war crimes in Ukraine

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Politics and human rights

Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Report ignores freedom of conscience issues

On 24 June 2009 Nina Karpachova, Human Rights Ombudsperson presented to the Verkhovna Rada something which she called an “annual report”, although it was in fact her first since 2005. The Institute for Religious Freedom [IRF] has analyzed it and found it seriously wanting as regards religious freedom issues. It points out that the report does not pay any particular attention to ensuring the right to freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed in Article 35 of the Constitution.

The report cites no cases of violation of believers’ rights during the period in question. There is no consideration, for example, of the following:

  • issues concerning privatization and sale to outsiders of former places of worship which are municipal property and which are supposed to be returned to their historical owners in accordance with Ukraine’s commitments to the Council of Europe;
  • the difficult conditions imposed on religious organizations (commercial tariffs on natural gas and communal services);
  • the abuse by the law enforcement agencies of their authority (the events in Yevpatoria, Kyiv, etc (see, for example, ));
  •  obstruction by bodies of local self-government of the right of peaceful assembly (Berdyansk, Mariupol, Donetsk, as well as the Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkiv and other regions);
  • Some cases where religious communities have encountered obstacles in registering;
  • Preference given to certain religious organizations due to the denominational leanings of local officials.

There is only one mention of a submission having been made by the Ombudsperson to the leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs regarding believers’ rights in the village of Rokhmaniv in the Ternopil region, and no detail is given.

The Institute points out that the annual reports prepared by Ukrainian human rights organizations – Human Rights in Ukraine – for the given year,  particular cases of violations of freedom of thought, conscience and religion are cited, while the Religious Information Service of Ukraine [RISU], together with IRF produce reports monitoring religious freedom in the country. The US State Department in its reports on religious freedom for 2006 and 2007 also cited a number of violations of religious freedom.

IRF does stress, that despite particular infringements, most Ukrainian and international experts agree that there is a relatively high level of freedom of conscience in Ukraine, and also welcome the interest of the leadership of the country and of the authorities in further harmonizing relations between State and religious organizations in Ukraine.

From information at

Against torture and ill-treatment

Supreme Court not bothered about European Court of Human Rights judgments

It is difficult to avoid such a conclusion after visiting a hearing on the criminal case involving Oleksandr Yaremenko.

In June 2008 the European Court of Human Rights found that Ukraine had violated Article 3 of the Convention on account of the failure of the authorities to conduct an effective investigation into the applicant’s allegations that he was ill-treated by the police and prosecutors.

This would normally serve as grounds for quashing the sentence and ordering a new examination - however not in Ukraine.

Despite a number of significant violations, including manipulation of the classification of the crime, violation of the right to not incriminate oneself, and the obtaining of a confession under circumstances which have not been clarified, the Supreme Court took the side of the prosecution.

Prosecutor General’s Office Representative Mr Kudryavtsev asked the Court to simply remove reference to evidence obtained unlawfully from the motivation part of the ruling, and not change the sentence. This is despite the fact that the confession was effectively the key piece of evidence in the case, “not supported by any other material”, the European Court ascertained.

With regard to other proof, the Prosecutor stated that the convicted man’s accomplice “had given a detailed account about the crime committed with Yaremenko’s participation”. However the European Court of Human Rights stated with respect to this that: “the Court finds it remarkable that the applicant and Mr S, over two years later, gave very detailed testimonies which according to investigator contained no discrepancies or inconsistencies. This degree of consistency between the testimonies of the applicant and his co-accused raise suspicions that their accounts had been carefully coordinated. The domestic courts however considered such detailed testimonies as undeniable proof of their veracity and made them the basis for the applicant’s conviction for the 1998 crime despite the fact that his testimony had been given in the absence of a lawyer, had been retracted immediately after the applicant was granted access to the lawyer of his choice, and had not been supported by other materials. In those circumstances, there are serious reasons to suggest that the statement signed by the applicant was obtained in defiance of the applicant’s will.”

Yet the Supreme Court does not find the evidence to be remarkable and therefore found the Prosecutor’s request quite acceptable. The main evidence was removed however the actual sentence was left unchanged.

According to Arkady Bushchenko, Yaremenko’s lawyer and Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the judgment passed by the Supreme Court is not in implementation of the European Court of Human Rights Judgment. The latter, after all, views the evidence which was today “removed” to be a significant part of the verdict, and without it the latter cannot be passed down. To throw out significant evidence and still uphold the verdict means that you are saying that you can pass any verdicts evident without any evidence.

The Supreme Court did not avail itself of the opportunity to show itself as a body which forms the judicial policy in the country. There were a number of important things in the European Court Judgment which could help the Ukrainian justice system enable courts to exclude unacceptable evidence. The Supreme Court had the chance to become a stimulus for legal development, but failed to take it.

The Supreme Court Judgment could be seen as a signal by police bodies – do as you’ve always done. Get your evidence through unlawful methods of investigation. We may through them out of the verdict, but we’ll keep them in mind.

The results of this case would seem to suggest that our legal system does not take heed of European Court of Human Rights judgments. You may win your case there, but you’ll have to sit out your sentence passed in violation of fundamental principles of a fair trial.

Marina Hovorukhina, UHHRU

Freedom of expression

Go whither I know not – and ban it all

You’d have thought there was nothing easier. The crime was known, together with the age of its victims. Crimes against child must be prevented. Perhaps not everyone would have coped with the task of determining the level of criminal liability, but then not everybody would have managed to so catastrophically muddle it all. They’re penalizing the wrong people, goodness knows for what, and children remain unprotected.

At the end of June the President brushed aside such trivial considerations as the calls of the public, the requirements of international agreements and commonsense and signed a law passed – with no less blithe indifference to these considerations – by the Verkhovna Rada. Through its law “On amendments to Article 301 of the Criminal Code (on liability for possession of works, images or other items of a pornographic nature), the valiant legislators came up with a total ban on possession of pornography (for the purpose of sale or circulation). We will consider what exactly they banned, and what the consequences are likely to be a little later, however first it is worth thinking about those whom the law betrays since fine words will not help them..

We are talking about real children, often small, whom adults rape or in other ways sexually abuse. This abuse is filmed and photographed so that in virtual regime they can get aroused by the photographs of children abused in real time and scarred for their entire life. Or so that others, often although not always for money, get the same very specific “kicks”. The Minister of Justice in vain tried to allay concern by assuring people that “possession of pornography for private use is not a crime”. Conscious possession of child pornography most certainly is a criminal offence. It is this that is stressed in the international documents which the legislators refer to when they claim that their law is required to “bring domestic legislation into line with Ukraine’s international legal obligations”. Given all other explanations I would even like to believe that they simply did not read these documents. Yet civic organizations did, and their objections were met with references to the documents on the rights of the child and to some “International Convention on preventing circulation and trade in pornographic publications, the existence of which not only I heard about for the first time. And the President signed a law which finds much more a crime than is warranted, while not that which was required.

After almost a year of extraordinary activity from the National Expert Commission for the Protection of Public Morality [the Commission] it is difficult to believe that all this is accidental. We have been hearing for a long time now how the Commission wants to fight child pornography, xenophobia and propaganda of hatred. In fact it interests itself almost exclusively in what it deems “pornography”.

What is most galling is not even the cynicism of referring to obligations that you are not fulfilling, but a kind of moral nihilism. Through this confusion of different issues, people totally forget about a crime which any normal human being would be prepared to fight. This in fact could and should be achieved through the joint efforts of the government, Internet providers, the media and society in general. Instead of that we have a situation where something is banned because that’s what was decided. There are a lot of people who consider a total ban on pornography to be an unwarranted restriction of people’s rights in a democratic society. I am for the most draconian measures to combat child pornography, and support a ban on pornography with violence, however in the absence of such criminal elements find it quite unfathomable why the State should dictate what people can and can’t watch. There simply need to be reasonable restrictions so that this does not disturb other people.

But we got what we got - only what that is remains less than clear. It became apparent this year how specific an understanding of pornography is held by the morality officials in the Commission. The most extraordinary event was the conclusion issued regarding the “pornographic nature” of the novel by renowned Ukrainian writer Oles Ulyanenko “The Woman of his dreams”. Even using their criteria for classifying material as “products of a pornographic nature”, it would be difficult to predict such a decision. The law must be comprehensible and foreseeable, not some kind of array of not overly clear and extremely subjective concepts. Especially when some persistently repeated terms are not defined at all. If one of the criteria for judging material pornographic is “propaganda of sexual deviations”, then excuse me, explain to us mere mortals what is meant. So that, God forbid, you don’t find some homophobic police officer concluding that any material about homosexual relations can be banned.

All of this has been said many times by human rights organizations and members of the media. It would seem that for politicians and officials our well-founded criticism is also viewed as trivia since there are no signs of any efforts to make the law clearer and more foreseeable. In fact the Commission is more and more actively pushing its understanding of how to protect public morality and it is quite possible that in the near future it will receive the right to provide official assessments for the court.

It is not necessarily clear what precisely will be changed by the law. Criminal liability is imposed for possession of all “works, images or other items of a pornographic nature”, whatever exactly these may be. As already mentioned, all attempts to justify the new restricts through reference to international obligations are cynical hypocrisy since they were supposed to impose an unconditional ban on the creation, possession and circulation of child pornography which they did not do. Why there should be liability for the possession of other forms of pornography is quite simply incomprehensible, and they can stop citing non-existent international agreements.

In theory one can argue that at least possession of child pornography for the purpose of sale or circulation is criminalized, and that for other “products of a pornographic nature”, the situation has not changed so radically since previously possession for the purpose of circulation was viewed as preparation for committing a crime.

Why confuse the issue, if their aim really is to combat child pornography? It is difficult not to conclude that that the lack of clarity in legislation suits those in power. As if it weren’t enough that nobody knows what will be judged “works, images or other items of a pornographic nature”, it is also not clear how they will ascertain the purpose. The Minister of Justice considered it necessary to explain that this “can be the possession of a large number of copies of one and the same work, or if there are the relevant civil law agreements regarding the sale or transfer of these works, etc”. Fine, but why is this not clearly stipulated in the law and, excuse me, how many is a “large number”? How anyway are we to understand the undefined term “circulation”? Who is to define it – the police officers who turn up in a flat or at the editorial office of a media outlet? The scope for abuse seems vast. Specifically for abuse since by a court hearing you’ll be able to engage specialists and the prosecution will have to prove that it’s pornography, and that it was in the person’s possession for the purpose of sale or circulation.

However it’s a long way to the court, and who, I’m sorry, will wish to explain to their employers or relatives why they couldn’t come to work or where the unanticipated expenses came from? As a result of this innovation it is much easier to blackmail people and demand bribes. I fear it could also be used against gay rights organizations or at the end of the day any annoying media outlets, organizations or individuals. They’ll organize a search and with such vague legislation you don’t even need to plant anything “naughty”. They can call whatever they like, even a novel, “pornography”. Or they’ll begin rummaging in your computer – amazing what they can “find”. You can and must argue, however arguing is difficult and costly, as they all know very well. In a word, as an additional means of pressure on people it’s a real gift.

While for freedom of speech, the rule of law and fighting arbitrary rule it is the latest blow.


(Ukrainian original: Телекритика № 7-8 (2009)

Press Association warns against legislative risk to press freedom

The Ukrainian Association of Press Publishers [UAPP] has issued a protest to the heads of parliamentary profile committees, the Television and Radio Broadcasting Committee, as well as to the heads of parliamentary factions. It is concerned over the passing in its first reading of a draft law which envisages criminal liability for violations of legislation on public morality (Draft Law No. 1340 from 15.05.2008.

“This law – its statement reads – cannot be passed on the grounds that it uses the imperfect terminology of the Law “On the Protection of Public Morality”. If the draft law is passed, the editors and journalists of men’s and women’s newspapers and journals, as well as tabloids and mass circulation entertainment publications could be under The passing into law of these amendments to the Criminal Code would mean the closure of whole segments of the market in printed press.”

[The draft law in question appears to be concentrating on “erotic” and “pornographic” material, however repeats infringements to the Law on public morality. The terminology in this law leaves vast and worrying scope for arbitrary or highly subjective interpretations See “Unforeseeable immorality below for examples) ].

Access to information

New version of the Law “On information” - going over old ground

Ukraine’s information legislation undoubtedly needs updating. It could be said that parliament initiated this process by passing in its first reading the draft law “On access to public information”. The author of this, Andriy Shevchenko, has also proposed a new version of the Law “On information”. If the law on public information could be called revolutionary, this new one is more a correction of current norms of the same law.

The proposed changes are, first of all, in the definition of information as presently in the law on information, as well as in the Civil Code (surprisingly enough this was not refined when drawing up the latter.) The new version reads: “Any piece of information the content of which can be given in sign or symbol form and stored on a physical medium external to the human mind”. This definition seems closer to the modern concept of information than that in the current law (“news about events or phenomena which occur in society, the State and the environment”)

The general principles of the new version also include new norms, such as one prohibiting the classifying of information for more than 30 years. It stipulates the duty of legislative, representative and other elected or appointed public authorities to provide the public unobstructed access to their meetings. At present the issue of access to meetings is particularly relevant at local level, however the obligation to hold open meetings is imposed only for local councils and not for their executive bodies.

The penchant seen in the current law for overloading the document with theoretical provisions has been carried over into the new version. For example, listing types of information and defining each will hardly help protect any person’s rights, but could quite possibly promote the existence of several unnecessary statistical or other reporting forms on types of information.

It is yet again proposed to leave the concept of the right of ownership of information in the understanding of use, disposal of and ownership of, although the questionability of such a concept has long been discussed.

The new version gives a list of journalists’ rights which is very close in content to that in the law on the press. This is a necessary step since the laws on other forms of media do not have such a list, which can lead to journalists and freelancers in such media outlets simply not having their rights recognized.

The definition of value judgments has virtually not been changed and remains inadequate, this being a significant flaw which is not compensated for by improved access to information.

The new version does not fully supply the needed changes, although it is an improvement. The very fact of its having been tabled could provide the stimulus to achieve the relevant changes when preparing legislative changes to the second and third readings.

Abridged from a text by Roman Holovenko, the Institute for Mass Information,

Freedom of peaceful assembly

Unprecedented ruling touching on freedom of assembly

On 16 July the Odessa Regional Court of Appeal rejected the appeal brought by Mykhailo Shmushkovych against the ruling of the Prymorsky Court in Odessa. The latter had found him guilty of violating the rules of procedure for organizing peaceful assembly and had referred to the Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of 28 July 1988 which besides a permission-based system, also imposes a 10 day timeframe for submitting applications regarding the organizing of a gathering.

On 19 May near the Odessa City Executive Committee a picket was held by people who had two years earlier had paid money towards the construction of housing begun by the Department for capital construction of the Odessa City Executive Committee. As of the present time the building has not been finished since the said Department has not fulfilled its obligations with regard to financing. The indignant private investors who have ended up without either money or a home came to a protest organized by Mr Shmushkovych who is an opposition deputy of the Odessa City Council. 

Information about the planned picket was provided in time, three days before the event. Following this he received a warning which has become standard in Odessa from the Department of Internal Policy of the City Executive Committee. This stated that having “considered” the notification, the Department found elements of an offence in accordance with this same Soviet Decree from 1988.

There was a meeting of the Executive Committee scheduled for 19 May and other protests were planned outside the Mayor’s offices, however the Head of the Department made no objections about the others.

Mr Shmushkovych received a visit from the police who issued him with a protocol about an offence under Article 185-1 of the Code of Administrative Offences (not observing the procedure for organizing peaceful gatherings). It was on the basis of this protocol that the Prymorsky Coiurt found him guilty of the said administrative offence.

Mr Shmushkovych approached the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union for legal assistance, and in the appeal he was represented by member of the UHHRU Board and Head of the “Respublica” Institute Volodymyr Chemerys. The latter has long specialized in cases involving freedom of peaceful assembly and presented arguments based on the Constitution, and judgments of the Constitutional Court. To no avail, however, and the original ruling was upheld, with no further right of appeal.
It is only the Prymorsky Court which is applying this Soviet Decree which has been found by the Constitutional Court to be invalid and in breach of the Constitution.

UHHRU is treating this case as a strategic litigation since it involves a systemic violation which the law suit can help to identify and eradicate.


Social and economic rights

Striking workers at the Yanovska refining plant not giving in

As reported, workers from the factory, most of them women, have been on strike for almost a week. They are demanding almost three months pay due them, as well as social security payments for six months. . Their employers responded to the strike in regrettably inadequate (and illegal) fashion by sacking the employees most active in asserting their rights.

The local human rights organization assisting them advised them not to sign any documents since their labour conflict is entirely legal, having been first registered in April, and such measures cannot be tolerated. 

On Monday and Tuesday lawyers from the human rights organization, journalists, representatives of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions and the All-Ukrainian Union of Workers were at the factory giving the strikers support. They organized a strike committee, a primary trade union organization, and achieved publicity for the strike via the media, and sent information about the strike to all authorities.

On Tuesday 85 workers submitted a formal statement to the Krasny Luch Prosecutor reporting an offence under Article 175 of the Criminal Code (non-payment of salary or pension). An employee of the Prosecutor’s Office refused to take the statement, claiming that there was no formal authorization from the employees issuing the statement. For this reason, around 100 people are planning to personally arrive at the Prosecutor’s Office on Wednesday.

The Director of the enterprise has been dismissed and somebody else sent from Kyiv. The latter has already invited members of the strike committee to negotiations on Wednesday.

The Governor of the region has also been recalled from his holidays and has sent his First Deputy to investigate the situation.

Forced labour and not paid, but do nothing or we’ll sack you

Women working at the Yanovska refining plant in the Luhansk region have been on strike now since Wednesday. As if the conditions that these women work in were not shocking enough, they have virtually not been paid for over three of the last six months. Their wages are pitiful anyway, and they have been driven by necessity to go on strike. Their employers are attempting to fire some of them, and help and support is urgently needed.

Representatives of the staff informed a local human rights committee of their problems and about the strike on 3 July. There are 330 employees at the factory, most of them women. They earn a meagre wage, calculated according to the official minimum wage of around 350 UAH [around 50 USD] per month for most of the staff. It is only in the refining unit, where the work is gruelling, that the minimum wage is “high” – 515 UAH a month, although according to the law, from 1 January to 1 July 2009 the minimum wage was 625. In general the women doing this back-breaking work earn between 700 and 1,100 UAH per month.

If they’re paid

The workers have been trying to receive wage arrears since March by turning to the Prosecutor’s Office and the Conciliation and Mediation Service, but to no avail. When none of this helped, the workers went on strike.

On Friday they decided to create an independent trade union, to which the factory administration reacted immediately. In gross violation of the Constitution and legislation, an order was issued to dismiss four of those actively involved in asserting their constitutional rights. “You’re used-up material”, they were told.

Members of the human rights organization have advised the women not to sign the orders for their dismissal. and to put their complaints in writing to the administration and the Prosecutor’s Office. It also sent an appeal for help to the Human Rights Ombudsperson, and it would seem that there has been a phone call from the Ombudsperson’s Secretariat however no more details are available.

From information provided by Mykola Kozyrev from the human rights organization the women turned to

Environmental rights

A year after the floods: call to protect Ukraine’s forests

It is a year since devastating floods in the western regions of Ukraine. Environmental organizations have called on the Verkhovna Rada to prevent a repetition of the disaster and to impose a moratorium on cutting down forests.

The Forum to Save Kyiv, the Kyiv Environmental and Cultural Centre, the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine and the Ukrainian Community [Ukrainska Hromada] have expressed their concern over the rejection by the parliamentary committee on environmental policy of a draft law imposing a moratorium on the total felling and export of wood, chippings, sawdust etc

According to Volodymyr Boreiko Director of the Kyiv Environmental and Cultural Centre, the floods in the Carpathian Mountains could happen again since the industrial wood felling has already led to irreversible changes in the country’s ecology. This, in his view, jeopardizes the mountain forests of the Crimea and forest areas throughout Ukraine. “We have the least amount of forestation in Europe – around 15 percent, and we therefore believe that this is of major significance for the climate and for the environmental situation”

From a report by Oleksandr Savytsky here:,,4521720,00.html  

Interethnic relations

Soviet Media Mothballs

A witch in one children’s tale is almost entirely true to tradition. Everything is black – her clothes, house and her cat. She also has a traditional magic wand with which she colours the cat so that she doesn’t trip over him in this ocean of black. There is just one departure from tradition: our witch is kind and suffers remorse when her cat, gripped with shame over his tropical parrot appearance, hides at the top of a tree. Suddenly she understands, waves her wand and her entire world is filled with colour - and one happy black cat.

We don’t live in a children’s tale and it is by no means necessary to abandon long-standing traditions. However entrenched habits and ways of thinking can very often distort reality hurting those who can’t be squeezed into the mould.

A large number of media outlets in the Crimea seem trapped in some old Soviet idea about their proper role in society. You supposedly can’t rely on the readers, but need to show them how to live, what to think and even who to love.

There are “pro-Russian” newspapers who for some reason feel they must not only include verbal attacks on Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians wishing to speak Ukraine and “nationalist” villains, but also idealize the Soviet past. If they consider this past to have been an atheist heaven on Earth then logically enough, no Soviet propaganda techniques are to be spurned.

There are however other newspapers whose readers most definitely do not hanker after Soviet times, and it is frustrating when their journalists resort to cheap manipulation, equally certain that their readers need to be taught, not informed.

In the 17 July issue of the weekly newspaper “Voice of the Crimea” [Golos Kryma]an article was published under the title “Tragedy in Kezlev: inter-ethnic marriages are a life hazard”. I personally prefer to receive information from a newspaper, not moral lectures, and it is certainly more convenient not to have to decide midstream whether you are reading a report or somebody’s opinion. Both genres have a valid place in a newspaper, however, like with advertising, it’s better to ascertain which it is to be together with the headline.

People are obviously also entitled to their views with regard to a correct choice of partner in life, and to how to guard their traditions. They can try to convince others that their views are correct. I would stress, convince, not foist their position, whether through direct compulsion, or by scaring them with various horror stories. It is well worth differentiating between genres since in advertising or propaganda it is not the force of ones arguments that influence people. Here in theory we have a newspaper article about a real tragedy in which a woman was killed.

There is a far rightwing website “Narodny ohlyadach” which reposts entirely neutral texts under primitive, hatred-filled headlines. So that, God forbid, their readers don’t interpret the facts wrongly. The author of the text in “Voice of the Crimea” does much the same although the story is no more convincing as a result than the appearance of our magically dyed cat. And here we are talking about a tragedy, not a children’s story.

From the text it’s clear that the woman with her husband and three children had a difficult life. We gain an impression of the conditions in which they lived, forced to seek work in Moscow during the summer in order to make ends meet. In short, circumstances which hardly gravitate towards domestic harmony. Beyond this point it becomes harder and without the guidance of the author it would indeed be difficult to make the mental leap required to connect the woman’s death with her husband’s nationality and the fact that she did not marry a Crimean Tatar.

And even when he assiduously maps out the “correct” interpretation, it’s not exactly easy. For the author’s purposes the victim serves an essentially auxiliary role. The murder victim is there to serve as a warning and fill young women with terror so that they don’t dare even think of repeating what the author regards as the victim’s fatal mistake. His interpretation has glaring holes, and a number of questions clamour to be answered, yet this does not stop the author in his full-frontal assault against threats to the “purity of the genofund”. The victim is almost entirely forgotten although the author is in no hurry to put aside words associated with violent death so that young women, and young men, continue to shudder.

One would like to fastidiously ignore such nonsense, but it’s not easy. Nor is this purely because of the totally predictable reaction from some Crimean and Russian media outlets which for a change do not even need to think up examples of “incitement to enmity” in this semi-official newspaper for a predominantly Crimean Tatar audience. For any person who grew up in the shadow of the Holocaust any words about the “purity of the genofund” must arouse a feeling of horror. They do so here despite the extraordinary stupidity of the text and of the task itself. We are not dealing with what the author dismissively calls “hormones” but about what even 100 or 200 years ago could be controlled only when accompanied by measures of coercion unacceptable in a democratic country and in total contravention of the Constitution. One can and must endeavour to preserve cultural traditions, but not via locks or chastity belts, or by means of horrific stories which, as always, lead the reader to associate people of a certain nationality with violence, but can hardly achieve their purported aim.

While for those whose people so suffered from the totalitarian regime (and who, in fact, did not suffer?) any propagandist techniques, any inept attempts to interfere in fundamentally personal spheres, should elicit only an enduring allergic reaction. It is Soviet hacks and the increasing number wishing to continue that tradition, who try at all cost to convince people that propaganda is everywhere and unavoidable. They need it alright in order to continue a vicious tradition which adds to old lies, fuels passions and tension and can lead only to a dead end. While it is possible to change direction, and no magic wand is required.

Penal institutions

Another prison hunger strike

According to the Human Rights Centre “Svoboda”, on 1 July 2009 approximately 84 prisoners from the maximum security unit at Penal Colony No. 58 Izyaslav in the Khmelnytsky region declared an indefinite hunger strike in protest at excessively severe conditions being held in cells, and inhuman treatment from the penal administration. It has been reported that on 2 July the number on hunger strike had increased to 100. On Friday, 3 July, there was information that 17 prisons had slashed their wrists to draw public attention to their problems.

With no possibility of checking how many prisoners are refusing food, and what other protest actions are being taken, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has turned to the Human Rights Ombudsperson Nina Karpachov asking that she check the allegations and the conditions in Penal Colony No. 58.

Yevhen Zakharov

Wave of violence spreading in penal institutions

The human rights organization Donetsk Memorial recently issued a statement criticizing unwarranted use of violence against prisoners in penal institutions

“There has been a noticeable increase recently in the number of reports it receives about incidents in penal institutions. There are a particularly large number of reports of so-called searches which are carried out by combat forces n masks. These often behave in a brutal manner, and use force without motivation. On the other hand it is almost impossible to prove that the use of force was unprovoked or excessive.

There are quite a number of reports alleging intimidation of particular prisoners, threats directed both at them and at their relatives. Reports have also become more frequent of cases of suicide where there are very serious question marks as to whether the person voluntarily chose to end his life.

In all such cases the Department for the Execution of Sentences claims that the actions of its personnel were warranted and within the law. At the same time representatives of the public, especially human rights organizations are virtually never included in checks into cases of violence against prisoners.

A significant increase in the use of violence and threats against prisoners by the penal administrations reflects a general trend towards physical and psychological pressure on prisoners.

In our view, the surge of violence is linked with an awaited visit by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture [CPT]. The management of the Department is trying trough threats and demonstrations of arbitrary violence to intimidate prisoners so that they don’t complain, or even think of complaining.

We hope that the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture will bear in mind these comments and information about numerous reports of intimidation of prisoners during its visit, and also any reaction or lack of such from the Department to this statement.

We would draw the attention of the President, the Prosecutor General, National Deputies, the Ministry of Justice, the Human Rights Ombudsperson to an increase in treatment which is dangerous and unacceptable from the point of view of international standards, and in the use of violence in penal institutions.

We believe that there is a very real need for the creation of an independent inspection body in Ukraine, authorized to carry out monitoring of prisoners’ rights in penal institutions. We consider the indifference of the Department for the Execution of Sentences and other State structures to the creation of such an inspection body to be unacceptable.

We call on the management of the Department for the Execution of Sentences to immediately stop its use of unwarranted and unmotivated violence against prisoners, and bring those responsible for such practice  to justice and to give objective consideration to reports of violence against prisoners.

Donetsk Memorial

Human rights protection

How long can you stand stil?

Volodymyr Yavorsky, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, answers questions regarding the human rights situation in 2008

What rights were most often restricted or violated in 2008?

Volodymyr Yavorsky:     I would name the right to a fair trial, the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment by the police, and in places of confinement; arbitrary arrests by the police. Those were the worst violations in 2008. Perhaps I should also mention mass infringements of property rights as well as the rising poverty of the population as a result of violations of special economic rights.

Just before the publication of the annual report “Human rights in Ukraine – 2008”, Yevhen Zakharov, Co-Chair of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, called the situation in Ukraine with human rights “stably bad”. Does that mean that the situation has become stagnant? Since which year has there been no progress in human rights?

We have seen some progress since 2004. It was evident in the area of civil rights, and in economic rights. However effectively since 2007 the situation has been stagnant/, since that development had been the result of political will, and was not backed up with reforms. I mean that structural reform changes which could guarantee further development were not carried out. They are ready, are either in parliament or with the Cabinet of Ministers for discussion, however they have not been passed now for two years.

With this lack of systematic reform, the situation is standing still. In fact, in some ways it is getting worse since this political will is weakening and is not consolidated via legislative moves. This is the problem. For example, the President declared 2006 to be the year of court reform. A whole concept strategy for reforming the court system was prepared, and passed by Presidential decree. Draft laws were drawn up according to it.

These draft laws were submitted by the President to parliament as urgent. In 2007 they were passed in their first reading, but since then have not been considered again. We thus have a vital document which could significantly defend people’s rights and have impact on the whole judicial system, and yet it’s been sitting there in parliament for two years.

In which area were human rights best protected in 2004?

For example, in 2004 there was a considerable reduction in the number of cases of torture by police officers. In 2004 there were very few such allegations made, whereas at the present time they are fairly frequent. We receive around 400-500 a year and yet that is still much less than in previous years because the Ministry of Internal Affairs has created certain mechanisms which make it possible to investigate such human rights violations. That is a certain positive change. On the other hand, the situation in the Department for the Execution of Sentences is getting worse and there has been no let up in mass beatings by special units. A person in prison virtually has no rights and is in a slave’s position, and since 2004 this situation has been worsening. The conditions there have improved, however treatment of prisoners remains the same as in Soviet times.

What impact on human rights is the permanent political instability having?

That’s seen in the lack of systematic reforms and as a result a certain regression in some rights where some progress had been achieved. This is directly attributable to the crisis since you can’t resolve the problems there are. The Cabinet of Ministers has been changed many times over recent years. One Government comes, carries out reforms, then another appears and cancels them, starting from the beginning again. It’s therefore very difficult to work with the Government, it’s simply impossible to do nothing and there’s no stability and continuity. It’s absurd that all draft laws passed by the previous regime should be revoked.

What is needed so as to improve the human rights situation in Ukraine? Which reforms are most urgent?

Court reform is needed, safeguards of judges’ independence and of enforcement of court rulings, reform of the law enforcement agencies – the adoption of a new version of the Criminal Procedure Code. There need to be new versions of the laws on civic associations, on personal data protection. The law on the protection of public morality should be reviewed, since in its previous version it does not meet international standards.

Who is the greater violator of human rights in Ukraine?

Probably the Department for the Execution of Sentences and the Prosecutor General’s Office. The role of the latter is very indirect, and it does not itself directly violate human rights, yet it does fail to fulfil its obligations as in accordance with international standards. – for example, carrying out proper investigations of allegations of torture and ill-treatment, and into killings.

Take the case of Georgy Gongadze. It is in fact public and clear, however there is such fear in Ukraine the Prosecutor General’s Office is simply not carrying out a proper investigation. One could also mention the National Commission for the Protection of Public Morality, it is already competing to form a threesome of the most dangerous structures violating human rights. However it is at a somewhat less brutal level.

Over recent years, following 2004, Ukraine has fallen several rungs in the ratings of some international nongovernmental organizations. For example, Freedom House considers that the Ukrainian media is only “partially free”, and in terms of press freedom we stand in 115th place out of 195 countries. How are such ratings worked out, and how much can they be trusted?

It’s hard to say since they carried out in different ways. Some via sociological surveys, yet according to our observations people are often inclined to say that things are much worse than they are in actual fact, at least in some areas. For example, we carried out a study of violations of human rights and ideas about such violations. They showed, for example, that the problem of language minorities, discrimination according to language worried no more than 10% of the population. The percentage was thus quite low. Yet many international organizations have given some positive ratings. Moreover, after 2004 something did begin to happen, the attitude of the authorities changed, the law enforcement agencies began behaving differently, and there has been more freedom, therefore there has been some progress. Now many organizations have not seen progress over the last 2-3 years and therefore they’re lowering the rating.

This year we observed an attempt at constitutional reform. It was unsuccessful, however we have the opportunity to assess in which direction leading political parties view the development of the country. What can you say about the changes to the Constitution that were suggested?

I am not enthusiastic about the changes that are being proposed. Everybody understands that reform is needed since the conflict in government is systemic. However the changes are not aimed at improving defence of human rights. On the contrary, they are aimed at reducing independence of the courts. For example, they proposed electing local judges, who will therefore end up in the hands of local political parties and oligarchs. And this means that you can whistle for independence.

And these provisions are the most popular in all draft Constitutions, and are therefore not being done with the good of the country in mind, but what will suit a given party, and how they’ll help it win the elections. This political expediency among those in power is one of the reasons why we have haven’t moved forward for many years. Everything is determined by political expediency. We’re doing it this way today, we’ll do it another way tomorrow because it’s not expedient like that anymore.

And if we are guided by political expediency and not the needs of the State and of people, then we’ll never see any progress. Therefore the situation could end up with many rich people, while the State and the people getting poorer, with no progress.

You can therefore predict that we could turn into a country like Columbia or Mexico?

We’re completely different from Latin Americans. We have a European culture, another mentality. We are reasonably free, and very similar to EU countries like Romania or Bulgaria. And we could achieve much more, however unfortunately we are wasting our huge potential. Our country probably doesn’t have such ambitious aspirations as Russia to be first. However in all post-Soviet countries, besides the Baltic republics, we are in a leading position as regards rights and freedoms. The point is that we have wasted possibilities.

The best ratings for human rights are in the Scandinavian countries. What are they doing right?

It’s simply that they think about the country and people. A good example is that when the European Court of Human Rights is only beginning to examine an application from one of the Scandinavian countries, the country involved immediately legislates the relevant changes. That is, they see that there is a violation and rectify it even before the Court’s judgment. Whereas our country has made 6 changes in connection with Court judgments out of 450 proposed.

What does this mean? That we take such values as human rights as something imposed on us, which isn’t so important.  We just need to earn more money, supposedly. We don’t have the money, so we don’t have the rights and democracy. While the Scandinavians understand that they can’t have one without the other. They’re two sides of the same coin. It’s inconceivable that they could have stopped people taking their money out of the bank as happened in Ukraine. It’s your property, and you can’t speak of economic development in such a case.

The Interviewer was Oksana Synytska, from the Institute for Mass Information at

(very slightly abridged )

Victims of political repression

Shouting down history

In a Hassidic tale a wise man who has long realized that no one is paying him any heed, continues loudly calling people to repentance so that the crowd’s din does not deafen him. What the Russian authorities are calling to would seem little connected with repentance while who they’re trying to deafen is also worth considering. The following is about what they obliquely term “historical policy”, but I am prompted to write these words by very different thoughts which no cacophonous racket will deafen.

On 15 July the human rights defender Natalya Estemirova was abducted in Chechnya and murdered. Calls were immediately heard from all over the world for an independent investigation to be carried out. The words were virtually the same as those heard six months ago following the murders of human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, and earlier after Anna Politkovskaya’s murders and others.

From people close to Natalya in the Memorial Human Rights Centre we heard also that the policy of terror had probably succeeded. How many times can you send people you hold dear to their death, how many orphaned children are needed?

The terror will continue. There will be more killings, abductions, torture, only nobody will know.

Who launched this terrorist war I would not like to judge, however the fact that the Russian authorities are doing so shamefully little to wrench the country from this vicious cycle of lawlessness and impunity makes them complicit in terror.

They seem to have other concerns. Take, for example, the war they’ve declared – supposedly defensive but they’re ready to fight it on foreign territory. They plan to fight historians, the media and politicians. Anyone in fact who dares to use the word “occupation” to describe the presence of Soviet forces and the NKVD from 17 September 1939 on territory which was then part of sovereign Poland, or their analogous and no less bloody presence in the Baltic Republics from June 1940.

Just keep up the decibels. Make sure that the din prevents us from considering the far from easy choice of an alternative word to “occupation”. Dull people’s attention through a torrent of words about monsters supposedly “rehabilitating the organizers of the Holocaust” or who collaborated with the Nazis. Make people wax indignant that “sometimes collaborators are given a larger pension than soldiers of the Soviet Army” and not even think to check what exactly is going on and where. No proof whatsoever, but the principle is simple: the more often you repeat the claims, the greater the likelihood that it will all be taken as long-known – and proven – facts.

No less effective a technique is to muddle different things or to combine issues which cannot be squeezed into one category. In the introduction to an interview with Modest Koperov, one of the members of the working group which drew up the Russian draft law “on combating the rehabilitation of fascism”, we hear about two legislative initiatives – that in Russia and the tabling in parliament by Ukraine’s President of a draft law aimed at imposing criminal liability for denial of Holodomor as genocide of the Ukrainian people. One can point out various differences, however since I myself consider such an initiative to be an unwarranted restriction of freedom of expression, I will stay with just one. In Ukraine this really can be called an initiative which effectively had no chance of becoming law. It was roundly criticized by some historians and in the media, as well, of course, as in parliament. In the Russian Federation such decisions are taken “up top”. Mr Koperov can go on as much as he likes about “a lot of real bureaucratic decisions” to try to explain why the draft law has not yet been passed. Just as nobody had any doubts a year ago as to the name of Russia’s next “President” after Putin had made his choice, now too it is clear to everybody where the fate of this draft law will be determined.

It could just conceivably be that the constant muddle between State and individual initiatives is due to the lack of any clear dividing line in the Russian Federation. Russian journalists probably have difficulty understanding that some Neanderthal activists from the rightwing parties VO “Svoboda” or “Patriot of Ukraine” are not repeating the official policy from Kyiv. Maybe just maybe they haven’t noticed that it is no easy matter in Ukraine’s political bedlam to decide what policy is “official” anyway. The Russian media may not grasp the difference however those in power must know where a country’s official position ends and free expression of different views begins. And if they’re declaring war, then it would seem appropriate to ascertain the direct target of their considerable arsenal.

It is difficult of late to rid oneself of the feeling that the Russian authorities are trying to shout down half the world. Mr Koperov’s point of view regarding the recent OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Resolution “Divided Europe Reunited” (hereafter the Resolution) is repeated by Russia’s Council of the Federation which “strongly condemns attempts to give a biased interpretation of historical facts”. The following is clearly prompted by the Resolution:

“they are resorting to active efforts to reconsider the real reasons for the War and to place blame for the beginning of the War equally on the USSR and Hitler’s Germanyand at the same time to absolve those who abetted the Nazis and committed crimes on the territory of countries occupied by the Nazis”.

It would be worth seeking an assessment of the Council’s following conclusions from both political analysts and psychiatrists however there is something else which is even more staggering. There is absolutely nothing in the Resolution which even remotely warrants such an accusation. The Resolution states that:

“in the 20th century, European countries experienced two major totalitarian regimes, the Nazi and the Stalinist, which brought along genocide, violations of human rights and freedoms, war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

It only recalls “the initiative of the European Parliament to proclaim 23 August, when the Ribbentrop –Molotov pact was signed 70 years ago, as a Europe-wide Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism, in order to preserve the memory of the victims of mass deportations and exterminations”

Do we have a situation like the statements once made in the Soviet Union about the novel “Doctor Zhivago” – “I haven’t read it but I know that it’s disgusting anti-Soviet propaganda”? Hardly likely: the Resolution is put succinctly and it is difficult to imagine that nobody is following the bemused reactions from various organizations, including Memorial, which have already publicly pointed out the bizarre misreading. 

I suspect they were counting on something else. They assumed that the Resolution would not be read and that people would simply be indignant at entirely fabricated disrespect for the soldiers of the Red Army. People would be right to feel indignation – were there even a modicum of truth in the allegations. There is not.

What they were trying to achieve besides reflex indignation is hard to gauge. If they hoped with their draft law “on combating the rehabilitation of fascism” and “commission on countering attempts to falsify history” to force European countries to simply not mention the seventieth anniversary of the signing of the Molotov Rippentrop Pact and the events up to June 1941, then they clearly miscalculated.

What is of much more concern are their plans within the Russian Federation itself, and in post-Soviet countries. The hysterical shouting about an imagined “offence to our multinational people” does not only revive unhealthy stereotypes from Cold War days. It also blurs the main issue, one that is subject to no doubt or justification – the crimes of the Stalin regime. The process of “reassessing” Stalin’s role and Soviet history altogether is in full swing and they have clutched at the War and are using soldiers with no less shameful cynicism than did the dictator himself.

That this will not wash in the international arena is clear, although admittedly those in the Kremlin and Federal Security Service may lack the mental scope required to comprehend this. In the West the shameful and treacherous nature of the 1938 Munich Agreement is not in question, and the pact between Hitler and Stalin is also largely viewed in the context of events as a whole. Stalinism is condemned as a bloody totalitarian system which claimed the lives of millions of innocent people.

Difficult to fathom the lack of respect for ones own people needed to find justification for the crimes of Stalin’s regime. And no deafening din can conceal the foul Soviet propaganda techniques being used by the Russian authorities.

«The whole truth has yet to be told about these crimes”

Statement from Memorial with regard to the reaction by Russia’s Council of the Federation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Resolution “Divided Europe Reunited: promoting human rights and civil liberties in the OSCE region in the 21st century”

The joint statement ( ) of the councils of the chambers of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation from 7 July 2009 is an incredible document. One has the impression that the authors of the statement had simply not read the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Resolution, passed a few days earlier, which they criticize.

There is nothing in that Resolution which could be interpreted as “attempts to forget inconvenient facts”.

On the contrary, it “reiterates its call upon all participating States to open their historical and political archives”.

There is not one word which slurs the memory of the millions of Soviet soldiers who fell in the struggle against Nazism.

Condemnation of the crimes of the Stalinist regime can in no way insult those soldiers who liberated Europe from Nazism – they were neither the property of this regime, nor a part of it. They were defending their country, their Homeland, and not Stalin’s regime.

There is not a hint of rehabilitation of Nazi criminals in the Resolution. The Stalinist and Nazi regimes are placed “on one level” in the Resolution in one single aspect, this being that both regimes committed the most heinous crimes against social, religious and many other groups, and against entire peoples.

This assessment is not subject to any doubt. The Stalinist and Nazi regimes were inhuman and terrorist. The peoples of Russia, like many peoples in Europe, experienced that in full measure.

OSCE has supported the proposal of the European Parliament to declare 23 August Remembrance Day for the Victims of both regimes. One can and should argue long about the choice of a specific symbolic date.

For example, in our view, the Soviet-German Secret Protocols of 1939, signed on that day which divided spheres of influence in Eastern Europe (there is not a word about the actual protocols in the Federal Assembly’s statement) were not the first, the only or even, perhaps, the most terrible crime of the Stalinist and Nazi regimes.

Solovki and Kolyma, the campaign against “kulaks” resulted in the famine of 1932-1933, the Great Terror, Dachau, Buchenwald, Kristallnacht”, the Nuremburg race laws, all of these were before August 1939.

Nor does the run-up to the Second World War merely boil down to 23 August 1939 – it is unlikely that anyone has doubts on this score.

Nonetheless the choice of 23 August as Remembrance Day has its reasons. The pact between the two dictators on dividing up the entire region was and remains for many a vivid example of amoral and cynical

politics and a symbol of the crimes of the two totalitarian regimes, committed both together and separately

Today, after many decades, the whole truth has yet to be told about these crimes. Many of these crimes have still not received proper historical and legal assessment.

The leaders of Russia’s Parliament,  a country that perhaps suffered most of all both from Nazism and from Stalinism, instead of looking for “anti-Russian attacks” where there is no whiff of them, should concern itself with immortalizing the memory of the victims of Nazism and Stalinism, with opening up archives containing documents about the State terror, as well as, in cooperation with the parliaments of other European countries, promoting public understanding of the crimes of the totalitarian regimes and overcoming their consequences.

The Board of the International “Memorial” Society

News from the CIS countries

Were Ukrainian observers presented as the enemy in Moldova?

The Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] consider it possible that the obstructions posed and deportation from Moldova of Ukrainian nationals within the team of international observers at the early parliamentary elections were elements of the Moldovan regime’s pre-election political technology. This was suggested at a press conference on Thursday by Sergei Tkachenko, Head of the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) Mission in Moldova.

He said that the pre-election programme of the then ruling communist party was based on postulates regarding stability, prevention of unrest and of the export of various “colour” revolutions. He assumed that, because of the Orange Revolution, Ukrainians might have been presented as the enemy.

Mr Tkachenko pointed out that when watching programmes on Moldovan television on the eve of the elections, the observers had seen that the events connected with the observers were the main items in local media outlets. They were, moreover, portrayed as people who had come with the aim of destabilizing the situation before the elections. He believes that they thus became a part of the election political technology and that this was part of an attempt to make them into a threat to the country.”

He added that the mission’s observers had begun receiving threats and that the management had felt compelled to wind up work and return observers home out of considerations of safety

Oleksandr Chernenko, Head of CVU, stressed that it was difficult to explain the actions of the Moldovan regime at all, and considered them absurd. On 22 July the Moldovan Central Election Commission had decided to allow ENEMO to observe the elections, and on 24 July 53 of the 140 put forward received accreditation. Then on 27 July the others were turned down.

Moreover the Georgian representatives had not even been allowed out of the airport, even those who had received CEC accreditation and were sent home. The Ukrainian nationals were detained by the migration service and police and also deported.

Mr Chernenko said that the representatives of the Moldovan authorities had acted “spontaneously, in a disorganized manner, and through phone calls and that the observers had received no official explanation. He added that the CEC Secretary had called the ENEMO observers “unreliable and unwelcome”, while the Head of the CEC had spoken of “criminals implicated in the organization of the colour revolutions” He stressed that the mission had contained representatives from other countries – Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and others, yet only the Ukrainians and Georgians had received such treatment.

It was also stressed that Moldovan citizens in general, and representatives of the authorities in the regions, had been welcoming until the phone calls, after which the position of the local management changed and they demanded that the observers leave their country.

CVU considers that the Ukrainian authorities must make a response to such actions from their Moldovan counterparts. They should at very least demand an official explanation for the detention and expulsion of the six members of an official observer team on 28 July.

From a report at

Memorial: On the persecution of human rights organizations in Kazan

In Kazan on 20 July 2009 law enforcement agencies paralyzed the activities of two well-known civic organizations – the interregional human rights organization AGORA and the Kazan Human Rights Centre. All bookkeeping documentation was removed on the pretext that they were looking for tax and other financial infringements.

After the first interrogation on 22 July, it became clear that the tax quibbles were no more than a pretext. The chief and, essentially, only interest shown by the investigators was not in whether money had been spent correctly, but in the sources of financing of the organizations. This continues a trend which has not just recently emerged. The notion which became lodged in the minds of Soviet leaders that receiving money from abroad is not far off State treason has outlived the Soviet Union. We are seeing ever more often how high-ranking officials and State-owned media try to present human rights activists receiving support from foreign foundations as if not a “fifth column”, then as “hirelings of the West”.

This is undoubtedly in the majority of cases not a genuine misapprehension, but an old propagandist technique allowing them to avoid discussion specific facts and issues with the help of an accusatory formula: “he who pays calls the tune”. Constant repetition of a tacky view about money and music has not so far solved a single public problem, but the very phrase quite frequently creates an impression upon those who have no idea about the work of civic organizations. Many people have no idea that it is not foundations (foreign or Russian) which hire civic activists for some purpose, but on the contrary civic organizations which seek and choose sponsors for their own projects.

Human rights organizations cannot depend on their sponsors - that would be fatal. They cannot depend on State funding since the main violator of citizens’ rights is always and everywhere the State. In the entire world human rights organizations rely on non-state funding, this being one of the sources of their independence.

Unfortunately in Russia it is almost exclusively foreign charities which form the source of support for human rights, as well as for many other independent civic organizations. This does not reflect the preference of the civic organizations themselves, but due to the situation in the country. it would be marvellous to receive support from Russian sponsors, but in today’s Russia virtually no serious businesspeople will risk helping human rights organizations without the approval of those in power.

Up till recently there was no question even of the authorities approving of human rights activities. At present there would seem to have been some changes – President Medvedev has publicly uttered words about the importance and need for the work of human rights defenders, although this work causes difficulties for the authorities.

It would seem, however, that Russian officials do not believe in the President’s sincerity. It would seem that they think that his words are mere ritual phrases for western partners. This at any rate is the impression gained by the events in Kazan.

We on our part are convinced that the true interests of the country are represented not by quasi-patriots, fighting with “foreign influence”, but human rights defenders who help citizens protect their rights against the arbitrary rule of the country’s officials. This is what the interregional human rights organization AGORA and the Kazan Human Rights Centre do highly successfully.

We are outraged by the removal of documents from Kazan human rights organizations and demand their immediate return. We express solidarity with our colleagues and hope that in the very near future they can return to systematic work.

24 July 2009

Russian post to be scrutinized

The Russian Ministry for Communications has given the law enforcement agencies unlimited access to letters, parcels, etc sent by post. Although the Russian Constitution guarantees confidentiality of communications and permits any interference with correspondence only on the basis of a court ruling, the relevant Order was published on 10 July 2009, and has come into force today, 21 July.

The Order, dated 19 May 2009, bears the title “On approving Requirements to networks and postal services for carrying out investigative operations”

Human rights organizations sounded the alarm immediately and with cause.

Representatives of the following State structures are entitled by the new Order to scrutinize correspondence: law enforcement agencies; the Federal Security Service [FSB], Foreign Intelligence, Federal State Security [FSO]; Customs; the Federal Service for the Execution of Sentences; the State Narcotics Control. Networks and postal services are required to hand over correspondence on request, from authorized figures, with there being no mention of a court order in the new rules. Moreover the security services are to have online access to electronic databases via special communication channels.

There is to be unlimited access to all information about registered correspondence, transfers, etc, including that pertaining to personal data, postal addresses etc.

In post offices, in coordination with the FSB, separate rooms are to be provided for the work of representatives of the relevant departments.

The Order deals simply with the clear guarantee in the Constitution of privacy of correspondence, as well as other judgments of the Supreme Court, etc – it simply doesn’t mention them.

Territory of Murder

The death of Chechen human rights defender Natalya Estemirova has once again shown the world that any mention of stability in the Northern Caucuses which the Russian political leadership prides itself on can only be as a poor television joke.

What has taken place in the last months alone? The murder of the Minister of Internal Affairs in Dagestan; the death of several Ingush officials, including the Deputy Head of the Supreme Court of that republic of the Russian Federation; an assassination attempt against the President of Ingushetia. And now the murder of a human rights defender, fearless Natalya Estemirova, one of the few people thanks to whom we could have at least some information about what was really happening in Ramzan Kadyrev’s kingdom.

We can therefore make a simple conclusion. It would be senseless to even dream of safety, of being able to simply live in the Northern Caucuses, even if you are the Minister of Internal Affairs or the President. And if you are a human rights defender, if you are the laureate of an award in memory of the treacherously murdered Anna Politkovskaya, consider that you have your death sentence in your pocket. And the question is not even whether they can find the murderers or not. It is not whether the President of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrev is implicated in the murder or whether it was the work of his opponents to discredit him. The main thing is that the Northern Caucuses has become a real territory of murder.

This of course was what Natalya Estemirova endeavoured to prove through all her work. She told of arrests without trial and criminal investigation. About torture. About intimidation. About the elimination of an opponent of the regime under false pretexts. However that is not only taking place in Chechnya. We should recall how the Ingushetian opposition figure Magomed Yevloev was killed virtually in front of the then President of the republic Murat Zyazikov., in a police car! And the present President of Ingushetia Yunusbek Yevkurov was blown up literally a few months after he began dialogue with the public and opposition.

Maybe Medvedev doesn’t need to know that

We can also recall arrests of young people in various republics of the Northern Caucuses – they were declared terrorists without any proof and they disappeared. We can recall the secret killing of the brothers Yamadayev, those true allies of the Kremlin in Chechnya. And we will understand that we are dealing with a systemic tragedy which nobody is planning to pay attention to. That is, they pay attention when there is the latest killing, as the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev did in condemning the murder of Natalya Estemirova. However what happens after that? Will anyone tell the President that Chechnya was simply given to Ramzan Kadyrev like some kind of estate in which he can establish “order” at his own discretion. And that there is no point in hoping for legality, the right to life, or simply for a stabilization of the situation in Chechnya or the region as a whole.

And maybe the President of Russia doesn’t need to know that? Maybe it’s enough for him to watch television news with a report about stabilization? And when they report that a Dagestan minister died, that an assassination attempt was made on the Ingushetia President, that a Chechen human rights defender was murdered – well, you can simply turn off the television until the next good news.

Vitaly Portnikov at   (under “Point of view” and Radio Svoboda informs readers that in this section authors express their own views, not that of the station)

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2009, #07