MIA and Human Rights at the end of 2010
Less than a year ago both Ukrainian and foreign specialists stated that Ukraine had begun gradually improving standards of human rights observance among the police. Reports mentioned that although the level of violence and unacceptable treatment of detainees remained high, progress could be seen.
Unfortunately 2010 has wiped out most of the work achieved by the MIA, together with civil society, since 2004, with this exacerbating the failings never eradicated.
What needed to be done and wasn’t in 2010?
Independent mechanisms for regular visiting of places of confinement were still not created. Ukraine is continuing to ignore the requirements in the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT) which it signed and ratified.
In addition the Ministry of Justice tried to get a strange draft law passed which placed the responsibility for such visits on the Human Rights Ombudsperson and removed the public even from discussion. One cannot say that there no visits (there are visits, for example, of police stations by the Ombudsperson or journalists), however all this is of an irregular nature, the result of some event or a banal publicity stunt.
No reform of the criminal justice system
The Prosecutor still continues to combine the duties of prosecution, investigation and surveillance over observance of the law. This means that the efficiency of any investigations into cases of torture and violence within the police force will continue to be extremely low.
Opinion surveys carried out in 2010 both among police staff, and the public, identified basic measures needed to better counter unlawful violence by the police. These included:
- changing the system for registering such crimes;
- ensuring access by the detainee to a lawyer, doctor;
- improving professional selection and training of police officers;
- increasing liability for those responsible;
- improving the system of investigation into and control over cases of violence.
None of these have been implemented.
Police officers’ rights ignored
The MIA leadership traditionally complain of insufficient funding (it was stated that they received 40% of the funding required), yet it was considered between their dignity to present this issue to the President, the Cabinet of Ministers, parliament and the public, or at the end of the day, to reduce the number of attested members of staff.
The MIA also refused to accept the help of civic organizations whose work is carried out with the support of European institutions. Against all logic, the MIA chose to find the remaining 60% through their own secretive means or by forcing staff to work overtime and without weekends, sometimes under impossible conditions. It is clearly impossible to expect any positive change.
Another important factor in fostering violence within the police force which remained unaddressed is the system of registering reports, investigating such allegations and punishing those found guilty. This system, propped up by the police, prosecutor and courts, helps to protect police officers from real investigations and deserved punishment. This is linked with the fact that reports of torture and violence are not registered or examined as crimes, but as disciplinary offences, with this guaranteeing the police officer not only a more loyal internal examination, but also the exclusion of such allegations of unlawful violence within the police force from the general criminal statistics for the country. This is no small matter when police assessments continue to depend on statistical showings.
As of 1 October 2010, the relevant departments had examined just over 5 thousand allegations of infringements of people’s rights. 520 criminal investigations were initiated against police officers, with 91 being for abuse of power and 98 for exceeding powers (the articles traditionally used to classify torture and unlawful violence). Only the isolated individuals received actual criminal sentences.
This is when, according to monitoring carried out by the Kharkiv Institute for Social Research and the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, around 780 – 790 thousand people are estimated to have suffered from such violence in 2010.
We thus see that the likelihood of being punished for such behaviour is pitifully small, which obviously inculcates and fosters such practice within the police force.
Statistics from the MIA show that around 2.6-2.9 million reports of a crime being planned or committed are received in a year, with criminal investigations only being initiated in about 14% of the cases (370-380 thousand per year). Yet those who allege unlawful violence at the hands of the police is estimated at around 790 thousand. If each case of unlawful violence by the police was registered as a normal report of a crime, the number of registered crimes around the country would rise by a third!. Even if we observe the debatable proportions offered by the MIA of reports of a crime and number of criminal investigations initiated, 14% of 790 thousand reports of unlawful violence by the police would still come to more than 110 thousand cases against police officers per year, which would also involve an increase by a third of criminal cases initiated in the country. To a large extent it is this which explains why Internal Affairs bodies are not interested in objective registration of crimes committed by their officers, nor accordingly in their objective investigation. This results in the practice of refusing to register reports, intimidation of victims, refusals to initiate criminal investigations and therefore latency of unlawful violence committed by those called upon to counter it.
However the worst is not that something has not been done. That simply perpetuates the existing state of efforts. Some “brilliant” steps taken by the State in 2010 were directed at making the situation worse. For example the MIA dissolved all forms of control over human rights observance which were effective and relied on the resources of civil society, namely mobile groups, public councils, the Department for Monitoring Human Rights in the Police. While the leadership of the Ministry from time to time reports the creation of some kind of new public council, for some reason it is never actually created. The only obliging and convenient “human rights organization” which is at present “allowed within” the activities of the MIA is unfortunately only used for making grandiose declarations and self-publicity, with numerous roundtables and television broadcasts. Nothing is known of its “human rights” activities leading one to assume that there is none.
What then do we have to show for 2010?
Cases lost by Ukraine and won by its own citizens at the European Court of Human Rights. In 2010 there were the following cases involving torture and inhuman treatment: Lopatin and Medvedsky; Lotarev; Zakharkin; Davydov; Smirnov; Bylyj; Kovalchuk; Samardak; Znaikin; Logvynenko; Petukhov and others.
Dozens of deaths in police custody and many times more cases of torture, thousands of times more of unlawful violence.
Constant reports in the media and rising concern among the public leading to elementary fear of any contact with the police
2010 was a failure in all respects – the streets have not become safer, conditions for the police have not improved, nor has the public attitude to them; there are no less victims of unlawful violence; the number of cases lost at the European Court is on the increase and the country’s image is deteriorating.
It remains to be seen whether this will change in 2011.
Abridged from the original at