regions of Ukraine believe corruption in the judiciary is extremely widespread. The figures are even worse in other regions: this view is held by 64% of those surveyed in eastern regions; 66% in central and 67% in southern regions of the country. 

These figures were given by the Head of the “Hidna Ukraina” project Johann Grossman during a meeting of the Lviv Reform Press Club.  He explained that the most difficult aspect of the problem of corruption is the many-faceted nature of the phenomenon. It cannot, therefore, be simply pushed out of one sphere, or tackled by means of one method alone

“International experience shows that an assault on corruption is effective when the civil servants or judges have something to lose. If their position and salary are reasonably high, they will lose out if their corrupt actions are discovered”.

Lawyer and legal expert for the project “Monitoring of access to the courts in Ukraine” Ruslan Taratula noted that at the present time judges’ salaries were still not sufficient for the amount of work that they do. “A monthly salary of 500 USD is not enough considering the intensive nature of their work and the responsibility of the job. Each judge on average receives 140 cases a month to examine. 40 of these are civil cases, over 40 – criminal, and the rest – administrative. Therefore raising the level of salaries is one of the elements needed so that judges value their profession and can live off honest earnings”.

The Coordinator on the Judiciary and Reform of the “Law and Democracy” Fund, Andriy Bury believes that the causes of corruption need to be investigated and that the main factor is the lack of clarity of procedures for examining court cases. He notes that by observing the applications reaching the European Court of Human Rights, one sees that Article 6 (the right to a fair trial) of the European Convention on Human Rights is being violated.

The study was carried out from 12 to 21 October as the last in a series organized within the framework of the “Hidna Ukraina” project.  Only 2032 respondents took part from different regions of Ukraine so the results cannot be considered fully representative.

Freedom of expression

05.11.2007

Television journalists not for sale!

   

Television journalists are about to begin a campaign against “jeansa” or journalistic material to order. The campaign “We’re not for sale!” will unite leading presenters, editors and correspondents of national television channels in the struggle against commissioned material.

The last elections led to an unprecedented surge in such materials on television, with news and features paid for by those with a vested interest becoming a real industry.

The television journalists are aware of the structure of this “industry” and have developed a plan which can successfully fight it.

Their plan is to be presented on Tuesday, 12.00, 6 November in Kyiv, in Shevchenko Park (opposite the Red Corpus of the University).

They invite all colleagues to take part, support and give coverage to the struggle against “zakazukha” [material to order] on television.  Those planning to attend the meeting are asked to bring along sunglasses!

We look forward to reporting their work in this vital area..

Freedom of expression

06.11.2007

Journalists affirm “We’re not for sale!”

   

On 6 November, members of the journalist initiative “We’re not for sale!” issued a Statement from journalists of Ukrainian television channels.

Statement

As journalists of Ukrainian television channels we must state that television is once again turning into a crooked mirror.

Features on news broadcasts that are paid for, guests who buy broadcasting time, television programmes on commission have ceased to be isolated unfortunate cases. They are becoming a mass-scale phenomenon, a well-developed industry which is driving out real news, analysis and discussion.

Effectively, as in the time of censorship from 2002 – 2004, television is distorted public opinion about what is happening.

It is not only viewers who lose out from this, but also the media, their owners, journalists and journalism in general with confidence in them falling.

As then, we are not prepared to put up with this and are calling for the establishment in all media outlets of the following standards:

  • The right of choice of topics and guests must rest exclusively with the presenters, editors and journalists creating a particular programme.
  • In making this choice, they must show unwavering adherence to the professional principles of the significance and relevance for society and the need to present all important points of view.
  • Each television channel should have an authoritative and really functional editorial council..

We hereby pledge not to take part in creating or broadcasting material which has been commissioned or which infringes professional standards.

We call on all politicians and businesspeople to refrain from buying programmes and feature items. This is ineffective, short-sighted and works against you.

 

The Statement at the time of publication had 62 signatures, however it is open and we hope the number will increase.

Freedom of expression

09.11.2007

Media Trade Union begins campaign against corruption

   

At a press conference on 8 November Ukraine’s Independent Trade Union together with the organization “Hidna [Worthy] Ukraine presented a project for anti-corruption journalist investigations “Worthy democracy: the media against corruption.

The press conference was addressed by the head of the project, Ihor Chaika, the Head of the Union Serhiy Huz and Johanna Grossman. Director of “Hidna Ukraina”,

Ihor Chaika who has been involved in issues related to fighting corruption in the media for many years, explained that the project had in fact been running for a while, but they had waited before announcing it in order to have some initial results.

The project includes for example the creation of a website “Worthy democracy” which will contain journalists’ anti-corruption investigations, interviews with experts, information about actions aimed at combating corruption in Ukrainian society, and so forth.

Ihor Chaika added that on the basis of information gathered on the website, a bulletin in electronic form would be prepared on a monthly basis and sent to media outlets, civic organizations and media experts. The project will result in a printed bulletin “The Media against corruption” with the most interesting journalist investigations from the site being published. The publication will contain information on issues of corruption in Ukraine, overviews and analytical articles.

The project will also include a half-hour film on journalist investigations in Lviv, Kharkiv and the Crimea. The filming for this has already begun.

It will include interviews with Lviv journalists who almost paid with their lives for their investigations. Apparently the interview was taken in a hospital ward.  The premiere viewing is planned for the end of January 2008. It will be available to all those interested, and can be shown on nationwide television as long as the TV channels will show it free of charge.

The project team hope also to  be able to provide real help to journalists who are carrying out journalist investigations, carrying out training seminars and giving legal consultations. Where necessary they will also defend journalists as the media union regularly does.

The project which is supported by the programme “Promoting active public participation in countering corruption in Ukraine Hidna Ukraina” is initially designed to last half a year, however Ihor Chaika hopes that they will manage to find funding in order to continue it after this, since after all journalists will not stop needing their assistance in 6 months.

Prohibition of discrimination

22.11.2007

Journalists learn about tolerance

   

20 journalists from western regions of Ukraine have just taken part in a training seminar on the role of the regional media in covering issues related to AIDS and HIV and on the part they can play in developing an informed and tolerant attitude to people living with HIV/AIDS. 

The seminar was held on International Tolerance Day and organized by the Ukrainian Red Cross Society.  The rate at which HIV and AIDS are spreading is lower in the West than in other parts of Ukraine, however there is no cause for complacency.

The seminar was aimed first of all at providing journalists with correct information about the threats posed by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Ukraine. 

The journalists considered the role of the media in forming public opinion in this area and analyzed the media image presented at the moment.  There was also discussion of ethical issues involved with sources of information.  A vital part of the seminar was investigating the need to use vocabulary which does not stigmatize people living with HIV/AIDS. 

From information posted on www.civicua.org

Interethnic relations

12.11.2007 | Halya Coynash

Out of the shadows

   

The headlines were shocking, with “Xenophobia is the norm in Ukraine” just one.  In panic – what had I missed since morning? – I began reading.  It seemed I had missed a roundtable attended by a number of people who most laudably rejected xenophobia and intolerance. 

Well and good - so do I.  However, having scoured one of the articles for any examples, data, etc, and found only global horror stories, I think I would prefer to avoid the cut and paste syndrome which so many media outlets seem to suffer from.

I would stress at the outset that I am not disputing that a problem exists.  Quite the contrary, there are a number of problems which need to be addressed and soon, to ensure that Ukraine’s recent history which has in fact been relatively untainted by the xenophobic madness and ethnic conflicts of some of its neighbours is to be maintained.

I would suggest, however, that rather than making global statements which are too vague to be refuted, we begin actually addressing the issues, pooling our resources and ensuring that those problems that are emerging do not get out of hand.  Suggesting, as more than one article does, that there has been a rise in xenophobia since independence is at once stating the obvious, and creating an erroneous impression which helps none of those who need protection from intolerance and any forms of irrational hatred.  That, of course, is all of us.

If any readers of this have themselves been victims of attacks or have information about xenophobic treatment we would ask you to contact us.* . 

It is imperative that civic society does not tolerate any encroachment upon people’s rights.  We need to ensure a network of civic organizations that can contact each other where necessary, check information and ensure follow-up action.

We must also closely examine all cases where legislation is failing to address the problem.  As explained very eloquently in an article by bar lawyer Viacheslav Yakubenko  (http://www.khpg.org.ua/en/index.php?id=1127287663&w=Yakubenko) it is virtually impossible under present legislation to obtain convictions for incitement to racial enmity.

It is time to stop bemoaning the lack of convictions and take measures to understand and change the root causes.

It is entirely true that the police are not always willing to take effective measures, and sometimes prefer to press charges for hooliganism, for example, rather than racially motivated attacks. 

Again, however, this situation requires proper investigation in each specific case and an understanding of many factors.  In Kharkiv, for example, the police are sometimes unable to follow up complaints because witnesses are only prepared to speak with KHPG if guaranteed anonymity.  While we understand the people’s hesitation, this keeps everyone in a never-never land where fears and rumour roam 

In all reports of the roundtable, there is mention of “killings”.  Which ones here are being counted, and who decides whether a person’s death was a racially motivated attack, or a brutal robbery, for example?  The horrific killing of Abdur Rab, a Bangladeshi national, on 16 October this year in Kyiv would seem to have been for gain.  He doubtless stood out from most other people, however, is it legitimate in such cases to call the killing racially-motivated? 

I am hesitant to write that this is only one of many concerns since this is precisely the phrase in so many media reports which worries me.  I would however mention one telling detail.  Earlier this year, rumours were rife among students in Kharkiv that two students had died from attacks upon them.  Yevhen Zakharov, KHPG Co-Chair investigated these stories very thoroughly, with the assistance of the regional department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.  No student was found to have been killed. 

In the case of Kharkiv, those rumours clearly served the diseased interests of a certain contingent of activists who would appear to have been brought in from outside. This may not be the case in other parts of Ukraine however can we be sure if we speak in such dangerously loose terms? 

On a number of occasions recently, I have simply not translated texts I found in the media because some of the claims made were questionable and I lacked the resources to check myself.  This means that important information may not be provided. On the other hand, adding to the list of reports of “killings” and “flagrant and systemic violations by law enforcement agencies”, without any evidence provided would also be irresponsible.

To all those who are guests in Ukraine and have in any way suffered as a result of xenophobic attacks, please come forward – to KHPG, to the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, to other organizations. We all want to fight skinheads and sundry other individuals who in no way represent us or the vast majority of people in Ukraine.

To those civic organizations who on 9 November so categorically stated, for example, that over 90 percent of victims of attacks do not go to the police because they will become victims of police discrimination, I would ask if you are absolutely certain of your ground in stating this. Can you please provide us with evidence?  This needs to be combated, not simply bewailed in press interviews. At the same roundtable, incidentally, a representative of the IOM and another from the UNHCR, while mentioning many problems in Ukraine, spoke of cooperation with various bodies, including those of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.  This has also been KHPG’s experience in recent times. 

And to the media I would strongly ask that you take just a little bit more time and effort.  Check your facts, and your language, before reporting stories which either fuel intolerance or create an impression of a country gripped by hatred and lawlessness.  This claim is very serious and I would seriously question whether it helps promote tolerance and respect for others in the country.

*   Email:  [email protected]  (please write FAO Halya Coynash or Yevhen Zakharov)

Penal institutions

15.11.2007

So did a spetsnaz unit beat prisoners of Penal Colony No. 60?

   

On 10 November the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reported that following an attempted escape by several prisoners serving life sentences in Penal Colony No. 60 ( Luhansk region) during which one person had been killed, a spetsnaz [special force] unit had been brought into the colony. Our information indicated that the spetsnaz officers had beaten the prisoners en masse and that around 30 prisoners had resorted to self-injury.

We stressed that we were unable to verify the information, however since violence on a large scale was involved, we circulated information about the apparent events in No. 60, and called on both the Human Rights Ombudsperson  Nina Karpachova and the Prosecutor General to check the information without delay and to take all appropriate measures;

The response from the State Department for the Execution of Sentences was swift. A press release was posted on its site which informed of some of the details of the escape attempt and of the person killed. However there was not one word about the deployment of a spetsnaz unit. It was stated that a commission headed by General Mykola Iltyai, the First Deputy Head of the Department was at the scene, as well as an investigation group from the Luhansk Regional Prosecutor’s office. 

Due to media reports about the incident the Prosecutor General also sent an investigation team to Colony No. 60. The Human Rights Ombudsperson also opened an investigation and staff from her Secretariat visited the Colony.

On 13 November the Prosecutor General declared the actions of officers of an interregional special purpose division in the Luhansk region in freeing hostages to have been lawful, thus confirming that a spetsnaz unit had been deployed. According to the Prosecutor General’s conclusions, no confirmation was found for the reports of beatings of prisoners by spetsnaz officers and cases of self-inflicted injuries by prisoners being held in the life sentence sector and in prison-type cells.  The Prosecutor General’s Press Service stated that “questioning of prisoners and a check carried out by staff of the regional forensic medical office had not found any injuries. Between 10 and 12 November there were no reports from prisoners claiming that measures to exert physical or psychological influence had been applied. Only two individuals were found to have scratches on their body which they explained they had caused themselves accidentally.”

On 14 November General Iltyai also denied the information suggesting that force had been used against prisoners of the colony. He said that the prisoners had written statements to the Prosecutor’s investigation unit saying that nobody had beaten them.

Meanwhile, we were again informed that in fact 52 prisoners had resorted to self-injury and that they had only been given medical aid on condition that they signed statements that nobody had beaten them. Frightened that they could die, the prisoners had signed the statements. Those who signed had stitches given for their wounds, and were issued with ointment. We are again unable to verify this information since there is no openness.

There are undoubtedly cases when prisoners attempt to make use of human rights groups in their struggles with the administration. However the simplest means of proving the absence of unlawful violence is to send an independent commission of experts to Penal Colony No. 60. Doctors, lawyers and human rights defenders would be able to meet the staff and prisoners and ascertain their state of health. Such visits are envisaged by the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture which Ukraine ratified in July 2006, yet has failed to take any steps to implement.

This case now at Colony No. 60 is reminiscent of the events involving the beating of prisoners at the Izyaslav Colony on 22 January this year, then Buchansk Colony No. 85 on 7 June and others. Prisoners are first beaten and then forced to write documents saying that they have no grievances. And the prisoner who’s been broken obediently repeats this to the Prosecutor and forensic medical experts since he knows that he is totally dependent on the administration. And if he does complain, the administration will find a number of ways to get their revenge, being held in punishment cells, having more time added for trumped-up claims of breaking regulations.  Some of the prisoners hoped for help from the Human Rights Ombudsperson. However Secretariat staff simply sent their complaints to the selfsame Department for the Execution of Sentences.  The results are obvious.

So did a spetsnaz unit beat prisoners of Penal Colony No. 60? We believe that it did however we have no proof and must leave a large question mark in our title.

Yevhen Zakharov, Iryna Rapp,

Co-Chairs of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

15 November 2007

Human rights protection

02.11.2007 | Yevhen Zakharov

On human rights issues and dilemmas

   

In an interview given to UNIAN the Head of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union Yevhen Zakharov speaks of the dividing line between politicians and human rights defenders, the work of the Ombudsperson and the relation between material wellbeing and freedom of speech.

How would you assess the present human rights situation in Ukraine?

It all depends on which country you compare it with, and which period of time. If we compare it with Soviet times, then the situation is much better. There is no political persecution, people are not punished for their words, the enforcement agencies are not used as a weapon for crushing the opposition, etc. If we look at Russia and other countries of the CIS, our situation is considerably better. On the other hand, it’s worse than in Central and Eastern Europe. 

I would divide violations into more and less dangerous. There is interference from the state which has a significant impact on the future. For example, one threat lies in constant attempts to restrict the freedom of the information flow and control of the Internet.  Another serious danger I see as being violence from the law enforcement bodies, meaning the use of torture or beating. When such things take place, they generate an attitude towards ill-treatment as something permissible which can be applied for a good purpose. Having once allowed such treatment of criminals, one can very quickly move towards other people

A further serious problem is that of the enormous rift between rich and poor. There is a principle described in Rawls’ work “A Theory of Justice” that inequality is good for everybody.  The meaning of this is that if one person has become rich, then all others should be at least a little better off as a consequence.  There is none of that in Ukraine. At least a fifth of the population lives in very difficult circumstances. In comparison with developed countries the gap is over 5 – 10 times. A country cannot be prosperous when many people can only just survive.  This leads to considerable inequality when poorer families cannot provide their children with a decent standard of education, and where an illness is an absolute catastrophe.  In this context the increases in housing and communal charges taking place without a rise in salaries and pensions are unwarranted and unacceptable, and require collective resistance. Colossal problems are presented by the lack of an independent judiciary and the violation of the right to privacy.

The State always nurtures the desire for control.  It can reach the point where a person’s whole life enters the state’s information database. Everything is heading in that direction. They want to make the tax number the single universal code for a person. They’ll gather data under that number about income, property, credit history, trips, family, how much money the person has saved, after the introduction of electronic medical cards – the person’s state of health. Everything will be known!  It will take one minute to receive a full dossier on a person, and this is what one calls a police state

What in your view are the most pressing issues facing the Ukrainian human rights movement?

There are not many human rights organizations and most of those functioning are fairly weak. So the problem of quality and effectiveness of human rights protection is pressing, and this is directly dependent on their professional ability and competence. We need to learn and grow, both in size and quality. That involves among other things specializing – working mainly on one specific right or freedom.

We need to create an environment for this which would promote a human rights community, ensure the conditions for the development of legally-trained young people able to find professional fulfilment in human rights defence.

For example, use of case law from the European Court of Human Rights provides good opportunities for professional development. There is huge scope there. A lawyer needs to know English or French (or better still, both) very well, be computer literate and be able to use the Internet effectively. All this is as fundamental as knowledge of both Ukrainian and European Court jurisprudence.  Having focused on a specific right or several interlinked rights covered by the European Convention on Human Rights, it’s vital to be au fait with European Court case law on that right, as well as other international agreements and recommendations from the UN, Council of Europe, OSCE, etc.  That’s as well as being familiar with their court practice, court and administrative practice in Ukraine, and also following any changes in this area.

How do you assess the role of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union?  Do the authorities, especially at local level, listen to you?

UHHRU is at the present time the only nationwide association of human rights organizations made up of 23 of the strongest and most authoritative organizations in the country. Each has a certain level of influence at regional level, and UHHRU itself at national level. For example, it was thanks to UHHRU and its members that all criminal investigations against members of the opposition attempted during the election campaign of 2004 came to nothing. We have won other strategic litigations, for example, against the police in cases involving torture. We have established the real owners of national television and radio broadcasting companies,  Thanks to our efforts the Criminal Procedure Code has been returned for revision 5 times, and a new draft is presently being drawn up.  There have been a number of other draft laws.

I could give other examples of the impact which UHHRU and other human rights organizations have. However there are very few of them, far less than in countries with a long democratic tradition, and they can become lost amid the vast numbers of violations.  An additional problem is that the violations are systemic being entrenched both in legislation and its application. So we see impact but not as strong and clear yet as one would wish.

What objectives does UHHRU set at the present time and what advice would you give today’s human rights defenders?
I see its main objective as being to create a strong and vibrant human rights community which can provide young people with opportunities for professional and personal development. To achieve this, UHHRU needs to grow and develop its work in all regions of the country, becoming stronger and more effective at protecting human rights, promoting changes in legislation, drawing up its own draft laws, raising awareness of human rights issues both among professional groups, and with the public in general. It is vital that human rights organizations develop strong contacts with bar lawyers and work together.

As far as advice is concerned, this may sound a bit old-fashioned, but I would mention the following: think first about the person you’re defending, not about your role, retaining the main thing which is empathy for victims of violence. An indifferent human rights defender is simply inconceivable. Secondly, don’t mix up politics and human rights work. Politicians want power for themselves and their political faction while  human rights defenders want the rule of law.  You can’t wear both hats at the same time.  Thirdly, show tolerance to other people’s views. In a democratic society all should be represented, and you are defending a person’s rights regardless of whether or not you agree with him or her. Fourthly, do not lose your independence and don’t take money from government sources. Finally, don’t blame the government for every possible ill - it’s people like you who work there, try to espouse a philosophy based on acknowledging blame, rather than lashing out. It’s much more constructive to look for the roots of problems in yourself, than in others.

Has your idea of freedom changed? Is it possible to be a dissident in a country that espouses democratic values?

It hasn’t changed. As at the beginning of the 1970s freedom remains for me most important and means the opportunity to freely choose ones own fate without being dictated to or coerced. Ideally limitation of freedom should be solely linked with moral demands.

If a country only proclaims democratic values, yet remains totalitarian, like the USSR, then in order to retain ones self-respect there is no other possibility but to be a dissident. I would perhaps rephrase your question – is it possible to be a dissident where there is no longer an ideological monolith. In such a country one can no longer talk of dissidents. There will always be people with different views.

In numerous public surveys we see that human rights in people’s awareness are relegated to a secondary position compared with the material problems of the average Ukrainian. Why have our people not yet reached an understanding of the direct link, for example, between freedom of speech and the right to a decent salary or pension?

I wouldn’t be that categorical, especially not since the Orange Revolution. I’m aware of other such surveys which found that the main value was seen as freedom.  I’d just like to say that human rights in public awareness have yet to be fully examined. People are different – some have understood the direct link, some have not yet.

In general this stems from Soviet upbringing, from a dismissive attitude to the value of ideals which always lost out under the communists to materialist values. It has its roots also in different attitudes to the state with some expecting manna from heaven, while others just beg the government to not stop them from living and working. People whose priority is material wellbeing think that freedom can wait. And then we have the opposite since if there’s no freedom, there’ll be no wellbeing.

You are the co-chair of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Public Committee for the Observance of Human Rights. What would you say has been most important in the work of the Committee over the last year and a half? How does it affect the life of the average Ukrainian?

You mustn’t expect miracles from the Public Council. It’s still at the beginning stage and it is only a consultative and advisory body. I think the main task is to create such a system of councils attached to regional departments of the MIA and to establish good channels of communication with civic activists on the Council and joint implementation of projects aimed at ensuring adherence to human rights in MIA practice.

The main thing is that this process is gradually expanding and developing though not as quickly and effectively as one would wish. This is what I mentioned earlier. Where there is a strong human rights organization in a region, the regional council works well. If there isn’t one, then the MIA scarcely understands what the council is for.

We can point to success in the work of MIA mobile groups on monitoring the observance of human rights in MIA places of imprisonment - in its temporary holding centres [ITT] reception and distribution centres, police station cells, etc. One should also mention useful studies of the rights of MIA staff themselves, as well as projects for providing free legal aid, public awareness regarding the work of the MIA, and others. Fairly recently there was a discussion in human rights circles about whether civic organizations should “lobby” human rights defender Kateryna Levchenko to get a strong place on the candidate list for the political faction “Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence”.  Among the organizations which signed a letter to the head of the faction were organizations within UHHRU. How do you relate to such initiatives?

In this case positively. However I would like to say that there is no general rule and it all depends on specific details and nuances. In my opinion, there are times when such appeals can be supported, others where they cannot. We should also understand one thing: a human rights defender cannot be a politician. By that I meant that as soon as s/he becomes a politician, they cease to be a human rights activist.  I spoke about that with Kateryna Levchenko and she is well aware of it. However she can be a good partner and helper of human rights organizations, and they can provide her with a source of information and expert work. So what is there to stop such support? Especially given that there is no obligation to support the political faction which she is affiliated to. The point was only to have her given a place on the candidate list which would realistically get her into parliament. 

There was another element in this situation which has not been given due attention, this involving defence of the right to stand for electoral office. The point is that some parties this year decided from the outset to only have members of their parties on the candidate list. This is however a flagrant violation of political rights and such restrictions are not contained in the Constitution. It’s quite absurd when a Presidential candidate can be a person not affiliated to any party, but if you want to get onto the district council you need to make your reverences to the local party bosses. Levchenko refused to join Nasha Ukraina [Our Ukraine] specifically because she considers herself a human rights defender. Because she wasn’t in the party, they didn’t want to put her on the candidate list.  Having found out about this, from May to July I publicly spoke on a number of occasions about the violation of the right to be elected in the case of non-party members. As a result, they did end up putting non-party people on their lists.

What kind of involvement of civic organizations in party life would you regard as acceptable?

There are civic organizations which are enlisted by parties, especially during election campaigns. For human rights organizations however any such involvement is impossible since they immediately cease to be human rights organizations. Obviously here too such a categorical position must be qualified. There may be times when human rights organizations work shoulder to shoulder with political parties in defence of human rights and the freedom of the people, where authoritarianism is on the rise. For example, at the moment in Russia during the electoral campaign some human rights activists will be working together with opposition factions – the Union of Right Forces, Yabloko, and this is quite natural. However I feel that in such situations the initiative should come from human rights activists and they should not merge with the political factions.

You were the second candidate during the election for a new Human Rights Ombudsperson, against the present Ombudsperson Nina Karpachova.  How do you rate her work over the last half year?

There have been no fundamental changes in her work. Her activities and that of her Secretariat remain chaotic, which can in fact be said of the entire State policy on human rights. Although it should be noted that the work has become more active, with more statements, press releases and the website being updated more often – 9-10 times a month as against once or twice before. However there should be 9-10 pieces of information daily.

If one analyzes the content of the press releases, statements of the Ombudsperson and the cases which are launched, one can conclude that the Ombudsperson’s activities are indirectly linked with the political position of the Party of the Regions.  Nina Karpachova has not freed herself from this influence.

Some actions by the Secretariat are in my view effectively aimed not at protecting, but punishing people making complaints. How can one send a complaint about the unlawful actions of penal staff to the same Department for the Execution of Sentences?  However we should mention that there have been cases where Nina Karpachova’s intervention has been positive and victims of abuse have received assistance.

I believe that the lack of cooperation of the Ombudsperson with nongovernmental human rights organizations deprives her of an additional resource for human rights protection. Even the Ministry of Internal Affairs avails itself of this resource, but not the Human Rights Ombudsperson.

UHHRU each year presents an anti-award “Thistle of the Year” to those individuals or institutions which most flagrantly violate human rights. Could you raise the veil of secrecy a bit and at least give us some idea about candidates for the award in 2007?

As last year, likely candidates will be prosecutor’s offices and the State Department for the Execution of Sentences. However whereas last year we named the department as a whole, this time I suspect there will be specific public officials among the candidates. However I can’t name this until the decision of the UHHRU Board.

The interviewer was Tetyana Pechonchy

Victims of political repression

15.11.2007 | Josef Zisels, Halyna Kharaz

Will Holodomor receive the same status as the Holocaust?

   

The Ukrainian Embassy, together with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have been actively discussing the programme for President Yushchenko’s visit to Israel. And this is despite the fact that within the President’s circle t there is no unequivocal agreement as to whether the visit is advisable at the present time. The events around the “rehabilitation” of the UPA [Ukrainian Resistance Army] and the posthumous honouring of Roman Shukhevych could be seen as an unfavourable background for a meeting with the Israeli leadership. Some of the President’s people, seeing Russian activity over these issues are perhaps concerned of possible provocation during the visit.

One can’t say that the Israeli media is buzzing with discussion over the forthcoming visit, however some interest can be observed. On the whole, the Israeli public seems indifferent to the visit and to Ukraine’s complex history, with the exception perhaps of some representatives of its Russian-speaking part.

We don’t know whether the call to Israel to declare Holodomor an act of genocide is one of the purposes of the visit since the trip has been postponed for various reasons over the last two years and during that time a number of unresolved issues have accumulated.

Why is the issue of Holodomor so important for Ukraine?  At present the country is undergoing a process of national and historic self-identification. It is trying to understand afresh the events of the distant and recent past, especially those which were momentous and tragic pivotal points in its history. Holodomor and World War II were just such points, and they are difficult and painful subjects. For this reason the issue around declaring Holodomor to have been an act of genocide is a burning one for Ukraine.

When we use the word “genocide”, we mean first and foremost the Holocaust. Yet there are other tragic examples also: Armenia, Cambodia, Ruanda. We should also remember the mass deportation of whole ethnic groups – the Crimean Tatars, the Chechens, Ingush people and others carried out by Stalin’s regime and which led to the deaths of virtually half of those deported.

The formal reason why Holodomor has still not been recognized as genocide from the point of view of international law is a question of terminology. According to the definition in the UN Convention, “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. 

There is no doubt that Holodomor was organized artificially, for political and ideological reasons, that it resulted in the deaths, according to various estimates, of from 5 to 7 million people, the absolute majority of whom were Ukrainian peasants, as well as rural people in Kuban (also mainly of Ukrainian descent, Povolzhya (Volga region) and Kazakhstan.

For Ukraine this crime perpetrated by the communist regime was a national tragedy, a terrible attack on the gene pool of the nation. Yet there are still now plenty of people ready to argue about whether the destruction of the Ukrainian peasants was the direct purpose of Holodomor, or whether their deaths were only the result of the communist regime’s policy against the individual peasant farmers as a class.

Such discussions strike us as being at very least unethical. What Stalin and his people planned we will one day find out from archival documents. However what it led to is absolutely clear and we must judge the terrible events of those years specifically on the results. These were such that they fall under the definition of genocide. Now, when a number of countries, including European states, have recognized Holodomor as genocide, it would be senseless to become bogged down in a dispute over terminology. We are talking after all of a symbolic act, once again strengthening our bipolar world.

Unfortunately Russia’s position in this seems highly ambiguous with it on principle refusing to accept Holodomor as genocide, saying that not only people from Ukraine, but in other places suffered as a result of it. In actual fact, Russia is worried that it, as successor to the USSR, could face claims and even demands for compensation. These fears are only warranted if Russia indeed considers itself to be not only the successor, but to also be continuing the Soviet state. Then it will indeed have to not only make use of Soviet achievements, but also take upon itself responsibility for the crimes of the Soviet regime.

As for other countries, in the first instance democratic and civilized states, we hope that they will recognize Holodomor as genocide, in awareness of the historic justice of this step. This recognition would be enormously important for Ukraine in its aspiration to become a part of the democratic world. It is possible that Russia will also realize that Ukraine’s tragedy is its own tragedy. After all we are not talking about one people’s grievances against another, but of the crime of a totalitarian regime and the implementation of plans by those from different ethnic groups blinded by hatred and hiding behind a particular ideology.

In the case of Israel, we can see three reasons at least why it cannot at the present time recognize Holodomor as genocide.

  1. Stereotypical thinking in relation to Ukraine weighed down by memories of dark pages in Ukrainian-Jewish relations in the past;
  2. The fixed idea that the Holocaust was unique and lack of willingness to officially recognize that in the history of other people there were tragic events no less painful for them, than the Holocaust is for Jews. We would note that such an attitude meets with no understanding from many peoples not only having experienced their tragedies, but having successfully escaped them.
  3. “Tactical” considerations – reluctance to have any conflict with Russia.

One would like to believe that sooner or later other reasons will dominate with both Israel’s official position and Israeli public awareness, namely;

1  Empathy from one people who experienced tragedy for others who have experienced theirs;

2  Solidarity from the democratic world against the remnants of imperialist, authoritarian and totalitarian regimes;

3  The good prospects for relations between Ukraine and Israel, unlike, in our view, the lack of such prospects for relations between Israel and Russia.

We believe that Israel will sooner or later recognize the Armenian tragedy and Holodomor to have been acts of genocide, as well as Stalin’s deportations. And for the moment we hope that Israel will receive the calls from Ukraine to recognize Holodomor as genocide with understanding, and will put the question forward for consideration and discussion.

If it had not been for those very “tactical” considerations which have often made it impossible to stop the criminal actions of totalitarian empires in time, the world would today look quite different. If after the genocide of the Armenians the world community had understood the danger of such crimes for all humanity and had found an antidote, then perhaps there would not have been Holodomor or the Holocaust or other crimes on a mass scale.

There can be no other but moral criteria. The pain of each people must become the pain of all mankind – there is no other way to a tolerant world.

Victims of political repression

16.11.2007 | Halya Coynash

Before and after

   

I wonder if you remember when you first found out about the Holocaust.  I do.  No loud phrases about turning points – I was a child.  Yet there was most definitely before and after, and that was never to be erased from my memory.

With Holodomor there was only ever after. I can’t remember not knowing why my father simply couldn’t throw any food away.

Twenty years ago I tried to tell a friend’s father about Holodomor. His response left me speechless: “Yes, we in the West don’t know about that”.  No past tense, no before and after, He hadn’t known and didn’t.  Friends in Russia who read Conquest’s “Harvest of Sorrow” and the books about the Terror I smuggled into the country were however devastated.  In 1988 they were never going to be able to say we don’t know about that.

And yet twenty years later how many still apparently don’t know. 

My words here are not aimed at providing evidence that the grain was taken away, that people were shot or arrested for hiding food for their children.  That they established armed guards around villages.  That the famine knew borders and those borders enclosed Ukraine and an area mostly populated by Ukrainians (Kuban).  The recent UNESCO statement spoke of the terrible tragedy of Holodomor, but spoke also of famines throughout the Soviet Union.  Provide your evidence please that in any part of the Soviet Union not mainly occupied by Ukrainians people were prevented at gunpoint from trying to save themselves and their children from starvation. 

I can provide you with any proof you desire of the facts I mention above. They have been gathered by reputable historians, both Ukrainian and foreign, together with documents recently made public by the Ukrainian Security Service. 

I can present it all, but if there is no will to listen, then I am powerless.  Since Malcolm Muggeridge first had the courage to flee the USSR in order that the world learned about the crime being perpetrated, there have been many voices persistently telling the truth. This was while George Bernard Shaw dined with Stalin and “saw” nothing, and while Walter Duranty positively distorted the facts. Against the determined wish not to know, voices telling the truth can still fail to be heard.

What is most distressing and at the deepest level inexplicable is the role presently taken by Russia.  It is after all the “undesirable” reaction from Russia which is making so very many governments, including the British, loath to recognize what is, frankly, hard to ignore. Those Russian friends twenty years ago who were harrowed by the crimes concealed for so long did not react in some bizarrely defensive manner.  They had no need to deny the crime in order to feel better.  Why, indeed should they? 

We were then looking back at a time when in different ways our relatives had all been victims of a regime which treated human beings with contempt.  It is deeply disturbing that Russia over the last years has been marking out a new role for itself.  If the present regime wishes to stress its role as successor to the Soviet regime, it is free to do so, but not at the expense of the truth.

A wrong was done the Ukrainian nation 75 years ago.  Whether Stalin was driven by the desire to crush specifically Ukrainians, or a society which was stubbornly opposed to collectivization, may be arguable. Here too, incidentally, the Russian Security Service is not hurrying to declassify archival material about the 1930s, as Ukraine has already done. There are issues for historians to discuss.  

The closed borders, the deliberate removal of all food and the millions of victims are not disputable, they are to be recognized.

A wrong is done the world and each human being when we turn our gaze away. The reasons, political, geopolitical, economic or other may vary, the betrayal does not.

We welcome the call in the UNESCO Resolution calling for knowledge about Holodomor to be “disseminated to ensure that the lessons of this tragic page are inculcated in young generations”.  It is precisely the will to know that was lacking for so many years, fuelled by the Soviet regime which had obvious motives for hiding its crime. 

Neither Russia, nor the world, nor you and I have any excuse to not know.

News from the CIS countries

14.11.2007

How Russians view their human rights situation

   

From 19-23 October 2007 the Levada Centre carried out a public survey among adult members of the Russian Federation, asking 1,600 people in total.  The following reports the information which the Levada Centre itself presents on its site, giving a comparison to the results of previous surveys where relevant.   The margin of error does not exceed 3%.

Do you think that human rights are violated in Russia at present?

Definitely / Probably, yes

72

Probably / Definitely not

16

I don’t know

12

Do you think that human rights abuses in Russia over recent years have become more widespread, less, or there’s been no change?

more

24

less

24

Nothing’s changed

37

I don’t know

15

Do you think that in Russia at the present time there are political prisoners (people convicted for their political views or their wish to take part in political life?

May 2004

June 2005

March 2007

October 2007

Definitely / Probably, yes

51

49

44

40

Probably / Definitely not

29

29

27

30

I don’t know

20

22

29

30

Do you think that torture is used at present in Russia to beat confessions out of people suspected of having committed a crime?

Definitely / Probably, yes

59

Probably / Definitely not

18

I don’t know

23

Do you think the use of torture to beat confessions out of people suspected of having committed a crime is justified?

Definitely / Probably, yes

11

Probably / Definitely not

72

I don’t know

17

News from the CIS countries

22.11.2007

Putin’s course, freedom of expression not included

   

The Co-Chair of the organization “Voice of Beslan” Ella Kesayeva is facing administrative liability for placing a “road sign” reading “Putin’s Course”.  The sign has an arrow and was positioned so that it pointed to School No. 1 in Beslan where 331 people died in 2004, more than half of them children.

Ms Kesayeva told reporters that she was being charged with placing a road sign without agreeing this with the law enforcement agencies. 

From the photo which can be seen at: http://grani.ru/Society/Law/m.130320.html  the sign has clearly been erected on grass, and one would hardly think it could lead drivers astray).

The action with the placing of a “Putin’s Course” road sign took place in Beslan on 7 November with the participation of relatives of those killed during the storming of the school of 3 September 2004.

Ella Kesayeva says that police watched and removed the sign as soon as everybody dispersed.

“We decided to use this way of expressing our protest at the unprecedented campaign for Putin which has been launched in the republic. As mothers who lost our children, we wanted to remind people what “Putin’s course” is and what it turned into for the residents of Beslan, and what price Russians are paying for that course”.

She stressed that she would not try to get out of the court trial. “We have earned the right to say what we think. And I will express the same truth in court”.

Based on information at www.grani.ru

News from the CIS countries

26.11.2007

Council of Europe concerned over arrests of opposition figures in Russia

   

Special police units beat and detained around one hundred participants of an unsanctioned “March of those in dissent” [Marsh niesoglashnykh”] in St Petersburg on Sunday 25 November.

Some were beaten and detained before the march, others during the attempt to hold the event. Among those detained were two leaders of the opposition Union of Right Forces Boris Nemtsov and Nikita Belykh. Both were later released. The law enforcement agencies say that protocols with regard to them were not drawn up and therefore, from a procedural point of view, there were no detentions.

On Saturday in Moscow another opposition leader and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov was jailed for 5 days. He had been attempting to organize a similar unsanctioned march in protest against the policies of President Putin. A number of other demonstrators were also detained.

The authorities said that they had allowed a rally in one place, but not a procession.

The Council of Europe has expressed concern over the detention of Kasparov and Nemtsov.  Its General Secretary Terry Davis pointed out that Russia had signed the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees the right of peaceful assembly.

 

News from the CIS countries

29.11.2007

Russian Federation: Systematic repression on eve of elections

   

Press Release:  Amnesty International is gravely concerned about the Russian authorities’ systematic disregard for basic human rights in the run-up to parliamentary elections in the country, scheduled for 2 December 2007.

Over the last few months, the organization has seen numerous attempts by the authorities of the Russian Federation to interfere with the right to freedom of assembly, to freedom of association and freedom of expression including of supporters of the political opposition as well as of human rights activist and journalists.

Garry Kasparov, an opposition leader, was arrested on 24 November and sentenced to five days’ administrative detention for allegedly leading an unsanctioned demonstration and resisting police arrest. Several witnesses told Amnesty International that they had overheard conversations among the police indicating that it had been planned in advance of the march to detain Garry Kasparov. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience and calls for his immediate release.

"From the unprovoked arrest and imprisonment of opposition leader Garry Kasparov, to the beating of journalists and human rights defenders and the excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators, the Russian authorities have created a climate in which it is difficult, if not outright impossible, to express dissenting views and to report these," said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International.

On 24 and 25 November, police detained scores of people before, during and after "marches of dissent" in several Russian cities, beating and kicking them in the process. In St. Petersburg, Russian human rights defender Ella Poliakova, head of the Soldiers’ Mothers Committee of St. Petersburg, was detained together with several other people on 25 November for 12 hours after she had attended a press conference of opposition party Yabloko.

Amnesty International is concerned about a number of violations of the right to a fair trial of those detained during the marches. Court hearings failed to adhere to international standards of fair trial with judges refusing to listen to evidence provided by the accused and with some of those accused, including Garry Kasparov, prevented from seeing their lawyers before and after the court hearings. Many people were detained for more than three hours, which is the maximum period under such circumstances. One person was also reportedly beaten by the police who then denied him necessary medical aid when he appeared before a Moscow court.

"The duty of the state to safeguard public order and to protect the rights and freedoms of those possibly affected by public events is no justification for excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators and can not be used as an excuse when clamping down on dissent," Nicola Duckworth said.

Amnesty International is also deeply concerned about the attack and resulting death of Farid Babaev, a prominent political activist involved in human rights work. Farid Babaev was the first candidate on Yabloko’s party list for the Russian State Duma elections in the southern Russian Republic of Dagestan. On the evening of 22 November, he was shot and fatally wounded outside his flat in Dagestan’s capital Makhachkala by unidentified perpetrators. Two days later he died in hospital. Relatives and human rights activists have cited Farid Babaev’s outspoken political views as being a motivation for his murder, while the authorities reportedly deny the murder had any political motivation.

Amnesty International repeats its concerns regarding the abduction and ill-treatment of Oleg Orlov, head of the Human Rights Centre Memorial, and three journalists from the Russian TV station REN TV. The four men were taken from a hotel in Nazran, Republic of Ingushetia, during the night of 23 to 24 November by armed masked men in camouflage. They were driven outside of town and abandoned in a field, after being beaten and threatened that they would be shot.

"The silencing of media and human rights defenders, the harassment and ill-treatment of those who highlight human rights violations or those who express dissent, is unacceptable and cannot be excused, neither during election time nor during periods of heightened security concern," Nicola Duckworth said.

Amnesty International is publishing today a briefing on human rights defenders in the North Caucasus, calling on the Russian authorities to respect the lawful work of human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists and to refrain from any unlawful attempts to interfere with their work.

See: Russian Federation: Human Rights Defenders at risk in the North Caucasus, AI Index: EUR 46/053/2007, http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engeur460532007

Monthly bulletin Prava Ludyny (Human rights), 2007, №11

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