war crimes in Ukraine

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

Politics and human rights

Ukraine: When Reform Isn’t

Viktor Yanukovych took Ukraine’s presidency in February 2010 affirming commitment to democracy and rule of law, and has continued to roll out the words on all state occasions ever since.

But instead, he kicked things off with a judicial overhaul in 2010 that gravely eroded judges’ already fragile independence. Wearied by Ukraine’s permanent state of chaos, Western observers were slow to react, but alarm bells became too loud to ignore later that year with the first arrests and subsequent trials of Yanukovych’s key political opponents and members of the former government.

There is a danger now that the pardoning of former Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko and the focus on former prime minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko’s release will obscure deeper problems afflicting Ukraine’s judicial system. Some of these are highlighted by recent moves supposedly aimed at complying with an international commission’s recommendations on constitutional reform, as well as by the ongoing moves to secure loyalty from the main courts in the land.


News of the appointment two weeks ago of a close ally of Yanukovych as head of the Constitutional Court was accompanied on many websites by close-ups of Judge Viacheslav Ovcharenko’s watch, valued at around $27, 000.  However the real focus of media attention – and cynicism - was the judge’s connection with the president and the fact that he had once been the head of the court that “lost” all record of Yanukovych’s two criminal convictions.

Ovcharenko is one of many judges, especially of higher courts, from the same Donetsk region as Yanukovych and his closest associates. The roles played by some of these courts give grounds for assuming that their selection reflects more than geographic loyalty.

The High Administrative Court has aroused serious concern this year over its interference with the electoral will of Ukrainian voters. In February it cancelled the election of two members of parliament whose victory had already been confirmed by the Central Election Commission. The opposition claimed the two, who ran as independents, had been punished for not aligning themselves with the Party of Regions once in parliament.

The next court ruling was more sinister and suggested close coordination among the prosecutor general, the ruling party, and the court. In early March two lawmakers were stripped of their seats supposedly for combining their parliamentary work with other professional activities, although that is what virtually every legislator in Ukraine does, many quite openly. One was an obscure Party of Regions member,  the other Serhiy Vlasenko, Tymoshenko’s “defender” (an informal position in Ukrainian law for which he was not paid)and prominent opposition lawmaker. Vlasenko had also been facing some rather odd criminal charges that were dropped just before the court hearing over the application to strip him of his mandate, with some later reinstated. The obvious attempt to obscure the political motive behind Vlasenko’s ouster by throwing in a Party of Regions member fooled no one, and statements of concern poured in from western countries.

The same High Administrative Court has been responsible for other seriously questionable rulings against, for example, freedom of peaceful assembly.

Some rulings from this or other courts would seem to be in overt breach of the constitution, yet there is no longer any confidence that the Constitutional Court will see it that way. That court has handed down some strange judgements, some directly contradicting judgments issued by the same judges as little as 18 months earlier.  Most recently it has given its imprimatur – in the name of “stability” – to the postponement of Kyiv mayoral and council elections, widely expected to oust the president’s protégé, until well after the presidential elections and considerably beyond the constitutionally stipulated terms of office. This and other judgments and/or refusals to consider sensitive constitutional submissions have all primarily suited the president and ruling party.  


Another problematic appointment with constitutional implications has been that of Mykhailo Okhendovsky, also close to the president, as head of the Central Election Commission. This gives Yanukovych a clear advantage in the run-up to the presidential elections, but there might be more to it than that.

Under a law on referendums that came into force in November, the Central Election Commission has a major and largely unregulated role in administering referendums on any subject, including constitutional amendments. The law makes the central commission responsible for appointing local commissions to administer the referendums based on recommendations from local officials, who would be free to put forth friendly names.

There are other dangers. Any number of questions may be combined in one referendum, with no guidelines on how the questions should be framed. The scope for manipulation is enormous, as is the likelihood that people would have no real understanding of what they were voting for. Nor is there a minimum turnout requirement, yet this supposed demonstration of vox populi would be final. 

An assessment of the law by the Venice Commission – a body of experts on constitutional and legal matters – was damning for all these reasons, although the commission’s greatest concern is that the law makes it possible to change the constitution without a two-thirds parliamentary majority – which the ruling party does not have. But there will likely be little hue and cry about this, as most national media sources, particularly television, are owned by people close to those in power.


In an ongoing review of possible changes to the constitution, Yanukovych established the Constitutional Assembly, an advisory group including representatives from think tanks and civic groups as well as experts from outside the government.  

But reports from members of the commission suggest that setting up the group was a pro forma gesture and that the group’s real role was meant to confer legitimacy on whatever Yanukovych’s team decided.

“This is perhaps because it was largely created for broad discussion in order to imitate involvement by specialists in resolving issues of state significance and [reinforce] their sense of being a part of important changes, ” Ihor Koliushko and Roman Kuybida from the Center for Political and Legal Reform write in the influential weekly Dzerkalo Tyzhnya.  

They compare the group to a similar body established in 2010 during the judicial overhaul. The resulting law in that case, they write, “effectively emerged from the president’s administration but was presented as being from the Working Group on Judicial Reform.”

The bill thus far presented to the Venice Commission is about measures to enhance judges’ independence. Some problems with the draft, including the questionable marginalizing of the Constitutional Assembly, are picked up by the Venice Commission, while others unfortunately could not be. 

Among other issues, the commission insists that the term “breach of oath” – as possible grounds for a judge’s removal from the bench – be clearly defined to avoid abuse. But a recent study has shown evidence of other methods of pressure on judges. Despite huge numbers of complaints about judges, no disciplinary proceedings at all have been taken against judges from specialized or higher courts. Other judges ostensibly faced penalties for missing official schedules for examining cases or other procedural infringements. Since these problems are caused by an unreasonable work load and underfunding, any decision to bring disciplinary proceedings is largely arbitrary, and there are plenty of examples where such penalties were directed at judges whose rulings had gone against the prosecutor’s position.

It is doubtless no accident that at a time when confidence in the law enforcement bodies is at an all time low, the acquittal rate has plummeted to near zero (0.2 percent of all verdicts in 2011; 0.17 percent in 2012). Human rights organizations have long warned that judges are under pressure to convict and fear possible difficulties if they don’t oblige. At the same time, those who hand down verdicts pleasing to Kyiv, including Rodion Kireyev, who sentenced Tymoshenko to seven years’ imprisonment, have a way of rising through the ranks.

But good luck to the public in finding that out. Laws passed or under consideration have reduced its access to information about court rulings, judges’ income, or information about them altogether.  

The bill recently assessed by the Venice Commission purports to rectify failings in the 2010 judicial changes. On paper it does, including removing parliament’s role in appointing and dismissing judges. The bill gives the president authority to appoint, move, or dismiss judges on the basis of submissions from the High Council of Justice and the High Qualification Commission. It even proposes measures to ensure independence of those bodies.

The details of the bill, however, leave plenty of room for abuse. The draft proposes making the High Council, which consists of judges, court officials, and the prosecutor general, more “judge heavy.” Given that the judge members would be elected by judges’ associations, the change is meant to further insulate the council and commission from political pressure. But it’s hardly a guarantee. The associations contain, for example, a disproportionate number of judges from specialized courts, where there are no official criteria explaining how they are appointed and where – again – a significant number are either close to the president or hail from his Donetsk region.

The Venice Commission stresses the need for transparency. At present none is on offer, and if the two bodies with power over the hiring and firing of judges are elected by bodies that only nominally represent all judges, a significant increase in judges’ independence seems just as far off as ever.

Picture from Dzerkalo Tyzhnya

Against torture and ill-treatment

Appeal court upholds controversial verdict in Pavlichenko case

The Kyiv Court of Appeal on Thursday upheld the sentences passed on Dmytro and Serhiy Pavlichenko. The father and son were sentenced to life and 13 years imprisonment respectively accused of killing a judge.  The men’s lawyer, Tetyana Shevchenko called the ruling predictable saying that the court’s bias towards conviction had been evident from the beginning.

The prosecution asserts that Dmytro and his son murdered Judge Serhiy Zubkov from the Shevchenkivsky District Court  because the latter had passed a ruling on some land against them.  The same judge had, however, been responsible for many land-related rulings, some doubtless treading on the toes of developers by supporting individuals protesting against development projects in the centre of Kyiv.  He was also facing investigation by the High Council of Justice over other rulings. The ruling which the Pavlichenkos allegedly felt aggrieved over had, in any case, been revoked at appeal stage.  Dmytro Pavlichenko had been extremely vocal in publicly protesting his rights.  

The two men were arrested three days after Judge Zubkov’ was found murdered outside his own home. The Prosecutor’s Office claimed that it had checked out the possibility of big business interests being implicated and had found no justification for them.

There are a number of features linked with the actual crime which arouse questions.  In an article for Ukrainska Pravda, for example, Kateryna Avramchuk points out that the six people called as witnesses were unable to recognize the Pavlichenkos. The DNA which supposedly incriminates them was not found at the scene of the crime, but on clothing alleged to have been left.  The Pavlichenko’s lawyer, Tetyana Shevchenko says that the number of items apparently left at the scene of the crime to incriminate her clients is suspicious and notes that their positions had, in connection with the court case, been removed from the flat two months earlier.

She adds that the court did not take into account Serhiy Pavlichenko’s statement that his confession was effectively beaten out of him.

On 2 October 2012 the Holosiyivsky District Court in Kyiv sentenced Dmytro Pavlichenko to life imprisonment and his son to 13 years.

The sentences led to huge demonstrations throughout the country.  Serhiy Pavlichenko was an active member of the Kyiv Dynamo Ultras and fans waged a huge campaign. 

Tetyana Shevchenko says that they will be appealing against Thursday’s ruling to the High Specialized Court. 

The right to a fair trial

Reva Trial: Dodgier by the Day

It has become clear in the ongoing trial of four men facing charges in connection with the bomb blasts in Dnipropetrovsk on 27 April 2012 that at least one important piece of evidence has vanished from the case.

S. Plakhontiy, a criminalist giving evidence on 13 August explained that the police found another bomb near the first explosion and had time to film it before it detonated. He says that he handed the film to the police but it has vanished from the file material.

Why such a crucial piece of evidence should have been “mislaid” is unclear, however the number of worrying aspects to this trial is rapidly gaining attention. 30 MPs have already written to the Prosecutor General’s Office asking for a check to be carried out into the case against one defendant, Dmytro Reva, and, in particular, into the grounds for Dmytro Reva’s continuing detention. Reva has now been in SIZO [remand prison] since the end of May 2012 although the purported evidence cited as reason for his detention was proven to have been falsified. Although the name is known of the SBU officer who attempted to fabricate evidence by dialling another defendant’s mobile from Reva’s, and the attempt proven and documented, the Prosecutor is refusing to instigate criminal charges, claiming that no harm was caused. Yet since then the court has rejected over 10 applications to release Reva from custody pending the verdict in the case. Among those willing to take personal responsibility for Reva’s appearances in court were well-known human rights, religious and civic figures. “Why is Reva in detention without a scrap of proof of involvement in the crime, and those who fabricated evidence against him receive orders, medals, continue work and their photos are put on the honour board as the best employees?”, one of Reva’s lawyers, Vitaly Pogosyan asks.

The Prosecutor General’s Office is refusing to take the situation in hand and is simply sending the MPs’ letters to the Regional Prosecutor and to the court.

As reported, Reva has been charged with being an accomplice, with this being seen in his having gone to the centre of Dnipropetrovsk on the day of the blasts in order to “observe the reaction of the police and public to the explosions, and if necessary pass on information to Sukachev and Fedoryak, so that the latter could coordinate their further actions”.

The charges are, first, absurd. The bombs had been planted at least an hour before Reva set off for the centre and what he could have observed to make “further actions” necessary and what such actions could have been is entirely unfathomable. Explosives experts have confirmed that the chemical detonators could have triggered at any time and in any order making it entirely unforeseeable how many – if any – explosions he would witness (in fact, he was in the vicinity of two of the four).

Even were the charges not so bafflingly senseless, the key problem would still remain. The charges contain no elements of a crime. This has been confirmed by a leading criminal law expert.

Nor is there any other evidence against Dmytro Reva. There s only an exchange of text messages with one of the other defendants, with whom he studied at university and with whom he later worked as part-time consultants for an opposition MP.

During a press conference on 15 August, Oksana Tomchuk, Reva’s lawyer (and sister) expressed surprise that among those MPs who have addressed letters to the Prosecutor General’s Office, there have been so few members of the opposition. Throughout this case there have been disturbing attempts to throw in political motives.

This was seen most brazenly in a film shown twice on the state-owned and service UTV-1 TV channel, a week before the parliamentary elections. Among the numerous defamatory elements of the film was a long diatribe claiming a large-scale terrorist plot with obvious links to the opposition. An appeal court recently decided that the film “Hades Hell” was not in fact defamatory. More details in A Public Watchdog with a Difference”.

Three applications on Dmytro Reva’s behalf have been lodged with the European Court of Human Rights. Information about the case has been sent to EU representatives, foreign embassies and others.

Reva’s lawyers are currently planning to approach members of the European Parliament.

The Prosecutor’s ever more dubious role in the Reva Case

The Prosecutor’s Office is taking a week out to consider whether the court requires what it calls “witnesses of Reva’s guilt”,  Dmytro Reva’s lawyers believe that the prosecution is worried that the witnesses will expose the shocking gaps in the case, in particular deception aimed at concealing the lack of any evidence whatsoever.

Dmytro Reva is one of four defendants facing charges linked with the four bomb blasts in Dnipropetrovsk on 27 April 2012 which injured over 30 people  Two men – Reva and Lev Prosvirnin – are accused of having acted as accomplices.  Both the other two defendants have clearly stated that neither man had anything to do with the crime.  One – Viktor Sukachev – has been on hunger strike in protest at the continued detention of Reva and Prosvirnin as well as other irregularities in the case.

The cases of both alleged “accomplices” are worrying however in Reva’s case the cynicism is particularly shocking since the actions he is accused of quite simply do not contain any elements of a crime.  This has been confirmed by a criminal law specialist, Mykola Khavronyuk, and thus far ignored by the Prosecutor and the courts.  

Over recent months the Dnipropetrovsk Regional Prosecutor has made a number of public assertions regarding the case.  She has repeatedly claimed that there is ample proof against all four men.  It is therefore significant that the Prosecutor’s Office now appears to be resisting attempts to question witnesses.

Reva is charged with having gone to the centre by prior arrangement on the day of the bombs to observe the reaction of the police and public and to inform the two men charged with planting the bombs “if necessary” so that the latter “could take further action”.  

This supposed “crime” is made even more bafflingly devoid of substance by the fact that the devices were based on chemical detonators.  Once set off (before Reva left work to pay a bill in the centre), they could go off at any time.  This means that although Reva was in the vicinity of two of the four bombs (those planted by the defendant he did not know), he could easily have missed them all.

An attempt by an SBU [Security Service officer) to falsify evidence at the outset (by using Reva’s already confiscated mobile to dial the number of another defendant) was thwarted.  Despite proof of this attempt, the Prosecutor is refusing to bring criminal charges against the officer, and neither the Prosecutor nor the judge are agreeing to release Reva from custody even though it was the supposed attempt to phone an accomplice which formed the grounds for his remand in custody. SBU Officer Pylypenko has, however, at the insistence of the defence been added to the list of witnesses in this case.

Reva’s lawyer, Vitaly Pogosyan has now applied to the court to call witnesses not called by the prosecution.  

These include people who the SBU believed (as evidenced in a letter from 28 May 2012, three days before the first arrests), could have been implicated in the crime, Reva’s workmates in the office of opposition MP Mykhailo Sokolov and the now former MP himself.

Another witness whom the prosecution had not called was a friend of Viktor Sukachev who like Reva and at around the same time received a text message from Sukachev asking if he and his family were OK.  The messages he and Reva received are extremely similar and yet only in Reva’s case was this message deemed by the investigators to indicate a conspiracy between the two men.

Perhaps most disturbingly, three of Dmytro Reva’s colleagues have not been called as witnesses despite the assertion in the indictment that they have pointed to Reva’s guilt.

The defence has called for all three to be called as witnesses, and now the Prosecutor’s Office is hesitating. The reason unfortunately seems all too clear. 


Halya Coynash

Dima Groysman: ”Acquitted for want of a crime”

Almost exactly a week after Dmytro (Dima) Groysman died of a heart attack, aged only 41, a court in Vinnytsa has found no elements of a crime in the last remnant of the criminal prosecution which had been hanging over him for almost 3 years.  On Wednesday last week, the prosecution withdrew four charges leaving only one – that relating to a video clip widely available on You Tube.

On Monday, 12 August, Dima was “acquitted” of this final charge with the judge finding no elements of a crime in the impugned actions.  The prosecution has 15 days to decide whether to appeal against today's acquittal.  It has thus far made no comment.

It should be said – and Dima had on a number of occasions – that the judge hearing his case had shown professionalism.  It is impossible to say the same about the investigators and Prosecutor’s Office. 

An appeal launched on Friday to the Prosecutor General demanding not only withdrawal of all charges, but a public apology and criminal proceedings implicated in a seriously flawed case gained over 300 signatures in the following 36 hours.  More information here.  

These demands remain in force.  The fact that the one charge which the prosecution did not withdraw last week was found to contain no crime is indicative of the level of the charges laid against the Coordinator of the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group and of the real motives for almost three years of criminal proceedings.

This widely publicized and much criticized case dates back to October 2010.  Dima Groysman was charged under two articles of the Criminal Code, accused of “desecration of State symbols” (Article 338 § 1 of the Criminal Code) and disseminating pornography (Article 301 § 1).

There were protests, including from international NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, regarding the overt harassment of a prominent and vocal civic activist.  One of the many disturbing aspects of the case was the fact that the charges were based on material posted on his LiveJournal blog.

Forgive the repetition, but the case disturbs to be viewed in its full squalor.

The police turned up on 16 October at Dima’s flat. Although they only had a warrant to search his flat, they also carried out a search of the offices of the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group next door. The search was supposedly on suspicion of circulating pornography, yet the police officers confiscated financial and other documents, including material regarding asylum seekers whom the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group was assisting. 

On 21 December 2010, Dima received official notification of the charges he faced.

“Desecration of the State emblem”

The image deemed a criminal offence can be seen here and dates back to July 2009. In June 2009 a number of human rights and media organizations had called on President Yushchenko to veto planned amendments to the Criminal Code criminalizing possession of pornographic material for the purpose of sale or circulation. The law was heavily criticized for failing to achieve its supposed purpose of fighting child pornography while at the same time imposing unwarranted restrictions on freedom of expression. Dima’s image was posted in disgust over the president’s failure to react in defence of children and of freedom of expression.

As mentioned, the image was on a personal blog, not the front page of a newspaper.  The argument that the blog was on free access  did not explain why a human rights activist was facing criminal prosecution, while countless sites inciting people to racial enmity, sometimes in radical form, were consistently ignored. The charges potentially carried a sentence of three years imprisonment.

Article 301 Pornography

There were two charges under Article 301 § 1, with the first relating to Dima’s entry here The clip showed people similar to some well-known Russian figures and was freely available for viewing on YouTube. 

He was also charged over images from a German Foundation fighting AIDS, albeit with added words reading: Ukrainian police officer! When communicating with the boss and citizens, observe safety rules!” (scroll to the bottom here)

The mental acrobatics required to understand this last charge which supposedly relates to pornography, not annoying police officers, were beyond most of us.

Today’s judgment is to be welcomed, but it is manifestly insufficient.

UN watchdog expresses concern over dependent judiciary and police impunity

The UN Human Rights Committee has called for proper members against torture or ill-treatment by the police, and to protect judges’ independence.  It expresses concern over reports of politically motivated trials, in particular, that of Yulia Tymoshenko

During its108th session from 8-26 July 2013 the UN Human Rights Committee considered reports from State Parties under Article 40 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  It had the following, at times, serious criticisms and recommendations.

          C.     Principal subjects of concern and recommendations

5. The Committee notes that the Covenant is an integral part of the domestic legal system and that its provisions may be directly invoked in court. It regrets, however, the very limited information on cases in which the provisions of the Covenant have been invoked or applied by the State party’s courts of law (art. 2).

The State party should take measures to ensure that judges and law enforcement officers receive adequate training to enable them to apply and interpret domestic law in the light of the Covenant and disseminate knowledge of the provisions of the Covenant among lawyers and the general public to enable them to invoke its provisions before the courts. The State party should include in its next periodic report detailed examples of the application of the Covenant by domestic courts and access to remedies provided for in the legislation by individuals claiming a violation of the rights contained in the Covenant.

6. The Committee is concerned by the State party’s failure to fulfil its obligations under the First Optional Protocol and the Covenant by providing victims with effective remedies for violations of Covenant rights in compliance with Views adopted by the Committee. The Committee notes that legislative changes would appear to be required to ensure that all Views of the Committee, and not only those requesting the State party to review an individual case in the framework of criminal proceedings, are fully implemented and victims are provided with effective remedies (art. 2).

The State party should reconsider its position in relation to Views adopted by the Committee under the First Optional Protocol. It should take all necessary measures to establish mechanisms and appropriate procedures, including the possibility of reopening cases, reducing prison sentences and granting ex gratia compensation, to give full effect to the Committee’s Views so as to guarantee an effective remedy when there has been a violation of the Covenant, in accordance with article 2, paragraph 3, of the Covenant.

7. While welcoming the new mandates entrusted to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights, including the function of national preventive mechanism against torture as of 4 November 2012, and control over the observance of legislation on personal data protection as of 1 January 2014, the Committee is concerned that, if no adequate resources are allocated, the effective functioning of the institution may be affected (art. 2).  

The State party should provide the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights with additional financial and human resources commensurate with its expanded role, to ensure fulfilment of its current mandated activities and to enable it to carry out its new functions effectively. It should also establish regional offices of the Commissioner for Human Rights, as planned.

8. The Committee welcomes the adoption of the Law on principles of preventing and combating discrimination as well as the proposed amendments relating inter alia to a reversed burden of proof in civil proceedings and recognition of sexual orientation as a protected ground in the Labour Code. Nonetheless, the Committee is concerned that sexual orientation and gender identity are not explicitly included in the non-exhaustive list of grounds of protection in the anti-discrimination law, and that the law provides for insufficient remedies (only compensation for material and moral damage) to victims of discrimination (arts. 2 and 26).

The State party should further improve its anti-discrimination legislation to ensure adequate protection against discrimination in line with the Covenant and other international human rights standards. The State party should explicitly list sexual orientation and gender identity among the prohibited grounds for discrimination and provide victims of discrimination with effective and appropriate remedies, taking due account of the Committee’s general comment No. 31 (CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add. 13, para. 16). It should also ensure that those responsible for discrimination bear administrative, civil and criminal responsibility in appropriate cases.

9. While noting the steps taken by the State party to promote gender equality, the Committee is concerned about the continued underrepresentation of women in decision-making positions in the public and political sphere, in particular in Parliament and Government (arts. 2, 3 and 26).

The State party should intensify its efforts to achieve equitable representation of women in Parliament and at the highest levels of the Government within specific time frames, including through temporary special measures, to give effect to the provisions of the Covenant. It should adopt a State programme for equal rights and opportunities of women and men and other measures aimed at ensuring gender equality, and effectively implement them.

10.           The Committee is concerned at reports of discrimination, hate speech and acts of violence directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons and violation of their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. It is further concerned at reports that according to the Ministry of Health order No. 60 of 3 February 2011 “On the improvement of medical care to persons requiring a change (correction) of sex”, transgender persons are required to undergo compulsory confinement in a psychiatric institution for a period up to 45 days and mandatory corrective surgery in the manner prescribed by the responsible Commission as a prerequisite for legal recognition of their gender. The Committee also expresses its concern at two draft laws “on propaganda of homosexuality” introduced in Parliament: (1) No. 1155 “On the prohibition of propaganda of homosexual relations aimed at children” and (2) No. 0945 on “Introduction of Changes to Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine (regarding protection of children’s rights in a safe information environment)” that, if adopted, would run counter to the State party’s obligations under the Covenant (arts. 2, 6, 7, 9, 17, 19, 21 and 26).

While acknowledging the diversity of morality and cultures internationally, the Committee recalls that all States parties are always subject to the principles of universality of human rights and non-discrimination. The State party should therefore state clearly and officially that it does not tolerate any form of social stigmatization of homosexuality, bisexuality or transexuality, hate speech or discrimination or violence against persons because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The State party should provide effective protection to LGBT persons and ensure the investigation, prosecution and punishment of any act of violence motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity. It should also take all necessary measures to guarantee the exercise in practice of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly of LGBT persons and defenders of their rights. The State party should also amend order No. 60 and other laws and regulations with a view to ensure that: (1) the compulsory confinement of persons requiring a change (correction) of sex in a psychiatric institution for up to 45 days is replaced by a less invasive measure; (2) any medical treatment should be provided in the best interests of the individual with his/her consent, should be limited to those medical procedures that are strictly necessary, and should be adapted to his/her own wishes, specific medical needs and situation; (3) any abusive or disproportionate requirements for legal recognition of a gender reassignment are repealed. The Committee finally urges the State party not to permit the two draft bills “on propaganda of homosexuality” to become laws.

11.           The Committee is concerned at reports of hate speech, threats and violence against  members of ethnic groups, religious and national minorities, in particular Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Crimean Tatars, resulting in physical assaults, acts of vandalism and arson, most of which are committed by groups driven by extreme nationalist and racist ideology. It is also concerned that article 161 of the Criminal Code (inciting ethnic, racial or religious animosity and hatred) which requires proving deliberate action on the part of the perpetrator is rarely used and that such crimes are usually prosecuted under hooliganism charges.

The State party should strengthen its efforts to combat hate speech and racist attacks, by, inter alia, instituting awareness-raising campaigns aimed at promoting respect for human rights and tolerance for diversity. The State party should also intensify its efforts to ensure that alleged hate crimes are thoroughly investigated, that perpetrators are prosecuted under article 161 of the Criminal Code and, if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions, and that victims are adequately compensated.

12.           While welcoming the steps taken by the State party to improve the situation of Roma, including the adoption of "The strategy on protection and integration of Roma minority into the Ukrainian society for the period up to 2020", the Committee remains concerned at the prevalence of discrimination, including the difficulties encountered in access to personal documents, education, health care, housing and employment (arts. 2, 16, and 26).

The State party should increase its efforts to combat discrimination against Roma. It should create the necessary conditions for their social integration and equal access to social services, health care, employment, education and housing. The State party should remove any obstacles, including administrative, to ensure that all Roma are provided with personal documents, including birth certificates, which are necessary for them to have access to their basic rights. It should allocate sufficient resources for the effective implementation of the Strategy on protection and integration of Roma.

13.           The Committee is concerned at the very high rates of death in custody (CCPR/C/UKR/Q7/Add.1, para. 89), delayed investigation of such cases and lenient or suspended sentences imposed on those found responsible. The Committee also regrets the lack of information regarding the measures taken to address these problems (arts. 2 and 6).

The State party should take immediate and effective steps to ensure that cases of death in custody are promptly investigated by an independent and impartial body, that sentencing practices and disciplinary sanctions against those found responsible are not overly lenient, and that appropriate compensation is provided to families of victims.

14.           While welcoming the efforts made by the State party to combat and eliminate domestic violence, the Committee is nonetheless concerned about the persistence of this phenomenon (arts. 2, 3, 6 and 7).

The State party should strengthen its efforts to prevent and combat all forms of domestic violence, including by adopting a new law on prevention of domestic violence and ensuring its effective implementation. It should also facilitate complaints from victims, ensure that they are thoroughly investigated, that perpetrators are prosecuted and punished with appropriate sanctions and that victims, including children, have access to effective remedies and means of protection, including an adequate number of shelters available in all parts of the country. The State party should also ensure that law enforcement authorities, as well as medical and social workers are provided with appropriate training to deal with cases of domestic violence, and awareness-raising efforts should be continued to widely sensitize members of the public.    

15.           The Committee notes with concern the continued occurrence of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement authorities, the limited number of convictions despite high numbers of complaints lodged, the absence of information on the sanctions imposed on perpetrators and the remedies provided to victims. It also remains concerned about the absence of a genuinely independent complaint mechanism to deal with cases of alleged torture or ill-treatment and the discretionary use of video recording during interrogations of criminal suspects (arts. 2, 7, 9 and 14).

The State party should reinforce its measures to eradicate torture and ill-treatment, ensure that such acts are promptly, thoroughly, and independently investigated, that perpetrators of acts of torture and ill-treatment are prosecuted in a manner commensurate with the gravity of their acts, and that victims are provided with effective remedies, including appropriate compensation. As a matter of priority, the State party should establish a genuinely independent complaints mechanism to deal with cases of alleged torture or ill-treatment. It should also amend its Criminal Procedure Code to provide for mandatory video recording of interrogations, and pursue its efforts towards equipping places of deprivation of liberty with video recording devices with a view to discouraging any use of torture or ill-treatment.

16.           While appreciating the State party’s efforts in preventing and combating trafficking in persons, including the adoption of the State Targeted Social Programme on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings for the period up to 2015 and the establishment of additional centres of social and psychological assistance to victims, the Committee is concerned about the persistence of such practices in the State party. It also regrets the lack of information on the existence of any legal alternatives to removal of victims to countries where they may face hardship and retribution (art. 8).

The State party should continue its efforts to prevent and eradicate trafficking in persons, including by effectively implementing the existing relevant legal and policy frameworks and by cooperating with neighbouring countries. It should ensure that allegations of trafficking in persons are thoroughly investigated, that those responsible are brought to justice, and that victims receive adequate medical care, free social and legal assistance and reparation, including rehabilitation. The State party should also ensure that legal alternatives are available to victims that may face hardship and retribution upon removal.

17.           The Committee notes the various steps taken by the State party to reform the judiciary, but it is concerned that judges still remain vulnerable to outside pressure due to insufficient measures to guarantee the security of their status. It is further concerned that the State party still does not fully ensure the independence of judges from the executive and legislative branches of government and that their status is not adequately secured by law. The Committee also expresses particular concern about allegations of politically-motivated prosecutions of elected politicians, such as former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, for excess of authority or official power pursuant to article 365 of the Criminal Code (art. 14).

The State party should ensure that judges are not subjected to any form of political influence in their decision-making and that the process of judicial administration is transparent. The State party should adopt a law providing for clear procedures and objective criteria for the promotion, suspension and dismissal of judges. It should ensure that prosecuting authorities are not involved in deciding on disciplinary actions against judges and that judicial disciplinary bodies are neither controlled by the executive branch nor affected by any political influence. The State party should  ensure that prosecutions under article 365 of the Criminal Code fully comply with the requirements of the Covenant.

18.           The Committee expresses concern at reports of breaches of the non-refoulement principle in practice. It is also concerned at the high number of asylum applications rejected at the preliminary stage of consideration without conducting a personal thorough interview with the applicants, the prolonged periods of administrative detention, the short five-day time limits for appeals against negative decisions and reported breaches of an appeal’s suspensive effect, as well as at reports of limited access to legal aid and interpreters (arts. 2, 7 and 13).

The State party should ensure that all persons applying for international protection are given access to a fair and full refugee determination procedure, are effectively protected against refoulement, and have access to counsel, legal aid and an interpreter. The State party should ensure that detention is only used as a last resort, and where necessary, for as short a period as possible and provide alternatives to detention. It should also consider increasing the time span for filing appeals and ensure that rejected applicants are not deported immediately after the conclusion of the administrative proceedings before they can submit an appeal against a negative asylum decision.

19.           While taking note of the State party’s plans towards an all-volunteer army as of 2017, the Committee notes that the provisions of the Law on Military Service which permit conscription remain in force, as does the Law on Alternative (Non-Military) Service, and that according to the statistics provided by the State party several hundred young men have performed such service in recent years (CCPR/C/UKR/Q7/Add.1). The Committee therefore expresses its concern that no measures appear to have been taken to extend the right of conscientious objection against mandatory military service to persons who hold non-religious beliefs grounded in conscience, as well as beliefs grounded in all religions (art. 18).

The Committee reiterates its previous recommendation (CCPR/C/UKR/CO/6, para. 12) and stresses that alternative service arrangements should be accessible to all conscientious objectors without discrimination as to the nature of the beliefs (religious or non-religious beliefs grounded in conscience) justifying the objection, and should neither be punitive nor discriminatory in nature or duration by comparison with military service.

20.           The Committee expresses concern at reports of threats, assaults, harassment and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders due to their professional activities and expression of critical views (arts. 2, 6, 7, 9 and 19).

The State party should ensure that journalists, human rights defenders and individuals are able to freely exercise their right to freedom of expression, in accordance with article 19 of the Covenant and the Committee’s general comment No. 34 (2011) on the freedoms of opinion and expression. Any restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression should comply with the strict requirements of article 19, paragraph 3, of the Covenant. Furthermore, the State party should ensure that acts of aggression, threats and intimidation against journalists are investigated, prosecuted and punished and victims are provided with appropriate remedies.

21.           The Committee is concerned at the lack of a domestic legal framework regulating peaceful events and at the application by domestic courts of outdated regulations which are not in line with international standards and severely restrict the right to freedom of assembly. It is also concerned at reports that the success rate of local authorities’ applications in court for banning peaceful assemblies may be as high as 90 per cent. The Committee notes that a draft law on the procedure for organizing and holding peaceful events has been recently submitted to Parliament (art. 21).

The State party should ensure that individuals fully enjoy their right to freedom of assembly. The State party should adopt a law regulating the freedom of assembly, imposing only restrictions that are in compliance with the strict requirements of article 21 of the Covenant.

22.           The State party should widely disseminate the Covenant, the two Optional Protocols to the Covenant, the text of the seventh periodic report, the written replies it has provided in response to the list of issues drawn up by the Committee, and the present concluding observations so as to increase awareness among the judicial, legislative and administrative authorities, civil society and non-governmental organizations operating in the country, as well as the general public. The Committee also requests the State party, when preparing its eighth periodic report, to broadly consult with civil society and non-governmental organizations.

23.           In accordance with rule 71, paragraph 5, of the Committee’s rules of procedure, the State party should provide, within one year, relevant information on its implementation of the Committee’s recommendations made in paragraphs 6, 10, 15 and 17 above.

24.           The Committee requests the State party, in its next periodic report, due to be submitted on 26 July 2018, to provide specific, up-to-date information on all its recommendations and on the Covenant as a whole.

Freedom of expression

Express Newspaper accuses tax authorities of pressure

The largest Ukrainian-language newspaper in Ukraine (according to its own website), Express, alleges that the tax authorities have blocked its work. They report that since late Tuesday afternoon the work of six enterprises which are involved in preparation and publication of Express have been paralyzed.  

On Wednesday several dozen journalists from the paper held a protest and gave the Tax Administration a 48-hour ultimatum from 12.00 on Wednesday to stop action aimed at blocking the paper.  If their demands are not met, they reserve the right to use all measures guaranteed by the Constitution and international human rights agreements to defend their rights. 

The Director of Express Group, Andriy Bell says that they faced a similar situation from 1 to 15 May this year. He asserts that the tax inspectors claimed at first to be acting lawfully, but soon acknowledged that they had no grounds for blocking the business.  On 16 May they left without giving any explanation.

“The situation is repeated today. However now no officials from the Ministry of Income can explain anything, and therefore our assessment of the situation is very simple. The actions of Klymenko’s ministry are a new, deliberate and unconstrained by law or morality attempt to put pressure on the editorial office of the newspapers which we publish”.

The Chief Editor, Ihor Pochynok believes that the reason for this sudden visitation from the tax inspectors could be that “our publications, and in particular, the Express newspaper, categorically refused to publish advertising material for Arbuzov and Vilkul which have recently swamped the information realm and praise those officials. Or perhaps somebody didn’t like the sharp criticism of the Party of the Regions in articles which we’ve published in several recent issues?”  He says that the reasons may be banal, but since they see no logic to the actions, they do not exclude the possibility that they’re linked with a nervous reaction from some high-ranking official.

In material on its site about the tax inspections, Express cites well-known public figures Yevhen Sverstyuk and Myroslav Popovych who express concern over pressure on the publications.

The Tax Administration has denied that their actions are blocking the newspaper’s work.

Express has been in the limelight many times over the last three years.

In January this year a listening device was found in the home of Taras Zozulinsky who has exposed corrupt dealings linked with both Yanukovych and Azarov.  Journalists announced soon afterwards that they were suspending any cooperation with the police over the matter. They accused the police of “mere imitation of an investigation”. “We are also not sure that by cooperating with the police we will not in the end help them to simply return the listening device to the people who illegally planted it”/

The statement issued then said that the newspaper had other grounds for distrusting the police, including the fact that a repeat examination of the newspaper’s windows which were shot at with rubber bullets had still not been completed after over a year.  The police hadsupposedly been carrying out an investigation into other cases of pressure on the newspaper for several years now.  The statement also asserted that the newspaper had irrefutable proof that the Security Service and law enforcement bodies had been interfering in the newspaper’s work.

Civic society

Ever fewer Ukrainians believe they have any influence

The percentage of Ukrainians who believe that they can have any impact on the authorities is falling rapidly.  Interestingly while less and less people believe that demonstrations and rallies can help, more are pinning their hopes on civic organizations.

According to a survey carried out by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Razumkov Centre, 41% of the public believe that ordinary citizens can have no impact on decision-making.

DIF Director, Iryna Bekeshkina pointed out in an interview to the weekly Dzerkalo Tyzhnya that this figure is on the increase.  In 2007, for example, only 28% believed they could have no impact.

Of existing mechanisms giving ordinary citizens the chance to have impact on specific decisions of the authorities, first place was taken by presidential elections (according to 31% of the respondents) and parliamentary elections (30%).

Ms Bekeshkina notes that this is an important point. “Effectively people, and then only a third, see two mechanisms alone – presidential and parliamentary elections. In 2007 there were three priorities – besides those, there were also rallies and demonstrations, with 21% of the population considering them to be effective.  Now there is much less faith in them – 15%”.

Involvement in political parties was seen as effective by 7% of the respondents; in civic organizations – 9%; writing to MPs or Mayors and local council deputies – 7%.  Taking the authorities to court was seen as effective by only 5% of those surveyed.

Iryna Bekeshkina notes that people do not see any possibility for them to have impact on the authorities. Possibly for this reason, there is a growing hope that civic organizations can help.

“Civic organizations as a whole enjoy the trust of 38% of the population. There is not one politician or state bodies trusted that much. In May this year trust in civic organizations for the first time outweighed distrust. It is also growing to the media, and falling towards state bodies. “

Deported peoples

Important report highlights serious concerns in the Crimea

The Conclusions posted below to a report commissioned by the High Commissioner on National Minorities demonstrate the urgency of the issues presently facing the Crimea.

The integration of formerly deported people in Crimea, Ukraine: Needs assessment

16 August 2013

Based on independent research commissioned by the High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) and his own visits, this report seeks to provide up-to-date analysis of the current situation of national minorities in Crimea and provide recommendations for easing inter-ethnic tensions and increasing the integration of Crimean society.

The HCNM considers Crimea to be a priority because of the challenges related to the ongoing return of thousands of people originally deported en masse on ethnic grounds by the Soviet regime in the 1940s.

The report covers the legal aspects of the return process; the situation of FDPs regarding land, housing and property; the political participation of FDPs; socio-economic aspects; the current situation regarding culture, language and religion; and the role of the education system.

The report can be downloaded from here

8. Concl usions

Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since the members of the communities that were deported on ethnic grounds began returning to Crimea in large numbers. The passing of time has not resolved all problems in Crimea; if anything, it has made them worse. The lack of a comprehensive legal and political agreement on the restoration of rights of the formerly deported peoples [FDP] has presented formidable obstacles to their full integration into public and socio-economic life. The needs assessment shows that unresolved questions of identity, land, property and inclusion in political decision-making are deeply dividing the different groups in Crimea and give rise to tensions, both between communities and within them.

To date, all sides have largely and prudently refrained from resorting to violence to achieve their aims or address their grievances, but the potential for conflict remains as protracted problems are left unresolved.

Crimea faces a volatile mixture of acrimonious political competition, socio-economic exclusion, inter- and intra-religious strife and a general atmosphere of increasing intolerance. The risk of inter-ethnic violence is real and requires urgent attention, both from Ukraine and from its international partners.

This paper has reviewed six issue areas that the HCNM has identified as particularly concerning and in need of attention from the Ukrainian and Crimean authorities and the international community. Of these, the lack of a legal framework for the restoration of rights of the FDPs stands out as one of the most pressing. The adoption of appropriate legislation that defines the FDPs as a separate legal category and clearly outlines their rights to land, housing and State support is a prerequisite for the development of targeted and effective policies. The Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada should therefore pass the Law “On Restoration of Rights of Persons Deported on Ethnic Grounds”, already adopted in the first reading on 20 June 2012, as an immediate priority. Together with the Central Asian States, it should also remedy problems within the legal framework that are negatively affecting returnees, including with regard to citizenship, residency permits and the high costs of relevant paperwork. If an extension of the Bishkek Agreement is not agreed upon by all of its signatories, Ukraine and the Central Asian States could sign bilateral agreements to address these concerns.

Targeted policies are also required to end the disadvantages facing FDPs in the spheres of land, housing, education, language, culture and political participation. The institutional framework is insufficiently equipped to do so, especially after the dissolution of the State Committee for Nationalities and Religion in late 2010.

The Government should therefore follow up the adoption of the law “On Restoration of Rights of Persons Deported on Ethnic Grounds” by re-establishing a dedicated agency with the mandate to implement the Law and to co-ordinate the development and funding of related policies.

In terms of acute social needs, the research revealed that lack of land and housing were the two most prevalent factors inhibiting the improvement of the socio-economic situation of the FDPs. Tens of thousands of FDPs still reside in unauthorized settlements that lack basic infrastructure. A “vicious land cycle” has emerged whereby different ethnic communities respond to perceived injustices in the allocation of land by the authorities with land squatting, leading to tensions and profound uncertainty of land ownership that undermines Crimea’s economic potential. A comprehensive approach to resolve the land issue is urgently required, especially in anticipation of the lifting of the moratorium on land sales in 2016. In addition,

existing programmes meant to provide FDPs with affordable accommodation require revision and stringent monitoring to ensure they meet their intended beneficiaries.

A comprehensive approach to the integration of society in Crimea requires inclusive decision-making, which in turn requires genuine opportunities for FDP communities to participate in political affairs. While political competition between and within communities is an essential part of pluralist systems, the current divisions within the Crimean Tatar community between the Mejlis and its opponents – and the instrumentalization of these divisions by the authorities – undermine the legitimacy of the institutions resolving the problems of the FDPs. An agreement on the legal status of the Mejlis and a removal of existing obstacles to equitablepolitical representation of Crimean Tatars would contribute considerably to the efficiency and legitimacy of governance in Crimea and should be considered as an integral part of the process of restoration of rights and integration of the FDPs.

Research shows that the FDPs are also disproportionately affected by the generally difficult socio-economic circumstances facing Crimea. While poverty affects all communities, those who reside in rural areas – often in compact settlements without basic infrastructure – are particularly deprived of adequate social care and employment opportunities. Due to a lack of specialized institutions and data disaggregated by ethnicity, it is difficult to develop targeted policies and to counter the strong feelings of discrimination that prevail among FDPs. Further research is required, including in the context of existing poverty reduction strategies.

In addition, the adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and empowerment of relevant institutions, including at the regional level, could contribute significantly to reduce the perceived socioeconomic exclusion and concomitant grievances of the FDPs.

Of the different FDP communities, the Crimean Tatars are most concerned about obstacles to the preservation and development of their language, culture and religion. The Crimean Tatar language is endangered and its proponents struggle to revitalize it in a predominantly Russian linguistic environment.

While the authorities provide some support, large sections of society appear reluctant to accommodate the development of Crimean Tatar identity and culture. This is exemplified by resistance to the restoration of historic place names, vandalism of religious sites and occasional clashes between Muslim and Orthodox communities. In addition, the Crimean Tatar community itself is divided over religious issues, with two spiritual directorates or Muftiyats vying for control and various Islamic movements attempting to increase their influence. Real or perceived threats to the Crimean Tatar identity and religious intolerance both increase social tensions and require State involvement, including by safeguarding minority rights and by swiftly condemning, investigating and prosecuting acts inciting religious or inter-ethnic hatred.

The education system, which should play a crucial role in the preservation and development of the languages and cultures of FDPs, is fraught with difficulties. While the legal framework acknowledges the right to mother-tongue education, in reality available resources and existing methodologies are not conducive to equitable educational outcomes. Parental demand for education in languages of FDPs, especially in Crimean Tatar, is low because children in Crimean Tatar-language schools are seen as disadvantaged compared to their peers in Russian-language schools. Multilingual solutions that break the zero-sum game of either Russian or Crimean Tatar are being explored but require further support and expertise. Over the longer term, a fundamental reform of the education system is required, from teaching methodology to teacher training and curriculum review. This demands central leadership, as research shows that local authorities are sometimes unable or unwilling to make the required investments.

Finally, the needs assessment shows that while the Ukrainian authorities should take the lead on addressing the current protracted problems facing the FDPs, Ukraine cannot be expected to solve all the problems on its own. Expertise and resources from abroad should be deployed to support and enhance their efforts. The international community has a clear stake in helping to build a stable and prosperous Crimea, which in turn will contribute to the stability and development of Ukraine as a whole. This is why the HCNM strongly advocates for the convocation of an International Forum on the Integration of the Formerly Deported People in Crimea.

Such a Forum will provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to design a joint road map, identify areas where they can provide support and expertise, and agree on joint monitoring of the implementation of the road map.

This paper serves as a starting point for this discussion. While the obstacles facing the successful restoration of rights and integration of the FDPs are numerous and will require strong local, national and international support to overcome, the research shows that they are by no means insurmountable.


News from the CIS countries

One Year After Pussy Riot Verdict, Children Still Coming To Grips With Mothers’ Jailing

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova with her daughter, Gera

It’s been a tough year for Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina. 

The two women have been locked up in some of Russia’s harshest jails since a court on August 17, 2012 handed them two-year sentences for performing a song critical of President Vladimir Putin in a Moscow cathedral.

In addition to the daily privations of prison life, the members of the feminist punk collective have endured unrelenting prison reprimands, solitary confinement, hunger strikes, and quashed court appeals -- deepening international outrage over what many denounce as a grossly disproportionate response from the Kremlin.

The past year has been no less agonizing for the women’s young children, Tolokonnikova’s 5-year-old daughter Gera and Alyokhina’s son Filipp, 6.

Relatives say Gera and Filipp sorely miss their mothers and are still coming to grips with the reality of their moms serving time in high-security prison camps.

Nikita Demidov, Filipp’s father, told RFE/RL that he chose not to keep the truth from his son following Alyokhina’s arrest in March 2012.

"I received a lot of different advice from relatives who are not used to speaking openly to children, " he said. "But I told him that his mother was in prison because she went to Christ the Savior Cathedral and sang too loudly there, and that some people were not happy about it."

Highly Emotional

According to Demidov, who lives with Filipp and Alyokhina’s mother in her Moscow flat, Filipp has rarely asked questions about the case since that conversation.

"Maybe he closed up, " he said.

Several weeks went by before Alyokhina was allowed to see her family in pre-trial detention. To add to her anguish, investigators in charge of her case repeatedly threatened to take Filipp away and place him in an orphanage.

Their first prison exchange, which took place through a glass window, was highly emotional.

"He was frightened, and Masha [Maria] too, " Demidov said. "The first 30 minutes they could not even speak to each other. Masha started crying and turning away. At the beginning, it was very difficult for her to talk or even write about Filya [Filipp]. When I broached the topic, she would say it was just too hard for her."

Since Alyokhina was formally sentenced last August, she has been allowed to reunite with her family several times for three-day prison stays.

More lengthy visits and restored physical contact have enabled Alyokhina and Filipp to finally pick up where they had left off following her detention.

The 25-year-old, who is currently held at a jail near Nizhny Novgorod, 400 kilometers east of Moscow, has followed her son’s progress as closely as possible over the past year.

She sends him letters and regularly calls Demidov to discuss Filipp’s studies as well as the child’s sports and arts classes, or to solve occasional problems with his health.

But each prison visit reminds Demidov how much the boy still yearns for his mother.
"When we first went to visit her, I was very surprised to see how full of energy he was, " he said. "I had not seen him like this for a long time. He was running up and down the corridor, playing football, shouting, it was impossible to stop him. Seeing his mother gives him strength. He really misses her."

Life Turned Upside Down

Last month, a court rejected Alyokhina’s request for a deferred sentenced to care for Filipp. Tolokonnikova had a similar attempt quashed in court.  Little Gera’s life has also been turned upside down since her mother was jailed.  

Tolokonnikova, 23, is serving her sentence at a prison in distant Mordovia, a region 500 kilometers east of Moscow known for its draconian Soviet-era prison camps. 

On March 4, Gera celebrated her birthday without her mother for the second year in a row.

Unlike Filipp, Gera readily talks about her mother’s incarceration -- perhaps as a result of being drawn into the active media campaign waged by her father, Pyotr Verzilov, to release the jailed women. According to Verzilov, his daughter has come up with countless escape plans to free Tolokonnikova.  "For a five-year-old child who watches cartoons and reads fairy tales, this situation is a typical fairy tale, " he said. "There is a main villain and the forces of good battle him and his helpers. This villain has locked up Nadia [Nadezhda], and Gera must now figure out a way to save her. That’s how she perceives the situation." 

Verzilov says his wife appears to be even more deeply affected by the separation. "The place where I live is surrounded by a high, thick fence with barbed wire. Soon you.. will come to see me in my fortress, " Tolokonnikova wrote to Gera in January ahead of a prison visit. "I will be allowed to be with you in a room and talk. Then they will take me away. But it’s alright, we will have to wait a little longer, and then they will let me come home to you forever."

Tolokonnikova, like Alyokhina, is due to be released on March 3 -- if all goes well, just in time for her daughter’s birthday.

Solidarity with Ales Bialiatski and all Victims of Repression in Belarus

Two years ago today, on 4 August 2011, Ales Bialiatski, Head of the Viasna Human Rights Centre and Vice-Director of the International Federation for Human Rights, was arrested and subsequently sentenced to four and a half years imprisonment for supposed tax evasion.  The case has been widely condemned as an attempt to crush a prominent human rights defender and all those who stand up for democracy, rights and the rule of law in Belarus.

He was convicted over “tax evasion” in connection with accountsi opened and used to transfer money from abroad to Belarus to help victims of political repression, since Viasna was officially dissolved by the Belarusian regime in 2003.

There was outrage and consternation when it was discovered that both the Lithuanian Justice Ministry and the Polish Prosecutor General’s Office gave information about accounts to the Belarusian authorities

We remember

In Memory: Dmytro Groysman

The funeral took place on Wednesday, 7 August, of Dmytro (Dima) Groysman, one of Ukraine’s most prominent human rights activists and Coordinator of the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group.   

He died on Aug. 5 of a heart attack, brought on by an incurable heart defect.  He had written about his condition back in 2009, yet his death has nonetheless come as a terrible shock for most of us.  He was only 41, immensely dynamic, intelligent, relentless in argument and full of life. It is personally difficult to comprehend that he has gone, and a very real loss for Ukraine. 

Dima studied medicine, later also law, but had spent the last 20 years defending human rights and victims of injustice in Ukraine.  He actively campaigned against the death penalty until the Constitutional Court declared it in breach of the Constitution in 2000; defended refugees’ rights and much more.  He was absolutely committed to his work, reacting swiftly and without compromise, to injustice. He was not cowered by authority and seldom saw any need to mince his words. This was seen most recently in his efforts to obtain the release from forced confinement in a psychiatric hospital of 70-year-old civic activist, Raisa Radchenko.  

Roman Romanov from the International Renaissance Foundation and friend for many years described Dima as follows: “In our post-Soviet, predominantly conservative society, he tried through his words and deeds to limit what was prohibited, and extend the boundaries of freedom, often in the most uncompromising manner. There were many who condemned him for this, some hated him, others supported and liked him. He understood human rights at a deep level as a universal value and stood up for those rejected by the majority: refugees, prisoners, members of sexual minorities. He did so honestly and without ulterior motive”.

There are never any adequate words – neither words of solace for his wife Svitlana and son, David, nor ways of expressing the loss to those whom he helped, those whose rights he could have continued to defend. 

There are however words of anger and frustration since Dima Groysman had been the target of absurd criminal proceedings since October 2010. There had recently been some positive movement in the case but the toll it took on him was undoubtedly great and almost certainly contributed to his premature death.  Over nearly three years he had faced 70 court hearings and had had to defend himself against idiotic charges.  The constant stress of these last three years was immense given the overtly dubious nature of the charges and the total unpredictability of Ukraine’s judicial system and of those with ways of influencing it. 

The final hearing was held on Wednesday morning at the Vinnytsa City Court.  Around 50 friends and colleagues attended, many holding small placards reading: “The cops and prosecutors killed my friend.” Dima’s lawyer read out the speech which Dima had planned to read out himself.  The speech demolished all of the prosecution’s case and asked for an acquittal.  If convicted, however, he said that he should be given the maximum sentence since he had no intention of “reforming” and would spend his time defending other prisoners’ rights.

The verdict in this shameful case is due on Monday, Aug. 12, though it seems that the prosecution has now withdrawn some of the charges.  There were grave procedural irregularities in the case, and the very charges were so absurd that concern about the motives for this prosecution was voiced far beyond Ukraine. 

The charges lodged back in October 2010 were under two articles of the Criminal Code. He was accused of “desecration of State symbols” (Article 338 § 1 of the Criminal Code) and disseminating pornography (Article 301 § 1). Among the very large number of worrying aspects of the case was the fact that the charges were based on material posted on his LiveJournal blog. 

The police turned up on Oct. 16 at Dima’s flat. Although they only had a warrant to search his flat, they also carried out a search of the offices of the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group next door. The search was supposedly on suspicion of circulating pornography, yet the police officers confiscated financial and other documents, including material regarding asylum seekers whom the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group was assisting. 

Exactly two years ago, the Leninsky District Court in Vinnytsa upheld Dima’s appeal against the prosecutor’s refusal to investigate the unlawful search of the VHG offices. There were other successes and yet the case continued, permanently hanging over Dima’s head, and presumably intended as a warning to other civic and human rights activists. 

On Dec. 21, 2010, Dima received official notification of the charges he faced.

“Desecration of the State emblem”

The image deemed a criminal offence can be seen here and dates back to July 2009. In June 2009 a number of human rights and media organizations had called on President Yushchenko to veto planned amendments to the Criminal Code criminalizing possession of pornographic material for the purpose of sale or circulation. The law was heavily criticized for failing to achieve its supposed purpose of fighting child pornography while at the same time imposing unwarranted restrictions on freedom of expression. Dima’s image was posted in disgust over the president’s failure to react in defence of children and of freedom of expression.

As mentioned, the image was on a personal blog, not the front page of a newspaper.  The argument that the blog was on free access  did not explain why a human rights activist was facing criminal prosecution, while countless sites inciting people to racial enmity, sometimes in radical form, were consistently ignored. The charges potentially carried a sentence of three years imprisonment.

Article 301 Pornography

There were two charges under Article 301 § 1, with the first relating to Dima’s entry here The clip showed people similar to some well-known Russian figures and was freely available for viewing on YouTube. 

He was also charged over images from a German Foundation fighting AIDS, albeit with added words reading: Ukrainian police officer! When communicating with the boss and citizens, observe safety rules!” (scroll to the bottom here)

The mental acrobatics required to understand this last charge which supposedly relates to pornography, not annoying police officers, were beyond most of us. They were a strain as well to international NGOs, European Union officials and others who expressed strong concern over the charges laid against a prominent human rights activist.

Dima Groysman’s voice has fallen silent and some would argue that none of this matters. This would almost certainly not have been his view, and should not be ours. v



Dmytro Groysman 1972 – 2013

On 5 August our colleague, Dmytro (Dima) Groysman died of a heart attack.  He was 41 and had suffered from a long-term heart condition.

Most prominent as Coordinator of the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group, Dima was by profession a doctor and lawyer.  In 1993 he was one of the founders of the Ukrainian section of Amnesty International. From 1994-2000 he worked as coordinator of a national campaign for the abolition of the death penalty in Ukraine. In 2000 Ukraine’s Constitutional Court agreed that the death penalty was in breach of Ukraine’s Constitution. 

In 1998 Dima founded and headed the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group which worked actively in defence of refugees, as well as on other issues.

The human rights community has lost one of its most prominent individuals, a person for whom there could be no restrictions or authorities when confronting injustice.

Dima will be much missed.

Our deepest sympathy to Dima’s wife, Svitlana Poberezhets, his son David, and those closest to him  

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2013, #08