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

The Dominance of a hypocrisy fraught with very dangerous consequences

Report by Sergey Kovalev at the meeting between the EU delegation and a delegation of Russian NGOs on the eve of the new round of EU-Russia consultations on human rights defence (Ljubljana, April 16, 2008).

I intend to talk about what sort of position the ideas and concepts of individual rights and freedoms hold in the practices and motivations of decision-making in European organisations (and also in wider international institutions, in which Europe exerts a key role); in other words, about the extent to which the activity of these organizations coincides with their ceremonial declarations about supreme principles and priorities. Or, to put it bluntly, I will talk about the dominance of a hypocrisy fraught with very dangerous consequences.

It is useful to recall a few well-known facts. It was clear to observers that a global attempt was once undertaken to subject politics to moral criteria – this means to subject it to the fundamental principles of Law, which are based on such criteria. Immediately after the Second World War (and it was no coincidence that it occurred then) the central point of the most important international decisions turned out to be the conception, according to which, the rights and freedoms of the individual held a universal importance and were the first priority and the highest aim of democratic politics. Together with the creation of democratic states, this priority represents not only a primary goal of politics, but also the main political instrument of creating international security and a just world. The “triumph” of this new, widely-supported political paradigm would seem to have been effectively demonstrated by establishment of the United Nations and its founding charter.

The original principles of this paradigm, however, were not at all implemented in international politics and in no way became a primary priority for any state. They are mentioned with pleasure and often imitated for the sake of prestige and an attractive stance, but they don’t very much influence important political decisions.

The clear disregard of the international community to its own grandiloquent declarations is clear: we remember the carpet bombing or atomic destruction of peaceful cities; half of Europe conceded to the slavery of Stalin’s tyranny; many thousands of people delivered to this same Stalin for sentences in penal colonies without trial or sometimes death. How do we combine these practices with the fact that clearly at the start of the war against Nazism the allies had already proclaimed the very slogans of freedom, humanity and rights?!

Alas, a very clear example of this double-sided, contradictory political understanding was revealed in such a significant event as the Nuremberg Trials. Disregarding the epochal importance of the resolution to show the world that henceforth supreme state power would carry responsibility and would undergo punishment for crimes committed under its aegis and in spite of the demonstration of political will by the victors to confirm this principle with all their power, the Nuremberg Trials very clearly exposed a completely inverse reality – the undivided rule of traditional hypocritical politics – and eloquent declarations were moved to the field of political rhetoric. It is quite possible to not even remember the reciprocal power of this law, specially designed for this court, or other transgressions against the standards of human rights; it suffices to reflect on the fact that the court spent three days examining the culpability of the Nazis in the shooting of Polish prisoners of war in Katyn. It is not important that the charge was not considered proved and that everyone then became silent, most probably as the result of a complex political compromise, including the secret records of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact – which were what they wished to conceal in this “judicial” process. What is important is something else – everyone knew who and when they shot thousands of Polish officers. One cannibal was judging and punishing another cannibal for cannibalism. There you have it: the unshakeable principles of justice – the independence (and political indifference) of the court, the equality of all before the law and so on and so forth.

I understand perfectly well the acute necessity of a public, detailed and clear exposure of the monstrous crimes of Nazism. It goes without saying, I understand, that then it was absolutely inconceivable, unjust and even simply impossible to stop the USSR from forming conclusions about that terrible war, in which they sustained such losses and gained such victories. However, it was also pointless to begin the construction of a new world, by employing, as it happened after the war, the amoral and dangerous rule “the end justify the means”, used with ease to justify and allow oneself all that one sees fit. For centuries this rule has been exposed, for centuries it has been masked, for centuries it has been practiced. What can we build on such foundations? Only a traditional real politic, which is principally incapable of embodying a new political paradigm as they are irreconcilable. There is no need to construct a new politics – it already exists. But to replace the foundations, which have somehow supported the entire building for several hundreds of years, is not that simple.

That’s why a maxim was never created saying “the law outside of politics and above politics” protecting against arbitrary rule, against so called “political expediency” and against double standards. That’s why over sixty years ago the centuries-old use of political hypocrisy, which was born with the creation of politics, has gone uninterrupted, and perhaps even strengthened – for new declarations have become ritualistic invocations reinforcing the same hypocrisy. Thus this use extends up to the present as ceremonial promises turn into blank stamps lacking any sort of meaning.

I will just mention a few useful examples supporting the aforesaid.

Here you have the Council of Europe – all members of the European Union take part in it. One purpose of this organisation (in fact the only purpose) is the intervention in cases, where in whatever Union member-state, there is an obvious failure of individual rights and freedoms. For everyone is agreed now (if only in words) concerning the principle that “human rights are not the exclusive internal affairs of states”. For more that ten years several commissions of different memberships from the Council of Europe have dealt with the problem of the military conflict in Chechnya. However, not once was the question of state terror openly presented – the sole question suitable to the Chechen situation; torture, falsification of charges, the demonstrative impunity of war criminals, the sentence without trial of kidnapped people – all these were for many long years elements of the Russian state politics in the aforementioned conflict. Incidentally, the recent electoral record of Chechnya – 99.4% for one of 11 parties taking part in the elections – is a natural consequence of such Russian politics (of course, not the only consequence). Alas, this obscene record was assisted by the indifference of the free-world. This is how we are constructing the world and all transnational institutions, without exception, are taking part in this construction.

The OSCE in December 2007 and in March 2008 did not take part in the monitoring of the Russian, if one may call them so, “elections” (exactly like the OSCE Mission to the Chechen capital Grozny in December 1995). The real reason for the refusal from monitoring is more than apparent – it is because of deep and very well-founded suspicions about the barefaced discrepancy between the Russian elections and democratic norms. Let’s be frank, it’s not even suspicion; it’s certainty, except that it’s not substantiated by correct, formal legal evidence. Social so called “administrative resources”, involving direct pressure on officially dependent voters; the blatant unequal access to the means of mass information for electoral candidates; traditional nonparticipation of those candidates, supported by the authorities and known favourites well before the elections, in public debate with opponents; the disgraceful results of the vote in all of the republics of the North Caucasus (and not only in these either), like the results in Chechnya – what else is needed for such certainty? This list can carry on for an eternity. But who was it who directly and publically expressed his suspicion? Which transnational organisation, European or Global? Maybe, the European Union? Or some official from a respected democratic country? Well not quite - to speak out? And say what?... “We congratulate you on the elections”. No one risked setting an example by even taking, it would seem, such a restrained and natural position as: “We, of course, continue our mutual business ties and will not move to a confrontation, however, don’t take it amiss, if quite a few are not intending to hide their deepest apprehensions concerning your legitimacy”. Evidently there are no beasts more frightening than Moscow. It is necessary to say that such cautious unexacting criticism greatly enables the exclusive peculiarity of Russian democracy.

There is no need to demonstrate that this, putting it mildly, “caution driven by political correctness” indirectly gives incentive to other unhealthy practices of the Moscow authorities. Such practices like, for example, the lenience shown to their own special services, when they solve delicate problems with “dirty” methods (expressing the President’s turn of phrase of the everyday man).

The most important parliamentary functions (and parliamentary immunity) were purchased a short while ago by a certain Lugovoi, the fledgling of the same nest as V. V. Putin - the KGB – a man who is currently accused by English investigators of the murder of their former general colleague in this agency, Litvinenko. Evidence, collected by English investigators, is numerous and very well-founded. Alas, this evidence has not gone to court for approval, because the Russian authorities do not have any claim to Lygovoi and do not trust other authorities. One piquant detail is that the murdered Litvinyenko was a fierce critic of the current Russian regime and his publications were extremely well-known. Can a constitutional state allow a man under suspicion for murder to become a member of the national legislation, if the suspicion has not been disproved by appropriate legal methods?

There are solid foundations to assume that the President of Chechnya Maskhadov died not as a result of an armed skirmish, but was enticed into a trap and killed. Of course this version was not investigated.

Two Russian citizens (apparently, there were three in reality, but one was protected by diplomatic immunity) blew up a car in Catar, in which sat the Ex-president of Chechnya Yandarbiev and his son, who was still a minor. Here, there was no suspicion or assumption – the murderers were arrested, tried and condemned on the spot, in Catar. Because of a petition in Russia they were handed over to Moscow to serve their punishment at home in Russia and Russia met these heroes with a red carpet at the airport. I doubt that it would be possible to find these men in any Russian prison; they are morel likely on the list of secret citizens.

It is unknown (and has not been publically discussed), who sanctioned the use of anaesthetic gas in the theatre hall held by terrorists, where they were showing the musical “Nord-Ost”. This sanctioning brought with it the death of more that 125 hostages and only by a miracle – despite their threats, the terrorists didn’t succeed in blowing up the building – were a few hundred remaining hostages saved. The assault on the school in Beslan, held hostage by terrorists, brought in yet more dead bodies of adults and children alike. Neither the investigation, nor the protracted court case had any wish to investigate the most pertinent questions about the key circumstances surrounding this assault. It would not be hard to prove that saving the lives of the hostages was, in no way, the first priority in the actions taken by the Russian authorities. This unwavering power presents before the idol of state prestige hundreds of human lives. Yet between them, not one transnational organisation demanded from Moscow a comprehensive report about how high the value of human life stands in these anti-terror operations.

Besides the mentioned Maskhadov, Yandarbyev and Litvinenko, victims of clearly political killings included Starovoitova, Golovlyov, Yushenkov, and Politkovskaya. They all happened to be outspoken opponents of the government. What a strange coincidence. Or is it a consistent pattern? Does it mean that some secret supporters of the government are so resolute and free in their choice of methods that they would not stop at using this particular method to serve the government? It strongly suggests itself that the security services were either directly or indirectly involved in, or knew about, the killings. However, the law enforcement authorities never investigated such a possibility, even though by law they should have done so.

And finally, the deadly explosions in apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk. A suspicion of security agents’ involvement in this terrible crime was inevitable and necessary (especially in view of striking inconsistencies in official reports, reaching their peak in the scandalously different, in fact mutually exclusive statements made by two agencies – the Federal Security Service and the Ministry of Interior – alleging a joint "security exercise" in Ryazan; their conflicting reports revealed beyond doubt that the official information was intentionally misleading). I am convinced that the civil society should not rule out this horrible possibility: we know from our history about vivid examples of too many monstrous crimes committed by authorities. A civilized government must respect and appreciate the society’s right to know. The only thing the government can do to disprove the horrible suspicions is to conduct a transparent, detailed and impartial investigation, including, in particular, the theory which is damaging to the government. But the Russian government does the exact opposite. They fuel suspicions by refusing to discuss them. The authorities wriggle out of political responsibility like a student hiding his poor academic performance. The authorities ignore parliamentary enquiries or respond in a merely formal and irrelevant manner. Even courts fail to uphold the legally established right of a State Duma member to access official information. Very often, the official reports are blatantly and grossly misleading (the abovementioned statement about the so-called "anti-terrorist exercise" in Ryazan was the most striking example of an official lie). Suspects facing charges for the blast attacks were low-level technical assistants of the actual terrorists, such as Dekkushev and Krymshamkhalov. Apparently, they had been involved in manufacturing the explosive device and its transportation to Volgodonsk, but their involvement in the Moscow blasts was not proven.

It is important to note that the night-time explosions in apartment houses in the autumn of 1999 had played a key role in the fact that the Chechen war was resumed and Putin triumphantly won the presidential elections. However, the Russian security services and the top Russian officials (most of whom, incidentally, had begun their careers in the same security services) never attempted to disprove their involvement in this public tragedy; they simply ignored the suspicions. It is strange that Russia’s partners in the free democratic world also seem to disregard the probability of this terrible hypothesis; no one, for example, asked to explain the mysterious contradictions between the two most important "power ministries" in their interpretation of the scary Ryazan farce. I believe that this dangerous shortsightedness encourages the habitual criminal conduct of Russia’s increasingly powerful security services. This fearful indifference is conveniently described as political correctness and used as an excuse to avoid unpleasant discussions.

The idea of a new political system based on the rule of law and focused on an individual, his/her freedom, dignity and security, rather than the needs of the state - this idea is going through a crisis on a global scale. An alien watching us from space would describe our universal values, by order of priority, as oil, gas, and political correctness (i.e. peaceful comfort of international bureaucrats). This crisis can be easily illustrated by other examples in and outside Russia. As I said, the ideas of a new political paradigm have been pushed into the sphere of pompous rhetoric, subjected to political imitation, and serve the traditional hypocrisy of real politics. Does it mean that 60 years of the Universal Declaration is a sad anniversary, and the ideals are unattainable? We should not forget, however, that the new paradigm emerged and established itself after the previous political crisis – the infamous Munich crisis, the deadly crisis of the Second World War. The Holocaust, the unimaginable number of war victims and the superweapons capable of destroying life on Earth were the parents of this paradigm. These factors are still here. Having assumed new forms, they continue to threaten our dignity and our life itself. The choice is ours.

Understandably, a radical change of political system takes longer than a few weeks, months or even years. Age-long realities of traditional politics cannot be abandoned overnight, because it may result in chaos and catastrophe. A slow and challenging route lies ahead of us, likely to take the entire 21st century. But the end-point of this route must be clearly stated; it must dominate everyday politics consistently and explicitly; it must be present in big, but also in small, short-term political decisions. Otherwise, it will be lost. The mere fact that the European Union emerged and has gone through a slow and difficult evolutionary process is a good source of hope.

Here are two examples of decisions - local and far from radical - which might be considered right now.

Take the EU-Russia Agreement, which has expired, so a new Agreement has to be negotiated. The text of the previous Agreement set out in minute details the rules and procedures of economic and financial interactions between the parties. In contrast, the few provisions on human rights and humanitarian issues contained general phrases, correct, but counterproductive, because they amounted to nothing more than vaguely expressed good intentions. These texts were pompous, but at the same time pathetically helpless, because they lacked concrete content. They lacked clearly defined obligations and mutual monitoring mechanisms. Admittedly, Russian official representatives are not the best possible partners for achieving a substantive interaction in this area – in fact, their objective is the exact opposite. However, it is better to admit that the parties have failed to reach an agreement (and publicly explain why the agreement is impossible and what the issues are), rather than mar one’s reputation and undermine the precedence of law over politics by signing meaningless political ramblings. I would like to hope that in preparing a new Agreement, the European Union will manifest a commitment to principles and consistency.

Elections are the main instrument of democracy. Let us face it: there are no genuine elections in Russia once again. It appears obvious that the United Europe would do the right thing and show its commitment to principles by discussing in a straightforward manner, in the framework of its institutions, the Russian electoral legislation, systems and practices. There is no doubt that elections are now a key area of pressure against Russia - pressure which Europe needs as much as Russia itself. It makes sense to apply such pressure in various ways.

Here is one of such ways, maybe the quietest and easiest. Instead of taking steps which one party (e.g. OSCE) will perceive as a demarche, while the other party will dismiss as a mere whim, it makes sense to suggest consistently, time and again, that Russia agree to adopt a detailed monitoring procedure, including assessment criteria, reasonably sufficient powers of the monitors, the necessary number of monitors, the timelines, etc. – in other words, every little detail. It would be nice to involve former members of the USSR and the Soviet bloc in the negotiation process. Let Russia make a public choice whether to sabotage the efforts or to adopt an effective monitoring system.

Once the great US President James Carter said, “I cannot send marines to free the Soviet prisoners of conscience. But I will do everything else.” We should all do everything else - stubbornly, honestly and openly.

The right to life

Conflicting interests

When the Minister of Internal Affairs first expressed his support a few days ago for the reinstatement of the death penalty, I was extremely disappointed, but no more. He had not muddled his pronouns, after all, was speaking only for himself, not for his party. He suggested no specific measures, nor plans to overthrow the Constitutional Court, which has declared the death penalty to be against the Constitution.  

On Tuesday, he brought up the subject himself and his address was passed on by his political faction. The remarks remain his own, seemingly not the party’s manifesto, however it is difficult to feel them to be quite so innocent, and not only because this is the second time in a week.

Not just any week …

The pre-election campaign for the pre-term elections in Kyiv has just begun, and Yury Lutsenko is standing for office as deputy of the City Council.  Among the criticisms levelled by both Ukrainian and foreign observers at the pre-term elections in 2007 and the campaigning for them was the failure by many public officials to clearly separate their official duties and their support for a particular faction.

Lutsenko was speaking as Minister of Internal Affairs, or so the “National Self-Defence” press service presented the situation.  The risk remains, however, of overload. Not only for the minister-candidate himself, but for us as we endeavour to understand whose words we are hearing. And there is a considerable difference when we are talking about capital punishment. After all, a candidate hoping to take his illustrious seat in the City Council can suggest resettling murderers on the Moon if he likes. That will influence (I hope!) the number of votes he or his party gains, but hardly much else.

The question, after all, inevitably arises as to whether in fact he is carrying out his normal duties. Twice in one week he makes a statement about the death penalty.  This view would appear to be at variance with the view of the vast majority of his colleagues since a recent draft law proposed by the Communist Party to reinstate the death penalty, gained a pathetic 49 votes. The Verkhovna Rada was at least on this occasion in full accord with Ukraine’s highest judicial body, the Constitutional Court, and in compliance with its international commitments.

It was therefore a serious statement (duplicated!) from the Minister- City Council candidate. It is a view that he is entitled to hold, of course, along with many other views which we find unpalatable.  The voters are also entitled to make their decisions about candidates, or political factions and how their views best correspond to their own, and to their aspirations for Ukraine’s future.

It is difficult not to suspect that Lutsenko was pitching his remarks at certain voters whose idea of “justice” tends to be rather uncompromising and seriously simplistic.  This is the case in most countries, although when it comes to the vote, they do not reinstate the death penalty.  If Lutsenko is playing a populist card, the game is a dangerous one and could seriously backfire.

It would also be helpful if he clarified what he is in fact suggesting, if anything. Last week it all seemed clear enough, if vague.  He supports, apparently, the death penalty for the most serious crimes against a person.  Obviously one would have to clarify which crimes against a person would not be serious enough. However these are details, the point is clear enough.

This cannot be said for the disturbingly muddled views expressed in Tuesday’s address.  The report initially made public by his party says that “Yury Lutsenko is convinced that it is necessary to reinstate the death penalty in Ukraine with deferment for 10 years.

“During this period (10 years), the person sentenced to death will have the possibility to appeal against the court ruling at all levels envisaged by legislation”, the Minister explained.”

Now NO execution can be carried out until all possible forms of appeal and all other avenues have been tried. Ten years should not be required for this.

Even with the backlog of cases at the European Court of Human Rights, it is highly likely that the person on a reinstated death row would win at least one claim against the Ukrainian government because of the conditions in Ukrainian penal institutions which remain appalling.

Nonetheless, Strasbourg could not overturn the actual verdict, unless there had been a miscarriage of justice. 

Perhaps Lutsenko is subconsciously thinking of the other cases already won, and those presently awaiting review at the European Court of Human Rights. I am thinking of the cases over violations of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights – the prohibition of torture.  It is well-documented that all too many law enforcement officers in Ukraine still regard a confession as being the best “evidence” to present the courts.  Torture forces many people to confess to anything demanded.  The criminal investigation unit’s records may look wonderful (90% success rate and higher), but the cause of justice is not served, and nor can it be said is Ukraine’s reputation.

 “Lutsenko justified his position on the grounds that at present “one out of three crimes is committed by people previously convicted, and in two out of four crimes there are two or more victims.”

The most baffling words in this sentence are the first.  How can Lutskenko possibly think that information about repeat offenders justifies the use of the death penalty for the perpetrators of the gravest crimes against the individual? The criminals Lutsenko wishes to reinstate the death penalty for, if caught, are not released in order to offend again. This is so clear that one could take offence: what kind of idiots does he take us for?

“The Minister is convinced that the introduction of the death penalty will definitely lead to a reduction in the number of crimes in Ukraine. “The criminal must know that there is a higher court on this earth also”.

Yury Vitalyovych is well aware that this is not a matter of conviction, but of statistical research.  The latter has been carried out and provides no evidence whatsoever that the crime rate in any country has been reduced by the death penalty.  As the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union stated on 22 April, “the number of murders over the last eleven years since executions were stopped has not increased with the figure remaining around 200 a year”

The issue is not one of numbers alone. The problems in the law enforcement agencies and the courts remain acute.  There are far too many mistakes made, and if Lutsenko believes that a 10 year deferment would insure about such miscarriages, he is badly mistaken.

In 1975 in England Stefan Kiszko was convicted of the rape and murder of an eleven-year-old girl. Do you feel rage and hatred rising?  So do I.  But wait: Mr Kiszko was released having spent 16 years in prison, after DNA proved that he had not committed the crime. To check Kiszko’s name, I typed in a couple of words on a search machine. It turned out that such cases, particularly in the USA, are legion. In January this year a man was released in Texas after serving 27 years of an 89 year sentence for rape. Once again thanks to DNA, the case against him collapsed.

I would ask Yury Vitalyovych and all those calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty to just type in the following words on Google: DNA, wrongful, prison.  Or try torture and confession. You’ll read enough arguments to last a lifetime.

The likelihood of miscarriages of justice is unacceptably high making any suggestion of reintroducing capital punishment simply outrageous. Such a step would place Ukraine’s European choice in question. It would raise not only eyebrows but also questions among those democratic voters who might otherwise have felt justified in supporting certain political forces.  

Cheap populism gives very short-term gain, and it is to be hoped that Lutsenko and his colleagues have the longer term interests of Ukraine at heart.

UHHRU Open Letter: On proposals to reinstate the death penalty in Ukraine

Calls have become more frequent in recent times to reinstate the death penalty in Ukraine. The issue has become the subject of discussion on various television shows. The communist faction tabled a draft law in the Verkhovna Rada to reintroduce capital punishment into the Criminal Code. The bill was thrown out in its first reading, with a mere 49 National Deputies of the 447 registered voting in favour.

On 15 April Minister of Internal Affairs Yury Lutsenko during a meeting with journalists* stated that he was personally in favour of reinstating the death penalty by firing squad for particularly grave crimes against the individual.  On that very day, Amnesty International had published their report on death sentences and executions in 2007.  The report had been welcomed by the Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis: “the work of Amnesty International, which has been mobilising public opinion and keeping up the pressure on politicians, has contributed greatly to the decision by the governments of the Council of Europe member states to transform Europe into a death penalty-free zone”.  Mr Davis stressed that the abolition of the death penalty was part of the real commitment to human dignity and human rights.

Unfortunately the Minister of Internal Affairs, who is a civilian and declares his commitment to democratic values, in this case effectively demonstrated his support for something quite opposite - the idea of revenge. Such statements are absolute incompatible with Ukraine’s declared European choice.

The death penalty which is legalized murder has no deterrent effect. Numerous studies have proven that the number of murders does not depend on whether the death penalty could be applied. This is seen also in Ukraine where the number of murders over the last eleven years since executions were stopped has not increased with the figure remaining around 200 a year. At the same time, the likelihood of judicial error in our criminal investigations of crimes remains fairly high. One recent case involving Tkachuk who stands accused of carrying out serial killings should be convincing enough. It would appear that 9 (!) innocent people were convicted of the crimes which Tkachuk is charged with.  Had the death penalty been in force, these people could have been executed, and the mistake would already be impossible to rectify.

Only parliament can reinstate the death penalty, however in our view, this is at the present time impossible. The Judgment from the Constitutional Court No. 1.1rn from 29.12.1999, concluding that the death penalty does not comply with Ukraine’s Constitution, is unequivocal and final. Abolition of the laws ratifying the 8th and 13th Protocols to the European Convention on Human Rights which bans the death penalty in all circumstances,  even in times of war, would be a real disgrace for Ukraine. The country’s public officials must comply with the Constitution and laws of Ukraine and not seek to revise them, not even when expressing their views in public.

We call on Yury Lutsenko to reject the flawed idea of restoring the death penalty.

Yevhen Zakharov

Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union


*  One of the journalists present asked a question about the death penalty and Mr Lutsekno replied: “I am in favour of reinstatement of the highest degree of punishment in the form of execution by firing squad for particularly grave crimes against a person.”

He did also say (presumably in response to a question)  that he was against the death penalty being applied against corrupt officials (the meeting prior to the journalists’ questions had been on fighting corruption).

Given some of the erroneous news reports, it should be stressed that this is all that the Minister said.

**  Tkachuk has confessed to all the crimes, though the court has not yet passed sentence

Freedom of expression

Kyiv’s Hitler dolls from Taiwan courtesy of Russia’s ORT and the BBC

They say that news travels fast. So, unfortunately, do lies. The speed with which the “story” described below reached quite different media outlets has made many people in Ukraine question whether it, so to speak, travelled, or was transported. Be that as it may, other questions also beg our consideration.

We will be asking how a world-renowned information agency came to use the news report of a Russian television company reporting on a story about Ukraine. Used it, we would add, without any reference to its source, and with at least one crucial omission. Of no less interest is how a UK newspaper could have quoted as its source yet seriously distorted a Ukrainian newspaper article. In fact, general bemusement is difficult to avoid over the fact that not one of these media outlets would appear to have checked any of the information they reported on site. One recalls that the original film of “Dr Zhivago” was apparently shot in Canada however there were cogent political reasons for this in Soviet times.  The reason why the BBC and two UK newspapers felt a Russian version of Ukrainian news to be appropriate we will leave to them to explain, if they can. 

Two weeks ago a short article by Andriy Kapustin appeared in the reputable Ukrainian “Weekly Mirror”*. Under the deliberately shocking title: “Undress Hitler or Barbie-Fuhrer as a gift”, the author, Andriy Kapustin, reported his find of a Hitler doll in a shop in Kyiv and his conversation with a rather limited saleswoman.  He was writing for a Ukrainian audience and will have been in no doubt how his readers would interpret the woman’s “No, not expensive, only 1200 UAH.”  Even if these “dolls” were for children and they are clearly not, the exorbitant price if nothing else would place it out of reach of Ukrainian children.

There are however plenty of other reasons why a rush on such dolls would be most improbable.  The author is himself appalled, by this made-in-Taiwan monstrosity being flogged in a shop in Kyiv, a hero-city from World War II, and a few kilometres only from Babi Yar. He uses his imagination to consider the logical extension of such “toys”.  All of the thoughts about model concentration camps and the like are from his horrified imagination.

It is conceivable that the article available in Ukrainian and Russian overstretched the limited linguistic skills of those who presented the “story” in English, although baffling how they could have felt it appropriate to continue quoting a source they did not understand.  Russia’s close-to-the Kremlin TV Channel ORT and other Russian media outlets had no such difficulties. We would assume it suited their purposes to misrepresent the source as they frequently do. 

The Russian coverage was, in fact, standard fare. The main point would seem to have been to interview a certain journalist, Oles Burzina who “explains” that after the posthumous naming of Roman Shukhevych Hero of Ukraine, you must expect that each child in Ukraine will have a Hitler doll. Now this, regardless of anybody’s view of Shukhevych, is profoundly offensive. It is, however, so exceptionally stupid that it would have been better ignored as are most State-provided “news items” on this largely State-controlled and directed television channel.

Unfortunately, the same story, somewhat trimmed and linguistically mangled was presented on the BBC.  The latter went further than the Russian programme they used without acknowledgment, since they even failed to mention that the dolls were made in Taiwan.  Perhaps they had already thought up the title for their one-minute news item beginning “A toymaker in Ukraine has sparked outrage”, and it was easier to adjust the facts than to think of another name.  

The presenter, however, obligingly repeated the Russian source in speaking of “cases of extreme racism like those seen in Nazi Germany” and immediately giving the interview with Oles Burzina.  Once again, the BBC, who clearly saw no need to investigate any aspect of this story in Ukraine itself, may not have known that the ORT had not chosen their interviewee in order to get a balanced and objective view. There is, of course, no problem with asking for an opinion however we do not need to explain to the BBC that when an interview is shown to apparently corroborate a vague but serious allegation, an alternative opinion must be offered

The news stories which appeared the same day in the UK papers “Daily Telegraph” and “Daily Mail” presented Kapustin’s most hideous fantasies (about toy concentration camps) as future business plans of the spurious Ukrainian toy manufacturers purported to have produced the doll.

The BBC has now removed the news item, which remains however available in Google’s cache and was re-broadcast anyway in Canada.  They have made no apology and have not publicly corrected the errors made.  The newspapers in question ignored my letters and in one case even failed to post my comment among those shocked and disgusted opinions of their readers.

On the subject of shock and outrage, I would mention one extra point. Next time foreign tourists visit Russia, and come back with KGB badges and uniforms, they might like to think about the many people, myself included, who have very good reason for finding this profoundly offensive.

As offensive as are any suggestions that in a country as devastated by the Nazis as Ukraine, toy manufacturers would come up with such a horror, and parents would buy it. In just a few days, Ukraine will be marking the 62nd anniversary of the end of that War.  The figures presented in all English language reports were ludicrously understated, and the facile conclusions repeated deeply hurtful.

The fact that news reports apparently unrelated to each other appeared almost simultaneously does raise certain questions. They are questions we would respectfully suggest the English language outlets might find it wise to scrutinize themselves.

As far as information about Ukraine’s problems are concerned, there will be plenty of reports since the media in Ukraine has largely freed itself of the old yoke, and Ukrainians themselves are aware of problems which need addressing. This, of course, means easy pickings for those who are prepared to distort what they read for their own purposes.

It is sometimes baffling how much scrutiny Ukraine’s problems with xenophobia get, with no reference to Russia. Perhaps people have decided that Russia’s problems are too large, too geopolitically inconvenient to talk about, or simply not “news” anymore.

We reject this attitude - on behalf of our Russian colleagues, on behalf of our young friends in Moscow and other Russian cities who are terrified to be on the street “too late” and don’t come out at all on Hitler’s birthday at all. And for all our sakes since the skinheads and others, spreading violence and hatred throughout Russia, are also actively seeking support in Ukraine.

We do not refer to problems with xenophobia in Russia in order to downplay those in Ukraine, although we do feel that Russian semi-official media outlets might profitably spend less time screaming of an alleged epidemic of fascism in Ukraine and more time trying to address the plague at home.

This, however, in no way minimizes the need to address the issues in Ukraine.  We believe they must be confronted and endeavour to do so on our site in both Ukrainian and English ( ) and know of many media outlets and civic organizations actively fighting hate speech and xenophobia.

We are not closing our eyes to major problems in the country and even the authorities have begun taking measures. Often inept, slow, sometimes ineffectual, but it’s a beginning.  It is very frustrating when a lot of time is spent trying to counter accusations and stereotypes which, like all inaccurate and imbalanced information, mislead the public.

* The reference is to the Russian since this is more likely to have been read by the Russian media outlets

Ukraine’s National Union of Journalist names 15 enemies of free speech

The National Union of Journalist of Ukraine [NUJU] has drawn up a list of 15 public officials and judges who, in its opinion, are strangling freedom of speech in Ukraine.

Among the 15 people named is the current Mayor of Kyiv, Leonid Chernovetsky.  Giving their reasons for his inclusion, they mention that back in 2006 (when he was elected), the heads of the editorial board of the municipal newspapers “Khreschatyk”, “Evening Kyiv”, “Ukrainian capital”, as well as of the television company Kyiv and radio station Kyiv 98-FM, were fired. Since then all of these media outlets have been headed by acting chief editors. The Union also says that the newspapers’ have turned into fighting material for Chernovetsky and that they are trying to turn journalists into vassals of the Mayor’s party.

Another of those strangling freedom of speech, in the journalists’ view is Yury Sydorenko, the Head of the Consultative Council of the consortium SSAPS [Single State Automated Passport System]. Mr Sydorenko is seeking damages of 46 million UAH against the newspaper “Business” and a journalist over the publication of a journalist investigation into the problems of the passport system. The Union points out that the very amount in itself is an obstruction of the professional activities of the journalist and newspaper.

One of the judges in the journalists’ list is Tetyana Khaustova, judge of the Slovyansk  (Donetsk region). She previously passed judgments against Ihor Alexandrov, who wrote a lot of hard-hitting articles about Donetsk politicians and about corruption in the law enforcement agencies. He was murdered in 2001.

More recently she allowed the compensation claim brought by Valentin Rybachuk; Mayor of Slovyansk, against a television company. The ruling was overturned by a court of appeal due to the incorrect application of Ukrainian legislation and for not taking into account case law of the European Court of Human Rights.  The judge found value judgments to be inaccurate, this being in violation of legislation and ignoring the public importance of information about the city’s Mayor (the European Court of Human Rights has stressed that public figures must tolerate a greater level of public and media scrutiny than others).

The list also includes the following public officials:

Valery Kolosivsky, Head of the Zhytomyr District State Administration

Volodymyr Kovalenko; Mayor of Nova Kakhovka (Kherson region)

Valentin Rybachuk; Mayor of Slovyansk (Donetsk region)

Ihor Sikachyn, Head of the Rozdilnyansk District Council (Odessa region)

Mykhailo Strelyany, Specialist for the regional department for press and information of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration

Vasyl Sydor, Mayor of Slavuta (Khelmnytsky region)

Viktor Taryelnikh, Head of the Petropavlivsk District Council (Dnipropetrovsk region)

and the following judges:

Ivan Dirko, Judge of the Tsentralny District Court in Mykolaiv

Yury Hrytsa, Judge of the Ivano-Frankivsk Regional Economic Court

Anatoly Ivanyshchuk, Head of the Kherson Regional Court of Appeal

Mykola Veres, Head of the Oktyabrsky District Court of the Sumy region

Volodymyr Yaroshenko, former Head of the Kirov District Court in Kirovohrad


The Head of the Union Ihor Lubchenko says that this list is not full, but reflects only the most flagrant cases of violations of the Constitution and laws of Ukraine, as well as Ukraine’s international commitments. The Union will be passing its list to the International Federation of Journalists, the Council of Europe and European Parliament.

Prohibition of discrimination

Men sentenced over racially-motivated murder in Kyiv

The Darnytsky District Court on Friday issued its verdict over the killing of Nigerian national Kunyon Myevi Hodi* in Kyiv near the metro station “Poznyaki” on 25 October 2006.

Of the group of four people whom the criminal investigation unit believed involved in the attack or present at it, one appeared as a witness and one came under an amnesty as being underage.

The other two were both convicted.

One was found guilty of murder (Article 115 § 2 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and of inciting racial hatred and enmity and denigrating a person’s ethnic honour and dignity (Article 161 § 3) and received a four year term of imprisonment. Since the sentences are to be partially merged (under Article 70 of the Criminal Code), he was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment.  The sentence is counted from 15 November 2006.

The other was found guilty of inciting racial hatred and enmity and denigrating a person’s ethnic honour and dignity (Article 161 § 2) and received a four and a half year term of imprisonment.  This sentence is counted from November 2006.

In passing sentence, among other considerations, aggravating circumstances were taken into account – the fact that at the time of the crime, the men were in a state of alcoholic intoxication (Article 67 of the Criminal Code)

The defendants only partially admitted guilt. They have 15 days from 18 April to appeal against the verdict.


*  In all the reports at the time, the name was given differently - Hodnoys Myevi. The victim was 47 years old and had lived in Ukraine for a number of years. He had graduated from the Institute of National Economy, defended his PhD thesis in economics and was married to a Ukrainian


Police call for help in guarding Muslim cemeteries

There are 427 Muslim cemeteries in the Crimea and the Crimean police have sent a letter to city and district administrations speaking of the need to find money to pay for civil security for the graveyards in cooperation with the local police.

A statement from the Public Relations Department of the Central Police Department in the Crimea says that in order to avoid provocation coming up to 18 May – Remembrance Day for the Victims of the Deportation of the Crimean Tatar people, the Acting Head of Police Mykola Illichov has sent instructions to Crimean Ministry of Internal Affairs bodies to look into finding cover for each graveyard. The statement stresses that district police stations in outlying villages must make protection of these cemeteries a priority.

Gangs of skinheads in the Crimea and six other Ukrainian cities

The Minister of Internal Affairs Yury Lutsenko told ambassadors from member states of the European Union at which issues on countering xenophobia and racism were discussed, that there are more than 500 skinheads in Ukraine, in 6 cities and the Crimea.

These skinheads, he said, are aged between 14 and 27 and are in gangs of from 20 to 50 people. Such groups exist in Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhya, Lviv, Sevastopol, Chernihiv and the Crimea.

He stated that the Ministry of Internal Affairs have documented most of the skinhead groups in Ukraine and the necessary prophylactic measures and investigative operations are underway. He added that some crimes linked with skinheads remained unsolved, but said that work was being carried out in this area at the appropriate level.

Yury Lutsenko also told those present at the meeting that the MIA was implementing an Action Plan on countering racism for the period up to 2009 which prioritizes prevention work and the solving of racially motivated crimes, as well as counter neo-Nazi skinhead organizations.

He gave the following statistics for 2007:

3,485 crimes were committed in Ukraine by foreign nationals (3,145 by citizens of CIS countries; 231 by people from EU countries;

1,176 crimes against foreign nationals were committed by Ukrainian citizens (749 against citizens of CIS countries; citizens of EU countries – 151).

In January 2008, foreign nationals committed 223 crimes (195 people from CIS countries), while 56 crimes were committed against foreign nationals (30 against citizens of CIS countries).

Last year 22 foreign nationals were murdered and 13 suffered serious bodily injuries causing death (18 murders and 10 cases of bodily injuries were against citizens of CIS countries). 17 murderers and 9 cases of serious bodily injury were uncovered by the police. Since the beginning of 2008, all 5 murders of foreign nationals (of whom 4 were citizens of CIS countries) have been solved.

The Minister said that after serious recent meetings between the management of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and representatives of the diplomatic corps where the situation with combating racism and xenophobia in Ukraine had been discussed, police bodies had carried out additional methods, aimed both at preventing and solving crimes in this area.

He assured those present that the state of the criminal investigation into such criminal acts is always under the personal control of the MIA management. In connection with this, he added, in June last year, a separate unit within the Department for Criminal Process had been created for working of and implementing a strategy for fighting ethnic crimes.

On refugees

The Russian press on the influence of the Centre for Legal Aid on geopolitics

The Russian newspaper “Vedomosti” [“Gazette”] considers that the work of the Centre’s lawyers can influence geopolitics.

As reported here already, on 5 March 2008 Oleg Kuznetsov, a Russian businessman was granted asylum in Ukraine due to legitimate fears that his fundamental rights would be violated in the Russian Federation.

Quite unexpectedly, this rather modest event was interpreted by the newspaper within the context of the confrontation of Russian and Ukrainian military industry complexes and discussion around Ukraine’s joining of NATO.

While highly flattered by the fact that “Vedomosti” gives our work such geopolitical importance, we are impelled to mention that in defending Kuznetsov, we did not even know of the details of the interaction of the Ukrainian and Russian military industry complexes. Strange as it may seem to them, besides a geopolitical context, there are also considerations linked with the protection of fundamental human rights.

Mr Kuznetsov’s application is presently with the European Court of Human Rights. in it he complains, among other things, of the unclearness of the criminal laws making it impossible to differentiate between a civil and criminal offences, as well as of the widespread practice in the Russian Federation of using criminal prosecutions for resolving issues which in civilized countries are resolving through civil proceedings.  He refers to the fact that neither the authenticity nor the justification for the bills of exchange which he presented for payment were appealed by the debtor – the Klimov Factory through the courts. Instead, the management of the factory enlisted repressive bodies which had already shown their worth in the Gusinsky case (cf. Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights from 11 May 2004) as an effective method for holding commercial negotiations.

We would also point out that the criminal prosecution of Mr Kuznetsov was also stopped by the Russian law enforcement agencies, which give grounds for considering the charges presented to be fairly dubious. And how one can interpret such behaviour “against the background of the conflict over Kyiv’s wish to join NATO”, we leave for “Vedomosti” to fathom.

Law enforcement agencies

“Maidan” activist wins case against Prosecutor General

Oleksandr Severyn, legal adviser to the “Maidan” Alliance applied to the Security Service [SBU] to initiate a criminal investigation over the blocking of the Verkhovna Rada.

As expected, SBU passed the application on the Prosecutor General’s Office, claiming that it was subordinate to the latter (the relevant letter from SBU with a reference to the article of the Criminal Procedure Code was later to be evidence in the case). The Prosecutor General’s Office avoided taking a decision on the substance of the case, claiming lack of authority to oversee observance of lawfulness by the Verkhovna Rada and referring to the Regulations of the Verkhovna Rada.

Convinced that lack of overseeing powers in no way cancels the Criminal Procedure Code which the Regulations of the Verkhovna Rada, in their turn, have no relation to (these Regulations were, incidentally, recently declared unconstitutional  by the Constitutional Court), Mr Severyn filed a suit with the District {Okruzhny) Administrative Court of Ukraine. .

On 8 April 2008, the Court allowed the claim against the Prosecutor General’s Office, ruling:

-  “To find unlawful the inaction of the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine in not taking a decision according to Article 97 of the Criminal Procedure Code in response to O. Severyn’s application from 18.01.08.

-  To bind the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine to take a decision according to Article 97 of the Criminal Procedure Code in response to O. Severyn’s application from 18.01.08 regarding the obstruction by a group of Deputies during the Plenary Session of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on 18 January 2008 to the normal work of the Verkhovna Rada.”

The Prosecutor General’s Office must thus provide an answer to an extremely interesting and fundamental question – whether physical obstruction to the work of the legislative body is a criminal action. If it is, then it must initiate the relevant criminal investigation and deal with the Deputies blocking parliament. If it is not, then following the constitutional principle of the equality of all citizens before the law, then this “it is not” will apply to all citizens – with all the ensuring consequences.

Penal institutions

Verkhovna Rada prepared to humanize the penal system

238 National Deputies (236 votes were needed) voted on Tuesday to pass through its second reading the draft law “On amendments to the Criminal and Criminal Procedure Codes on humanizing criminal liability.

The draft law envisages giving courts more scope for passing individual sentences taking into account the specific features of the crime, as well as passing lighter sentences on minors, reducing the number of offences which involve criminal liability and expanding alternative types of punishment for crimes committed under aggravated circumstances.

The law envisages broadening the scope for releasing people from criminal liability if they show repentance or if the perpetrator is reconciled with the victim where the offence was committed through carelessness.

The law also expands the number of types of sentences, in place of deprivation of liberty which will be used by the courts and supplements the number of circumstances regarded as mitigating.

The draft law was drawn up by the Ministry of Justice and approved by the government committee on legal policy and defence.

Humanization of the penal system is one of Ukraine’s obligations to the Council of Europe.

Incident in Penal Institution No. 77

Throughout Sunday and Monday the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group received telephone calls from the prisoners of penal colony No. 77 and their relatives regarding events in the colony..

The prisoners of No. 77 which is in Berdyansk (Zaporizhya region) are all first-time prisoners. There are around 1500 prisoners, with 9 normal units and a special one for prisoners suffering from tuberculosis.

Last week the management changed in the colony, with the new Head becoming Yury Zavhorodny and his deputy – Valery Mezhuyev. They already held these positions earlier, but were dismissed two or three years ago. 

During the night from Saturday to Sunday, a prisoner Andriy Kryvonis, was brutally beaten and later died from his injuries.  He was in a quarantine room by himself that night and the other prisoners claim that they had nothing to do with the beating. The colony administration is adamant, however, that it was the prisoners who beat him to death. The investigation began in the morning. All the prisoners who were in the high security zone were moved to the units. During the day, 15 members of a spetsnaz [special forces] unit in masks and full fighting gear were brought into the colony. They were led out, each time 2-3 prisoners from 6 units, beaten and then in the evening all were taken away, it is not known where, while their possessions remained in the colony. 15 prisoners, the names of 14 of whom are known, in all were involved.

It is not clear on what grounds they were chosen. Two of the men, for example, are said to have been duty brigade leaders, assistants to the administration, so why should they have been taken away? Some of the 15 had recently been punished for infringements of the regime, but others not.

It became known on Tuesday that at least some of the prisoners are in the Zaporizhya SIZO [remand centre]. According to one of them, the spetsnaz beat them thoroughly, without leaving marks, while one prisoner – Roman Ananyev – was for some reason beaten very badly.

The Head of the colony explains the men’s removal as being due to the need to check whether they are suffering from tuberculosis since the equipment for this in the colony is broken. This explanation is extremely dubious: given the fact that there is a special unit for people with tuberculosis it is difficult to find the need to take them for tuberculosis tests to a SIZO.

The spetsnaz remained in the colony. At around 15.00 the spetsnaz men began brutally beating four prisoners – Oleksandr Malofeyev, Volodymyr Dmytrenko, Oleh Bulat and Oleh Revyakin, demanding that they give evidence as to who beat up Kryvonis. According to the prisoners, one of the men could not endure the beating and slashed his wrists and stomach. That’s the investigation for you.

We are unable to verify these events. One can assume that the information about the removal of some prisoners is correct. We hope that the prosecutor’s office and / or the Human Rights Ombudsperson will provide answers to whether the investigation into the murder of Kryvonis is lawful, to the grounds for the prisoners being taken away; to whether spetsnaz forces beat up prisoners; and why this wave of constant complaints about unlawful violence and the total impossibility of complaining about the behaviour of the Administration has swept the entire penal system.  

During the same days we were informed of beatings of prisoners and suicide attempts as the result of terrible beatings in colonies No. 84 in the Volyn region and No. 100 in the Kharkiv region. A few days earlier there were similar reports about No. 55 in the Zaporizhya region. We are convinced that if the system were more open and it was possible to meet with the prisoners and try to understand their problems there would be much less conflict.

News from the CIS countries

New “enemies of the people” list appears on the Russian segment of the Internet

It was reported on Thursday that the Russian Federation Prosecutor General’s office has begun checking information about the dissemination by Neo-Nazis of “lists of enemies”.

The list apparently contains the names of many human rights defenders and representatives of the law enforcement system investigating crimes believed to be racially motivated.

.According to the Director of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau Alexander Brod, on one of the websites, the names of human rights defenders, investigators and employees of the law enforcement agenices, as well as their home addresses, workplace and other information are given.

Alexander Brod stresses that those on the list are extremely concerned and fear violence given the way Neo-Nazi radicals have got completely out of control this year. He does not discount the possibility that the website’s author took information from law enforcement agencies’ databases.

He adds that in the Russian segment of the Internet, there are around 800 radical nationalist sites, according to his group’s information there are approximately 70 thousand skinheads and other activists of radical-national organizations.

Brod pointed out that human rights groups had previously drawn the attention of the law enforcement agencies to publications of such information, however up till now not one criminal investigation has been initiated. “The law enforcement agenices claimed that they didn’t have the necessary technical means to identify the creators of such sites”.

Based on material from


European Court of Human Rights halts extradition of Uzbek asylum seeker from Russia

On 22 April 2008 the European Court decided that Dilshod Kurbanov, whose extradition on politically motivated charges of a religious nature is demanded by the Uzbekistan authorities, must not be extradited from Russia pending further notification. The relevant documents were passed to the Government of the Russian Federation via the RF Representative at the European Court.

Dilshod Kurbanov was detained in the Tula region on 30 May 2007 because the Uzbekistan law enforcement agencies had placed him on the wanted list.

In June that year, from the SIZO [pre-trial detention centre], he sent an application for refugee status in the Russian Federation, since in Uzbekistan he is accused of taking part in prohibited Islamic organizations and movements which he categorically denies.

This application was rejected on 9 April 2008. It should be mentioned that the Federal Migration Service ignored the conclusions of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Mission in Russia who found that Kurbanov is in need of international protection and must not be returned to Uzbekistan

On 18 April 2008 the Tula Regional Court rejected Kurbanov’s appeal against the decision of the Russian Federation Prosecutor General (from 26 December 2007) to extradite him to his country of origin to face criminal charges of “encroachment on the constitutional system of the Republic of Uzbekistan” (Article 159) and “preparation or distribution of material containing a threat to public safety and order” (Article 244-1) of the Uzbekistan Criminal Code.

As already reported, the charges are the standard fare used in Uzbekistan against Muslims persecuted for their religious beliefs.

We also reported earlier the grounds given for refusing to recognize Kurbanov a refugee.  They are extraordinary enough to warrant repetition. The Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Department for the Tula Region asserts that in the charges against Kurbanov “there is no sign of a political motive for the prosecution” and “according to information from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Uzbekistan government denies the existence of torture.” He also claims that “the Russian Federal Migration Service has no facts concerning persecution of citizens on ethnic and religious grounds”.

The Russian Federation Prosecutor General and Tula Regional Court saw fit to ignore the norms of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and the UN Convention against Torture prohibiting sending people back to countries where they could be subjected to torture.

It is important to note that the application to the European Court of Human Rights to apply Rule 39 was based on the well-founded fear that Kurbanov would face torture if returned. Strasbourg accepted these grounds and has halted the extradition.

This is at least the sixth time that applications have been made to the Court in connection with the threat that people persecuted for their religious convictions in Uzbekistan will be forcibly returned there from Russia.

In two cases, the Russian Federation breached the instructions from Strasbourg. Rustam Muminiov was handed over to the Uzbekistan authorities in October 2006 and was later sentenced to 5.5 years imprisonment. In December 2007, Abdugani Kamaliyev (Tursinov) was illegally expelled, despite more than 24 hours having passed since the notification from the European Court of Human Rights was received. He was sentenced in Uzbekistan to 11 years imprisonment.

In both cases, the Russian authorities claimed that they had not had enough time to respond. Since the period allowed for an appeal against the Tula Court’s ruling has not expired, such an excuse cannot possibly be used on this occasion.

Based on a report by Yelena Ryabinina of the Civic Assistance Committee

тел. +7-903-197-04-34

Russian court rejects appeal against extradition of asylum seeker

The Tula Regional Court has rejected an appeal against the extradition of Dilshod Kubanov in violation of Russian Federation legislation and norms of international law.

On 18 April 2008 a panel of judges of the Tula Regional Court rejected the appeal lodged by Uzbek asylum seeker Dilshod Kubanov against the decision of the Russian Federation Prosecutor General to extradite him to his country of origin to face criminal charges of “encroachment on the constitutional system of the Republic of Uzbekistan” (Article 159) and “preparation or distribution of material containing a threat to public safety and order” (Article 244-1) of the Uzbekistan Criminal Code. These articles are part of the standard “selection” of charges presented in Uzbekistan to Muslims persecuted for their religious beliefs.

The Tula Regional Court is in violation of the RF Law “On Refugees” and the UN Convention of 1951 “On the status of refugees” since Kurbanov is presently within the process of seeking refugee status and has not yet used his right of appeal against the refusal to grant him asylum. Refoulement (forced return) of such people to their country of origin is categorically prohibited by both Russian and international law.

There are grounds for assuming that it is no accident that the court ruling makes no mention of Kurbanov’s lawyer’s statement that he plans to appeal against the refusal to grant refugee status. Otherwise the court would have had to explain why this was not taken into account.

We would also mention the grounds given for refusing to recognize Kurbanov a refugee. The Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Department for the Tula Region asserts that in the charges against Kurbanov “there is no sign of a political motive for the prosecution” and “according to information from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Uzbekistan government denies the existence of torture.” He also claims that “the Russian Federal Migration Service has no facts concerning persecution of citizens on ethnic and religious grounds”.

It would follow from this that neither the Federal Migration Service nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are familiar with the Resolution of the UN General Assembly “The human rights situation in Uzbekistan”, passed in March 2006, or with the address of the UN Secretary General with the same title, or with the conclusions of the session of the UN Committee against Torture in November 2007.  Not to speak of the Human Rights Watch Report “Nowhere to turn: torture and ill-treatment in Uzbekistan”, also published in November 2007. All of these documents point both to continuing religious persecution, and to the systematic use of torture against suspects, defendants and convicted prisoners in Uzbekistan.

It should be noted that the view of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Mission in Russia that Kurbanov is in need of international protection and must not be returned to Uzbekistan was also not taken into consideration.

Kurbanov’s lawyer plans to appeal against the court ruling from 18 April. An application has also been sent to the European Court of Human Rights asking the Court to apply Rule 38 to halt his extradition given the serious risk that he will be subjected to torture if returned.

Based on a report by Yelena Ryabinina of the Civic Assistance Committee

тел. +7-903-197-04-34

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2008, #04