war crimes in Ukraine

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So did a spetsnaz unit beat prisoners of Penal Colony No. 60?


On 10 November the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reported that following an attempted escape by several prisoners serving life sentences in Penal Colony No. 60 ( Luhansk region) during which one person had been killed, a spetsnaz [special force] unit had been brought into the colony. Our information indicated that the spetsnaz officers had beaten the prisoners en masse and that around 30 prisoners had resorted to self-injury.

We stressed that we were unable to verify the information, however since violence on a large scale was involved, we circulated information about the apparent events in No. 60, and called on both the Human Rights Ombudsperson  Nina Karpachova and the Prosecutor General to check the information without delay and to take all appropriate measures;

The response from the State Department for the Execution of Sentences was swift. A press release was posted on its site which informed of some of the details of the escape attempt and of the person killed. However there was not one word about the deployment of a spetsnaz unit. It was stated that a commission headed by General Mykola Iltyai, the First Deputy Head of the Department was at the scene, as well as an investigation group from the Luhansk Regional Prosecutor’s office. 

Due to media reports about the incident the Prosecutor General also sent an investigation team to Colony No. 60. The Human Rights Ombudsperson also opened an investigation and staff from her Secretariat visited the Colony.

On 13 November the Prosecutor General declared the actions of officers of an interregional special purpose division in the Luhansk region in freeing hostages to have been lawful, thus confirming that a spetsnaz unit had been deployed. According to the Prosecutor General’s conclusions, no confirmation was found for the reports of beatings of prisoners by spetsnaz officers and cases of self-inflicted injuries by prisoners being held in the life sentence sector and in prison-type cells.  The Prosecutor General’s Press Service stated that “questioning of prisoners and a check carried out by staff of the regional forensic medical office had not found any injuries. Between 10 and 12 November there were no reports from prisoners claiming that measures to exert physical or psychological influence had been applied. Only two individuals were found to have scratches on their body which they explained they had caused themselves accidentally.”

On 14 November General Iltyai also denied the information suggesting that force had been used against prisoners of the colony. He said that the prisoners had written statements to the Prosecutor’s investigation unit saying that nobody had beaten them.

Meanwhile, we were again informed that in fact 52 prisoners had resorted to self-injury and that they had only been given medical aid on condition that they signed statements that nobody had beaten them. Frightened that they could die, the prisoners had signed the statements. Those who signed had stitches given for their wounds, and were issued with ointment. We are again unable to verify this information since there is no openness.

There are undoubtedly cases when prisoners attempt to make use of human rights groups in their struggles with the administration. However the simplest means of proving the absence of unlawful violence is to send an independent commission of experts to Penal Colony No. 60. Doctors, lawyers and human rights defenders would be able to meet the staff and prisoners and ascertain their state of health. Such visits are envisaged by the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture which Ukraine ratified in July 2006, yet has failed to take any steps to implement.

This case now at Colony No. 60 is reminiscent of the events involving the beating of prisoners at the Izyaslav Colony on 22 January this year, then Buchansk Colony No. 85 on 7 June and others. Prisoners are first beaten and then forced to write documents saying that they have no grievances. And the prisoner who’s been broken obediently repeats this to the Prosecutor and forensic medical experts since he knows that he is totally dependent on the administration. And if he does complain, the administration will find a number of ways to get their revenge, being held in punishment cells, having more time added for trumped-up claims of breaking regulations.  Some of the prisoners hoped for help from the Human Rights Ombudsperson. However Secretariat staff simply sent their complaints to the selfsame Department for the Execution of Sentences.  The results are obvious.

So did a spetsnaz unit beat prisoners of Penal Colony No. 60? We believe that it did however we have no proof and must leave a large question mark in our title.

Yevhen Zakharov, Iryna Rapp,

Co-Chairs of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

15 November 2007

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