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

Human Rights in Ukraine in 2015: Key Trends



The issue of observance of human rights has currently acquired political and even geopolitical importance. Actions of individual politicians or political forces, both in Ukraine and abroad, should be assessed from the point of view of whether they promote human rights or, alternatively, violate or pose a threat to them. These assessments by human rights activists inevitably become political. However, unlike political parties, human rights organisations do not set themselves the task of achieving power and implementing their political agendas. Their mission is to enhance respect for human rights, improve conditions for their exercise, protect human rights against threats of violation, protect the victims of human rights violations, remedy such violations, if possible, or at least to minimise their consequences, and to seek redress for the damage inflicted.

Any assessment of state or social processes and trends from the above angle is inseparable from judging their motivation to increase the freedom of people and to move away from post-totalitarian paternalistic state. Ukraine is capable of competing with much larger paternalistic Russia only when it ceases to be paternalistic itself. Also critical is the ability of self-discipline, of overcoming provincialism and inadequate education, – only then stable and responsible authorities and appropriate governance may be established. The issue of observance of human rights is, in fact, the issue of the availability of professional and efficient public control over the actions of the state: either it hinders people from having free command of their own destiny and is aimed at preventing or at least alleviating human suffering, or is indifferent to them. No matter what we are talking about – mobilisation, assistance to internally displaced persons, queues at the delimitation line – the answer to this question, like a litmus test, separates the trend of moving away from the post-Soviet state and transforming into a nation dominated by European values from the conservative trend of preserving Soviet-era rudiments.

In this context, the National Strategy in the Field of Human Rights, as approved by Presidential Decree 501/2015 of 25 August 2015, appears to be too declarative and eclectic. It fails to cover the overall state’s human rights policy, to identify the above antagonistic trends, and merely considers the development of individual rights and freedoms, disregarding such aspects of importance for consolidation of human rights as the system of constitutional protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms; Ukraine’s participation in international jurisdictions; development of judicial and non-judicial mechanisms of human rights protection; development of public control, both parliamentary and non-parliamentary, over the observance and protection of human rights; human rights in the system of criminal justice, etc. Large gaps remain in the consideration of individual rights and freedoms. For example, the right of ownership is not considered at all (!), although, in term of significance, it should occupy the centre of the Strategy’s attention, since its implementation and protection are the key to this country’s development; environmental rights, so crucial for this country, have been forgotten; the right to privacy has been reduced to mere protection of personal data, but where are the privacy of communication, which is violated every single moment, or other varieties of privacy? The Strategy lacks internal logic: it has lumped together the rights of three generations, which are different in nature and therefore should be considered separately and according to different ranges of requirements.

The Action Plan for the Strategy Implementation Until 2020, as approved by Order 1393-r issued by the Cabinet of Ministers on 23 November 2015, remedies some shortcomings of the Strategy. It is designed more logically and realistically, however, it certainly cannot provide for the planning of actions to address the issues not mentioned in the Strategy. Its pluses include the planning of joint activities by the government, international expert organisations and non-governmental human rights organisations.

Nevertheless, despite the critical comments above, it should be noted that the introduction of the Strategy and the Action Plan constitutes a big step forward compared to the 2010-2013 period, when we pointed out at the lack of state policy in the field of human rights, and the 2005-2009 period, when we described this policy as haphazard, inefficient and chaotic. The quality of the Strategy and the Action Plan reflects the level of knowledge in the field of human rights, awareness and understanding of human rights issues and of fundamental freedoms by the government authorities and civil society organisations, the level of their potential in respect of human rights, which, hopefully, would grow with the implementation of the Strategy and the Action Plan.

The year of 2015 was just as difficult for Ukraine as the year before. Like in 2014, three different realities associated with human rights existed in Ukraine: in the occupied Crimea, in the part of Donbas controlled by the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR, and in the rest of the country. The occupation of Ukraine’s territories and the armed conflict in its south-east have become one of the main sources of systematic and large-scale violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms and, in general, a deterrent to Ukraine’s advance in the spirit of ideas of the Revolution of Dignity.

The continuing occupation of the Crimea, the resulting violations of human rights and the desire of the Crimean Tatar people to oppose the occupation authorities’ policy aimed at depriving them of their ethnic and religious identity, the situation with human rights in the occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts are addressed in the separate sections of the Report.


New human rights violations


The occupation of Crimea and the military conflict in Donbas brought about the greatest migration in Europe since the Second World War. In 2015, this migration intensified even more. As of 28 December 2015, according to the Ministry of Social Policy, more than 1.66 million internally displaced persons were registered in Ukraine. According to various estimates, approximately 0.5 million displaced persons were not registered with government authorities. The observance of the rights of displaced persons is reviewed in a separate section of the Report.

Extraordinary human rights violations appeared in Ukraine in 2014 and became even more widespread in 2015, such as summary executions, forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention beyond any legal procedures, tortures, war crimes. According to the mission of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, by the end of October 2015, about 8, 000 people were killed and more than 17, 000 injured as a result of the armed conflict. The number of people shot without trial or missing is unknown; according to various estimates, it ranges between 750 and 1, 200 victims, however, verification of these data is not yet possible. It is also impossible to tell the exact number of military and civilian prisoners. As of 1 October 2015, according to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), 2, 763 persons kept in places of confinement by the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR were liberated. On 16 January 2016, the SBU’s press service informed that it had been possible to free 2, 998 people from captivity, while another 131 people are still held prisoners, and difficult negotiations for their release continue.

There are many reports of prisoners being tortured during arrest and detention. These actions included elements of crime against humanity. Unfortunately, government authorities failed to document these crimes or even interview the freed persons. These functions were taken up by civil human rights organisations, primarily Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and Kharkiv Human Rights Group, whose lawyers sent to the European Court of Human Rights hundreds of reports of unlawful arrests and detention and torture of prisoners of war and civilian hostages. A monitoring study to document such facts, conducted by the ‘Justice for Peace in Donbas’ Coalition of Civil Associations Organizations and Initiatives in close cooperation with the parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights, has revealed such pervasive violations of fundamental human rights and international humanitarian law that require the implementation of international mechanisms of human rights protection in various jurisdictions, as well as further research. A formalised survey of 165 victims of violations has indicated the need for a much more extensive questioning, subsequent data collection and documentation of human rights violations in the conflict zone, along with regular inspections of places of detention located in it. If the research of the collected data were to be extrapolated over the entire body of detainees, it would mean that 87% of POWs and 50% of civilians had been subjected to torture. The number of places of detention in the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR was significantly higher than reported by the authorities: researchers identified 41 such places in DPR and 38 in LNB, most of which were completely unsuitable for keeping detainees. Certain places of detention may be described as torturing by confinement conditions.

The issue of compensation to the families of those killed in the shelling or to the wounded, as well as compensation for the property, mostly residential, lost or damaged by the shelling, is highly relevant for tens of thousands of civilians affected by the armed conflict in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. The State should develop and implement such mechanisms as soon as possible.


Prospects of conflict resolution in the south-east of Ukraine


Fragile peace relies on the Minsk agreements (although it would be difficult to regard as an agreement a document that was not signed by the first persons of the State or ratified by the Parliament) that a part of the Ukrainian society cannot agree to and does not believe in. The position of the countries that represent the EU in the Normandy format is well known: there is nothing but the Minsk agreements. Should Ukraine refuse to comply with them, it would be left alone with its opponent, bereft of European support. Peace is important above else. Therefore, they must be complied with, despite any warnings or hardships.

On 30 December, in a telephone conversation, Presidents of Ukraine, Russia, France, and the German Chancellor extended the Minsk agreements through 2016. Regrettably, our European partners are unwilling to face the realities. Namely, it would be quite futile to demand from Ukraine any unilateral implementation of the Minsk agreements, if the Russian side fails to abide by them. Moreover, Ukraine is unable to comply with the Minsk agreements simply because it is impeded by Russia.[1]

It is no coincidence that Alexander Hug, Principal Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, stressed at a press conference held in Kyiv on 31 December, that it would be advisable to sign a new agreement in 2016 between the parties to the conflict in the east of Ukraine in order to settle any issues that remain unresolved. ‘It is clear enough what we should do: it would be sufficient to spell out any existing problems in an agreement and then to sign it, ’ said Hug.

He reminded that, during 2015, violations of ceasefire, use of weapons banned under the Minsk agreements, obstruction of freedom of movement for the mission’s observers, as well as difficulties faced by civilian population in crossing the delimitation line were registered.

Of the items listed by Hug, only the last one may be blamed both on Ukraine and Russia, while the rest should lie at Russia’s door.

However, Mr Hug was far from enumerating all the provisions of the Minsk agreements violated by Russia.

Clause 7: Provide safe access, delivery, storage and distribution of humanitarian aid to the needy, based on an international mechanism. No humanitarian aid from the State has ever been delivered to the DPR/LPR.

Clause 6: Provide release and exchange of all hostages and illegally held persons, based on the principle of ‘all for all’. This process has to end – at the latest – on the fifth day after the pullout of heavy weapons. This provision also remains unfulfilled. As previously mentioned, by the end of 2015, 131 hostages and POWs were held in captivity, however, these data cannot be verified. The release and exchange process is completely restricted to the public and has been monopolised by the Security Service of Ukraine, allegedly for reasons of secrecy. It is yet unknown who exactly decides on the exchange.

It has been known, however, that the SBU had to establish the so-called ‘exchange pool’. People are accused of ‘separatism’ under Article 110 of the Criminal Code, or of any other crime, following which, a written consent to an exchange (sometimes even during court hearings) is obtained, criminal proceedings are terminated, and detainees are held in custody by the SBU elsewhere, until the exchange takes place. This abominable practice is completely beyond the law, but, in Ukraine, they have to resort to it in order to free hostages and POWs.

This exchange has been suspended recently: Russia made a requirement that amnesty should come first, and then – the exchange. This is the matter of Ukraine’s compliance with Clause 5 of the Minsk agreements: Provide pardon and amnesty by way of enacting a law that forbids persecution and punishment of persons in relation to events that took place in particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts of Ukraine. But how can one pardon those who have killed and tortured, kidnapped, robbed and mocked?! This looks even more hideous in the context of more than 400 criminal proceedings instigated by the Office of the Chief Military Prosecutor against Ukrainians for war crimes that, on closer inspection, are nothing of the kind, since most of these proceedings are associated with illegal possession of arms and ammunition.

The amnesty of this sort would only encourage the criminals’ impunity, inviting them to commit more crimes. Justice and fairness cannot be traded for peace, because it would bring neither peace nor justice – the military conflict will resume.

Nevertheless, our European partners talk about the need for approval by the Verkhovna Rada of the law on the immunity of those who are to be elected this February to the bodies of local self-government in the LPR and DPR. Once again, the possibility is ignored that murderers or torturers may be elected.

However, Clause 5 does not provide for a complete and unconditional amnesty. Therefore, the law on amnesty should list those articles of the Criminal Code, under which amnesty shall not apply to respective crimes, first of all, to crimes against humanity and war crimes. This law should apply not only to the LPR/DPR militants, but also to Ukrainian servicemen and volunteers. Such amnesty would be acceptable and may actually help to overcome the conflict.

Roman Romanov (Renaissance International Foundation) has made quite an appropriate suggestion that assistance should be requested from the European Union in the investigation of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the military conflict in Ukraine, since Ukraine has no experience of conducting such investigations, and that a dedicated chamber be set up in the Supreme Court of Ukraine to consider international crimes, in which foreign judges could participate (the latter should be given regard to in the amendments to the Constitution associated with judicial proceedings; see the section on the right to a fair trial).

Clauses 9, 11, 12: Restoration of complete control over the state border by the Ukrainian Government across the entire conflict area, which has to start on the first day after the local elections have been held on the basis of the Law of Ukraine and constitutional reform. However, it is difficult to believe that local elections could be held under the Ukrainian law, monitored by observers in accordance with the OSCE standards of free, honest and fair elections. This is because the laws on elections, which can only make one laugh nervously, have already been created in the DPR and LPR. The Ukrainian Parliament should not be expected to adopt constitutional amendments of dubious quality, which might provide for a special status of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts.

It is as if these provisions of the Minsk agreements were designed on purpose, assuming that nothing would ever be fulfilled. Meanwhile, attempts to find, within a short period from 25 January to 3 February, 300 votes required to approve decentralisation amendments to the Constitution, would only split the parliamentary majority and provoke a severe internal political crisis, much to the aggressor’s joy.

Therefore, new mechanisms and procedures to overcome the conflict and preserve peace must be proposed. In particular, a balanced amnesty law should be adopted, and international mechanisms for the investigation and prosecution of international crimes should be incorporated into the Minsk agreements. Informing the Western world about violations of the Minsk agreements by Russia and its artificially created DPR and LPR is also of major importance.


State of human rights in other regions of Ukraine


The situation with human rights was mosaic. In many ways it is much better than in 2010-2013: a substantially higher level of political freedom, freedom of speech and freedom of the media, freedom of assembly and associations. However, the level of violence in society is higher than before, as a direct consequence of the military conflict in Donbas. Compared to 2014, crime, especially domestic, increased, particularly in the east of the country. People steal even from cellars: food, canned or glassed goods. This is the evidence of the poverty endured by wide sections of the population as a result of this nation’s very complicated socioeconomic situation caused by high daily military expenditures and the heavy legacy of the country looted under the Yanukovych regime. Prices for all groups of goods and services have increased, the real income of people has dropped significantly, and the number of people below the poverty line has grown.

Mutual suspicions and accusations were building up in the political field. Meanwhile, all political forces are guided by political expediency and neglect law, while many people, both in the government and in the general public, maintain a false impression that complex problems can be solved in a simple manner, i.e. through the use of force and coercion. This is a very bad error that may entail extremely grave consequences. In particular, the events that took place near the Parliament on 31 August were a manifestation of this error. However, leaders of the State must accept some responsibility for what happened. Had they behaved differently, it may never have happened. When dubious – in the eyes of individuals who defended the country – solutions are approved, events like this are bound to happen. People who stopped separatist plague at the risk of their lives deserve to have the amendments to the Constitution discussed, their logic explained, and arguments given in favour of the special status for the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. One cannot act in secret, without explaining anything. Until a draft law on decentralisation amendments to the Constitution appeared on the Parliament’s website, not all members of the Constitutional Commission had even seen it. A dialogue between the authorities and the public is essential nowadays; people have to be respected, everything must be talked over with them.

At the same time, one should not take one’s cues from those who scream betrayal, insist on the impeachment or early elections, – much to the delight of the aggressor whose only wish is that everyone in Ukraine quarrelled with everyone else. All political forces must be sober-minded, avoid provocative actions or attempts to break someone down.

The situation with the right to protection from torture and abuse and the right to freedom and personal inviolability has generally improved. A study conducted in 2015, as part of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group project, by the Kharkiv Institute of Social Research across five regions of Ukraine not affected by the armed conflict showed a significant decrease in the number of cases of unlawful violence by police officers. The estimated number of such violations over the year, compared to 2011 – the year of the previous study, fell more than twice from 980 thousand (604.4 thousand during arrest) to 409 thousand (157.3 thousand during arrest). Similarly, the estimated number of victims of torture decreased from 113 thousand to almost 63 thousand in the same year. However, these numbers are still very high.

At the same time, experts note that fewer cases of unlawful violence should not be credited to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, since no systemic changes have yet occurred in the Ministry’s criminal investigative bodies. Factors that contributed to a decrease in unlawful violence by police included institutional changes: operation of a new Criminal Procedure Code and the development of a free legal aid system. The requirement for a permission to arrest to be granted by an investigating judge led to a drop in the number of arrests and, accordingly, to fewer instances of police malpractice during such arrests. Another effectual provision of the new Criminal Procedure Code turned out to be the exclusion of illegally collected evidence by courts. The ability to access free legal advice centres and the right to counsel during interrogation became major safeguards against unlawful violence. An important role is also played by the post-Maidan concerns about potential repercussions of unlawful actions: public attention to actions by the police; the rise of social networks; the conflict in the east, the emergence of people with combat experience have all become a certain deterrent to the use of unlawful violence.

Torture and abuse in penal institutions remained a problem, with the situation being particularly bad in Berdychiv Penal Colony 70, Berdyansk Penal Colony 77, Kharkiv Penal Colonies 25 and 100, and Izyaslav Penal Colony 58. Despite documenting these facts, thanks to an opportunity to visit the above institutions and to cooperate with the parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights, appealing to the prosecutor’s office has been futile: as before, this authority performs extremely poorly its supervisory functions over compliance with the law at penal establishments. Consequently, the impunity of personnel at correctional colonies is even more strengthened. This situation vividly demonstrates the need to reform prosecution authorities and the penitentiary system.

The manner in which the sixth wave of mobilisation was carried out in certain communities, for example, in Kharkiv, was not only unacceptable in a democratic country, but also potentially discrediting for the Ukrainian State in the eyes of the civilised world. Policemen and plainclothes persons who introduced themselves as police officers detained young people in the streets, markets, underground railway stations, educational establishments during the period of External Independent Testing or university graduation under various pretexts, such as establishing the person’s identity due to his/her resemblance to a suspect in crime, etc. Such detention was not processed formally. Detainees were first brought to police stations and then taken to military registration and enlistment offices, or, much more often, following the arrest, they were moved directly to the Kharkiv Oblast Military Registration and Enlistment Office’s depot at 205 Kotlova St. There, draft notices were filled out and served (in the absence of ID documents, notices were filled with the information provided orally by the detainees themselves). No one was released at the depot, and the detainees were then taken to a military unit to serve. Their families were not informed.

It should be noted that the medical board at the depot was a mere formality, – everyone was found able for duty. Parents told later that papers evidencing unfitness of their sons for military service had been ignored, and sick boys had been forced to serve. But why would the army need sick people?! Obviously, university students cannot be drafted before they have graduated. People cannot be detained for no good reason, such detention may qualify as kidnapping. It is wrong to violate, in such a flagrant manner, the law on military draft and to turn the Oblast Military Registration and Enlistment Office’s depot into a place of confinement, since none of the boys brought there could leave the place or were even given the opportunity to see their family. They were fed haphazardly and were always hungry, forced to make do with what their parents had been able to pass through the depot checkpoint and dividing it all among themselves, like in prison.

The military cite the following reasons for these actions: the legislation, under which draft notices must be filled out and served, their counterfoils – signed by the conscripts who would subsequently be summoned to military registration and enlistment offices, offers a lot of opportunities for draft evasion, and, therefore, resorting to such actions was necessary, since the situation with mobilisation plans in Kharkiv looked very bad. One has to perform his constitutional duties and defend the country against the aggressor.

This barbaric manner in which mobilisation plans are implemented are a disgrace to the army, the law enforcement officers, and the State as a whole. The military conflict in the country’s south-east encourages the Ukrainian authorities to rally the population that should be interested in providing its best support to the State and the army. All Ukrainians should split into two parts: those who protect the country from the aggressor and those who help the aggressor. But would anybody want to support a state that violates human rights so grossly and acts not unlike the aggressor itself (remember the exact same raids carried out in Russia to send soldiers to the second Chechen war)? Nothing more harmful to Ukraine could ever be imagined, much to the delight of the Russian propaganda that does not even have to lie in this case. And the worst thing is that such practice – an obvious vestige of the Soviet way of thinking and acting – is regarded as completely acceptable by a large part of the Ukrainian bureaucracy.

The same vestige can be seen in the indifference to a long-drawn transfer of pensioners in Shchastya from the occupied Luhansk to Severodonetsk, when pensioners in Shchastya had not been paid their pensions for eight months. A similar story occurred in Myronovske and Luhanske urban-type settlements and in Svitlodarsk that had been subordinated to Debaltsevo and, upon its surrender in February 2015, were to be transferred into subordination to Artemivsk (now Bakhmut). As a result, all public sector employees had not been paid wages from January to August, and in this communities real hunger had set in, which we saw with our own eyes when we brought foodstuffs there. Our women just wept when they saw hungry people fight for bread in Myronovske. After intervention in September by the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, the problem was solved and the entire arrears were paid.

And take, for example, the extremely long queues at the delimitation line crossings! These queues had no access to water or WCs, until portable toilets have been installed by the International Red Cross. This qualifies as inhuman treatment in the sense of Article 3 of the European Convention. It looks as if these queues have been created on purpose.

When government agencies behave in such a manner, it is small wonder that the Donbas population is extremely critical of the Ukrainian State.

The list of such examples of a purely Soviet spirit can go on and on. But there are also positive examples, such as the launch of public broadcasting, creation of a new police force and reforms initiated in the police and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, making property registers of the Ministry of Justice available to the public, transition to the electronic system of public procurement, adoption of a new law on civil service, launch of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau staffed almost entirely through competitive selection with the participation of the public, recent introduction of the 3G mobile communications technology, and start of the e-document flow implementation.


Reforms and human rights


The examples given above illustrate the point made in the beginning that the struggle for human rights is an attempt to get rid of the vestigial Soviet practices, to clear consciousness of the Soviet and post-totalitarian clichés and to turn the state machinery in the direction of real attention to human rights and fundamental freedoms. A key factor in this fight are institutional changes in all spheres, which are the primary proof of reforms.

The accumulated experience offers an opportunity to formulate necessary conditions, without which reforms cannot succeed.

First, a vision of reform should be developed, i.e. a document of strategic nature, which would clearly define the purpose, principles, objectives of the reform, the work that has to be done to achieve these objectives, target results and progress indicators, as well as an action plan to implement this strategy. It is desirable that these documents should be discussed by the expert community and approved by the government.

Second, any system should be reformed by a new dynamic team that has the political will for change and sufficient authority to do this. The system is incapable of reforming itself and would generally resist any changes. Both political will and authority are required to overcome this resistance. To achieve success, reformers would need courage and will have to outpace through continuous, fast, non-stop action. If changes are slow, the system will easily adapt to them and will be able to counter them.

Third, the reform team should comprise both public officers and civil society activists who have the necessary knowledge and experience to be professionally equal with public officers. People have to be kept informed of the progress of reforms by means of various communication tools, especially TV, radio broadcasts and social networks, to generate feedback from the public and to rely on its support. Without such support, even seemingly appropriate changes are doomed to fail.

Fourth, tools should be made available to identify middle-tier employees within the system who are reform-oriented, along with the procedures that would offer a chance for such ‘rare birds’ to join the reform team.

Fifth, pilot projects have to be carried out as necessary to test the key ideas of the reform strategy, to determine the cost of these changes and to prepare their implementation across the country. Sometimes this argument is opposed on the grounds that, under Article 19 of the Constitution, government authorities, bodies of local self-government and their officials must act only on the basis, within the powers and in a manner stipulated by the Constitution and laws of Ukraine. Nevertheless, this should not be an obstacle to the development of a special legislation to validate the proposed changes in a separate pilot region and to incorporate them subsequently into the law, subject to successful results. Pilot projects provide an opportunity to assess the cost of the reforms and to determine the extent of financing for their implementation. As a rule, they can be carried out without any additional budget allocations.

Sixth, after all the action plan tasks have been achieved within the available budget, additional funding would be required to implement reforms. Lack of funding may undermine all efforts at reform.

In our observations, the modest success achieved in 2015 was completely due to the fulfilment of the above conditions. Alternatively, the absence of strategic vision and a new team, the lack of political will have so far resulted in a failure to change the judiciary and the prosecution authorities.

Summing up, it should be noted that the experience gained in 2015 and the current course of events give grounds for cautious optimism as to this country’s progress in 2016. Many people are determined to change the country, the interaction between the State and the public improves, and the old Soviet-era practices face increasing public condemnation.

[1] Here and elsewhere references are made to Russia, and not the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR, since, in this author’s opinion, they are not independent and merely act under the Kremlin’s instructions.


Against torture and ill-treatment

Kharkiv woman awarded huge damages for police torture

 Protest against police torture (the items are all things used by perpetrators)

The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Ukraine to pay Svitlana Pomilyayko 20 thousand EUR in damages after accepting that she had been subjected to torture while in police custody, and that the authorities had failed to properly investigate her complaints. 

Ms Pomilyayko had been assisted by the Kharkiv Human Rights Group both in fighting the prosecutor’s refusals to investigate  the case, and in lodging her application with the Court in Strasbourg.  This was back in 2012, with the events themselves dating from 2008, so it has taken a long time for the Kharkiv woman to get justice. 

There were in fact two victims, however only Pomilyayko decided to make a formal complaint.  She and the other woman N.  had been taken in for questioning after two computers went missing from their work.  

They were ‘questioned’ separately with the officers trying to get them to make ‘confessions’.   They refused and were finally released, but only after both signed statements that they had no criticism against the police. Both received documents from the hospital they went to confirming their account of the treatment they had received, however only Pomilyayko formally complained, and then went through a long to-and-fro process with a criminal investigation first initiated, then revoked, then initiated again, only to be terminated by a prosecutor’s office in Kharkiv. 

The Government had nothing to say regarding Pomilyayko’s account of what had happened on Nov 8, 2008.

“9. At about 11.35 a.m. on 8 November 2008 a senior detective officer, T., accompanied the applicant to the fourth floor of the police station. He asked her to wait in the corridor and entered office no. 56. Five minutes later the applicant heard a woman’s scream emanating from that office. T. opened the door and directed an officer passing by to take the applicant to his office. She was made to wait there for about twenty minutes. Then T. took her to office no. 56. He pushed her inside, twisted her arms behind her back and handcuffed her, even though she had offered no resistance.

10. T. and his colleague, S., who was also in the office, intimidated the applicant with a view to making her confess to the investigated theft. They told her that her colleague, Ms L., had already started to “crack”. The applicant noticed Ms L.’s belongings on the floor. She concluded that it was her scream that she had heard.

11. Having failed to obtain a confession from the applicant, T. and S. made her sit on a chair, put a plastic bag over her head and started to strangle her. At the same time they struck her head, face and mouth so that she could not bite through the bag. The applicant fainted several times. When she told the officers she needed to use the toilet, S. hit her in the stomach and the head. She fainted once again and urinated involuntarily. Sometime later the applicant noticed the presence of another officer, P., in the office.

12. After several hours of ill-treatment, the applicant was taken to another office where she stayed for about twenty minutes. Thereafter she was brought before a female officer, who conducted her formal questioning.

13. At about 6 p.m. the applicant signed the official report of the questioning. She was then taken to the office of the head of the search unit, who stated that she was the main suspect in the theft case and that all her colleagues had indicated her as the likely thief. The applicant complained about her ill-treatment. Her complaint was ignored.

14. She was taken again to office no. 56, where the officers threatened her and tried to pressure her into confessing. She repeatedly refused to do so and professed her innocence. The applicant was forced to write a statement that she had no complaints about the way the police had treated her.

15. At about 8 p.m. on 8 November 2008 she was released.

16. The applicant submitted to the Court five colour photographs of herself in which extensive bruising on her both arms and forearms is visible.”

The case was flagrant, so too were the attempts to terminate the investigation.  Fortunately the Government made no attempt to deny this, disputing as ‘exorbitant’ only Pomilyayko’s application for 70 thousand EUR in damages.  The Court awarded 20 thousand and expenses. 



The right to a fair trial

Russia’s Crimean Tatar show trial proves too shoddy even for the court

     Free Crimean political prisoners  (a protest in Kyiv - it would be inconceivable in Russian-occupied Crimea)

In a surprise move on Feb 15, the Supreme Court in Russian-occupied Crimea sent the case against Crimean Tatar leader Akhtem Chiygoz and 5 other Crimean Tatars back for ‘further investigation’. There was no mention of releasing Chiygoz and the two other men – Ali Asanov, the father of four small children, and Mustafa Degermendzhy who have now been in custody for periods of 8 to 13 months.  All three were on Monday declared political prisoners by the authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre. 

Chiygoz’s lawyer Nicolai Polozov believes that the delay is probably aimed at enabling the investigators to do a less inept job at falsifying evidence.  He says that everything was initially done in a sloppy fashion since they assumed they would get away with it.  The case has, however, gained publicity and the prosecutors and judges are presumably realizing that they need to take a bit more care.  As reported, the last court hearing was abruptly adjourned after just minutes, probably because of the presence in Simferopol of a Council of Europe fact-finding mission whose attendance at this travesty of a trial was doubtless not wanted.  

No delay can remove the fundamental flaws in this case where the men are charged under Russian law over a demonstration which took place on Feb 26, 2014 in Ukrainian Crimea before Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea and therefore unequivocally under Ukrainian law.

Even Russia’s Criminal Code (Article 12 § 3), is entirely clear that nationals who commit an offence on the territory of another country can only be prosecuted under Russian law if “the crime was directed against the interests of the Russian Federation or a citizen of the Russian Federation.”

Only Crimean Tatars have been targeted, although there were also a large number of pro-Russian demonstrators outside the parliament buildings on Feb 26, 2014. 

There is also no evidence against any of the men and no clarity as to what any of them is actually charged with. 

At the previous hearing on Jan 25, all three men held in detention asked for clarification about the fuzzy accusations.  Degermendzhy pointed out that he was charged with “committing a serious crime against public safety”, yet it was not understood whether this was Russian public safety or Ukraine’s.  He was supposed to have disobeyed the “legitimate demands of police officers”, with no indication given of what these demands had been and where it was recorded that he had not complied with them.  He is also alleged to have committed crimes against Russian nationals, yet nobody has explained which of the people involved in the demonstration on Feb 26, 2014, were Russian citizens.  (more examples here)

Applications from all defendants’ lawyers to have the prosecutions terminated for lack of jurisdiction and to release Chiygoz, Degermendzhy and Asanov from custody have been rejected, as have totally legitimate demands to clarify the charges.

Instead, on Monday, the court decided that the case needed to be sent back to ‘specify’ the number of people with victim status.  The file material gives one figure, the indictment another with a difference of several people.  It is also not specified what injuries they suffered.

Novaya Gazeta reported in late February 2015, a month after Chiygoz’s arrest, that the Russian Investigative Committee had been short of ‘victims’ and witnesses, and on February 2, 4 days after Chiygoz’s arrest and 11 months after the events, invited Simferopol residents to come forward “even in the absence of bodily injuries”.

The investigators are now being invited to be more ‘specific’ about this alleged evidence. Polozov points out that most of the people now deemed ‘victims’ do not have any documents confirming injuries. He believes that the number may now change with evidence simply fabricated.

This could simply be a show, for appearances, since the de facto prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya has objected to the court’s decision and said that she will appeal against it. It could also, unfortunately, be done in the hope that there will be less attention to the politically motivated prosecution of the Deputy Head of the Mejlis or representative body of the Crimean Tatar people which Russia has set about banning.

There can be no chance of this with a case so cynically contemptuous of fundamental principles of law, where two of the defendants are quite likely in custody because they refused to provide the required testimony against the Mejlis leader.

In its statement on Feb 15, Memorial HRC points out that the Russian authorities have ignored the fact that the actions happened on Ukrainian territory before annexation and have called the events ‘mass riots’. 

It points out that the Russian investigators came up with a formal excuse in that among the 79 (in another version 83!) victims, there were two people who were at the time Russian nationals.  Neither sought medical treatment at the time, and Memorial says that in their case, as in those of over half the ‘victims’, there are doubts over whether the alleged injuries were genuinely sustained.

The Russian prosecution is accusing the defendants of damaging a Ukrainian executive body and disobeying the demands of Ukrainian police officers. 

The political motive, Memorial notes, is especially evident given that two sides were involved in the confrontation to an equal degree, yet only Crimean Tatars have faced charges.

Memorial also questions the claims that anybody ‘organized’ mass riots that day.  It demands the immediate release of Chiygoz, Asanov and Degermendzhy and the termination of the prosecution. 

Up till now, readers have always been asked to write to the three men, with the Mejlis’ office in Kyiv given for letters.  In view of Russia’s major offensive and attempt to criminalize the Mejlis, this may not be the moment for letters.  It is, however, certainly the right time for international pressure to be brought to bear on Russia over its treatment both of the Mejlis, and of these political prisoners. 


Freedom of conscience and religion

Russian crimes & religious persecution in Donbas that the Pope ignored


If it was bad for dialogue between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill to admit to Russia’s pivotal role in the war in Ukraine, they should have kept off the subject altogether in their Feb 12 Statement.  By muffling this, the document is offensively misleading  particularly given the evidence of systematic religious persecution by Russian & Russian-backed militants and the role played by many paramilitary groups under Russian Orthodox banners.  The "social solidarity" they speak of is not enhanced by open persecution of all faiths except the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate, nor by the recent seizure of 60-year-old Ihor Kozlovsky, a religious specialist who had contributed enormously to inter-faith dialogue in his native Donetsk. 

At least two of the ‘Cyborgs’ defending Donetsk Airport who were taken prisoner by Russian or pro-Russian fighters have said that their tormenters included a man wearing the clothes of an Orthodox priest, who used his cross as a means of torture. 

Oleksandr Mashonkin spent 197 days imprisoned by fighters from the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [DNR] before being freed on Aug 6, 2015.  During that period he was subjected to all kinds of torture, including a hot iron on his hands.  He  told Radio Svoboda that a “priest came, apparently from the Moscow Patriarchate, with a cross. He beat us with that cross around the head, perhaps he thought that would drive out our sins, he said we were monsters.”  When he broke the wooden cross on a prisoner’s head, he brought a metal one, and continued to hit them. 

Mashonkin is a believer whose faith and the chapel he and other prisoners, including a military chaplain created in the corner of their cell, kept him going.  He says that he became calmer in spirt when he realized that their torturer was no priest, but a militant in priest’s clothes.  Yury Shkabura recalls that the man came to ‘Motorola’, one of the militant leaders, asking for “a couple of slaves”, and then “came up to us and began screaming that we’re traitors, Judases, and hit the guys with a cross around the head”.

Some of the men who survived have confirmed that it was Russian Motorola who killed another Cyborg Ihor Branovytsky.  His mother has demanded investigation of all cases where her son and other Ukrainian prisoners were tortured, including by the man in Orthodox priest clothes.

Torture of prisoners is an undoubted war crime whether committed by fighters, priests or people posing as such. 

Radio Svoboda was assured by Yevhen Samoilenko from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate that no priests are taking part in torture.  He added that if such behaviour were proven, the person would be stripped of his right to serve.   

Such firmness is welcome, however the denials of any involvement in the conflict from the Moscow Patriarchate are, like those from the Kremlin, irreconcilable with a massive weight of evidence. 

Worlds apart

Ukraine has a high percentage of believers who belong to very different faiths and who have always basically managed to get along.  The propaganda lines tried by both the regime of Viktor Yanukovych and then Russian President Vladimir Putin could not hide the national and religious diversity of the people who came together on Maidan during the events now known as the Revolution of Dignity. 

The situation changed immediately and radically, first in Crimea and then in those areas of Donbas under Kremlin-backed militant control.  In both, all faiths except the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate came under massive pressure and religious differences were certainly among the reasons why many people have left.  The believers who came every day to take part in the inter-faith prayer marathon in the centre of Donetsk were tolerated at first as long as there was no mention of Ukraine.  Later they began facing harassment, and a number of them were abducted and tortured. 

The pressure – and abductions – abated during 2015, but it cannot be said that the situation has changed in any radical way.  This was demonstrated in the organized ‘demonstration’ outside the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church in Donetsk on Jan 29, 2016.  The participants were almost certainly public sector workers forced to appear at a demonstration calling on DNR leader Alexander Zakharchenko “to drive out sectarians”, who were alleged to be Western-paid or even linked with the CIA. 

It remains unclear why Ihor Kozlovsky was seized on Jan 26 and remains in militant custody, but both his involvement with the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and his active part in Christian – Muslim dialogue were likely to be viewed with suspicion by the Kremlin’s proxies in Donetsk. 

‘Russian world’

   Metropolitan Ioanniky, until 2012 a member of the Holy Synod of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) at the ‘inauguration’ of Igor Plotnitsky, leader of the so-called ‘Luhansk people’s republic’

Professor Oleksandr Sahan, a specialist on the Orthodox Church in the world and relations between the state and different faiths, told Radio Svoboda that the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate “remains a channel actively used for its own purposes by the aggressor state” [i.e. Russia].  “We are talking about a national centre which produces its own national ideology and effectively imposes it on its believers”.   

In a 2015 study entitled ‘When God becomes the weapon’,   Ukraine’s Centre for Civil Liberties and International Partnership for Human Rights presented considerable evidence of religious persecution by militants in Donbas, and of  the role played by Russia and its armed criminal ‘crusaders’ in crimes against humanity in the region.

Whether or not the torturer in religious clothes had any connection with the Church, it is certainly true that religion has been a key motivating factor for many armed paramilitary groups fighting “under the banners of the Russian Orthodox Army and the Cossack Army”  Most worryingly, it has been cited as justification for many grave crimes committed in the so-called ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’. 

The authors point out that “open sources and witness testimony indicate that these armed groups also have local support from the clergy of UOC-MP and the Russian Orthodox Church”.  Examples are provided of some Moscow Patriarchate priests who “have, to varying degree,  supported these illegal paramilitary groups in their campaign against representatives of Protestant, Evangelical and Catholic Churches, and Orthodox believers who do not recognize the Moscow Patriarchate.”

Calls for all sides to lay down weapons, etc. cannot conceal the Moscow Patriarchate’s failure to react when crimes are being committed as though in its name.

While conflicts have arisen between differing armed formations, especially in ‘LNR’, the authors note that adherence to the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarch and political ideas around the so-called ‘Russian world’ are largely shared by all pro-Russian militants. 

This concept of a supposed ‘Russian World’ – encompassing Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, as well as Russia itself – has been repeatedly endorsed by Putin, and by Patriarch Kirill. The latter stated in November 2009, that “if we consider the Russian Federation with its present boundaries, then we have sinned against the historical truth and artificially cut off millions of people who are aware of their role in the fate of the Russian World and consider its creation their main deed.”

Some of the Cossack ‘Russian world crusaders’ have also taken part in armed conflicts in the post-Soviet areas of Transdnistria, Abkhazia and Serbia.  

The Russian Orthodox Army has as its motto: ““Warriors of the faith, brothers of the Great Russia, we will unite the whole Southeast”,   It was formed in February 2014, under the proclaimed leadership of Russian former military intelligence officer Igor Girkin (nom de guerre Strelkov).  He and his fighters abandoned Sloviansk in July 2014 after 3 months of occupation.  They left behind them at least one mass grave and clear evidence of torture and extrajudicial executions.  Girkin’s main aide Ihor Druz admitted back in August 2014 that they had executed people.  “To prevent chaos”, he said, sitting under a religious banner.  

For the sake of the four abducted and murdered members of a Sloviansk Evangelical Church, of 19-year-old student Yury Popravko savagely tortured to death by such ‘crusaders’, and very many other victims,  the Vatican really could have done its homework better.  

Law enforcement agencies

Key reformer quits over ’total corruption’ & ’lawlessness’ in Prosecutor General’s Office

Vitaly Kasko has publicly announced his resignation as Deputy Prosecutor General saying that he does not wish to be part of a body where “total lawlessness is tolerated”.  At a briefing on Monday, he stated that under the present leadership of the Prosecutor General’s Office he sees no possibility, of creating a European-style prosecutor’s office able and willing to effectively investigate corruption and other cases. 

Vitaly Kasko, a fluent English speaker, has been in his post for the last 18 months and was in charge of international cooperation.  He has been vocal in criticizing the effective sabotage of efforts to reform the prosecutor’s office and recently said that “while the Prosecutor General spends so much time in the President’s Administration, we will not create either a European prosecutor’s office or a European state.”  Kasko stressed that he was not talking ‘off the record’, and that he had nothing to lose.

He acknowledged then, back in November, that his relations with the current Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin had been strained since their conflict over the so-called ‘diamond prosecutors’. That case, involving two high-ranking prosecutors, Volodymyr Shapakin and Shokin’s personal friend Oleksandr Korniyets,   was among the examples cited by US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt in an address expressing concern about Shokin’s actions, accusing him of undermining reforms, blocking important prosecutions, and defending corrupt prosecutors. 

Kasko said that Shokin had demanded that he resign following their conflict but he had answered that Shokin had not appointed him and that he would not voluntarily resign.  This, unfortunately, has now changed. 

Kasko was one of the people who revealed the sabotage of reform attempts which resulted with Shokin basically reshuffling old top level local prosecutors into other posts.  Virtually nobody from outside the system received a position despite a system for appointments that had been developed to ensure that the best candidates were chosen

During the press briefing and in his letter of resignation, Kasko provided a devastating assessment of the present situation.  The last straw for him had been yet another redistribution of powers within the Prosecutor General’s Office.  This, he said, had basically taken away their ability to investigate and monitor proceedings in cases such as that of the diamond prosecutors. 

He asserts that under the current leadership of the Prosecutor General’s Office, corruption and a system of closing ranks are in force.  Any attempts to change this from within the prosecutor’s office are met with immediate and demonstrative persecution. 

There is total lawlessness, he says, not observance of the law, and more and more key posts within the Prosecutor General’s Office are being taken by Shokin’s protégés – followers. 

Despite the pretence of a formally formed body, the same system of political protégés; direct and total pressure on investigators and prosecutors; inaction and impunity remains intact. 

With no possibility of truly fighting corruption and building a European prosecutor’s office, Kasko says he has no option but to resign.

His moves have already been condemned by another prosecutor from the PGO, Vladislav Kushchenko who claimed that they, and Kasko’s earlier actions, had been PR stunts. 

Kasko’s resignation comes soon after that of the Minister of Economic Development and Trade, Aivaras Abromavicius.  The latter expressed his unwillingness to serve in a government that was more interested in personal gain than true reform. 

That resignation was widely described as “a nail in the coffin for hopes of serious reform in Ukraine”.  

Kasko’s departure is a major blow for any, rapidly dwindling, hopes of reform within the prosecutor’s office.  Since all his criticism has been voiced loudly by reformers in Ukraine and observers abroad, his resignation must also be a challenge to President Petro Poroshenko who has up till now refused to dismiss Shokin.


Deported peoples

The Self-Government Body of the Crimean Tatar People must not be banned

Over the past two years, members of the Crimean Tatar nationality and anyone involved in their self-government, the preservation of their cultural heritage, and their fight for their rights and freedoms have faced relentless persecution in Crimea. Many members of this nationality have an extremely unfavorable view of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, which was accompanied by the deployment of Russian troops, the removal of Ukrainian authorities under the threat of violence, and the establishment of Russian government bodies on Crimean territory.

After the annexation, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, which is the representative body of the Crimean Tatars chosen by the Qurultay (general assembly) of the Crimean Tatar People, expressed the opposition of native residents of Crimea towards Russia’s seizure of this peninsula. The Mejlis has received repeated threats that its “activities on Russian Federation soil will be banned” in connection with protest actions and the failure of the Crimean people to subjugate themselves to the Russian government (this was in reference to peaceful actions in the form of demonstrations, meetings, and car rallies, as well as attempts to disrupt economic measures and the Ukrainian government’s energetic support of an annexed Crimea).

The leaders of the Crimean Tatar people—Mustafa Dzhemilev (the first chairman of the Mejlis) and Refat Chubarov (the current chairman)—were basically run out of Crimea and banned from returning. Criminal cases were opened against them in Russia. As for the Mejlis itself, the Russian government is trying to have it banned as an “extremist organization, ” and the corresponding lawsuit was filed with the Supreme Court of Crimea on February 15. The banning of “extremist” organizations is a widespread practice in Russia which entails the criminal prosecution of anyone who is in any way connected with the banned organization and even of people (primarily writers in the mass media and online) who mention the shuttered entity without using the words “which is banned in the Russian Federation.” What this actually amounts to is the complete criminalization of the activities of any “banned” entity. The obligatory use of the claim “which is banned in the Russian Federation” also paints this entity as anathema.

When we are referring to the banning not just of the self-government body of the Crimean Tatar people, but also of its elected representatives, repressions apparently also apply to anyone who participates in the activities of elected entities which run communities, nominate representatives, and implement decisions adopted over the past 25 years regarding the lives of the Crimean Tatar people. This attempt to ban the Mejlis, this new stage in the incursion on the rights of Crimean Tatars, amounts to the ethnic, cultural, and political (on the grounds of political convictions) discrimination of the Crimean Tatar people.

When First Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis Nariman Jelal received the lawsuit “to ban the activities of a public association, ” he called the lawsuit’s title “the first mistake, since the Mejlis is not a public association, but the representative body of the Crimean Tatar people.” He also noted that “It is important to remember that the Mejlis is not just a structure. It is an idea, a distinct symbol, a set of specific actions. And these kinds of direct, crude bans don’t change anything, because this national movement has always found a form that corresponds to a concrete moment in history, to concrete government actions, and, as a result, this period of history passes. Anyone who believes that he is still responsible to his own people, who, through their votes, gave him the right to represent them, will continue to bear this responsibility in the future.”

And this lawsuit truly does abound with mistakes. Moreover, almost all the charges the prosecutor lodged against the Mejlis are in direct violation of the norms of international and Russian law. For example, the Mejlis leaders were charged in relation to actions that took place outside of the Russian Federation (both in Ukraine until 2014 and currently) and in relation to the Declaration of National Sovereignty of the Crimean Tatar People (adopted on 26.06.1991), which was criticized by prosecutors and actually dates back to the time of the Soviet Union (of which the uninformed prosecutors are apparently unaware, since they noted that the Mejlis was “created in 1991 in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which was part of Ukraine”).

It is not at all clear what business the Regulations, which the Mejlis adopted in 2004 to “secure a status for Crimea as part of Ukraine, ” are of the Russian Prosecutor’s Office or how they could serve as grounds for a charge of “violating the integrity of the Russian Federation.” The ominous words from the lawsuit that “amendments to the Regulations of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People were not made” do not offer an explanation either. Moreover, there is no longer a need to secure a status for Crimea—two years ago Ukraine guaranteed “protection and the realization of the inalienable right of the Crimean Tatar people to self-determination as a part of a sovereign and independent Ukrainian state.”

The parts of the lawsuit that lay out the problems that the Russian authorities have with the leaders of the Crimean Tatar people are no less absurd. It states that a decision was adopted in relation to Mustafa Dzhemilev regarding the “undesirability of his stay in the Russian Federation, ” while the very next sentence says that Russia has put him on an international wanted list. The authors of this lawsuit accuse Refat Chubarov of “collecting tendentious information during voting to discredit the elections” and delivering a speech in Ukraine “to the general public.” The lawsuit also accuses these men of organizing a protest action, “infringing on the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation” by demanding Crimea’s return to Ukraine, and “promoting the creation of conditions for committing crimes.”

It is abundantly clear that neither peaceful protest actions against the sudden violent change in state borders (when the opinion of the native people of Crimea was completely disregarded), nor a desire to seek recognition of the right to self-determination, nor the collection of information about elections can be considered a legal basis for banning the activities of the representative body of the Crimean Tatar people.

The only somewhat serious charge of extremism in connection with “establishing preferences for people of the ‘Crimean Tatar nationality, ’” which the lawsuit alleges appears in the Declaration of National Sovereignty of the Crimean Tatar People (of 26.06.1991), actually directly contradicts the text of this Declaration (which is not quoted once in the 10-page lawsuit, even though it is attached to the lawsuit as evidence). On the contrary, in the Declaration we find the requirement “to guarantee the observance of the rights and freedoms of all people, regardless of their race, nationality, political views, or religious beliefs.”

There is no doubt that the repression of the Mejlis and Crimean Tatars violates the right to non-discrimination, equality of peoples, and their rights to self-government, preservation of their cultural heritage, and the development of autonomy.

We demand an end to the persecution of Crimean Tatars in Crimea, a renunciation of any attempt to ban the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, and the opportunity for all members of this nationality to live freely and peacefully in their land.

Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial
Center for Civil Liberties
Human Rights organization Citizens’ Watch
Kharkiv Regional Foundation “Public Alternative”
Crimea SOS Social Initiative
Human Rights Information Center
The Coalition “Justice for Peace in Donbas”:
Alchevsk Human Rights Analytical Center
Eastern-Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives
Public Movement “Ochyshchennya”
Donetsk “Memorial”
Luhansk Regional Human Rights Center “Alternative”
Public organization “Mirny bereg”
Public Committee for Protection of Constitutional Rights and Freedoms of Citizens
Starobilsk public organization “Volya”
Starobilsk district public human rights women’s organization “Victoria”
Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
Ecological and Cultural Center “Bathmat”

Kirovograd Province Organization “Assotiation of Political Sciences”

Kirovograd Province Civil Organization «Committee on Restoring of Historical Justice »
All-Ukrainian Initiative «Movement of State Builders »
Civil Organization «People’s Watch of Kirovograd Province»
Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement
Center of Political Studies and Analysis

Other signatures of the statement are welcome,  contact us here

A Window to Europe for Crimean Tatars

On February 4, the European Parliament adopted with an overwhelming majority a resolution on the human rights situation in Crimea. While international news media mostly picked up from it the (non-binding) suggestion to link the lifting of EU sanctions on Russia to the restoration of Ukrainian control over Crimea, the resolution included something potentially even more significant and far-reaching. Oliver Loode, MRG’s Head of Cultural Programmes, and member of UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, analyses the EU’s move.

It was the first time that a major international democratic body explicitly acknowledged Crimean Tatars as ’indigenous people of Crimea’. As such, the EU effectively paved the way for Crimean Tatars’ eventual full exercise of their individual and collective human rights as stated in the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), including the right to self-determination. The importance of the resolution becomes obvious in light of the historical context around the issue of Crimean Tatars as indigenous people – a notion that until recently was contested even by Crimean Tatars’ home country Ukraine.

In 1991, the Crimean Tatar Kurultay –  the highest representative body of Crimean Tatars – adopted a declaration on national sovereignty of Crimean Tatar people which, while not explicitly mentioning the word ’indigenous people’, was consistent with it, and claimed Crimean Tatars’ right to self-determination. During the following years, Crimean Tatars increasingly self-identified as indigenous peoples as it is understood under international human rights law. This self-identification is based on Crimean Tatars’ history, language, cultural heritage, strong communal identity and aspirations to remain and develop as a distinct people.

Since 1994, Crimean Tatars participated in the work at the United Nations that led to the adoption of UNDRIP in 2007, have attended annual sessions of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), and much more. As a result, the international community of indigenous peoples has embraced Crimean Tatars as one of their own – as brothers and sisters.

However, convincing their home government of Ukraine of their indigenous status has proved more challenging, all the way until Crimea’s illegal annexation by Russia in March 2014. For a number of reasons, post-Soviet Ukraine did not acknowledge Crimean Tatars as indigenous people, even during the relatively liberal and pro-European years following the Orange Revolution of 2004. Nor did Ukraine endorse UNDRIP, most likely in order to avoid imaginary trouble with Crimean Tatars. What exactly the Ukrainian establishment was afraid of remains unclear, but it is widely known that for the most part of its existence, post-Soviet Ukraine viewed Crimean Tatars  with suspicion and mistrust, as if they were a real or potential public enemy.

What a historical misjudgement this was! As became evident from the first days of Crimea’s illegal occupation by Russia in February 2014, Crimean Tatars were the only group in Crimea resisting the ’little green men’, boycotting the fake ’referendum’ and the last ones to fly Ukrainian flags until they were taken down by the thugs backed by occupying authorities. During those days, Crimean Tatars proved to be even greater patriots of Ukraine than the country’s own government, who passively looked on while a piece of their country was being bitten off by a hostile neighbour.

Responding to these dramatic events, Ukraine’s policy towards Crimean Tatars changed radically and almost overnight. On March 20, Ukraine’s parliament, Verkhovna Rada, finally recognized Crimean Tatars as indigenous people of Ukraine. In May, Ukraine officially endorsed UNDRIP, the document representing global consensus on the minimum standards of human rights of indigenous peoples.

These developments clearly annoyed Russia, the new occupying power in Crimea. A year after the annexation, Russia issued a call to its academic institutions and think-tanks to undertake a study analyzing the current state of Crimean Tatars, including the basis of their claim as indigenous people. The real meaning of this call was obvious: to start building a narrative delegitimizing Crimean Tatars’ claim as indigenous people with collective rights.  At the same time,  human rights violations targeting Crimean Tatars and their institutions, including disappearances and acts of vandalism, began soaring and continue to this day, showing no signs of slowing down.

As a result, Crimean Tatars have faced two competing views about their status: 1) one of several of Crimea’s ethnic minorities with no collective rights – as promulgated by Russia, and 2) indigenous people as understood by international human rights law and norms (including UNDRIP) as seen by Crimean Tatars themselves and, since 2014, Ukraine. Yet again, this has been a clash between Russia and Ukraine, with some support from friendly European countries and the global indigenous peoples’ movement.

It is in this context that the European Parliament resolution acquires its significance. By explicitly stating that Crimean Tatars are indigenous people of Crimea – not once but three times – the European Parliament made an important step towards building a global consensus on the status of Crimean Tatars under international human rights law. Given that almost all EU member states have endorsed UNDRIP, the resolution essentially stated that Crimean Tatars have the right to self-determination, as well as all other rights as listed in the Declaration.

In my view, this resolution is not simply an observation of a bystander. Given that Ukraine is on the path to European integration – even if the path is bumpier and longer than expected by many – it is still reasonable to think of the EU as future home of Ukraine and its people. As such, this European Parliament resolution recognized Crimean Tatars as not only indigenous people of Crimea and Ukraine, but also of a future European Union.

Whether and when this future will be fully realised depends on bigger and more powerful forces. Personally, I am confident that Crimean Tatars will play a role in the chain of events leading to the eventual return of Crimea to Ukraine. I base this confidence on the remarkable resilience and resolve that Crimean Tatars have shown throughout history, as well as personal observations from working with Crimean Tatar leaders and activists. Knowing that the European Union is clearly on their side and acknowledging what Crimean Tatars have been saying for several decades, should motivate Crimean Tatars to peacefully resist this occupation even more. For that alone, the European Parliament, and especially its 472 members who voted for this resolution, deserve to be praised.

Photo: Crimean Tatar activists at a pro-European rally in Kiev in 2014

Credit: Emine Ziyatdinova

To get in touch with Oliver – [email protected]

News from the CIS countries

A Year without Boris Nemtsov and of Sham Investigation

Words of indignation about the failed investigation are almost redundant.  Who seriously expected investigators in Vladimir Putin’s Russia to look for those who had ordered the killing of the President’s fiercest critic, killed close to the Kremlin on February 27, 2015? 

It was probably to be expected that the hired killers themselves would be found, though the speed with which the men's arrests were announced aroused suspicion.  In fact, Vadim Prokhorov, the lawyer representing Nemtsov’s family is convinced that the five men, all Chechens, now in custody are all to varying degrees guilty of carrying out the killing.  That, however, is where any ‘progress’ ends.  Unless we add the fact that the investigators were forced to abandon the totally cynical version that Nemtsov had been killed over comments he made about the Charlie Hebdo massacre.  They pushed it hard, but ran up against video footage clearly showing that the defendants began following Nemtsov well before the massacre.  What the investigators will now do with the testimony somehow obtained from key suspect Zaur Dadaev to back this motive is unclear. 

Prokhorov spoke about the investigation in an Open Russian interview on Feb 22.  There are several hundred videos to look through, however there is (officially) very little from Moskvoretsky Bridge where the killing took place and none at all of the moment that Nemtsov was gunned down.  Attempts to obtain video footage have proved fruitless with the relevant bodies claiming that they don’t answer for that bridge. 

Prokhorov wrote to FSO [the Federal Protective Service], saying that if this is negligence, then General Yevgeny Murov should resign.  There is, however, another possibility, namely, ill intent by both the FSO and the Interior Ministry.  The lawyer is convinced that FSO has the needed video footage.  Since the investigators should want such footage in order to clinch the prosecution, there must be a reason why it is being concealed, he says.  One reason could be that there were security service people who were following Nemtsov, and they don’t want them to be seen.

There is at least one person whose interests are similar to those of the arrested Chechens, Prokhorov says.  “This is General Viktor Zolotov, a patron of Ramzan Kadyrov, his close friend.”  Prokhorov asserts that if Kadyrov cannot get to see Putin, then Zolotov can always do it for him. 

Zolotov is now the Chief Commander of the Internal Forces.  He was the deputy head of FSO, and continues to have huge influence over it, Prokhorov says, noting that Dadayev was in the Internal Forces. 

So too was Ruslan Geremeyev, who continues to have no official status in this case, although the investigators have long considered him to be involved.  In Dadayev’s original testimony, he said that he had been commissioned by somebody whom he referred to as ‘Rusik’ to kill Nemtsov.  This Rusik had promised to provide weapons, a car and 5 million roubles each for the murder. 

The person from “an influential family” is believed to be Ruslan Geremeyev, former officer of the ‘North’ Battalion and his driver Ruslan Mukhudinov [Rusik is an abbreviated form for Ruslan].  Geremeyev is reported to have disappeared, and many believe that Kadyrov is hiding him.

The investigators are asserting that Mukhudinov, who was also at one time in the Internal Forces, organized the assassination. 

The Nemtsov family had asked for Zolotov to be questioned, to find out why there were apparently no cameras working on the bridge, and what his relations are with Kadyrov.  This application was rejected as were many others, including the wish to question Kadyrov.

It is known that Zolotov was with Kadyrov in Chechnya at the end of August.  Prokhorov suspects that this may have been to decide how to kill the investigators’ ‘Chechen lead’ which almost certainly leads to Kadyrov himself. 

Prokhorov assumes that Putin was not directly involved, and it was specifically because the murder had been so brazenly committed near the Kremlin, that the demand was made to find the culprits.  He believes that the five defendants did not expect to be caught.  Quite the contrary, he assumes that “like for Donbas”, they expected to receive military honours. “I think they were told that this is a special operation against Russia’s enemies, and specifically against Nemtsov.  He is against Putin and Kadyrov and that means he’s an enemy of Russia and Chechnya.”

Perhaps most worryingly, Prokhorov and many other sources assert that the investigators tried to bring charges against Ruslan Geremeyev twice.  Each time they were prevented from doing this by Alexander Bastrykin, head of the Russian Investigative Committee and a close Putin associate. 

Prokhorov believes that the investigators assume that this ‘investigation’ will be the same as that into the murder in 2007 of Anna Politkovskya, journalist, human rights defender and critic of Putin and Kadyrov   Those who pulled the trigger get put behind bars, and they supposedly search for those who ordered the killing for 9 years (so far).  He and Boris Nemtsov’s daughter Zhanna have no intention of letting that happen.  They want to ensure that on each foreign trip Putin is asked about who organized and commissioned Nemtsov’s killing.

It was to discuss the need for an international investigation that Zhanna Nemtsov, Prokhorov, opposition leader Mikhail Kasyanov and Vladimir Kara-Murza went to Strasbourg.  During that visit, Kadyrov posted a video on Instagram showing Kasyanov directly under a sniper’s vision.  The chilling message reads: “Kasyanov has arrived in Strasbourg for money for the Russian opposition.  Who hasn’t understood, will understand”.    

The same can be said of a large number of high-profile murders since Putin came to power.  Prokhorov mentions that some believe that Putin is behind Nemtsov’s killing.  He says that he doesn’t know, but that if Putin really wanted to sort it out, he could.

He clearly doesn’t want to.  Ilya Yashin, Nemtsov’s associate and friend, has called Nemtsov’s killing an act of terrorism, intended to silence critics of the Kremlin and to compel them to leave Russia.  It is quite clear, he says, that no one will answer for Nemtsov’s murder, at least under the present regime, and that means that there will be more political assassinations.  

Opposition Calls Kadyrov ’Private Army’ Threat To Russia

Ilya Yashin writes that Ramzan Kadyrov’s (pictured) 30, 000 troops are fiercely loyal to the Kremlin-backed Chechen leader, as he pardoned many of them in return for laying down their weapons and abandoning their separatist fight against Moscow.

The exiled head of the Chechen separatist government says strongman Ramzan Kadyrov is now so powerful that the Kremlin may have difficulty removing him. Akhmed Zakayev accuses the Chechen leader of terrorizing his critics and organizing the murder of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov at the behest of the Russian president.

A leaked excerpt from a soon-to-be-released report by the Russian opposition on Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov accuses him of amassing a 30, 000-strong "private army" that constitutes a threat to national security.

The report, titled Kadyrov: National Security Threat and set for release by the Republican Party of Russia-People’s Freedom Party’s (Parnas) Ilya Yashin on February 23, is the latest barrage in an escalating war of words between the Chechen strongman and the beleaguered Russian opposition, whom Kadyrov has labeled "enemies of the people" and "traitors."

The opposition-minded New Times investigative magazine published a chapter of the document in which Yashin describes Kadyrov’s forces as "possibly the most battle-capable military group in modern Russia."

The report comes almost one year after opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, a close friend and mentor of Yashin, was shot dead late on February 27 in an attack that many opposition figures suspect was carried out with the involvement of the Kremlin-backed Chechen leadership.

Five men from the North Caucasus region have been arrested and charged with Nemtsov’s killing.

Yashin cites largely open-source information, alleging that Kadyrov sent Chechen forces to eastern Ukraine in 2014 to fight alongside other Kremlin-backed troops against Kyiv. The report also alleges that Kadyrov’s men are involved in criminal activities across Russia, pointing to interviews with police disgruntled by the perceived impunity of his forces.

"In recent years, Kadyrov’s fighters have become active in Moscow, " Yashin writes. "But while they see their main task as defending their boss’s regime in Chechnya, they are beginning to see the rest of Russia as potential loot."

Yashin writes that Kadyrov’s 30, 000 troops are fiercely loyal to the Kremlin-backed Chechen leader, as he pardoned many of them in return for laying down their weapons and abandoning their separatist fight against Moscow. He also suggests that Kadyrov is investing heavily in training for future generations of loyal fighters.

Threatening The Opposition

The Parnas offices where Yashin is due to present the report on February 23 were briefly cordoned off by police on February 22 after officers apparently received a phone call warning of a possible explosive. "They found no bomb, " Yashin wrote later on Twitter. "We’re trying to agree with the police on intercepting similar provocations tomorrow."

Yashin, who is a Parnas deputy chairman, told RFE/RL that the organizers of the presentation are concerned about security.

In December, a speech via videolink to supporters in St. Petersburg by exiled former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky was interrupted after electricity went off in the conference room and police cited a bomb threat.

Kadyrov has repeatedly denounced and threatened the Russian opposition. He published a photograph on his Instagram account of opposition leader and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov in crosshairs, days before a group of men hit Kasyanov with a cake while he was dining in a Moscow restaurant.

Kadyrov: National Security Threat follows in a tradition of opposition "expert reports" begun by Nemtsov, a former Russian deputy prime minister who authored pamphlets on alleged corruption linked to President Vladimir Putin, former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, and the 2014 Sochi Olympics, among other things.

Nemtsov had been drafting a report on Putin’s alleged involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine when he was assassinated. Yashin completed the report and published it in May.

Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet countries.

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2016, #02