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.


Conditional Association

At their meeting on 10 December, the Council of Foreign Ministers of EU Countries agreed Conclusions on Ukraine which set out conditions for the signing of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. 

Judging by coverage in the Ukrainian media it seems likely that the conclusions will not lead to any change in the current regime’s behaviour, but may be used to blur fundamental issues. The conditions put forward are for a reliable electoral system to be established, through consultation with the opposition; elimination of selective justice, including enforcement of European Court of Human Rights judgements; and economic reform in preparation for a free trade zone with the EU. 

Over recent weeks President Yanukovych has made many hints regarding readiness to “partially” join the CIS Customs Union, and the statement on 10 December may have been aimed at countering that.

The present regime is showing absolutely no inclination to rectify the situation with selective justice. It has also just succeeded in holding elections which were condemned as the worst elections since 2004 (by the Head of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU]) and as not meeting democratic standards by virtually all domestic and international observers.  The Council of Ministers has called on Ukraine to implement the final recommendations from the OSCE – ODIHR and has mentioned that they will follow the situation in 5 disputed constituencies where new elections are to be held. There are, however, more constituencies where the outcome could be disputed. More importantly, the electoral legislation which the ruling party pushed through despite serious criticism from authoritative bodies, including the Venice Commission, was in itself an enormous step backwards. Nor are fair elections compatible with imprisonment of two of the key opposition leaders. There was also rampant abuse of administrative resources and distortion of media coverage, especially on the State-owned UTV-1.

It is difficult to know what the EU can do. However any demands now to implement recommendations will in the main refer to elections due at a much later stage. Since the irregularities at the parliamentary elections were aimed at ensuring a controllable parliament, changes made up to two years before the next – presidential – elections would neither cancel the shenanigans nor necessarily guarantee that they would not reoccur.

This would become apparent only much later.  The stumbling block right now remains the entirely unequivocal statements regarding selective justice, for example:

The Council expects the authorities to address the cases of politically motivated convictions without delay as well as to take further steps to reform the judiciary to prevent any recurrence.In this context”.

Such statements, given the current Administration’s track record, make it difficult to believe headlines stating that the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement may be signed in 2013.  The situation is profoundly frustrating since the EU can no longer be accused of ambiguity or woolly statements. It clearly identifies the conditions which must be fulfilled making the “newsworthiness” of the document limited.  The ball, after all, remains in President Yanukovych’s court. 

Certain organizations in Ukraine are calling on the EU to sign the Agreement anyway.  They assert among other things that Ukraine’s people should not suffer because of their leaders’ actions.  .Yanukovych’s statements about the Customs Union, as well as other examples of Russia’s growing influence can also be felt both in these calls and in the behaviour of EU officials.

It is surely unlikely that EU leaders would wish to explain to citizens of EU countries why a blind eye has been turned to flagrant infringements of basic principles of democracy and rule of law.   It seems equally improbable that Ukraine’s leaders would take this as a spur to real democratic development. Unfortunately, quite the contrary. 

Politics and human rights

How to resist State terror

  Each of us can become a victim of the state and in today’s Ukraine nobody can guarantee that his or her rights will not be violated. However the situation is not hopeless and there are mechanisms for defending a person the Head of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Yevhen Zakharov says.  At a seminar in Lviv he explained how people can counter infringements of their rights by the authorities.

He recounted the story of a woman remanded in custody in her fifth month of pregnancy in the Kharkiv SIZO [pre-trial detention centre].  She was put in a cell with 8 beds in which there were 30 women. In her ninth month she was moved to a cell where there were three women. In the maternity ward she was handcuffed to the bed. After she pleaded with them they did remove them during her seven-hour labour. Nobody helped her in the maternity ward. Three days after the birth, she was returned, together with her baby son, to the SIZO.

A district paediatrician came once to examine her son, after that there were no more examinations. The food situation was very bad and goodness knows how she could have fed the newborn baby if it hadn’t been for parcels from her mother.  In the courtroom they were both held in a cage.

Fortunately they were seen in court by a Kharkiv Human Rights Group lawyer who intervened.  The baby was then three months old.

KHPG lawyers sent an application to the European Court of Human Rights to apply Rule 39 of the Court’s Regulations ordering urgent measures to ensure proper conditions for the baby and medical care.  The Court asked for additional information, including from the government, and it was only on the 43rd day after the application was submitted that the Court applied Rule 39 and called on the Ukrainian government to provide proper conditions for mother and child; medical supervision and care.

The baby was examined by various doctors and found to have a heart valve condition requiring further examination, as well as allergic dermatitis.  The mother has now been released on a signed undertaking not to leave the city.

Zakharov says that there are around 7-8 young mothers in the Kharkiv SIZO every month.  They may be in other SIZO as well, equally unfitted for them. There are no normative acts regulating the situation.

On the other hand, he says, the case shows that you can fight and get a positive result.

-  Having worked now for many years, we’ve reached the conclusion that when a person whose rights are violated by the state has a legal position which you can defend them on the basis of it, you need to always do so and to carry this through to the end, going through all the stages envisaged by legal procedure. And if this legal position is sufficiently strong, in the end you’ll always win. The experience which our organization has amassed has convinced me of that. Many will say that this is an idealistic view, that nothing can be achieved, however I nonetheless believe that that’s not true. I can recount hundreds of different stories which happened to people we helped or whom our colleagues from other human rights organizations helped.

Why does the law nonetheless prevail?  It’s because Ukraine is within the international system of human rights protection. Ukraine is a member of the Council of Europe and quite a number of commitments follow from that. You can therefore lodge an application with the European Court of Human Rights about violations of the European Convention on Human Rights and win.  Lawyers from our organization have in six years won over 70 such cases. In the case of the pregnant woman there was success through the application of Rule 39 of the European Court Regulations. That means that if a person whose life or health is threatened, the Court, having studied the evidence of such danger can issue a ruling demanding urgent measures and force the country to take them.

We have had several dozen such cases. The first group of these cases was linked to extradition when, for example, a prisoner could face torture in their own country. The second group is connected specifically with state of health when a person in prison needs proper medical assistance and such assistance cannot be provided in the medical units of the prison institutions or SIZO.  Therefore a person has to be moved to a civilian hospital. And if the European Court gets evidence that this is indeed the case, then it issues a ruling and the Ukrainian government always implements such rulings. Even with regard to Yulia Tymoshenko – admittedly, with a delay of two weeks, but it did still implement it.  In fact that delay was probably not connected with the government but with Yulia Volodymyrivna who didn’t want to go to the hospital that was proposed.

There are very few cases where applications for Rule 39 are turned down – two or three in all.  That was in cases when we couldn’t provide proof which could convince the European Court.

Thus the situation is not hopeless with respect to specific human rights violations. At first you always need to carry out a legal analysis in order to understand which actions are needed and to consistently carry these actions out.

There is often a problem in that the people who have suffered don’t always want to get involved in that. For example, victims of torture. When they’ve got out after being tortured by the police, they’re frightened and don’t want to make any complaints so that they’re not hassled any more. There are more such cases than cases where somebody wants to receive satisfaction. It’s obvious that you can only help those who want to help themselves.

There are still too few human rights workers

The Kharkiv Human Rights Group in fact works throughout Ukraine although it obviously can’t cover the whole colossal range of human rights violations in the country. Our group is already 20 years old. We set ourselves the task to find colleagues throughout the country, to hold training courses, organizations such groups and work together. In 1991 there were no such organizations at all, and all of those people who were involved then in human rights defence with rare exceptions went into politics. Now there are around 250 such organizations. This on the one hand sounds a lot, on the other – it’s few since not all of them are sufficiently strong and can be independent. Of those there are around 25-30 for the whole country. And they, of course, do not cover the whole range of violations.

I therefore don’t see any other possibility but to increase the number of such organizations, train lawyers, including defence lawyers, so that there are more and more professionals with human rights-oriented thinking and who will defend their clients from a human rights position.

I understand very well that this is undoubtedly little. It’s not possible to only defend specific people in specific cases. These cases arise because there are failings in legislation, the justice system doesn’t work and the system of criminal justice in general is absolutely wrong here.  All that does indeed need to be changed and human rights organizations must take an active part in that.

In addition, human rights workers should disseminate information. These can be some kind of guides for people in case, for example, they’re stopped by the police or searched. These would have their audience since people need to understand what they should do with a state if it violates their rights.

Everything changed in 2010

In fact human rights protection is the same politics. In general any civic activity in a post-totalitarian society is political in the broad sense of this work, unless we understand politics only in the narrow sense – like activities aimed at coming to and using power. It is human rights organizations that should pose the question about morality and the government’s legitimacy. In our case, unfortunately, about immorality and illegitimacy.  It is they who should remind such governments who is in charge of the home and what role they should carry out.

When we talk about human rights defence, then we are talking about defence from the state when the latter violates their rights. That means that it always happens post-factum, after something has happened.  I talk of rights assault – there need to be preventive measures in order to prevent human rights violations by the State when, for example, they want to pass this or that law.

Up till 2010 virtually everything worked. I don’t recall a single occasion when we didn’t success in stopping some kind of idiocy from parliament or the President’s Administration. Many laws were vetoed and rewritten.

Since 2010 the situation has changed. We are now heeded little although I must say that sometimes they do heed us, but in general they don’t.  We are not yet strong enough to force them to pay heed to our views. And there are presently much more serious authoritarian tendencies, stronger discipline then under the Orange regime. If members of the present government are given an order, then no arguments work.  They can agree with you in the corridor, but they will still vote as they’re told. We need therefore to think again about how to build our joint actions in such a way as to better influence this regime.

Why Ukraine? 

In my opinion Ukraine’s main problem is a lack of people capable of working, capable of understanding and creating new things. There is a lack of educated people. I person have the greatest criticism of the Ukrainian authorities that over 20 years of independence they’ve left people poor and uneducated.  If I could seriously influence decision making, I would try to get considerably more money spent on education so that the attitude to teachers was completely different than it is. So that their children learned English, knew computers well, etc.

The question “Why Ukraine?” {the title of a series of seminars; the interrogative pronoun is more like “what for?”  – translator) arises because the country is really still very young and still lacks awareness what it is there fore, what unites people. I have a certain idealistic perception of this. What is the Ukrainian national idea but the same question as “Why Ukraine?”  This is because I devoted some time to the history of political repression in the USSR. We know that the largest uprisings in the GULAG – Vorkuta, Kingiri, Norilsk were organized specifically by Ukrainians. Those people knew that this was certain death and yet for some reason they did it. After I read all of that I understood that the Ukrainian national idea is really the idea of freedom. And if we speak about human rights defenders in the 1960s – 1080s, it was that same idea of freedom that inspired them to do what they did.

Incidentally that was the same when on 21 November 2004 people went out onto Maidan, They didn’t know what awaited them, and there were prayers in Church for their lives. That is, this is a sense of dignity, of it being impossible to tolerate it when they’re so flagrantly conned – those are the same motives as before.

If we connect all of that together, I think that Ukraine will affirm itself, that this nation has a future. We must just always remember that you should defend your dignity under all circumstances , whatever it costs. However I understand very well that these words are a bit pathos-filled and that they don’t suit everybody, that each person has to do what their heart dictates. Nonetheless I see that there are many such people in Ukraine. The problem is that they don’t know how to build political life together.  Yet what can be done, they need to learn.

Some thoughts regarding the new law on referendums


On 6 November 2012 the Verkhovna Rada passed the Law on a National Referendum. The new law annulled the previous Law on National and Local Referendums from 1991 which was passed before the adoption of the 1996 Constitution and which significantly diverged from it in many provisions.

Under the new law the subject of a national referendum may be either the adoption of a totally new version of the Constitution or the introduction of significant amendments to the current Constitution. A referendum can also cancel, seek the revoking or find null and void a law on amendments to the Constitution. In this way it is possible to pass and cancel ordinary laws, make amendments to these laws (except laws on taxes, the budget and amnesties). The law permits any issues to be dealt with at a national referendum with the exception of those which the Constitution prohibits being put to referendum.

All of this undoubtedly creates additional stimuli for the work of the Constitutional Assembly of Ukraine. After all, the more radical the amendments to the current Constitution, the lesser will be its potential dependence on the Verkhovna Rada. If the

Constitutional Assembly manages to fully create a new Constitution, its adoption can be without the participation of MPs, i.e. exclusively at public initiative.

Furthermore, a referendum can cancel any constitutional amendments made earlier (aside from procedurally correct amendments to Sections I, III, XIII of the Constitution which envisage the use of a referendum in automatic regime).

It is clear that various political forces will have (already have) different views on the Law on a National Referendum. However if you take into consideration the fact that one of the deeper reasons for the creation of the Constitutional Assembly can be considered chronic parliamentary incapacity, then the use of a referendum to overcome parliamentary ills seems expedient. After all if parliamentarianism in Ukraine is really incurably ill, then only the people can act as surgeon.

Furthermore, the adoption of the Law on a National Referendum gives real meaning to Article 5 of the Constitution regarding the sovereignty of the Ukrainian people. Paragraph three of that article states that “the right to determine and change the constitutional order in Ukraine belongs exclusively to the people and shall not be usurped by the State, its bodies or officials. Given the example juridical content of this norm, all norms of the Main Law which in their content define or change the constitutional order in Ukraine should be changed by referendum (in addition to the requirements of Section XIII of the Constitution).  

More simply, the Law on a National Referendum potentially enables the cancellation of amendments to the Main Law introduced by the Verkhovna Rada but incompatible with the fundamental interests of the Ukrainian people. This law is as it were a moderate Ukrainian equivalent to the “right of the people to a democratic revolt” which exists in Euro-Atlantic constitutionalism.

Critics of the new Law insist that the given normative act has effectively cancelled the right of Ukrainian citizens to take part in local referendums. One can answer that as follows: firstly, Section III of the current Constitution does not envisage such a democratic institution as a local referendum (such a type of referendum is envisaged only in Article 138 of Ukraine’s Constitution regarding the competence of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea), thus the Law’s unconstitutionality is not at issue. Secondly, the law just passed does not prohibit the Verkhovna Rada from adopting another, separate, law on local referendums. The latter would be all the more justified since Ukraine’s legislation contains a number of norms on the direct expression of the will of the people at local level. The adoption of the strange, in some people’s view, Law on a National Referendum has aroused sharp reaction from the legal community in Ukraine.[1]   The civic activists and lawyers I. Koliushko and Y. Kyrychenko accused the Verkhovna Rada of renouncing their own prerogative in unconstitutional manner. They assert, moreover, that the point is not even in parliament’s own position, but in the wish of its majority a priori to gain control over the constitutional process.

In that respect one can say that firstly, as already mentioned above, the process for properly introducing amendments to Ukraine’s Constitution is not confined to the norms of Section XIII. This process is also defined by Article 5 of the Main Law which was for a long time not properly embodied in current legislation. If one interprets the content of this article in exact correspondence with the aim of the norm in it, then all laws which concern the issue of the constitutional order in Ukraine should be passed not by the Verkhovna Rada, but solely by the Ukrainian people. For example, it is in that way that the form of government should have been changed in 2004.

Secondly, the new Law on a National Referendum gives real substance to the concept of a safeguard against possible usurpation by the state of the people’s sovereignty.

Clearly the role of “State usurper” can be played not only by the legislative, but also the executive and judicial branches of power, not to mention the President. It is precisely for that reason that a constitutional referendum can become the only legitimate and at the same time legal means of countering the State’s onslaught on the inalienable rights, freedoms and interests of the republic’s citizens.

It is clear that without the support of those in power it will not be easy to have a referendum held at the people’s initiative in Ukraine. However, as J. Talmon once wrote, from 1789 onwards it has not been the despotism of kings which has been the real threat to the people’s political freedom, but an unlimited parliamentary majority, totalitarian democracy.[2].  Furthermore, as T. Jefferson, an even more authoritative figure on democratic issues, said, the people are the only political subject which cannot be corrupted. For that reason it is worth citing the statement by W. Chamberlin that the interests of the Ukrainian people were virtually at all times in its existence betrayed by its own leaders..[3]

According to A. Kwaśniewski, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada of the sixth convocation was the richest parliament in Europe going by the financial position of its members. Yet at the same time, in terms of income per head of population, during the same period Ukraine was in 39th (out of 40) place in Europe. [4]

Thirdly, it is specifically the way the Verkhovna Rada of the sixth convocation worked that makes it possible to conclude that Ukrainian parliamentarianism as a whole is in deep crisis (if not dead).  If, for example, the principles of language policy for Ukraine’s 45-million strong nation could be determined by approximately 80 MPs with other [MPs’’ cards led by M. Chechetov, then what will prevent another conductor from leading a vote on the extension, continuation or abolition of any rights or powers?

Fourthly, in the considerations of opponents of the law on the referendum there is a presumption of political infantilism of the Ukrainian people. There is no doubt that the people, like parliament, can make fatal political mistakes. However nothing cures one from political flops better than ones own experience. The European Constitution, drawn up with the best of motives, was, as we know, rejected by ordinary citizens of France and the Netherlands. The people were not convinced by the results of political professionals.

One way or another, Ukraine’s really urgent problem as of today is not a problem of the procedure for adopting, but the content of constitutional amendments. After all profession analytical and synthesizing work on constitutional amendments is for the moment being carried out transparently and openly.  It is only Ukrainians themselves who can answer the question whether the Ukrainian people are ready for direct defence or reinstatement of their interests.

Clearly the best way out of the situation would be for the people to elect a special body for the adoption of a draft new (or amended) Constitution of Ukraine – a Constitutional Assembly, Constituant, etc.

As far as a basic comparison of the political possibilities of the current Verkhovna Rada and the Ukrainian people is concerned, here the reputation of people’s representatives does not seem able to compete. In fact does the adoption of an ultimately liberal law on referendums not demonstrate the irresponsibility of our parliament?

Vsevolod Rechytsky, KHPG Constitutional specialist

State Policy on Human Rights in Ukraine in 2012

From 2005 to 2009 we reported the State’s positive intentions with respect to human rights however State policy in this field was ineffective, unsystematic and chaotic.

In 2010 – 2011 we were forced to the conclusion that there was no policy at all, that human rights were not a priority for the country’s leaders and that there were every more violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In 2012 the State policy in this sphere changed somewhat and the human rights situation became more diverse and tapestry-like. One saw positive, sometimes successful, actions by the authorities in certain spheres, aimed at enabling Ukrainians to exercise their rights, however in other spheres there were either no changes or in fact the results of efforts led to even more violations.

Specific elements

The reasons for the change in policy lay in the fear of sanctions from international bodies and total international isolation, as well as the need to demonstrate the regime’s successes before the parliamentary elections. However 2012 fully exposed the main feature of this policy, that being to try to implement all recommendations from international bodies which don’t encroach on the power of the Ukrainian leadership and ignore those which threaten that power.

On 26 January the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE] adopted its Resolution on the Functioning of Democratic Institutions in Ukraine. In it PACE expressed its concern over the trials of former government officials, criticized the principles for the functioning of the court and law enforcement systems; commented on the new electoral law; and spoke of the possibility of imposing sanctions against Ukraine if the latter did not fulfil the demands set out. The Resolution demanded that imprisoned opposition politicians be released and allowed to take part in the coming parliamentary elections without any impediment. It demanded reform of the court and law enforcement system, for example, the adoption at the Criminal Procedure Code [CPC]

Clearly the EU – Ukraine Association Agreement which the Ukrainian regime wants so much is impossible without implementation of the PACE requirements and recommendations. As early as 1 February the President created a working group for implementation of the PACE Resolution. Some recommendations were in fact implemented. However the country’s leaders cannot understand that regardless of any successes, the West will not forgive them politically motivated criminal prosecution of political opponents who, in the view of numerous international and national experts, have not committed any criminally punishable offences. While Yulia Tymoshenko and Yury Lutsenko remain imprisoned, one can forget about Ukraine’s European integration. More likely sanctions.

Sugar coating

So what achievements with respect to human rights has the regime had this year? An indisputably positive element was the adoption of a new CPC which, despite numerous failings, proved to be much better than could have been expected, as well as some other laws – on bar lawyers; on civic associations. There were attempts to fulfil the PACE recommendations regarding freedom of peaceful assembly which was violated on a large scale in Ukraine in 2012 through the preparation, with the participation of civic specialists, of a good draft law. There has not yet been any success in getting it adopted. The system of legal aid is developing, with regional centres created which will begin working from 1 January 2013.  Admittedly, though, money has only been allocated for 4 months. What then?

The Prosecutor General spoke repeatedly in 2012 of the need to fight torture, and this year more law enforcement officers were prosecuted for those crimes than in 2010-2011.

The election of a young, energetic and progressive Human Rights Ombudsperson who speaks the same language as western people can also be considered a positive move for human rights. In her cooperation with the public, Valeria Lutkovska has successful begun creating national preventive mechanisms for prevention of torture and ill-treatment, mechanisms of parliamentary supervision over access to information and protection of personal data; and submission to parliament of recommendations regarding draft bills concerning human rights, some of which have been taken into account.

The bitter taste

Wherever the country’s leadership saw a threat to its power or economic interests, it was brutal in its treatment of those whom it saw as encroaching on this power. In 2012 the use of the Prosecutor’s Office, the Interior Ministry; SBU [State Security Service]; and tax bodies as instruments of repression against the opposition and civic movements continued, or even increased.  The judicial system remained entirely dependent, with control over the courts being a key condition for maintaining power. There was no point in even talking about respect for the justice system. No PACE recommendation regarding judicial reform was implemented.  Every time there was a clash between the economic interests of the elite in power and human rights, the interests of those in power won out. All “reforms” – tax, pension, medical, administrative, etc - as well as many ongoing actions by public authorities (reduction in the network of medical; educational; and cultural institutions; bus routes; local and fast trains, etc) were aimed at reducing the public deficit at the expensive of the population and with disregard for human rights.  This has resulted in an increase in poverty and social inequality which seems particularly disgusting against the incredible increase in political corruption and corruption of high-ranking State figures; the squandering or use for the wrong purposes of public funding. This is coupled by the imitation of a fight against corruption via selective criminal prosecutions with this in fact only increasing corruption.

The stifling of business, establishment of a criminal system of relations between business and those in power, according to the law of the fist, kill the market, competition, freedom of business enterprise and turn property rights into a pipe dream. This has forced people to move businesses to other countries or simply close up. All of this, together with the tax reforms, has, according to sociologists led to a halving of the number of Ukrainians who can be deemed part of the middle class.

The pension reform has not increased, but reduced pensions, while not reducing, but increasing the Pension Fund’s deficit which in 2012 came to 7 billion UAH, and, finally, it has still remained unfair. Special pensions, for example, have not in fact been removed.

The system of social security is also unfair with the size of various types which is determined by the Cabinet of Ministers being based on the money in the budget. This means that the size of social payments to former Chornobyl clean-up workers; veterans of the Afghanistan War; Veterans of       WWII; the disabled; solo mothers and other groups in society totally dependent on the will of the Cabinet of Ministers. This is despite the fact that the norms of the relevant laws on social guarantees have not been revoked, and remain in force.

Medical reform is effectively aimed against patients and doctors. In rural areas in the oblasts where the experiment was carried out, people, especially the elderly, can often simply not get to the hospitals which are now sometimes more than 100 kilometres away. Specialist doctors who are losing their jobs in large numbers due to the closure of their medical establishments are supposed to retrain in 6 months (where in the world is 6 months enough to gain a paediatrician’s qualification?!) and find a job in general practice – family medicine. They moreover begin again from the lowest category.

The idea of saving on the public deficit at the expense of self-insurance of public sector workers has reached its logical conclusion in the concept of reform of the penal system. This envisages that penal institutions will look after themselves and earn what they need to exist.  This is despite the fact that 50% of prisoners don’t work since the State is unable to provide them with employment.

Legislation against human rights

Administrative reform is being implemented through six draft laws submitted by the President’s representative in parliament, Yury Miroshnychenko which have been passed in the first reading. This reform worsens the position of people with disabilities; believers; other groups of the population; seriously threatens environmental rights since it dissolves territorial departments of environmental protection of the Environment Ministry which at least to some extent prevented pollution of the environment.

A flagrant example of laws which violate human rights were laws passed in one day and signed by the President despite mass protest from various groups of the public – the Law on the Principles of Language Policy and the Law on Public Procurement which removes State-owned enterprises from mandatory tender procedure.

Another flagrant example of legislation which violates human rights was the Law on the construction of two nuclear reactors at the Khmelnytsky Nuclear Power Station. This was submitted by the Cabinet of Ministers and passed by parliament despite decisions and reservations from dozens of public hearings in places within the 30-kilometre zone around the station. Nor were there State environmental assessments (TEO or technical and economic justification) of the construction projects or the consultative referendum regarding the location of a nuclear institution which are mandatory by law. In accordance with the law there must be a trans-border environmental impact assessments with respect to all countries involved. A number of countries (Austria; Belarus; Hungary; Moldova; Poland; Romania and Slovakia) have said that the construction plans could adversely affect their territory and proposed to commence bilateral consultations with Ukraine.  Yet they did not receive any answer to their information requests regarding this plan. The procedure for participation by the public of these countries and consultations with these countries was thus not completed. Moreover the nuclear plant plan with these reactors was drawn up in the 1970s and does not comply with modern safety requirements. Yet all this could be ignored with the prospect of almost 37 billion UAH from Russia for the construction!

Yet another telling example was the Law on a Unified State Demographic Register which envisages the creation of a huge database containing personal data on people living in the country (the list of data is not exhaustive) and used for the issue of biometric documents (their list is also not exhaustive). As well as passports, the internal “passport” or ID document; driving licence will also become biometric and will need to be replaced every 10 years.
This law flagrantly violates the Constitution, the Personal Data Protection Act; the right to privacy; and adds the burden of extremely expensive technologies to the State budget. Nevertheless all arguments regarding its unacceptability remained unheard and the entire system will function, against commonsense and the interests of Ukrainians who will be forced to regularly pay large amounts for biometric documents; and in the interests of the private SSAPS Corporation.

One has the impression that all legislative initiatives are aimed at satisfying the political and economic interests of the political and business elite (which are effectively merged) and against the rights and interests of ordinary Ukrainians whom Ukrainian politicians swear commitment to.

Lost future?

It is not surprising that despite the dirty election campaign; the use of administrative resources; bribery of voters; other considerable infringements of the electoral law; and the rigging of the results in some election districts; planning to gain more than 300 assured votes in parliament [a constitutional majority – translator], those in power cannot even form a majority without resorting to pressure and political corruption. All international institutions found these elections to have been non-transparent and unfair.

The leaders of the country should, finally, understand that Ukraine’s European integration; the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement are incompatible with the existing domestic policy of the state which is flagrantly violating human rights and fundamental freedoms. Those circles in power see no other path but that of European integration. Are they capable of radically changing domestic policy?

Against torture and ill-treatment

The European Court has its opinion, the Chernihiv Prosecutor another...


Viktor Tarasov reports that the Desnyansk District Court in Chernihiv has yet again cancelled the decision issued by the Prosecutor’s Office to terminate criminal cases over the bodily injuries inflicted by police officers on Mykhailo Koval and his family.  The Prosecutor’s Office has been ordered to reinstate the case.

Mr. Koval calls it symbolic that the ruling came on 20 December which is marked as Ukrainian Police Day.  He says that he has been trying to defend his rights and get those responsible brought to justice for 11 years while the officers in question have continued to serve in the police, been promoted and hold high positions. 

This is the first time that the Prosecutor’s Office has attempted to cancel the criminal investigation since the European Court of Human Rights gave its judgment in the case. The Court found that there had been violation of both the substantive and the procedural aspects of Article 3 of the European Convention (prohibition of torture and ill-treatment) and others. Ukraine was ordered to pay three members of the Koval family 35 thousand EUR compensation 

In June 2005 police officers burst into the family’s home to ascertain whether the son had returned an electric drill he borrowed.  The visitation resulted in the members of the family receiving bruises, a fractured rib and concussion, first at home and then in the police station where they were taken.

Neither the numerous medical documents, nor the testimony of the victims who could identify their tormentors prompted the authorities to punish the culprits. “No elements of a crime” were found.

The Koval family was represented in Strasbourg by Arkady Bushchenko, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. 

Justice in the Balance

Dmytro, his wife Ludmila and daughter Veronica (photo: Maxim Kourov)

Two men have finally been released from custody after six years in SIZO on the basis of a “confession” beaten out of one of them and despite howling discrepancies and infringements of their right to defence

For six years Dmytro Donskoy was held in a SIZO or remand prison. Throughout that period he maintained his innocence. Correspondents from the Vhoru Journalist Investigation Agency were present at all court hearings over the last year and now Victoria Hlebova from the newspaper reports that on 26 November Dmytro Donskoy was released – but not acquitted.

The court was unable to establish what happened six years ago, whether Dmytro and the other defendant – Stas – were guilty.  The police asserted that the two men had attacked Serhiy, hit him on the head with a hammer, kicked the man as he lay on the ground and stole his mobile telephone.

The police continued to insist that they’d caught the right men and didn’t look at any other versions. They supposedly had irrefutable evidence: the mobile telephone itself and Stas’ confession. Another investigator searched Dmytro’s flat and found the “crime weapon” – a hammer.  He spoke with a neighbour who had seen Dmytro on the landing at the time of the attack. She had, however, seen him from behind in semi-darkness and could therefore not absolutely identify him.

The investigator was totally unperturbed by the lack of any traces of blood on the hammer or the defendant’s clothes and shoes which there should have been.  Nor did they seem bothered by the fact that both men are right-handed, although the victim was probably hit with the hammer by somebody left-handed.

The case material includes a statement from Stas that he had made the “confession” in which he implicated Dmytro as well under torture.  He had been beaten with a baseball bat around the kidney area and a bag was put over his head, until he “confessed” though in fact neither men were guilty.

The investigator spoke with one of the police officers who of course denied everything.  The investigator believed his colleague and concluded that Stas was lying to avoid the punishment he deserved.

Six months later witnesses of the arrest all testified that the police had taken Stas into a room on the first floor of the station and that cries were heard from there. He was then taken out, bent over as if from extreme pain.

The first court sentenced Dmytro to 12 years, Stas to 9,   They both maintained their innocence and the case went through all levels, right up to the Supreme Court.  A new trial was called and from February 2012 Judge Svitlana Maidan endeavoured to establish the truth, eliminating all the police, prosecutor’s and court discrepancies and things not taken into account

Throughout the six years, neither police nor prosecutors provided any new evidence of the men’s guilt, nor did they explain any of the discrepancies. There is a letter to the Prosecutor’s office in the case file where a completely different person confesses to the robbery and describes what happened. The Prosecutor answered that such an event was not recorded, while the police simply don’t comment.

After studying all the case material, the court, defendants and their lawyers asked for a criminal investigation to be initiated against the police officers and for the Prosecutor’s Office to carry out a check to establish who beat a confession out of Stas, how and when.  The judge had to delay examination of other aspects twice in order to gain clarity on that point.  The prosecutors have consistently refused to investigate, and when the lawyers asked for a new examination but with the defendants released from custody, the Prosecutor objected. He claimed not only that the investigation had been carried out in full accordance with the law, but that Stas had confessed and the weapon had been found at Dmytro’s home: a hammer with traces of blood.  At this point, the Judge responded asking why she was hearing of this for the first time.

In the name of Ukraine

There was a final, terrible week of waiting while Judge Svitlana Maidan prepared her ruling.  It was, thankfully, worth waiting for.  She pointed to grave violations of Dmytro’s right to defence, itemizing some shocking examples, then announced that the case should be sent to the Kherson Regional Prosecutor to organize a full investigation in order to conduct a full, objective and comprehensive examination. She also ordered a full and objective Prosecutor’s check into the use against Stas of inadmissible means of investigation.

She stated that even suspicion of committing a serious crime cannot be grounds for holding people in custody for 6 years and released both men on a signed undertaking not to abscond.

Dmytro is at home with his family.

Vhoru writes that the journalist investigation was carried out with the financial support of the International Renaissance Foundation.  The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Foundation.  The names have all been altered.

Based on the much longer article here

Infant victim of inhuman treatment

  The latest application to the European Court of Human Rights over torture and inhuman treatment which Kharkiv Human Rights Group have prepared involves a five-month-old baby – S. and his 22-year-old mother K.

Before the infant’s birth and after it, K. was held in a SIZO (pre-trial detention centre) in terrible conditions. While in the maternity home she was constantly handcuffed with chains also on her feet.  S was not examined by doctors and did not receive medical care.

Pregnant woman placed in SIZO

At the beginning of January 2012 police officers took K who was 5 months pregnant from her flat to one of the police stations. One of the officers hit her, smashing her face against the sink in the toilet, and a forensic medical examination found injuries to her face and legs. She called her mother who informed the prosecutor’s office. Officers from the latter arrived at the police station to check the circumstances and removed K’s blood-stained cardigan.  That day K was detained by the investigator on suspicion of taking part in a group violent attack and placed in a temporary holding facility [ITT]. On the third day the court ordered that she be remanded in custody and she was taken to the SIZO,

In the SIZO she was placed in a general over-crowded cell holding 30 women where the women had to either take turns to sleep or sleep two in a bed, sometimes on the floor. K slept on one bed with another of the women. When she was around 8 months pregnant, she was moved to a cell with one other pregnant woman with HIV and an underage young woman.

In the maternity home

K was taken by convoy to the maternity home when she went into labour. At first three women officers chained her by her feet and hands to the bed, however then, at her request, took the chains off. The labour was difficult and lasted 7 hours, with K needing stitches. The only painkiller she had was over-the-counter tablets brought by her mother. The convoy officers were present during the labour, and according to K, held her by the arms and legs, and covered her mouth when she screamed.

She gave birth to a boy, C. who was moved to a separate ward. In the ward the woman convoy officers immediately put handcuffs on K’s hands and feet and lay down to sleep. When she needed to feed the baby, she woke the officers who freed her hands. Despite the doctors’ statement that she needed to remain in the maternity home until her wounds held, at the SIZO’s demand she was discharged on the third day.

Before being discharged, K was taken for a tuberculosis screening, with handcuffs to her hands and feet, to a building next to the maternity home, in full view of passers-by and visitors to the hospital. K was also in a state where even the smallest movement caused her intense pain.

Back in the SIZO

Mother and child were placed in the same SIZO cell together with the other woman who had already given birth and the young woman.

On the fourth day following her return to the SIZO, the baby was examined by the district paediatrician. He was found to have phimosis causing difficulty with urinating.  The foreskin was constantly inflamed, making him irritable, cry and sleep badly. K says that she asked the SIZO Administration on a number of occasions to have her son examined and treated, but got no reaction.

The cell is in a brick building with small windows under the ceiling with virtually no sunlight getting in. The cell is extremely damp, with mould on the walls and floor; poor lighting; no hot water with cold only working from time to time. There was a stove needing to be fixed which gave small electric shocks. To wash the babies, the women asked the guards to bring them hot water in a bucket. When the latter refused, the women were forced to use the defective electric stove. They were allowed walks with the child once a day for an extremely short period (usually 20 minutes) and with rare exceptions were in a tiny square with concrete walls, with human excrement and a roof like a metal mesh with a guard above. Special food intended for feeding mothers in practice constituted a glass of white liquid which was far removed from milk and a small piece of something which was supposed to be butter.

When being taken to the court with the baby, she was in the morning given a cup of tea and a bit of bread. The dry rations stipulated by law were not given to her in the court, and she missed lunch and dinner in the SIZO, meaning that on the day of the court hearing she got almost no food from the SIZO. All that time she survived and was able to feed her baby thanks to numerous food parcels from her mother.

In the courtroom, K and her baby were held in the cage for defendants and when, standing, she took part in the court proceedings, the baby lay on the bench for defendants.

When K appealed to the judge to not keep her and the baby in a cell, he refused, citing a ban by the convoy officers. The totally innocent baby was thus held in a cell for criminals.

K was extremely depressed over these circumstances. The Kafaesque situation did not seem to surprise any of the others.

The defence

A KHPG lawyer, seeing the infant in the cage, was appalled and hurtled to the defence of the mother and child. S at that time was three months old.

K. asked the court to have her son examined, and to provide for regular observation by a paediatrician; proper conditions for her and the baby; appropriate food for a feeding mother; medical examination of her cellmates to check for infectious illnesses. The court rejected her applications, referring to a document in the file notes from a doctor confirming a recent examination of the infant which said that the baby’s state was satisfactory and that he could be held in a SIZO. K asserted that no doctors had examined S in the SIZO aside from the paediatrician immediately after his birth.

There is no paediatrician in the SIZO medical unit therefore the baby was on the medical register of the district children’s clinic. According to their records, a paediatrician visited him only once in four months, after he was brought from the maternity home. Yet in answer to an information request from the lawyer, the SIZO claimed that a paediatrician had visited the child each month.

Having gathered the necessary information, KHPG lawyers sent an application to the European Court of Human Rights to apply Rule 39 of the Court’s Regulations ordering urgent measures to ensure proper conditions for the baby and medical care.

However the Court asked for additional information from us and from the government to confirm the facts presented. It was only on the 43rd day after the application was submitted that the Court applied Rule 39 and approached the Ukrainian government demanding proper conditions for mother and child; medical supervision and care. The Court asked the KHPG lawyers to prepare as a matter of urgency an application regarding violation by the State of the European Convention on Human Rights with respect to K and S.


S was soon examined on the same day by a dermatologist; cardiologist; surgeon; throat and ear specialist; neurologist and paediatrician. The baby was diagnosed as having a heart valve condition requiring further examination, as well as allergic dermatitis. A special diet was recommended for K. Mother and child were moved to another cell intended for mothers with babies (why were they not put there immediately?).

At the first court hearing after Rule 39 was applied, K asked to be released from custody and the court applied a signed undertaking not to abscond. K and her baby are now at home. Before this KHPG lawyers sent the European Court of Human Rights an application alleging violation by Ukraine of Article 3 of the European Convention over the unsuitable conditions in which mother and child were held in the SIZO.

In response to a request for information from the lawyer, the SIZO sent K’s statement which speaks of good conditions in the SIZO, maternity home and proper medical care. Attached were photographs of a wonderful cell and courtyard for the mother and child’s walks.  K confirmed that such a courtyard really does exist in the SIZO but she and the other woman with a baby virtually never had walks there.

Since by that stage K had on many occasions spoken of the bad conditions in the SIZO and the lack of medical care, it was necessary to find out why her assessment had so changed. It turned out that she had written about the wonderful conditions as dictated since she was told that she and the baby would have problems if she didn’t.

In the last few days that European Court of Human Rights has sent additional questions to the Ukrainian Government and we are expecting the government’s objections to our application. The Court has never before begun communicating with the government, effectively not yet having an application regarding a violation of the Convention. Even in the high-profile cases involving former government members Yulia Tymoshenko and Yury Lutsenko, communication with the government began several months after the applications were received.

What kind of barbaric actions are needed to finally change the order which allows detainees to be chained to a bed in civilian hospitals? The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly classified this as inhuman treatment and a violation of Article 3. Such incredible cruelty to women during labour and after it is reminiscent of the days of the Inquisition. What else is needed to change the attitude of SIZO staff to pregnant women whose guilt, incidentally, has not been proven in a court and their innocent babies born in captivity?

Published in Ukrainian on Radio Svoboda under Point of View with the stipulation that the views expressed are not necessarily shared by Radio Svoboda

The right to a fair trial

Peaceful protest in support of imprisoned Nigerian student stopped

On 27 December peaceful protesters in Kyiv were prevented by the police from holding a demonstration outside the Prosecutor General’s Office in support of Olaola Femi, the Nigerian student in custody for over a year following a racist attack in which he tried to defend himself.

The protesters were confronted by a large number of police officers and informed that their action had been banned under a general ban issued by the Kyiv District Administrative Court on 17 September which apparently banned wholesale all protests from then to 31 December 2012. 

Protests were not impeded in Luhansk and Simferopol.

As reported here, the charges against Olaola Femi could carry a sentence ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment.  He is accused of attempted murder of a group of Luhansk residents. The prosecution is claiming that he attacked three young men and a young woman with a broken bottle in his hand and tried to kill them. His lawyers (and a number of civic organizations) are adamant that he was defending himself against a racist attack.

On 5 November 2011 Olaola Femi  and the young man he was with – Oniola Sudadi -  were set upon by five young people who shouted racist insults and pulled them to the ground, beating them.  Oriola lost consciousness, but Olaola managed to get up and began defending himself with a broken bottle.  In defending himself he lashed out with the bottle, hitting his assailants.  Three young men – V. Haman, D. Lemenchuk and A. Loboda received cuts to the arms, neck and head, while Iryna Pashkova who also took part in the incident was hit on the face and head.  Olaola Sunkami Femi was arrested 12 hours later and has been in detention ever since.

Human rights workers have pointed to a number of infringements during the pre-trial investigation and the trial itself. For half a year the court could not find an interpreter for the accused, nor was one provided during Olaola’s medical examination following the incident which prevented the doctors from helping him. 

Freedom of expression

Chornobyl Exclusion Zone – No money, no pay

Chornobyl workers are not being paid, while the enterprises within the Exclusion Zone are not getting all the money needed for basic needs. Trade union members say that this is because government decisions are not being implemented and because of a lack of public funding in general.  Specialists stress that proper and timely funding for the Exclusion Zone is vital for safety at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant and other structures. They hope, however, that the underfunding will not cause hazardous situations in the near future.

Anatoly Yaremenko works at the Chornobyl Exclusion Zone as a car mechanic and is also a member of the local trade union. A year ago the transport and service departments at the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant were made into a separate enterprise. The workers’ problems began in autumn.  In November they were paid only the extra amount they receive because of the dangerous conditions, not their actual wages.  Those workers who remained within the power plant’s structure are receiving their full pay.  Yaremenko says that they have no idea if they’ll be paid before the New Year and adds that they’re in arrears with electricity. They’ve written to the town (Slavutych) authorities as well as to the government, and if nothing changes, they will be forced to come out in protest, starting from 28 December, he warns.

The head of the enterprise, V. Kholosha is promising that the funds will be available in the near future.  He says that the situation is being resolved at government level and that there is no risk of critical situations arising.

Mykola Teterin from the Union of Chornobyl Nuclear Power Workers attributes the delays with pay to the government’s general financial problems. He explains that the Emergencies Ministry asked for 100% funding for the Chornobyl Zone and the government issued the relevant instructions but these are not being implemented. There are two funds from which they receive money, and if one pays, there are problems with the other which he suspects is because the money simply isn’t there.

Former Environment Minister Serhiy Kurykin is adamant that such dangerous sites as Chornobyl should not under any circumstances face disruption with funding. He also says that the situation is unlikely to cause emergencies or contamination of the environment.

The town of Chornobyl where the enterprises engaged in clean up operations are located was also recently without power because of bad weather, however the electricity network is also threatening to cut it off because of money owed for energy.

From a report by Yevhen Solonyna at Radio Svoboda

Prohibition of discrimination

Disabled in Ukraine – ignored and angry

Around 50 Ukrainians with disabilities marked International Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December by staging a protest over inaction and indifference to their problems.  They blocked the road leading to the rehabilitation sport centre in Western Ukraine in an attempt to raise awareness of the difficulties they face.   a protest over the authorities’ total indifference to their situation.

They believe that the International Day is merely an opportunity for the usual pretence and no impulse for real action.

“We became convinced of that this year when we visited the version for show of marking this day in Ukraine House. If in previous years you could see the President and Prime Minister, this year even that performance for show from the country’s leaders was missing.”

In protest, they blocked the road with one of the signs reading: “Roads not only for your crowd”.

“More than 50 people with disabilities from different parts of Ukraine – with sight impediments, in wheelchairs; with hearing disabilities – expressed a real cry of the heart by blocking the totally ruined road which leads to a unique structure for Paralympics training and rehabilitation of the disabled, social adaptation and help in achieving an independent life”.

Yaroslav Hrybalsky, Head of the Lviv Disabled Rehabilitation Fund, Olena Yurkovska, many-times Paralympics champion and Volodymyr Azin from the National Assembly of People with Disabilities were among those at the protest.  The activists say that the centre cannot even be reached by people without disabilities.

They added that the President had been told all about this centre as a unique Paralympics institution, yet in fact disabled sports people are forced to train in Finland “where the roads are good and the attitude to people with disabilities is not like the Ukrainian State’s attitude to those people who achieve victories for Ukrainian sport”. 

Social and economic rights

No funding for anti-corruption measures – or any sign of them

State Anti-corruption Programme under Public Scrutiny

One year ago, on 28 November 2011 the Cabinet of Ministers approved a State Programme on Preventing and Countering Corruption for 2011-2015.  NGOs report that the programme has thus far not been carried out, and that funding from the budget has not been allocated.  They also question the need for the introduction by the Health Ministry of electronic medical forms which are supposed to require most of the programme’s budget. The Health Ministry reports that they have not been allocated any money at all for implementing the 


The Programme passed in 2011 was for a budget of 820 million UAH, with 803.5 million designated for the Health Ministry “for the implementation of electronic documenting systems, including electronic medical forms”. 

6.6 million UAH was supposed to go to the Ministry of Social Policy “to expedite introduction of a system of electronic documenting and electronic digital signature”.

4 million to the State Agency on Science, Innovation and Computerization and the Health Ministry to “refine procedure for personal reception by public authorities”;

1.4 million to the Ministry of Social Policy for coverage in the media of the results of checks and audits for the use of State funding.

During the year a group of NGOs investigated how measures from the anti-corruption programme were being carried out. On 28 November they announced their conclusion – that the programme exists only on paper.

According to Oleksy Khmara from Transparency International in Ukraine, “the anti-corruption programme was drawn up and passed without any public discussion.  For this reason one of the main tasks of our project is to establish why this or that measure was chosen and what really almost a billion UAH in public funding is spent”.

He says that the National Anti-Corruption Committee under the President could express a view on this, but doesn’t.  As reported at the time, Mr Khmara who was the only representative of NGO’s on that Committee left it after President Yanukovych passed both the Law on the Principles of State Language Policy and a Law on Public Procurement which removes State enterprises from any tender procedure.

The monitoring project is being run by Transparency International in Ukraine in cooperation with the Anti-Corruption Council of Ukraine; the Ukrainian Institute of Public Policy; the Open Society Foundation; the Centre of Political and Legal Reform; the NGO “Philosophy of the Heart”; and the Information and Legal Centre Our Right.  It is funded by the Netherlands Embassy programme MATRA and the International Renaissance Foundation.

The monitors hope to publish their preliminary report on 9 December, International Day against Corruption.

Reported at New Citizen 


Human rights protection

Author of “biometric” law gets Gold Thistle of the Year Anti-Award

Marking Human Rights Day, 10 December, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union has announced the “laureates” of its annual Thistle of the Year Anti-Award for the most flagrant violators of human rights in the given year. 

Party of the Regions MP Vasyl Hrytsak has received the “Gold Thistle” for the most flagrant intrusion into privacy and for the most dangerous legislative initiative in the field of human rights.  This is over the Law on a Unified State Demographic Register which gives the SSAPS consortium closely linked with Hrytsak the chance to make huge profit at Ukrainians’ expense, forcing them to obtain around 13 biometric documents. The law also introduces a single database, without proper protection, with different authorities sharing an unlimited amount of confidential information about each Ukrainian citizen, their signature, biometric details, etc.  Hrytsak first received a Thistle of the Year for much the same legislative initiative in 2007.

Other “laureates”

The Central Election Committee for numerous and flagrant violations of citizens’ electoral rights;

The National Bank of Ukraine for politically motivated infringements of property rights over the artificial liquidation of the Basis Bank belonging to opposition politician Arsen Avakov;

The Kharkiv City Council and Kharkiv District Administrative Court for brazen infringement of the right to peaceful assembly;

President Yanukovych and Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn for contempt for Ukraine’s Constitution and legislation, in particular over their signing of two laws: the Law on the Principles of State Language Policy and the Law on Public Procurement (which removes State enterprises from tender procedure).

The Thistle of the Year anti-award was begun in 2006 in order to draw public attention to flagrant abuses of human rights committed by the State during the particular year and to stimulate public discussion regarding dangerous trends with regard to human rights in the country. 

More information about the reasons for the above ignominous awards as well as about the other nominees can be found here.

News from the CIS countries

Putin Retaliates for US Sanctions—Against Russian Orphans


After long threatening unspecified measures in response to the passage of the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act—the new US law which bans corrupt officials and human rights abusers from Russia from traveling to or doing business in the United States—Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party has announced its idea of “reciprocity.” In return for targeted sanctions on Russian crooks and abusers, the Kremlin will retaliate against Russian children. To be precise, against the most vulnerable category of Russian children: orphans in need of adoption.

On Monday, the Duma committee on constitutional legislation approved a bill imposing a blanket ban on all adoptions of Russian children by US citizens, and terminating the work of US adoption agencies on Russian territory. The official explanation offered by United Russia point to the 19 Russian children who have died in the custody of their adoptive American parents since 1991 (the bill is named after Dima Yakovlev, or Chase Harrison, who died in 2008 after being abandoned in a hot car for nine hours).

Every single one of these cases is heart-breaking, and those responsible should be punished to the full extent of the law. But it is also a fact that 50, 000 Russian children have been adopted by US families since 1991, rescued from the horror of Russia’s decrepit, violent, underfunded, and overcrowded orphanages. And there is another figure: tragically,  more than 1, 200 children died in adoptive Russianfamilies between 1991 and 2006 (no statistics have been announced for the period since).

Last year, Americans held the top spot among all foreigners who adopted Russian orphans—including disabled orphans. The new law will deny thousands of children the possibility of a better future. “We will get back at America by locking thousands of children in orphanages, ” wrote Boris Altshuler, head of the NGO A Child’s Right, mocking the new legislation. “This is cannibalism.” In the same sarcastic vein, opposition Duma member Dmitri Gudkov, one of a handful of Russian lawmakers opposed to the anti-orphan bill, said, “So you don’t let our murderers into your country? Then we will prohibit you from adopting our children!” Another legislator, Yelena Mizulina, compared the actions of the ruling party to those of the terrorists who use children as a “human shield.” “Because some bureaucratic scum will not be allowed into the US for shopping, thousands of tiny children will be denied a normal life, ” tweeted veteran liberal politician Grigory Yavlinsky.

Hypocrisy, cynicism, and disregard for human life are nothing new for Vladimir Putin or his party. But punishing orphaned Russian children for a ban on Western vacations for Kremlin crooks is a new low even for them. If anyone needed reminding, the people in charge of Russia have yet again shown themselves for what they truly are.

Update. On Wednesday, the Russian State Duma approved the anti-orphan bill on the second reading by400 votes to 4. The four lawmakers voting against were Dmitri Gudkov, Sergei Petrov, Ilya Ponomarev, and Valery Zubov.

Russia: Police Raid in the Voronezh Human Rights Hous

Members of the Civic Solidarity Platform condemn the December 19 raid by plain-clothed Russian police on the premises of the Human Rights House-Voronezh. Coming on the heels of the adoption of a number of repressive laws that restrict the ability of Russian activists to carry out their legitimate work, these searches represent another clear case of the misuse of state power to harass human rights defenders. Civic Solidarity calls on the international community to speak out against this and other cases of harassment and to insist that the Russian government puts an end to such actions.

The police officers who carried out the search on Wednesday refused to identify themselves or present a search warrant. Not only did they search the premises, but they also forcibly removed Victoria Gromova, director of the Youth Human Rights Movement, from one of the offices; confiscated the phone of another activist, Lubov’ Zakharova of the human rights news agency Article20, while she was commenting on the events; locked a number of activists in one of the rooms; and refused to allow an attorney into the building. They confiscated two private computers, two hard disks and USB drives. 

This was the second raid of the day in Voronezh. Earlier in the morning police officers from the anti-extremism department and investigators from Moscow began searches at the homes of activists including human rights defender Natalia Zvyagina, representative of the Interregional Human Rights Group Voronezh/Black Earth and Transparency International, as well as the Public Monitoring Commission. The official pretext was the investigation of the high-profile case of opposition activists Sergei Udaltsov, Leonid Razvozzhayev and Konstantin Lebedev who are accused of «plotting mass disorders».

The Human Rights House-Voronezh brings together a number of well-known human rights groups including: the international Youth Human Rights Movement, a Civic Solidarity Platform member with Council of Europe participative status; the Interregional Human Rights Group; regional representations of Memorial and “Golos”; the Civil Initiative “Green Alternative” and the regional representation of Transparency International-Russia. Among other groups with offices in this building are the Union of Professional Writers, the Centre for Civic Initiatives, the “Confederation of Free Labour” trade union organization, the Interregional Free Student Union, and Lawyers for Labour Rights. The building also hosts the personal office of Andrey Yurov, head of the International Observation Mission of the Committee of International Control (CIC) over the Human Rights Situation in Belarus and recently selected member of the presidential Human Rights Council, and the private cabinet of attorney Olga Gnezdilova.

We, members of the Civic Solidarity Platform, express solidarity with our colleagues from the International Youth Human Rights Movement and the other human rights groups targeted by the raids in Voronezh. We appeal to Russia’s international partners to stand by Russian civil society as it faces growing pressure and to hold the Russian government accountable to its international obligations to protect human rights defenders.

Albanian Helsinki Committee (Albania)

Article 19 (United Kingdom)

Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement (Ukraine)

Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (Bulgaria)

Centre for Civil Liberties (Ukraine)

Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights (Russia)

Centre for National and International Studies (Azerbaijan)

Crude Accountability (United States)

Foundation for Regional Initiatives (Ukraine)

Freedom Files (Russia)

Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (Georgia)

Helsinki Committee on Human Rights in Serbia  (Serbia)

Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (Kazakhstan)

Kharkiv Regional Foundation "Public Alternative" (Ukraine)

Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly – Vanadzor (Armenia)

Helsinki Committee of Armenia (Armenia)

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)

Human Rights Club (Azerbaijan)

Institute for Reporters, Freedom and Safety (Azerbaijan)

Human Rights Monitoring Institute (Lithuania)

Index on Censorship (United Kingdom)

International Partnership for Human Rights (Belgium)

Legal Transformation Centre (Belarus)

Moscow Helsinki Group (Russia)

Netherlands Helsinki Committee (the Netherlands)

Nota Bene (Tajikistan)

People in Need (Czech Republic)

Promo LEX Association (Moldova)

Public Verdict (Russia)

Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (Ukraine)

United Against Racism (Netherlands)

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2012, #12