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Strasbourg again finds against Ukraine over detention conditions

26.10.2007

On 25 October, the European Court of Human Rights issued its chamber judgment over the case of Oleg Yakovenko. It found that Ukraine had violated Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights because of the conditions Mr Yakovenko was held in, the failure to provide proper medical care, and the way he was treated when being transported between two detention centres. The Court also concluded that Article 13 (the right to an effective remedy) had been violated.

It is very much to be hoped that the government will take heed of such judgments since the damages awarded have become bitterly meaningless. Mr Yakovenko died in May of this year, aged 32.  He had suffered from tuberculosis and was HIV-positive during his period of detention.

The following is a brief summary from the ECHR press release which can be found at: http://echr.coe.int

In June 2003 Mr Yakovenko, on probation following a conviction for burglary, was arrested and placed in police custody, again on suspicion of burglary. The applicant alleged that he confessed to that crime after being subjected to ill-treatment in police custody and retracted his statements when on trial before Balaklavsky District Court. In November 2005 he was found guilty as charged and sentenced to three years and seven months’ imprisonment, later reduced on appeal in October 2006 to three years and six months.

Awaiting that conviction Mr Yakovenko was detained in the Simferopol Detention Centre (Simferopol SIZO). As the police, prosecution and judicial authorities who dealt with his case were based in Sevastopol, he was transferred each month to the Sevastopol Detention Centre (Sevastopol ITT). Between June 2003 and April 2006, he spent in total about one year in that facility.

The applicant claimed that Sevastopol ITT was constantly overcrowded: he was held in cells of 15 to 22 m2 with 25 to 30 inmates. To corroborate that claim, the applicant submitted a letter of 10 May 2005 from the Head of Sevastopol City Police Department which stated that 240 inmates were held in the detention centre, which was designed to hold a maximum of 82 detainees. The applicant further alleged that inmates had to take turns to sleep, that the lights in the cells, situated in the basement, were permanently on and that the ventilation system was often out of order.

Mr Yakovenko alleged ill-treatment while in police custody; inhuman conditions of detention in Sevastopol ITT and when being transported to and from that facility; and, lack of medical care.

The Court rejected the claim of ill-treatment since Mr Yakovenko had not appealed against the prosecutor’s office’s refusal to institute criminal proceedings over his allegations.

The Court found that the applicant had been held in seriously overcrowded conditions and that the sleeping conditions had also adversely affected his health. It also agreed that the lighting and ventilation had been inadequate.

 “In the light of its findings above concerning overcrowding, sleep deprivation and lack of natural light and air, the Court concluded that the conditions of the applicant’s detention in the Sevastopol ITT had amounted to degrading treatment. Accordingly, there had been a violation of Article 3.”

It found a further violation of Article 3 in the failure to provide timely and appropriate medical care to the applicant in respect of his HIV and tuberculosis infections

“no urgent medical measures, as stipulated in Decree No. 186/607 on the treatment of detainees with HIV/AIDS, had been taken. Notably, he had not been given antiretroviral treatment, had not been monitored for infections and had only been registered as an HIV patient at the local anti-AIDS centre in May 2006. Instead, the authorities had continued to send him to the Sevastopol ITT, which had no medical staff”

Article 3 was also found to have been violated over the crammed conditions Mr Yakovenko endured for a total of about 64 trips to and from Sevastopol over a period of two years and eight months.

The Court also considered that Mr Yakovenko’s inability to register a complaint about his conditions to have constituted denial of an effective remedy.

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