war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Politics and human rights

A call to the President to stop anti-Ukrainian lawlessness

Mr President,

I am addressing this open letter to you since, or so it would seem, having made such beautiful speeches on Maidan about “little Ukrainians”, you have, perhaps inadvertently, forgotten that their letters to you need your, or at least your administration’s, response, albeit just one sentence’s worth.  They require at least notification that the letter has been received, or that some kind of decision has been taken, or that the letter has been sent for consideration to the appropriate state body.

However Lviv academics have been trying fruitlessly for two years now to get their message through to you (having prior to that exhausted all other conceivable avenues), to draw your attention to the appalling facts around the plundering of the Funds of the Central State Historical Archive in Lviv, yet you or your administration remain silent. Is that not because it’s “little Ukrainians” who are approaching you, just some members of the Taras Shevchenko Scientific Society, members of the National Academic of Sciences of Ukraine, Honoured academics, as well as Heroes of Ukraine (it was in fact Hero of Ukraine, member of the Academy, Boris Voznytsky who handed to you personally a letter about the archive’s losses which amount to over ten million UH)?  All of them are light years away from the “not little” people, like your protégé, the Head of the State Committee of Archives of Ukraine, Hennadiy Boryak.

I don’t know whether H. Boryak would like to have the above-mentioned free-thinking “simple Ukrainians” flung behind bars as was the case in the ever remembered USSR, however he certainly does know how to make use of the conspicuous method of high-ranking Soviet officials – slander.  Thus, pointing to your “patronage”, H. Boryak feels free at international conferences to accuse the academic community of Lviv of not much less than organizing the theft of archival documents because, you see, “one of the motives for the theft was the conscious and deliberate discrediting of the management of the archives in order to have them replaced”.

The poor members of the Academy and Honoured academics – do they so need to occupy the place of the Head of the Archive, or that of his deputy?  Is such a position coveted by the 80-year-old Professor, Honoured academic, son of the legendary General of the Ukrainian National Republic, Roman Dashkevych and the member of the Ukrainian Halychan Army, Olena Stepanivna, Yaroslav Dashkevych, who headed the Committee for the Protection of Archival Heritage? Or by those on the Committee – members of the Academy Y. Isayevych, M. Holubtseva, by the Vice Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, M. Marynovych, and others?

Nor were journalists spared Boryak’s  formidable wrath for supposedly having unfurled “a media campaign unprecedented in its  scale, single-minded purpose and engagement (?!) (part of an address by H. Boryak to the VII European Conference on Archives, Warsaw, 2005, as quoted in the newspaper “Postup” from 21-22 June 2006).

Is it really the case, Mr President (as our journalists, now liberated from the control of the regime’s institutions, quite correctly ask) that “doing one’s direct duty by providing coverage of the course of  high profile case, is now for journalists a campaign to discriminate officials?” ("Postup", same issue).
And  Mr President, does your protégé really not understand that however he may feel about Ukrainian science and learning, and about the Ukrainian media, he has no right to denigrate Ukrainian academics and journalists in order to deliberately conceal facts indicating the cynical plundering of archival funds – the source of the national memory of the Ukrainian people? We do not, apparently, live in the USSR, but supposedly in a democratic state where there should be no place for the destruction of the national heritage and neglect of national culture where there is freedom of speech and respect for human rights and civil liberties, where nobody is persecuted for the right to criticize even the highest-ranking people in power, and where there is no omnipresent KGB which serves those with power.

Instead we have the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU, from the Ukrainian) which is supposed to observe constitutional norms, take care of the preservation of national treasures and vigilantly track down any violations of human rights or demonstrations of national, racial or ethnic discrimination, especially from officials, in particular anti-Ukrainian ones who, in order to keep their cushy positions, are often prepared to resort to the most criminal actions (as evidenced by the Presidential elections, Yushchenko’s poisoning, the attempts by the former regime to cause bloodshed, etc).

But the SBU has no interest in either the destruction of national treasures, or the pathological hatred of chauvinistic officials for the Ukrainian language and national symbols. This Service watches in silence as Ukrainians die only for being Ukrainians. It looks as though the Service is interested only in spies on Mars and their own houses built on the remains of innocent people murdered by the Cheka-NKVD-KGB in Ukraine.

We will not provide here a list of those members of the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, or Ukrainian journalists, or industrialists, physically eliminated under the previous regime. Here we are dealing with the present day.

Recently the Kramatorsky City Court convicted teacher and Head of the First Ukrainian Lyceum in the Donetsk region, Mykola Konbrytsky, a man well-known throughout Ukraine, to three years deprivation of liberty and a three-year ban on engaging in business activities. I quote from the article “The Donetsk authorities see Ukrainian education only behind bars” (“Ukrainian moloda” [“Young Ukraine”] 20 June 2006). “The only director of the educational institution who refused to head a branch of the Party of the Regions in his lyceum, and during the Orange Revolution openly spoke out against teachers being seconded at the state’s expense to be observers on behalf of the Party of the Regions is now in prison…. Last year the Director of the Ukrainian lyceum was rash enough to criticize a teacher and member of the Party of the Regions, saying that it was educationally unacceptable to label children who stood up while the Ukrainian national anthem was being played “orange rats”. The teacher was furious and took the Head to court, openly threatening in the teachers’ staffroom “to splatter that nationalist on the wall”.  She lost the court case.”

The some “heavy artillery” got involved – various checks (sometimes up to three a day), commissions, threats by telephone, incredible pressure on teachers. And finally, a clumsily concocted charge … and the above mentioned sentence.

Yes, well, the methods are familiar. They did exactly the same with us, political prisoners of the 1960s, all the chauvinists, drunk on their own impunity, from the ranks of the “true Brezhnev-followers”.  But that was then, in a totalitarian state called the USSR.  And now?

That’s it, Mr President, enough is enough!  In front of you, the Guarantor of the Constitution, open and cynical persecution is taking place of “simple Ukrainians” because they’re Ukraine! And you know that persecution on ethnic grounds is prohibited, not only by the Constitution of Ukraine, but also by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international documents.

Why then are you silent? Why do the SBU, prosecutor’s office and Ministry of Internal Affairs say nothing?  Why are  the criminals still at large who plundered Ukraine, including people from the Donetsk region, to the tune of hundreds of millions of UH, depriving Ukrainian children of the chance to study in normal conditions, with a Ukrainian teacher, who didn’t want to see Ukrainian children in a school-cattle shed, being thrown into prison?[1]  Did any of the criminals from among the oligarchs give any money towards its repair?  At the end of the day, why not just compare it with the Russian language lyceums or semi-private Russian-language kindergartens in the Donetsk region?  And will you ask who they let work there, and who not?  And why those anti-Ukrainians who label Ukrainians “khokhly”[2], and their children “orange rats”, have the right to work, while Ukrainians in a number of cases are unemployed, or work for a subsistence in jobs that are anything but in keeping with their profession, education and abilities?  At the same time you might think about whether it is not one and the same category – the wrecking of people’s lives, and the destruction of Ukrainian memory, the archives, all that can preserve the memory of each Ukrainian about his or her roots.

Mr President! You must be aware that at present the public in the Donetsk region are picketing the executive committee and the city court in order to collect signatures in support of Mykola Konobrytsky. Your services have a duty to keep you informed of such things. And as Guarantor of the Constitution, you have the duty to take the corresponding decision.

Therefore, I repeat again: there are things which stretch patience beyond all limits.

Having learned of arbitrary punitive measures against a person on the grounds of ethnic origin, and such measures directly or indirectly taken by the authorities at that, no one has the right to remain silent, whatever their nationality, education, position, etc. For let no one forget that such punitive measures carried out by state officials, in whatever country, sooner or later lead to repressions, concentration camps and crematoriums.

I am not calling upon you as Guarantor of the Constitution to place your signature on the petition in support of Mykola Konobrytsky.  Governed by the Constitution of Ukraine, you as President of Ukraine should place your signature of a decree stating the inadmissibility of any kind of chauvinistic witches’ Sabbath by anti-Ukrainians (against the Ukrainian language, culture, monuments, etc), as well as on a decree freeing Mykola Konobrytsky from prison, as a teacher and director of a Ukrainian lyceum honoured before the Ukrainian public, educationalists, parents and schoolchildren. 

Only a signature – not your life! For the lives of millions of Ukrainians were already sacrificed for the sake of the right of the President of an independent Ukraine to place that decisive signature in the cause of truth and justice.

Contra spem spero [Hope against hope],
Iryna Kalynets, political prisoner of the communist labour camps

For more information about the author, see:

[1]  The reference here is to the circumstances on which charges were laid. Five years ago, Mykola Konobrytsky invented the position of cloakroom assistant in order to pay for repairs to the school which the state had not provided money for over the previous 7 years. During the trial receipts for repair work were shown accounting for all the money (4,500 UH, or less than 1,000 USD) (translator’s note)

[2]  The word “khokhly” has no offensive meaning as such, but as a term for Ukrainians, it is generally intended to be insulting  (translator’s note)

The Post of Human Rights Ombudsperson must not form a part of coalition deals

Open Appeal to the President of Ukraine and State Deputies of Ukraine

Mr President and honourable State Deputies of Ukraine,

Ukrainian nongovernmental human rights organizations are extremely concerned that as a result of the recently signed coalition agreement (of Deputy factions in the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine) and the “full” consensus reached between them regarding the distribution of posts in the coalition government, one of the positions thus shared out was that of the office of Human Rights Representative of the Verkhovna Rada (the Human Rights Ombudsperson).

While welcoming the conclusion of a drawn-out process of negotiations on forming a coalition, and the achievement of a shared political position between a majority of the newly-elected members of the Verkhovna Rada, we feel it necessary, nonetheless, to point out the following.

1. The institution of Human Rights Ombudsperson is intended to carry out parliamentary control over the observance of constitutional human rights and f fundamental freedoms and to protect the rights of each person on the territory of Ukraine within its jurisdiction. This means defending the rights of each Ukrainian citizen or foreign national, stateless person, refugee, etc under any combination of political forces in power, and regardless of the political representation in state executive bodies.  The politicizing of this institution of parliamentary control over constitutional human rights and f fundamental freedoms is dangerous, both for the defence of human rights, and as an inadmissible practice for any law-based democratic state.

2. Only confidence and respect for the Human Rights Ombudsperson, both from members of the public, and from state authorities and public officials can ensure that his/her human rights work is effective. Such confidence and respect in turn are based on such fundamental principles as independence and impartiality. The combining of political and human rights activities must inevitably lead to infringements of these principles. Moreover, without independence, and first and foremost political non-partisanship, the very functioning of the institution of Human Rights Ombudsperson is to a large extent placed in jeopardy since any doubts as to the independence and impartiality of the Human Rights Ombudsperson will result in this important human rights institution in the country being compromised.

3.  Making the position of Human Rights Ombudsperson a political post and assigning it out according to quotas between members of the coalition is not merely illegal, but also a telling example of abuse of the law in general. After all, a coalition of Deputy factions in the Verkhovna Rada, according to Article 83 of the Constitution of Ukraine, is empowered to put forward for the consideration of the President of Ukraine only candidates for the office of Prime Minister and for members of the Cabinet of Ministers. It is clear that the position of Human Rights Ombudsperson cannot under any circumstances be regarded as a government post, since the main function of the Human Rights Ombudsperson remains specifically to oversee the activities of executive and other state bodies with regard to observance of human rights and civil liberties.  In our opinion, as a special state body, the institution of Human Rights Ombudsperson is the most important independent component within the structure of Ukrainian civic society.

In Ukraine there is no other special independent state institution for the protection of human rights and civil liberties.  The decision taken by the coalition parties to include the position of Human Rights Ombudsperson in the list of posts being divided out under a coalition agreement of political factions is illegitimate, against the law , and will also lead to the collapse of the principles of independence and impartiality of this authoritative state human rights body.

In order to prevent the further course of events descending into total absurdity and to return the institution of Human Rights Ombudsperson its proper apolitical character, we call on:

the President of Ukraine, as Guarantor of the Constitution of Ukraine, and of observance of human rights and civil liberties, to urgently take all necessary measures to impede the election of a new Human Rights Ombudsperson in contravention of the spirit and letter of the Constitution of Ukraine, of the norms of other legal acts as well as, quite simple, basic common sense,  and to force the coalition members to abandon the very idea of considering the position of Human Rights Ombudsperson to be a political post;

all State Deputies of Ukraine, and in the first instance those members of the factions party to the recently formed coalition:

-  to introduce amendments to the coalition agreement in order to ensure that the position of Human Rights Ombudsperson is removed from coalition arrangements, and does not became the object of political bargaining;
– to ensure all necessary consultations in the future with the human rights community on putting forward candidates for the position of Human Rights Ombudsperson.
All of the above-said applies also to the positions of Head of the Accounting Chamber, Head of the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council of Ukraine, and of the Head of the Antimonopoly Committee.


Signed by:

The Kyiv Judicial Society

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

The Vinnytsa Human Rights Group

The Sevastopol’ Human Rights Group

The Civic Organization  "For Professional assistance"

The Kherson Regional Fund for Charity and Health

The Kherson City Association of Journalists “Pivden” [“South”]

The Environmental Civic Organization "Zeleny svit" [“Green World”] (Chortkiv, Ternopil region)

"Helsinki Initiative-XXI"

The Charitable Organization “The Women’s Human Rights Centre (Chernihiv)

The Rule of Law Foundation

The Civic Organization “M’ART”

The Civic Committee for the Protection of Constitutional Rights and Civil Liberties (Luhansk)

CO "Legal Education Centre (Kalush, Ivano-Frankivsk region)

The Kirovohrad Association “Civic Initiative”

The Sumy Regional Branch of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine

The Konotop Society “Dignity”

The Congress of National Communities of Ukraine

The Civic Office "Pravozakhyst" [“Human rights protection”] (Sumy)

The Luhansk Regional Branch of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine

The Severodonetsk City Environmental Organization "Zeleny svit"

Some thoughts on the Human Rights Ombudsperson

The Authorised Human Rights Representative of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (the Human Rights Ombudsperson), Nina Karpachova has announced her resignation due to her election as State Deputy of the Verkhovna Rada. The end of Nina Ivanivna’s tenure and awaited appointment of the person who will replace her prompt reflection on the mission, principles and means of activity of the first Human Rights Ombudsperson, on the functions and powers of this post which is of importance for the protection of human rights, and also call for some assessment of the activities of Ukraine’s first Human Rights Ombudsperson.  Undoubtedly these issues will be analyzed in detail and it is likely that Nina Karpachova will herself wish to draw some conclusions and express her opinion on this subject. For now I would offer my thoughts, based on personal observations.


The Human Rights Ombudsperson is empowered to exercise parliamentary control over the observance of constitutional human rights and f fundamental freedoms. The law to this effect, passed in December 1997, was based on the model of a “weak” Ombudsperson who does not consider the kind of appeals which are reviewed by courts, and terminates consideration already commenced if the party involved lodges a civil law suit, application or complaint with the court. The law envisages a fairly wide mandate for the Human Rights Ombudsperson who has the right to receive any information, including that which is classified and see any documents; to visit unimpeded any state institutions or bodies of local self-government, enterprises and organizations, including any “closed” institutions, and to question any individuals held there; to be present at sessions of any state authorities, courts at all levels; to ask to see officials and civil servants in order to receive explanations, to demand from them assistance in checking the activities of institutions, enterprises and organizations under their control; to approach the court with an appeal defending human rights and freedoms; to inspect the situation with observance of human rights and freedoms by state bodies including those carrying out investigative operations. All structure approached by the Human Rights Ombudsperson are bound to cooperate and provide all necessary assistance, in particular by ensuring access to all documents and other materials, by providing information and also giving explanations as to the actual, and the legal grounds for their actions and decisions. Interference by any state authorities or bodies of local self-government in the activity of the Ombudsperson is prohibited, and the latter is not obliged to give any explanations on as to the substance of any cases either presently being investigated or on their completion.  Having completed examination of a complaint, the Ombudsperson sends a submission to the relevant body on eliminating the violations of rights and freedoms found, this requiring enforcement within a month. However the law stipulates no liability for violations of the Ombudsperson’s mandate nor for failure to comply with his/her submission.

This institution for defending human rights, new to Ukraine, is thus based on the high moral standing of the Ombudsperson whose decisions and suggestions should be listened to by the authorities and the public.

However, since in Ukraine neither the authorities nor society have too much respect for human rights, the Ombudsperson’s job was not always easy.  Having begun without any financing and without premises, the Secretariat of the Ombudsperson was immediately inundated with vast numbers of complaints all of which it was in fact simply impossible to cope with. However, being animated, energetic and concerned, Karpachova  gradually succeeded in creating a workable human rights structure. This is evidenced, for example, by the enormous different between the first and second annual reports. If the first was to a large extent of an academic nature, the second was the report of an active and productive human rights institution.

From 1999 – 2003 Karpachova took an active role in a number of high-profile cases, often against the wishes of the highest echelons of power, and achieved notable results.  Flaccid legislation notwithstanding, she was able to force state bodies to reckon with her opinion and her assessments. She intervened in some instances of heated conflict, such as those around the events of 9 March 2001[1], and pointed to violations of human rights whatever the political circumstances. Her submissions to the Constitutional Court were not numerous, however all involved wide-scale human rights violations,.  When the first 5-year tenure ended, her election to a second term in May 2003 was by no means straightforward since the Presidential circles wanted to see a more amenable and malleable person in that position. However there were virtually none willing to take on an extremely difficult job, and Nina Ivanivna continued for another term.

I rather think that the many successful cases where the Ombudsperson defended human rights were to a large extent linked with her personal qualities. When she seeks justice for those who have suffered from the authorities, she can be unstoppable. And it is of no concern who the necessary decision depends on, be it the President, a minister, or any other official, she is far from prone to standing in awe of authority. And she managed to find ways through brick walls, where others would have given up. In this sense, I feel, it would be difficult to imagine a better candidate than Karpachova for the Kuchma years.

From the end of 2004, the views of the Ombudsperson and of the majority of human rights organizations regarding the political processes in the country began to diverge, and in some issues became even diametrically opposed. For example, in her third report (in July 2005), Karpachova claimed that there had been no change for the better as regards freedom of speech and that there were numerous cases of political repression. It would be difficult to agree with such an assessment. It gradually became ever more evident that Nina Karpachova had adopted the position of one of the political factions, losing therefore impartiality and independence, and that she was increasingly involved in promoting her self. This became clear to all when she took part in the 2006 elections. Her standing for election aroused serious and widespread criticism from some, while being supported by others, depending on political likes and dislikes. I must admit that I am personally sorry that Nina Karpachova chose political activities instead of human rights work since this only weakens the human rights community which has lost one of its strongest leaders. And my attitude here would not have been in any way different had she chosen a political faction of any different shade. It would have been better had she remained the Human Rights Ombudsperson, and avoided politics, since it is impossible to combine political and human rights activities.  Nonetheless we must respect her personal choice.

It should be noted that the activities of both Karpachova and her secretariat were constantly criticized with many considering their work inadequate and unsatisfactory. In my view a lot of this criticism is undeserved. It is easy to criticize any human rights institution since in the Ukrainian context, whatever the successes achieved by human rights activists, violations still remain on a large scale and widespread. It is especially easy to criticize what has not been done, and one can always find ammunition on this front. Taking the work of Karpachova and her secretariat as a whole, I would say, one can call it successful Nina Karpachova, despite difficulties, problems and mistakes, did help a large number of people and managed to teach both the authorities and society to treat the office of Human Rights Ombudsperson with respect. In my opinion, respect for human rights in Ukraine during Karpachova’s tenure rose. It is important now to not lose what has been achieved and to continue to strengthen the influence and effectiveness of the office of Human Rights Ombudsperson.

Where now?

In my opinion, the mandate of the Human Rights Ombudsperson needs to be extended for the following reasons. Contemporary ideas about parliamentary control envisage the creation of separate institutions specializing in overseeing the observance of particular key rights or groups of interdependent rights. For example, European documents on personal data protection foresee the establishment of a separate parliamentary institution for safeguarding the right to information privacy, with this leading to the appearance in some European countries of the office of Personal Data Protection Ombudsperson. Laws on access to information have provisions for a body of independent parliamentary monitoring of observance of the right t of access to information, and so forth. This should result in the appointment of several Ombudspersons concentrating on access to information, children’s rights, the rights of ethnic minorities, etc. In our circumstances it would not seem appropriate to create a range of separate institutions.  More sensible would be to create corresponding sections within the Secretariat of the Ombudsperson and assign the Ombudsperson the appropriate mandate in accordance with European norms. There should, for example, be a department on observance of the right to information and of personal data protection, which would be responsible for looking into alleged violations of these rights, and which would each year present an overview of the situation regarding the safeguarding of the said rights.  Another department would be concerned with issues around privacy of communications and would consider complaints about the unlawful actions (inaction) of state bodies intercepting information from communications channels in the course of investigative operations, with their annual report giving details about the number of interceptions, statistics on the grounds, periods of time, results of the interception (the number of criminal cases launched, under what articles of the Criminal Code, etc), infringements, forced blocking of technical means, and with a breakdown into the state bodies which intercepted information, and so forth.  The Law on the Human Rights Ombudsperson would thus need the corresponding amendments and modifications.

It would be desirable to increase the role of the Human Rights Ombudsperson and the significance of his/her decisions. The Law would need to allow for the following powers:

to issue formal warnings to public officials responsible for human rights infringements;

to call for the abolition of acts which allow for human rights abuses;

to approach the bodies which public officials responsible for human rights infringements are subordinate to with a call to bring proceedings against them under current labour legislation;

to call for the dismissal of individuals who have repeatedly or flagrantly violated human rights and fundamental freedoms;

to declare, with information released to the mass media, public censure of those public officials, as well as of public officials who have not responded appropriately to appeals from the Human Rights Ombudsperson.

It would also be advisable to allow the Human Rights Ombudsperson to express his/her opinion regarding court rulings in the following way: by approaching the legally stipulated authority with a recommendation to check court rulings which have taken effect where there is evidence to suggest that in the course of the court deliberation significant human rights violations took place which could have influenced the judgment made.

The powers of the Human Rights Ombudsperson, set out in the Law on the same, should also be supplemented by the right of legislative initiative, so that s/he could submit for parliament’s consideration drafts of legislative acts suggesting amendments to current legislation or additions to it in the interests of safeguarding human rights and fundamental freedoms. 

It would also be necessary to increase guarantees of the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s work through the following:

1  by stipulating the obligation of state bodies and their officials to review recommendations from the Ombudsperson  and to provide a response in writing as to measures taking to reinstate the violated rights or providing reasons why the recommendations have not been heeded;

2  by introducing a norm stating that the recommendations of the Ombudsperson, made on the basis of consideration of complaints, are not subject to appeal within the framework of the national law enforcement system;

3  to allow for administrative (and, in cases foreseen by the Criminal Code, criminal) liability of public officials for ignoring formal requests from the Human Rights Ombudsperson to be given material, documents, information or explanations, or about their implementation of recommendations.

Creating an electronic archive of complaints, and description of the actions taken by the Secretariat with respect to these complaints, would seem an important step towards increasing efficiency of work on the complaints reaching the Human Rights Ombudsperson.  The development of an internal network within the structure would make it possible within the space of a few minutes to obtain information from any computer in the network about the content and stage of review of any complaint. The system of communication with the public also needs improvement which could be achieved by daily updates of the website of the Human Rights Ombudsperson, regular publication of a bulletin describing and analyzing violations of human rights violations, and fundamental freedoms, as well as television programs on Ukrainian Television Channel 1 with direct contact between the Human Rights Ombudsperson and the viewers.

In my view, one of the main ways of improving human rights protection is through cooperation between the Human Rights Ombudsperson and human rights organizations (HRO). At present there is too little of this. The Ombudsperson is a representative of civic society who defends human rights and freedoms first and foremost from the state, and consultation with HRO would be entirely natural. The legislative basis for such cooperation can be found in Article 10 § 3 of the Law on the Human Rights Ombudsperson which states: “In order to provide consultative support, carry out research, as well as to study suggestions for improving protection of human rights and civil liberties, a consultative council shall be created attached to the office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson. This council, which may function on a voluntary basis) shall be made up of people with experience of working in the area of protection of human rights and civil liberties,”. However this basis is extremely vague and it would therefore be desirable to introduce amendments to the said Law which clearly and specifically regulate the procedure of interaction between the Human Rights Ombudsperson and human rights organizations. .

If one compares the functions and the mandate of the Human Rights Ombudsperson and HRO and considers the work they do, it is entirely possible to consider the Ombudsperson and his/her structure as just such an HRO, only acting on behalf of the state, and to view their activities from this position. An article should be added to the Law defining the Human Rights Ombudsperson and his/her mission as follows: “The Authorised Human Rights Representative of the Verkhovna Rada is the highest public official whose activities are aimed at affirming and defending human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as at public monitoring over the how these rights and freedoms are observed by state bodies and officials. The Mission of the Authorised Human Rights Representative is to organize an autonomous system of nongovernmental bodies exercising supervision over the guaranteeing of human rights and fundamental freedoms and management of this system”.

The provisions of the Law regarding the Secretariat and representatives of the Human Rights Ombudsperson (Articles 10, 11) need to be expanded and clarified. I would suggest that, in the European Tradition, changing the name “Secretariat” to “National Office for the defence of human rights and fundamental freedoms” and to specify that this is an independent structure of Ukrainian civic society. The Ombudsperson should appoint representatives in the regions, for the cities of Kyiv and Sevastopol, and the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea from people living in the given area, with experience of human rights activity and with high public standing.  A norm should be added to the Law, stipulating that these representatives work on a permanent basis, cooperating with human rights organizations, assessing the situation with regard to observance of rights and freedoms in that area, uncovering violations of human rights and freedoms, and informing the Ombudsperson about them, and in specific cases submitting complaints to the Ombudsperson about such violations.  

Cooperation between the Ombudsperson and HRO should be organized in the following areas:

–  defence of human rights in specific instances, the creation of a complex of highlighted complaints;

–  providing information about human rights;

–  analysis of legislation and draft laws, court and administrative practice to determine their compliance with the Constitution and international standards on human rights, the preparation of constitutional submissions;

–  preparation of reports on the situation with regard to human rights;

Let us consider these issues in more detail. 

Defence of human rights in specific instances, the creation of a complex of highlighted complaints;

 Due to the fact that the Human Rights Ombudsperson receives a huge number of complaints which her office is simply not able to analyze and consider in good time and comprehensively, HRO could act as a kind of filter which could identify from the vast numbers of complaints those that really do deal with violations of human rights and which the Ombudsperson should consider in accordance with his/her mandate. This kind of preliminary review of complaints could be organized at first as a pilot project in those regions where the Ombudsperson’s representative offices are opened, and it would be specifically these offices that residents of the area would send their complaints for the Ombudsperson. In my opinion, it would be expedient to establish such representative offices at first in those regions with well-known and authoritative human rights organizations which could work in direct contact with the Ombudsperson’s representatives.  It would be these organizations who would make a preliminary assessment of complaints. This experience could then be gradually extended into all regions of the country.

In addition, the Ombudsperson and his/her representatives could consider appeals regarding rights violations in specific cases directly from the HRO. The Law at first glance does not appear to allow for such a possibility. However we should consider two circumstances. Firstly, in the wording of Article 17 § 1 of the Law which states that the Ombudsperson “shall receive and consider appeals from citizens of Ukraine, foreign nationals, stateless individuals or persons acting in their interests”, there is no indication that “persons acting in their interests” have to be individuals[2]  Secondly,  Article 17 § 2 states that the Ombudsperson receives and considers appeals in accordance with the Law of Ukraine “On citizens appeals”, Article 16 of which allows for appeals from “organizations which carry out human rights activities”. HRO can thus initiate appeals to the Ombudsperson regarding violations of rights and freedoms in specific cases. It would though be better to directly indicate human rights organizations among those entitled to address appeals to the Human Rights Ombudsperson.

It would seem advisable to create a complex of highlighted complaints, i.e. identify the criteria according to which HRO could address appeals to the Ombudsperson to consider the corresponding violations. In my view, such a list of criteria should be as follows:

a) a manifestly gross violation of a right guaranteed by the Constitution;

b) a high degree of violence against an individual as a result of a violation;

c) flagrant injustice having arisen as the consequence of a violation;

d) actions or decisions or state bodies are posing serious threat to human rights in the future;

e) the violations are incompatible with the level of freedom typical for a post-totalitarian society.

The final criterion is somewhat vague and subjective, and requires explanation. There are a lot of human rights violations characteristic of countries going through a transitional period from totalitarianism to democracy, albeit manifesting themselves to differing degrees: police brutality; the lack of openness of the authorities, violations of electoral rights, manipulation of public opinion via the mass media, poverty among the elderly and so forth. Then there are atypical violations which are serious and dangerous because they reflect an encroachment by the authorities on people’s liberty and carry with them the threat of a return to totalitarianism;  Such violations include political persecution linked with the use of violence or with accusations of involvement in criminal activities; violent disappearances; imprisonment of journalists in connection with their professional activities; violations of the rights of minorities involving the violence; the use of executions as a form of punishment;  the use of enforcement agencies, especially, the security service, for political purposes, and others. At the present time some of these violations are already impossible in Ukraine, while the likelihood of others has decreased, however these do unfortunately still take place as, for example, the illegal deportation of 11 Uzbeks in February of this year.

  This approach would make it possible for the Human Rights Ombudsperson and his/her office when dealing with the general deluge of appeals to immediately identify those which indicate unequivocally grave violations, and which therefore in the first instance require the attention of the Human Rights Ombudsperson.  In other cases HRO could help people who turned to them with complaints, and write appeals to the Human Rights Ombudsperson on their behalf.

Providing information about human rights

The Human Rights Ombudsperson and HRO could combine efforts on raising the level of knowledge of the authorities and society about human rights and on providing human rights education and awareness raising. In particular, I believe, society needs information about successful attempts to defend human rights. It would therefore be extremely useful to produce periodical publications describing such successful precedents in human rights defence both by the Human Rights Ombudsperson, and by HRO. Such publications would at the same time serve as valuable practical guidelines on applying mechanisms of human rights defence.

The Human Rights Ombudsperson and HRO could also cooperate fruitfully on spreading information about human rights in the form of a series of educational leaflets “Your rights”,  approved by specialists and endorsed by the Human Rights Ombudsperson which would include provisions in legislation on human rights in  the situations of conflict which are most often encountered. There could be leaflets on, for example: “Your rights during detention and arrest”; “Your right to defend your name and reputation”; “Your right to assistance on the birth of your child”; “Your right to a housing subsidy”; “Your right to land”; “Your rights if they cut off your power, heating, water or gas”, and so forth. The HRO could prepare short but substantial texts formulating these rights, which the Human Rights Ombudsperson and his/her office would approve. These leaflets would then be endorsed and carry the signature of the Human Rights Ombudsperson. The HRO could print these in large numbers and distribute them among the public at various public events, in educational institutions, enterprises and organizations.

It would be sensible to prepare, publish and distribute not only printed matter, but also audio, photographic and video materials on human rights. An extremely useful step would be to make a program “Your rights” on one of the national television channels where the Human Rights Ombudsperson and HRO would show the video materials prepared.

It is enormously important to develop human rights awareness among children and young people. As well as support for the usual forms of education, HRO could also, under the aegis of the Human Rights Ombudsperson, run competitions for the best work on human rights, drawing and photography competitions for schools, contests for students, special events to mark Human Rights Day, International Day of Solidarity with Political Prisoners, etc.  Such public campaigns and actions would help raise awareness of human rights among the public.

No less important is providing information for professional groups on international mechanisms for protecting human rights. This include, for example, helping judges, lawyers, law enforcement officers to become familiar with European legal principles, norms and standards, in particular by using the European Court of Human Rights, standards of the European Committee against Torture and Ill-treatment, the European Union law, and others. Joint preparation by the Human Rights Ombudsperson and HRO of translations of digests of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, the publication and distribution of the corresponding anthologies would be extremely beneficial in changing legal paradigms in the profession milieu.

Remaining as relevant as ever are specialized seminars on human rights for representatives of so-called “professions at risk” (personnel of internal affairs agencies and the security service, employees of penal institutions, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, military servicemen, doctors, journalists, trade union activists and social workers), representatives of the legislative and executive branches of power, connected with creating and enforcing legislation with impact on human rights.  These seminars could be run jointly by the Human Rights Ombudsperson and HRO.

Analysis of legislation and draft laws, court and administrative practice to determine their compliance with the Constitution and international standards on human rights, the preparation of constitutional submissions 

In order to analyze legislation and practice from the point of view of their conformity with the Constitution and international agreements on human rights HRO and the office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson should jointly use methodology for monitoring human rights which envisages:

analysis of domestic legislation (the Constitution, laws, subordinate legislation) which is linked with the observance  of these rights within the context of Ukraine’s international commitments;

analysis of application of the law in practice  (decisions of administrative bodies, court rulings);

preparation of an analytical report containing suggestions for eliminating human rights violations;

Monitoring human rights and fundamental freedoms is impossible without receiving all the necessary information from state authorities and administrative bodies. At first one would need to make a preliminary diagnosis of the situation based on general previous experience, determine the issues for the study which the monitoring should provide answers to, and decide on the amount of information required.  Then in parallel come the search for this information and an analysis of the compliance of legislation and application of the law in practice with international agreements.  An overview of this report will make up the relevant part of an annual report on observance of human rights. It should be noted that a typical feature of the methodology of monitoring is specifically its orientation of public action needed to achieve an improvement in the human rights situation.

It would make sense to create working groups from representatives of HRO which specialize in investigating a particular right (or group of interrelated rights) together with representatives of the corresponding departments of the office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson. Carrying out monitoring as outlined above of this right on a yearly basis, these working groups would follow all changes in legislation and practice, and would be able to initiate amendments to legislation and other normative acts and influence practice. The annual analytical reports on the outcome of the monitoring could become an integral part of annual reports on the state of affairs with regards to human rights which will be discussed below. It would be useful at the same time to also prepare an annual overview of information resources regarding violations of the right in question.

One of the most important means of response to serious human rights violations is the possibility of constitutional submissions made by the Human Rights Ombudsperson to the Constitutional Court of Ukraine. Here too HRO could work in cooperation with the Ombudsperson by jointly preparing constitutional submissions regarding the non-compliance with the Constitution of this or that provision of Ukrainian laws, other legal acts, or submissions requesting an interpretation of the Constitution and laws of Ukraine. Constitutional submissions from the  Human Rights Ombudsperson should  per se be one of the results of his/her joint work in cooperation with HRO on monitoring human rights.

Preparation of reports on the situation with regard to human rights

For a comprehensive study of the human rights situation in the country human rights organizations generally use the form of an annual report on how human rights are being observed. The compilation of such reports is a traditional way of bringing information about human rights violations in the country to the attention both of the public within Ukraine and of the international community in order to improve the situation.  The Human Rights Ombudsperson has published three general reports – in 2000, 2002 and 2005, and one special report on the rights of Ukrainians living abroad. Human rights organizations have published two reports on the human rights situation in Ukraine – for 2004 and 2005. Various Ukrainian HRO have also produced special reports on the state of affairs with regard to a specific right or group of interrelated rights – the right to protection against torture and ill-treatment, the right to liberty and security, the rights of the child and others. In 2005 human rights organizations prepared reports on the human rights situation at a regional level. The preparation of special reports on specific key rights, as well as annual reports on the entire range of rights (both for particular regions and for the country as a whole) remains extremely important and relevant. It would be expedient to work in this area together with the Human Rights Ombudsperson since the preparation of annual reports is one of the latter’s duties.

* * *

It is of enormous significance just who will be elected Human Rights Ombudsperson. The human rights community of Ukraine is at the present time experienced and strong enough to put forward a candidate from their milieu and to present their demands regarding candidates. And the most important requirements to my mind are the following: the office of Human Rights Ombudsperson must not become the subject of political bargaining, and secondly candidates for this office must be discussed by civic organizations, in particular, by human rights organizations.

[1]  9 March 2001 was the last day of confrontation between the mostly young activists of the organization “Ukraine without Kuchma”.  Around a thousand activists were detained and/or beaten up by law enforcement officers, many targeted at stations, bus stops when heard speaking Ukrainian.  The protest movement suffered a serious setback.

[2]  The Ukrainian is clearer, since the term “osoba” [“person”] may be one individual, or a legal entity (translator’s note)

Against torture and ill-treatment

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group present the results of a 3-year program “Campaign against Torture and Ill-treatment in Ukraine”

On 26 June 1987 the UN Convention against Torture came into force. 

22 June this year marked another significant event –the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT)..

On 26 June 2006 - International Day in Support of Victims of Torture - in the UNIAN press centre, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KhPG) held a press conference to present the results of a 3-year program - “Campaign against Torture and Ill-treatment in Ukraine”

Among the participants were:

Yevhen Zakharov, Co-Chair of KhPG, Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Co-Chair of the Public Council for the Observance of Human Rights,

Arkady Bushchenko, lawyer, coordinator of KHPG campaigns, member of the Public Council for the Observance of Human Rights,;

Oleh Martynenko, Police Colonel, Candidate of Law, Professor of the Department of Criminal Law of the Kharkiv National University of Internal Affairs, Author of the work: “Determination and the prevention of crime among personnel of internal affairs agencies in Ukraine”

Ivan Yukhymenko, victim of police torture.

The participants gave their assessment of the situation in the country and discussed future plans for combating torture and ill-treatment in Ukraine.

KhPG also reported on its work on prevention of torture and ill-treatment, which has been a focus of its attention since 1996. Over the years KhPG and its partners have endeavoured to draw public attention to the problem of torture in Ukraine and to get the authorities to recognize that there is a problem. From 2003-2006 KhPG, with the financial support of the European Commission, the Open Society Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy and other international donors, ran a  nationwide Campaign against Torture and Ill-treatment in Ukraine, which united the efforts of many organizations in the fight against this evil, including: the Kharkiv Institute of Social Research, the Kharkiv National University of Internal Affairs, and about 30 nongovernmental human rights organizations from all regions of Ukraine.

The campaign included: the following interrelated activities:

-  monitoring the situation, sociological and legal research, awareness-raising in society and legislative work;

-  strategic law suits in national and international courts;

-  training courses for professionals working in the area of criminal justice  (judges, lawyers, law enforcement officers) and for members of NGOs.

The participants mentioned that in the course of the Campaign sociological and criminological research had been undertaken into the reasons and prevalence of torture in our country. Analysis of the problem of torture was carried out which was reflected in the books “Illegal violence in law enforcement agencies”, “Analysis of compliance of Ukrainian legislation and practices to standards and recommendations of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and many other publications. An educational and methodological course “Police and human rights” had been created to be used in the Ministry of Internal Affairs educational system.

During the campaign much effort had been taken to prevent the adoption of the new Criminal Procedure Code which perpetuates a legal system promoting the use of torture. In addition several draft laws were drawn up, for example, on access to information and court consideration of whether to remand in custody or release pending trial. The participants of the program managed to bring Article 127 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine into line with Article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture.

With the assistance of the Fund for Professional Assistance to Victims of Torture more than 100 people received competent legal aid. The Fund also supported financially the preparation of claims to the European Court on behalf of 57 people. During the project the case Afanasyev v. Ukraine was won in the European Court. In its decision the Court found that the claimant had suffered ill-treatment while being held in a district police station and that his complaints had not been investigated properly. By now one more claim relating to police torture has been accepted, and in 7 other cases the Court is in communication with the Ukrainian Government.

In the framework of the campaign 10 two-day seminars for judges were carried out, 12 two-day seminars for law enforcement officers and 12 two-day training sessions for lawyers during which European and international standards of work in the sphere of criminal proceedings were studied in detail.

It was pointed out that torture in Ukraine remains widespread. According to research,  the roots of the problem lie in many institutions and traditions of Ukrainian criminal proceedings. One such reason is the solved crime figures putting pressure on officers to get results, the lack of a system of efficient investigation, great number of latent detentions, bad access to lawyers and doctors, etc.

The participants noted the changes in attitude of the authorities to these problems and greater readiness of the state to cooperate in this sphere. In particular, the work of mobile groups has started in the system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, as well as public councils under the MIA and its regional departments.

Yet, at the same time attention was drawn to the insufficiently systematic actions and lack of respect for human rights by the state.

Representatives of KhPG pointed out that their further work would be directed at creating a national system for the prevention of torture and ill- treatment. This involved the creation of a state program with measures for implementation of such a system. On the other side the efficiency of this system demanded active participation of civic society in its creation and work.

Stress was placed on the enormous importance of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) for the creation of an efficient national system for the prevention of torture and ill-treatment.

More detailed information on these problems can be found at::


Prisoners’ rights and countering torture: does the situation in Ukraine comply with civilized standards?

Kyryllo Bulkin: Today is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.  What is the situation like with prisoners’ rights in Ukraine?  The participants in our program took part today in a press conference on precisely that theme, so it will be interesting to hear their views and assessment.

Yevhen Zakharov:

When we talk about torture, this mainly involves torture at the hands of the police, primarily during the detective inquiry stage  Then later in penal institutions this torture may be on a different level, when a person is held in very harsh, inhuman conditions. Such conditions are sometimes themselves defined as a form of torture.

As far as Ukraine is concerned, torture in the police force can be compared to a huge iceberg: we see the tip, but there is a huge mass underneath which is entirely concealed from view.  Such use of torture during the inquiry stage is a crime, a crime against the person detained.

This crime has a high degree of latency in the sense that most crimes like this, the overwhelming majority, are simply not seen, are not found out about, not recorded. There are no complaints, and that’s it. And the visible tip are those few that end up in the public view.

There have been surveys that asked people who’d been detained by the police whether or not they’d been beaten, and they said that they had. There may be up to half a million such people each year. That is a huge number. And if one looks at criminal investigations launched specifically in connection with such cases, you see that last year only 5 people were convicted. Overall there were 53 such criminal cases.

Arkady Bushchenko:  Torture remains fairly widespread.  It is to be regretted that our criminal justice system views torture as an integral part of prosecution of criminals, prosecution of suspects. Due to the fact that our units which should be fulfilling their role in fighting crime are very badly equipped and don’t use the proper modern methodology, they use torture in order to achieve the task which society demands from them. The system thus actively encourages those within the system to use torture.

There is certainly a problem. One can say that at present there are certain moves in the right direction. One observes, firstly, the acknowledgement by the state that the problem of torture exists, and secondly, the first steps aimed at improving the situation. However these steps are fairly unsystematic, uncoordinated and at time do not achieve their objective.  Therefore, at the present time, the problem lies in finding a systematic approach for overcoming this evil.

- These are the views of our guests on the situation with fighting the use of torture in Ukraine. It would in fact have been interesting to also hear the views of the Human Rights Ombudsperson and State Deputy of Ukraine (we presently have this rather paradoxical combination) Nina Karpachova. Ms Karpachova promised to take part in today’s program, but literally in the last hour she suddenly informed us that she would be unable to do so.

Well I imagine that the opinion of today’s guests, representatives of well-known human rights organizations, will be no less expert.

However at the moment I suggest we listen to a representative of the enforcement structures.  

This is an assessment of the present Ukrainian situation in the field we are speaking about, from a Police Colonel, Candidate of Law, Professor of the Department of Criminal Law of the Kharkiv National University of Internal Affairs , Oleh Martynenko.

Oleh Martynenko: -  If one considers the statistical indicators, then each year in Ukraine the number of offences from among the personnel decreases, and against the background, for example, of neighbouring Russia we look much better. Although much worse than other European countries.

There has also been a positive shift in the mentality of officers of internal affairs agencies, because the activities of human rights groups over the last three years has noticeably altered the awareness of these officers about observing human rights. And now perhaps it would be hard to find any police officer who didn’t know about this, and didn’t observe these standards.

However it’s another matter that the10% which, according to preliminary estimates, is the percentage of cases of torture among crimes committed by police officers, is not the sort of figure that gives us grounds for relaxing.  These are the cases which got a lot of publicity and that people know about, however behind them there is a much greater layer of offences which are hidden from civic monitoring. In this area, certainly there is a lot of scope for work by the police force itself, and human rights organizations, and any form of civic control over the activities of the enforcement agencies.

-  A question now to you – developing on what we just heard. Mr Martynenko said that we are far ahead of Russia, but behind European countries. Would it be possible to provide any figures showing how we’re ahead, and how we’re behind?

Yevhen Zakharov:  Torture in general has been recorded in 114 countries. One can understand the cases when a police officer can’t restrain himself when dealing with a criminal who simply drives him mad, and he applies physical force. That does happen.

It is another matter if one compares the statistics for punishing illegal actions here and in other countries. The statistics show that they punish much more for such things, because the court system is much better and there isn’t the impunity you find here.  Here, unfortunately, it is very difficult to get anybody punished for using unlawful violence against people. That is as regards beatings by the police.

As for prisoners, then if one compares the number of prisoners per 100 thousand head of population, then the number here is much higher than in other European countries. For example, even in neighbouring countries like Bulgaria, Poland, the Czech Republic, and others it doesn’t exceed 100 per 100 thousand of the population, whereas here it’s close on 400.  That means that in Ukraine 27.7% of those convicted of a crime end up in a penal colony where the conditions are pretty harsh. However the conditions are considerably worse in pre-trial detention centres [SIZO], and these hold from 40 to 45 thousand people.

- In your opinion what needs to be done first to improve the situation? And does the present government have the potential to do it?

Yevhen Zakharov: - I think it does have the potential, because if you look at the development of events, you see that that upper tip of the iceberg is becoming bigger and more visible. This has particularly been evident over the last 3 years. One can say that the problem has been recognized, that the leaders of the country and of the police force, for example, acknowledge the seriousness of the problem and that it needs to be solved, and are trying to find ways of overcoming it. That is indeed true.

It’s another thing, however, that in such a space of time, one can’t change people’s mentality when they’re accustomed to thinking that in fighting crime you can do anything uncover the crime, find the culprit, force him or her to say that he or she is guilty, and so on.

That notion dates back to Vyshynsky who said that “a confession is the queen of evidence”. And so they demand a confession from those they consider committed the crime. Unfortunately they don’t know how to investigate a crime differently.

It’s therefore extremely important to teach people something different, get them to understand that one mustn’t do this, that this itself is a crime, that they will be punished for it, that is, change the situation.

Do you know, the prosecutor’s office had even terminated cases due to the lack of any evidence of a crime when the Department of internal security of the police produced material that there were such crimes. There are such cases  

This must be overcome and we need to change the attitude of the prosecutor’s office. Through general pressure of society on the state authorities, I think it will be possible to gradually achieve this.

As for the [State Penal] Department, it needs to become more open. It is an extremely closed system, in which people are totally in the power of the administration, they can’t even complain about it in any way. This cannot continue.


Paid torture in a special detention centre

For over a year, summer and winter, Yury Kniazhinski took part in almost all pickets near the building of the Kherson Appeal Court. On 19 May he also stood in a picket on Svoboda Square. He was protesting about Anatoly Ivanishchuk continuing as Chair of the Appeal Court, since his tenure had ended back in March.

On 20 May a judge of the Suvorovsky District Court, V. Palkova ordered that Kniazhinski be imprisoned for 15 days “for petty hooliganism”.

Yuri appealed against this decision to the Appeal Court. 6 civic organizations and 3 Kherson regional media outlets sent telegrams of protest to the President of Ukraine, the Human Rights Ombudsperson, the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Acting Chair of  the Supreme Court and the Prosecutor General.  Everyday in support of Yury Kniazhinski a picket was held near the local state administration and the prosecutor’s office.

The Appeal Court, represented by S. Lobodzinsku, First Deputy Chair, upheld the ruling of the Suvorovsky District Court, although their Honours V. Palkova and S. Lobodzinsky must have understood that they were trying a man purely for having publicly expressed his opinion, a right guaranteed by the Constitution of Ukraine.

Whether the letters and pickets “broke through” the bureaucratic machine, or the judges’ conscience finally stirred, 10 days later Ms. Palkova ordered that the sentence be reduced from 15 to 10 days, the reason being the poor health of Yury’s parents. In fact her Honour did not have the right to reconsider the case, especially since neither the Appeal Court nor the prosecutor’s office had questioned the ruling Yet, how many Kherson judges obey the law? If they did so, there would not be any pickets, and citizens would not set themselves alight in protest at judges’ arbitrary rulings…

For 10 days in the special detention centre, Yury’s relatives had to pay 150 UH. The receipt says: “in payment for the Ruling of the Suvorovsky District Court”. So, must we pay now for court rulings? Or did they take money “for their services”? it proved impossible to find out since the police learned of it only from our publication: Oleg Khudyakov, deputy head of the town police called us and asked with surprise, where we had got information about money.

This is what Yury told us about the “services” of the detention centre. 

Bucket for humiliation

I was put in cell No. 5. There were four beds – three on the first level and one – on the second. The walls were a foul grey colour, it really got to you. They’d taken out the glass from the window and used some glass tiles that let in a bit of light, but you couldn’t see out. The experienced prisoners were glad that it was summer, because in winter, they said, the temperature in the cell was the same as outside. The “chandelier” was made of a metal sheet with small holes made by a nail, with a light bulb behind them. There was no toilet or wash-basin in the cell, just a bucket with a lid in the corner without any partition. The most private things in front of everybody – horribly humiliating, not to speak of being unhygienic.

Privileges “on the palm”

After Serhiy Kirichenko yelled into a loudspeaker that Kniazhinsky was supported by a Deputy the guards for some reason nicknamed me “Deputy”.  I even got some privileges: the best place in the cell – “on the palm near the window” (the bed on the second level), where the stink from the bucket wasn’t so bad. I also got sheets, even if they were grey and used. The other inmates had no sheets at all, only mattresses and blankets. The mattresses are never changed, so a new inmate gets a whole “collection” of germs from previous “colleagues”.

During my stay in the detention centre 11 people passed through the cell. Seven of them, sentenced to administrative arrest said that they were there because of a drunken brawl in a café, two – for buying poppy straw, and one – for inflicting serious bodily injuries that caused death.

Like in the GULAG

Walks and contact with the outside world were prohibited, as were any printed matter (newspapers, books, etc.). Every morning I made marks on the wall so as not to lose track of time, since my watch, mobile, together with money and other things, had been taken away on the first day. I got everything back later.

At 6 a.m. we were led to the toilet for 1-1.5 minutes. During this time we had to do everything and to carry out the bucket. (After that, until the next morning you either hold on or use the bucket in front of the others). In the lavatory we filled 2 litre bottles with water. Once the day was especially hot, and the water finished soon. We asked the guards to fill it again, but they said: “Later”. This “later” came in five hours…

Day without food

During the first day I got no food at all, they said that I wasn’t’ registered yet, and that they started to feed prisoners only after 24 hours. For some reason, a parcel brought by my brother on the first day wasn’t accepted. On the third day, 22 May, I got the first parcel – food and clean clothes. The “official” nourishment was the following: a glass of “tea” (light-yellow liquid, not very sweet, but hot) in the morning and evening. There was also a lot of brown bread with some kind of gluey stuff, but “old-timers” advised us not to eat the “glue” or we’d get sick. For dinner we got a soup (2-3 bits of potatoes and a small leaf of cabbage) and mush of unknown origin – something like a yellowy-brown cake, without any butter or fat. I don’t think the dishes got washed since there were food remains in them.


You were allowed to work – to make cement walkway slabs. The work was voluntary, 10 cigarettes “Polyot” were given for one day’s work. My cellmates returned covered in cement. I found out there was no shower in the centre and didn’t go to work..

On the sixth day a guard asked: “Do you feel like some air?” It turned out that it was necessary to load the slabs from the cellar to a car. I loaded 200 slabs into a car with a private registration number, it took 40 minutes. Then I was taken to the cell again.

There were several shocking moments. For the first time I saw, how a man banged his head against the door. He walked around the cell, then stopped for a moment and rushed at the door... He fell down, the guards took him away, and he didn’t come back.

I also saw addicts with withdrawal symptoms. Their groans and convulsions were terrible.

Once I helped to carry food to other cells and saw a punishment cell – dark and really damp  without a window. There was a low concrete slab instead of a bed and no mattress.”

The European Court has objections

Yury’s story was commented on by Mykola Hrinishak, a lawyer of the Foundation of Charity and Health, coordinator of the project “Campaign against torture and ill-treatment in Ukraine” in the Kherson region.

Article 3 of the European Convention of human rights reads: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Ukraine ratified this Convention in 1997, and from then on was bound to observe the norms of the Convention and the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. What Yury went through in the special detention centre, would be viewed by the European Court as a flagrant violation of human rights.

For example, in the case “Dugoz v. Greece” (2001) the Court noted that there was no fresh air in the cell, convicts were not allowed walks, there was no hot water, etc. The Court found such conditions to be degrading, and taking into account all violations of the norms of the Convention, ordered the state to pay Dugoz compensation of 5 millions of Greek drachmas (about 14500 Euros). And in the case “Poltoratsky v. Ukraine” (2003) the Court ordered Ukraine to pay 3 thousand euros in compensation to the claimant since he was kept in a cell with an open toilet and other bad conditions.

Yury Kniazhinsky also intends to lodge a complaint with the European Court, and, undoubtedly, he will win this case. If there are a large number of such cases, the Government may well finally have to bring such detention centres into some semblance of conformity with European standards. Otherwise the European Union will remain a very long way off.


Law enforcement agencies

“The Police and Human Rights”: A Seminar on teaching human rights in Internal Affairs educational institutes

On 24 June 2006 the Kharkiv Institute for Social Research and the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KhPG) held a seminar on teaching about human rights within the education system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), and presented a package of coursework and methodological materials

The seminar marked the culmination of one aspect of the “Campaign against Torture and Ill-treatment in Ukraine”. It was attended by lecturers of higher education institutes of the MIA from Kharkiv, Kyiv, Kherson, Simferopol, Kirovohrad, Odessa and other cities in Ukraine.

Yevhen Zakharov, Co-Chair of KhPG  spoke about the Group’s activities since 1996 in this areas. Over these years, together with their partners, they have made every effort to draw the public’s attention to the problem of torture and to force the authorities to acknowledge that there is indeed a problem. He mentioned, in particular, the Campaign against torture and Ill-treatment in Ukraine run over the  last three years with financial assistance from the European Union, the Open Society Institute, the National Endowment for Democracy and other international organizations.

The seminar was introduced to the study course “The Police and human rights” which has been put together through the combined efforts of the Kharkiv Institute for Social Research, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group and the National University of Internal Affairs

The course is of special interest as being one of the first attempts to look at human rights from the viewpoint of the activities of law enforcement agencies. It demonstrates that a police officer in carrying out any duties must, on the one hand, act as effectively as possible, but must on the other bear in mind the need to observe human rights and fundamental freedoms. The textbook contains analysis of domestic and international normative bases regulating the observance of human rights, as well as examples of practical situations which make the educational material more vivid and real.

The textbook looks at the following

1  Human rights and how well they’re observed in Ukraine

2  The role of the police in a democratic society

3  Observance of human rights at the level of pre-trial investigation

4  Prohibition of torture and ill- treatment in police activity

5  Observance of human rights during detention and arrest

6  Observance of human rights in police use of force or firearms

7  Observance of he right to privacy in police activity

8  Safeguarding human rights in carrying out investigative operations

9  Special features of exercising the right to peaceful assembly

10  Efficient investigation of cases involvings violation of human rights.

11  Responsibility of police heads for the behaviour of their subordinatestes

The textbook also presents some judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, as well as situations which illustrate problem areas of police activity.

The textbook is intended for lecturers, trainers running courses on issues around observing human rights in the professional activities of the police, cadets and students of educational institutes of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The seminar was addressed by State Deputy Kateryna Levchenko. The topic of her talk was “National mechanisms of control over observance of human rights in Ukraine”.

The authors of all sections of the textbook also spoke, giving details about the specific features and difficulties of teaching their topics to students of MIA educational institutes

The seminar ended with a lively discussion not only of the speeches heard, but also bout practical issues involved in this area.

NGO activities

Russian Human Rights Defenders express grave concern over a new and dangerous amendment to Federal Legislation against extremism

Russian human rights defenders and experts have been persistently expressing their concerns in connection with the Federal Law “On Countering Extremist Activity”, which was adopted in 2002. This piece of legislation combines an excessively broad definition of “extremism” and excessively harsh sanctions provided against individuals, organizations, and media. To note, in practice the harshness of the law hasn’t resulted in making the struggle against extremist more effective. At the same time, in the past four years, the anti-extremist legislation has been used with increasing frequency for disproportionate and even illegitimate curtailment of civil rights. 

Hence, we are now gravely disturbed by the fact that on July 28, 2006, the State Duma of the Russian Federation adopted in first reading an amendment to the aforesaid law, which makes the already broad and vague definition of extremism even broader

Some of the introduced sub-definitions are quite reasonable but three of them call for special concern. Namely, is the said draft amendment is adopted:

(1) In accordance with the new amendment, the definition of extremism shall include libel against state officials related to accusation in extremism or in a particularly grave crime. Libel is a criminal offense and a fact of libel must be essentially determined by a court of law within the framework of relevant criminal procedures. However, the Law “On Countering Extremist Activity” is not part of the Russian criminal law and it is quite likely that the fact of libel will be determined in administrative procedures against an organization or a media-body. Thus, de facto, public accusation of officials in corruption (which constitutes a grave crime) or in extending patronage to ultranationalists and many other such accusations may become banned.

(2) Any act of violence against an official shall qualify as extremism. At the same time, it is quite evident that certain actions of that kind - although definitely illegal – perpetrated by a member of an organization or a group don’t always signify that the given organization or group is of any social danger. Those actions may be of purely common character (hooliganism, etc) or take place within the framework of forced dispersal of public rallies.

(3) Thirdly, not only calls to extremist activity but also justifications of extremist activity will be banned. In connection with the continuously broadening definition of extremism, this means that non-violent acts of civil disobedience or justification of a priest/preacher who insists on uniqueness and superiority of the followers of his religion will qualify as extremism.

The aforesaid draft law represents a grave threat for civil liberties, and particularly for associations and media. And the recent state efforts to suppress such independent bodies force us to treat this threat very seriously.

It is evident that the second reading of this draft amendment should be proceeded by a broad public debate. There is no justification for such rush actions aimed to limit civil liberties. However, according to our sources, the second reading has already been scheduled for the 5th of July this year, which preclude the very possibility of relevant public discussion as well as the elaboration of some changes to the amendment.

We believe it imperative to have the second reading of the draft legislation postponed and to have the aforesaid dangerous provisions elimination from the draft. Therefore, we call the attention of the international community to the given situation and hope that the G7 states will back our concerns on the eve of the St Petersburg Summit.

Alexander Verkhovsky, SOVA Center

Tanya Lokshina, Demos Center

Deported peoples

Learning to walk upright

Sakharov who? What do we need Sakharov for when imposing power, ersatz patriotism and demonstrative will to confirm, seen as the highest level of social maturity, have almost become an intellectual vogue? How can we speak about Sakharov when soon only a gas pipe will connect us with the world? Yes, I mean Sakharov, who, if you have forgotten, “brought down out powerful state”.

I don’t remember where I read that if Christ appeared in our times, he wouldn’t be crucified. And an ordinary mortal, albeit a great academician, wouldn’t even be noticed. However any form of  “what if”, tempting as it may be, is not fitting, and let us resist the temptation. He lived in his, and our, time. And it is this that should reconcile us with reality.

Where did he come from?  Where do any such people come from?  There were very few such people, but they did exist. A widespread notion suggests that a critically-inclined intelligentsia appeared due to a surplus of educated people. Those who found no place in the institutions wielding power began to criticize them, Yes, but what about Sakharov? Many might ask:: “What did he not have enough of?”

What he didn’t have, as I once understood, was this. At some political meeting which you couldn’t escape because they were held in working hours, a lecturer from the society “Znanie” addressed us, going on about the exceptional importance of the present moment, about the need to politically educate the entire Soviet people and the intelligentsia in particular.

Somebody was reading, another - knitting , all as always. Suddenly the lecturer said: “Do you know, why academician Sakharov became the figure he was? (There was an effective pause.) Everything is simple. This was Stalin’s own fault.” There you are! I started to listen attentively. “Yes, don’t be surprised! Stalin himself instructed that in the academic towns where the physicists were working on the bomb, political sessions were not held so as not to distract them from their work. And you see the result…”

Ah, now everything is clear! The secret, elite (as they now say) physicist, academician and hero, hope and support of the state simply lacked political education! He didn’t read Stalin’s “Short course of the History of the All-Russian Communist Party” in time, and there you are. So let’s thank comrade Stalin for Sakharov, if there is nothing more to thank him for.

We needed Sakharov. That crafty lecturer needed him too. The KGB also needed him: I think that a whole department was created “for Sakharov” with generals, aides and thousands of couriers.

The writer Leskov wrote that it would be easier to find a saint in Russia than an honest man. Sakharov’s biography had features of sainthood  such as, first of all, great sin and expiation. The hydrogen bomb he created was regarded by many as a great sin. However it’s unlikely that Sakharov thought in terms of sainthood, at least not regarding himself. He had the drive of a great scientist, a man of the exact sciences accustomed to solving problems and to finishing what’ he started.

Not everybody read his works, not everybody heard his speeches. For many people the very fact of his existence was a first lesson in walking upright, an antidote against giving in and cynicism.

One of most comfortless Moscow streets bears Sakharov’s name. I don’t know of any monuments. Yet, the most impressive monument for me is the unforgettable video record from the famous congress, where he stood on the rostrum, with abashed smile of Paganel, with twisted tie and crumpled collar of outmoded shirt... He tried  to say something: a quiet voice, not very good articulation… The audience stamped and roared dementedly, and he just stood and waited for them to listen. Like a raditional object of mockery and hatred, the permanent laughing stock.  The image has been shown hundreds of times. Yet I’d watch it again: it expresses so much despair and so much hope!

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2006, #06