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20.02.2019 | Halya Coynash

Ukraine to answer to ECHR for five years’ sabotage of Maidan investigations

In remembrance of Nebesna Sotnya Photo EPA
   

Five years after the bloodiest days of Euromaidan, the families of the slain [Nebesna Sotnya]  are planning to seek justice at the European Court of Human Rights.  This is, frustratingly, not because many of the believed perpetrators are hiding out in Russia, but because the post-Maidan Ukrainian authorities are dragging out or even obstructing the investigation into the crimes committed. 

During a press briefing on 19 February, Vitaly Tytych, one of the lawyers representing victims’ families, explained that for a long time they had hoped that there was the will to ensure a proper investigation and court proceedings. They are now forced to conclude that Ukraine is not complying with the European Convention on Human Rights.  Article 2 of the Convention protects the right to life, with this obliging the State to not only refrain from unlawfully taking life, but to ensure effective official investigation where people have been killed as a result of the use of force, including by the State.  Tytych made it clear that an application to ECHR is still only being considered, but does suggest that this could stop the ‘manipulation’ by the authorities whose interest in an effective investigation has been in words alone.

Many specific examples of obstruction and procrastination have already been reported here, with these often involving the management of the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Interior Ministry and the SBU [Security Service]. 

The Special Investigations Department formed in December 2014 has gained and retained the confidence of lawyers representing the families of Maidan victims and civic activists.  This department, however, run by Serhiy Horbatyuk, although structurally within the Prosecutor General’s Office, has constantly run into problems and met with obstruction from all the above-mentioned enforcement bodies.

During the briefing, Oleksandra Matviychuk, human rights activist and one of the coordinators of Euromaidan SOS, listed just some of the many ways in which progress by the Special Investigations Department has been sabotaged since soon after it began its work in early 2015.  Cases have been arbitrarily taken away from it just when they appeared to be making progress.  The number of investigators has also been reduced, and the Department has faced other organizational obstructions.  At present, the staff of it enjoy no social or labour guarantees at all. Although this is purportedly because of a legislative clash, Matviychuk assumes that the PGO’s management and Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko himself are making no effort to rectify the situation. 

The Department’s investigators constantly run up against obstruction from the SBU and Interior Ministry.  The lack of willingness to cooperate with the investigators is probably not surprising.  As reported back in November 2018, 10 people suspected of crimes against Maidan activists hold managerial posts in the enforcement bodies, while a further 23 are low-ranking officers. 

One new and very real danger lies at legislative level with the Special Investigations Department due to hand over all investigations into Maidan crimes to the State Bureau of Investigations at the end of this year.  This could effectively kill many investigations, with new investigators probably starting from scratch.

For the families of victims, the obstruction and lack of progress are a betrayal and also ongoing torture with traumatic court hearings, etc. constantly postponed.  Volodymyr Bondarchuk, whose father Serhiy was killed on Maidan, noted that an expert assessment due back in 2016 has still not been carried out.

The courts also, seeing that public interest has waned, and people are not attending court hearings, also begin dragging the proceedings out.

None of the above is new, but that is also disturbing since, despite all assurances from Ukraine’s leaders, nothing has been done to rectify problems which place a very large number of the investigations at risk.

With very few exceptions, there have been no real attempts to have judges who passed knowingly wrongful rulings during Maidan dismissed.  The High Council of Justice has taken no measures to investigate situations where judges have since passed extremely questionable rulings which, for example, enabled a main suspect of the killings, Dmytro Sadovnyk, to flee justice, or where they are obviously dragging out proceedings.

The Special Investigations Department has carried out investigations into 4,100 episodes linked with Maidan.  There have been 52 convictions, with only nine people sentenced to periods of imprisonment.  This is despite the fact that 104 people were killed during the last month of the protests, most gunned down on 18 and 20 February.  17 Berkut special forces officers were also killed during those two bloodiest days. 

At a briefing on 21 November Horbatyuk reported that 442 individuals had been informed they were under suspicion, with 279 indictments passed to the court.  13 men are currently in custody, with four of these former Berkut officers on trial accused of killing 39 activists

There are unsolved killings, including the first deaths – of Serhiy Nihoyan; Mikhail Zhyznevsky and Roman Senyk.  Horbatyk is adamant that they will not stop until they have established who was behind all the killings, but says that one of the problems is that law enforcement officers do not give testimony and the Interior Ministry is not firing those believed involved in crimes against Maidan.

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