war crimes in Ukraine

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Human rights in Ukraine 2009 – 2010. 2. Protection from torture and other ill treatment



1. Amending Article 127 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine

The Law of Ukraine of November 5, 2009, amended Article 127 of the Criminal Code.

The amended Part 2 of this article can be seen from the comparison table:

The version of the Law

No 707-VI, 11.05.2009

The version of the Law of Ukraine

No 270-VI, 15.04.2008

The same actions committed recurrently or by prior conspiracy by a group of persons, or for reasons of race, national or religious intolerance

are punishable by imprisonment for a term of five to ten years.

The same actions committed recurrently or by prior conspiracy by a group of persons, or by an official exploiting his/her position

are punishable with imprisonment from three to seven years.

In this way the public officer as a perpetrator of a crime disappears from the text of the article and the essence and meaning of the term "torture" defined in Article 1 of the Convention against Torture fade away. Therefore the public officer, e. g. a member of militia, using his/her power, such as conveying the suspect to militia station, applying handcuffs and/or physical force, will not deserve more severe punishment than an ordinary person, a perpetrator under Article 127 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

Therefore, the current version of the article does not meet the requirements of Articles 1 and 4 of the UN Convention against Torture and provides no guarantees from abuse of power by official, particularly regarding torture or ignoring their application by other persons.

In the same time, the Article introduced the element "for reasons of race, national or religious intolerance”, which is a partial elaboration of the term" discrimination ", in the  Part 1 of Article 127 of the CC of Ukraine in 2008.

Thus, the current version of the article provides additional grounds for possible corruption, because the difference in qualification under Part 1 ("... with a view of ... discrimination") and under Part 2 ("for reasons of race, national or religious intolerance") brings about the essential difference in sanctions, up to 5 or up to 10 years of imprisonment respectively.

It should be emphasized that, trying to improve national legislation on ill treatment, the legislator makes more serious mistakes that can lead to unpredictable consequences.

Solutions available in the Registry of courts’ indicate that Article 127 applies mainly to general subjects, i.e. to a non-official (see,  http: / /,, 12075700,,

The Registry contains only one decision comprising the information about the case, when the Article 127 has been applied to the members of militia. On September 29, 2008 the Court of Appeal of Kherson Oblast sentenced several militia officers for inflicting, inter alia, torture under circumstances mentioned below.

On August 13, 2005, about 21:00, the district militia officer and chief of the department of district militia officers of Belozersk Police Station (Kherson Oblast) came to the house of the victim located in the Daryivtsi Village, in order to verify the involvement of the latter in the theft of property from the Cafe Zatyshok. Then they apprehended the victim and took him to Belozersky Police Station, where they detained him for alleged malicious non-compliance and placed in a cell for administrative detainees. The next day, at 11:40, district militia inspector brought the victim to the district militia office. Another district militia officer in the office began torturing the victim in order to obtain his confession. He hit him several times with hands and feet on the trunk and then put handcuffs on him. The inspector took something like nunchaku and hit on torso about 22 times, on upper and lower extremities, which caused severe physical pain, moral suffering and serious injuries, life-threatening at the moment, causing multiple bruises in the form of deep muscle hematomas and strangulation furrows on his hands. As a result of inflicted injuries the victim died at the hospital on August 15, 2005.

However, on April 14, 2009 the Supreme Court of Ukraine quashed the sentence, and the case of allegations about torture was referred to new trial. (Http:// The Register contains no subsequent decisions on the case.


2. Prevalence of torturing

The problem of torturing remained topical in 2009-2010. The causes of torturing remain the same, as specified in the annual reports for 2004-2008[2].

According to the Kharkiv Institute for Social Research from 100 to 120 thousand people suffer from torture at law enforcement agencies[3]. The victims of unlawful violence in the internal affairs agencies numbered from 780, 000 to 790, 000 people (the same index in 2004 made over 1 million people, and in 2009--604 thousand people[4]). This means that in 2010 every 40 seconds militia unlawfully made somebody suffer from its violence. However the public prosecutor’s office does not recognize such scale of illegal use of force by law enforcers. So, first deputy prosecutor of Kharkiv Oblast Olexandr Kyryliuk briefed the audience[5] that during 2010 the public prosecutor’s offices in Kharkiv Oblast received over 230 allegations about unlawful methods used to deal with persons under investigation during inquiries, and "in 213 cases it was decided not to commence criminal proceedings. The public prosecutor’s office mounted action in three cases only." According to Kyryliuk, the allegations about torture in law enforcement agencies are primarily intended to press the court and pretrial investigators feel doubt about guilt of a person under investigation. Meanwhile we believe that the public prosecutor’s office for various reasons, many of which were stated in previous reports of 2004-2008, does not want to investigate crimes on the part of internal affairs agencies.

The notices about maltreatment by militia keep coming to NGOs. In 2009 the network of UHHRA public receptions registered 202 complaints, while for 9 months of 2010 166 complaints of various forms of maltreatment. Here are some examples.

 A. Beating detainees and prisoners

On January 12, 2009 after the arrival of transported detainees from Dnipropetrovsk investigatory isolation ward #3 for participation in trials at law and investigative actions they were kept for several hours in cold trucks in the street, which was followed by mass beating with special tools and restraints. As a result, 18 people got injured. The oblast public prosecutor’s office filed criminal charges of causing bodily injury to persons in the detention center of the Nikopol City Department of Interior Ministry[6].

In October 2009, having exhausted available legal instruments, the prisoner Yuri Beketov’s lawyers appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. On October 30, the President of the Chamber, who had been handed over the case, after preliminary consideration decided that "the authorities of Ukraine should secure the applicant’s immediate transfer to a hospital or other medical facility where he will be able to get the treatment required.” However, according to lawyers, even after that, Beketov was not immediately hospitalized[7].

On November 10, 2009 the relatives of convict Vitaliy Vozniak applied to the Public reception of the Center for Legal and Political Studies "SIM" and asked for legal aid, as they had learned that during transporting under guard to the institution of confinement he had been beaten in Lutsk investigatory isolation ward. The relatives said about many multiple injuries suffered by Vitaliy, in particular, numerous bruises and fractures of fingers of both hands.

On July 1, 2010 the European Court of Human Rights held its judgment about mass beating of prisoners at Iziaslav colony No. 58[8]. It acknowledged, among other things, that the applicants were brutally beaten during training of a special unit of the Department of execution of the punishment and received no medical care afterwards[9]. And on the day of publication of the decision of European Court concerning terrible events in Zamkova colony the new facts of mistreatment of prisoners became known. The same scenario, but now we are talking about the mass beating of prisoners in penal institution number 1 in Vinnytsia. According to the Vinnytsia Human Rights Group (VHRG), mistreatment of prisoners was caused by the refusal of many of them to leave their cells for going to trial[10].


B. Maltreatment and torture of detainees in militia

On July 27, 2009 five officers of Chernihiv Desniansky Militia District involved in the beating of Hryhoriy Atroshchenko faced criminal offence charges under Art. 365 (abuse of power or official authority) and Art. 366 (official forgery) of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. The militia officers are accused of torturing the man to obtain confessions of stealing mobile phone[11].

On February 25, 2010 about 22.00, near the Pryvokzalna Square in Kyiv, a man was attacked by unknown persons. He suffered two penetrating knifing wounds: the abdominal cavity (with liver injury) and back. In less than a week of the victim’s discharge from the hospital, the Zaliznychny District law enforcers decided to speed up the registered serious criminal offense exposure. They brought the man to Zaliznychny District Militia Station and began conversation with a slap in the face. In one of the rooms on the third floor of the district station they kept the man until morning explaining that they did it on the advice of the investigator. All that time the district station officers went on punching the man’s head, fisted in the face, booted on his feet (one of them, having examined the fresh wounds advised not to boot in the stomach, because he would "kick the bucket”), abused, insulted and intimidated. Having illegally kept him at the militia station for 36 hrs, they let the guy to go home. The law enforcers also emphasized that this was not their last "informal meeting". "If they (the perpetrators of the crime) do not knife you to death, we will finish you off ourselves, " the militia threatened the boy goodbye[12].

There is a special case of Yakiv Strohan, who alleged that on August 2010 he had been kidnapped by the law enforcers of the Kyiv District Militia Station, Kharkiv, brutally tortured and held in an undisclosed place (unknown apartment) for several days demanding a bribe from his wife. As no investigation by the public prosecutor’s office followed, Yakiv announced these facts through the media and at a hearing of the Committee of the Verkhovna Rada on December 1, 2010. After that the charge of domestic fight re-classified in charge of attempted murder and Strohan was detained. The next day he was brought to court with visible injuries and in poor state of health. Since militia officers were well aware of media attention to the story, the lack of even attempts to hide the traces of maltreatment can be regarded as a blatant demonstration of force and impunity, addressed to the actual or potential victims of torture.

More information on cases of torture and unlawful violence in 2010 can be found at the link


3. Investigation of complaints of ill-treatment

In May 2009, the militia officers, who in December 2005 had beaten to death Kharkiv resident Oleg Dunych, were sentenced to 6 and 9 years. The City Prosecutor’s Office, which investigated the case, indicted three officers in 2007. The circumstances of the case were covered in detail in the report 2005[13].

In June 2010, the Kharkiv Oblast Court of Appeal recognized the former militia officer of Vovchansk regional department of Kharkiv Oblast Timofeyev guilty of abuse of authority, which was accompanied by violence and abused personal dignity of a minor –– Olexandr Skrypnyk (Part 2 of Article 365 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine). The court fixed the minimum penalty of imprisonment for 3 years with the deprivation of the right to fill certain positions, but released the convict from serving the sentence probation period of 2 years. The Court awarded Olexandr non-pecuniary damages of USD 15 000.

However, there are only a few cases of punishment by court of militia officers guilty of illegally applying force. The investigation of the cases of torture and ill treatment by militia is generally ineffective. Increasingly, the European Court finds a violation of procedural aspect of Article 3 concerning ineffective investigations.

In the case Vergelsky v. Ukraine (No 19312/06, March 12, 2009) at the time, when the Court acknowledged procedural violations of Article 3, the investigation of applicant’s complaints of mail-treatment still was not finished.

In the case of Drozd v. Ukraine (No 12174/03, July 30, 2009) the Court found that the applicant’s complaints investigation was ineffective.

In the case Lopatin&Medvedsky v. Ukraine (Nos. 2278/03 and 6222/03, May 20, 2010) the Court found that the investigation failed to fix discrepancies in versions noting that they did nothing to question all necessary witnesses.

In the case Lotarev v. Ukraine (No. 29447/04, April 8, 2010) the Court found that the state authorities failed to conduct an effective investigation as required by the provisions of Article 3 of the Convention.

In the case of Olexandr Mykhailovych Zakharkin v. Ukraine (No. 1727/04, June 24, 2010) the Court noted the failure of the investigative bodies to fulfill the court instructions to bring the investigation to its logical conclusion.

Similar violations were established for the cases of Davydov and Others v. Ukraine (Nos.  17674/02 and 39081/02, July 1, 2010), Lohvynenko v. Ukraine (No. 13448/07, October 14, 2010), Petukhov v. Ukraine (No. 43 374 / 2002, October 21, 2010), Kovalchuk v. Ukraine (No. 21958/05, November 4, 2010), Samardak v. Ukraine (No. 43109/05, November 4, 2010).

The problems that render ineffective investigation of complaints of torture and other mail-treatment covered in the report "Human rights in Ukraine in 2004-2008” are now aggravated due to the expansion of practice of the appeal against decision to open investigation. With this tactic in mind, the officers, the possible implication of which is the subject of investigation, may at best slow the investigation for several months, and at worst to prevent it altogether.

Some of the persons, who, according to victims, were implicated in torture, go on working in law enforcement agencies and climb up the ladder. For example, one of the officers, whom the court found guilty of torturing Mr. Savin, is still working in militia. Various public prosecutors’ offices kept investigating the complaint of torture of Mr. Savin for almost 10 years, and when there remained only a few months referred the case to the court, which closed the case due lapse of statutory time limit for prosecution.

These examples create an atmosphere of impunity and shows tolerant attitude of the prosecution to the methods of obtaining confessions through torture and humiliation of human dignity.


4. Sociological studies in 2009[14]

A. Dynamics and extent of unlawful violence in the internal affairs agencies

The Kharkiv Human Rights Group and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine and the Kharkiv Institute for Social Research conducted monitoring of prevalence of illegal violence in the internal affairs agencies of Ukraine.

The results of Social Research in 2009 conducted in several oblasts of Ukraine––Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava, Kharkiv oblasts and Autonomous Republic of Crimea––were compared with results of similar studies in 2004.

The mass survey included population (3000 respondents by random sample), militia officers (600 respondents by quota sampling) and prisoners (200 respondents by random sample).

These surveys were complemented with qualitative methods. There were 45 interviews (with victims of violence, experts, and militia officers) and 16 focus groups (with experts, militia officers).

The data comparison shows that since 2004 there has been a decline in the number of people suffering from beatings and bodily injuries during detention of 400, 000 people. However, the estimated number of such persons is still over 600, 000 people a year.

What kinds of unlawful physical violence were applied to you when you were detained and brought to militia station last year?





% of respondents

Estimated number of victims

% of respondents

Estimated number of victims

Beating and bodily injuries


1 026 616


604 433

Prolonged detention in unsuitable places

No data

No data


339 993

These data suggest the evolving shift of unlawful violence from detention to investigation stage. In a society where the militia is constantly debated, violence becomes more latent. Now the staffers of militia prefer to use unlawful violence more secretly by using psychological violence. The problem is the lack of access to a lawyer and doctor.

These studies point to the growth of persons suffered from beatings, bodily injury, the estimated number of which is about 491, 000 a year. There are also a rising number of victims of torture, cruelty which is nearing 113, 000 this year. The estimated annual total makes over 604.4 thousand people.

What kinds of unlawful violence had been applied to you during investigation last year?





% of respondents

Estimated number of victims

% of respondents

Estimated number of victims

Beating, bodily injuries


355 293


491 102

Cruelty, torture using special instruments or techniques


93 498


113 331


B. Assessment of risk of becoming a victim of unlawful violence in the internal affairs agencies

One of the most important indicators of how society treats the problem of torture and maltreatment by militia is the idea of people in Ukraine of who should be afraid of this phenomenon in the first place.

According to the survey, 63.1% of respondents believe that today nobody is safe from torture and unlawful violence by militia.

Among the prisoners, 63.9% of respondents stressed that no one is immune from becoming a victim of unlawful violence by militia.



% of respondents choosing this category



Only a professional criminals, recidivists




Any perpetrator




Homeless, drunkards, hobos








Those who provoke, offend the militia




Suspected felony




Any suspect












From this no one is immune




It poses no threat to any person




B. Causes of illegal violence in the internal affairs agencies

According to the poll, the population and militia officers have contrary opinions about the causes of illegal violence.

The ordinary citizens believe that the first three causes of unlawful violence in the law enforcement agencies are as follows:

1. The impunity of militia officers who resort to illegal methods (53% of respondents);

2. Bad screening of candidates when sadists can work for militia (43% of respondents);

3. Inadequate expertise and cultural level of militia officers (38% of respondents).

Meanwhile the militia officers think that the main causes of illegal actions of their colleagues are:

1. The legislation flaws (52% of respondents)

2. Violations of rights of militia officers are violated in the first place (50% of respondents)

3. The existence of a system of indicators and reporting, which makes militia to browbeat detainees into confessions (43% of respondents).


5. Prevention of torture and mail-treatment[15]

A. Kharkiv experiment

Within three months (from November 2009 to February 2010), with assistance of the Public Council on Human Rights under Civil Council at Kharkiv Regional Direction of MIA the Kharkiv Institute of Social Research (HISR) sponsored by the International Renaissance Foundation developed the eRegistration facility for the visitors of district militia station. The facility was installed at the Zhovtnevy DMS, Kharkiv.

The pilot run showed the following advantages:

1. Nearly 1.5 times rise of registered DMS visitors (1384 during run time, against about 900 people during the same period last year).

2. The report generated by the e-registration facility permits to accurately monitor the frequency and timing of visits. It is a must-have for management decisions concerning working time use and work load.

3. Higher personal interest of officers who work with visitors to timely register / de-register citizens. This is due to the fact that at any point of time each employee can be controlled for timely registration of citizens, visitors.

4. The DMS visitors’ e-journal keeps record of entrance/exit cards and stores a considerable database for many years making it possible to retrieve necessary infodata.

5. The DMS visitors’ e-registration is a significant safeguard against torture and maltreatment in the agencies and subdivisions of the MIA of Ukraine. For the first time in the history of Ukrainian militia the citizen visiting DMS (excluding criminal procedure status) receives documentary evidence of his stay in militia, which allows him to thoroughly defend, if necessary, his/her position in the public prosecutor’s office and in court.

In March 2010, following the reshuffle in the MIA, the registration terminal was laid off, although militia acknowledged the effectiveness of its use. Now, this experiment is terminated and its further spread looks unlikely.


B. Liquidation of the Department for Human Rights Monitoring under MIA

Established in 2008, the Department for Human Rights Monitoring, which the 2008 report estimated (https:/ / as "a new stage in relations between human rights organizations and the State”, in 2009 demonstrated its effectiveness in preventing maltreatment by militia. The department staffers provided for the orderly work of Mobile Human Rights Monitoring Groups in places of detention under the MIA, which substantially improved the conditions in detention centers. In 2009, mobile groups, which became the prototype and the only valid model in Ukraine of national preventive mechanism to avert torture in detention facilities, made 424 visits to prisons.

As 2010 began with an active redistribution of spheres of political influence, the militia became automatically involved in solution of many emerging conflict issues. It also placed militia in the limelight of international observers and national experts. The keen interest stirred up because of quick and controversial transformation strategy of the executive authority in the field of public relations and actual cessation of open partnership with the institutions of civil society.

The declaration of MIA’s intolerance of corruption, of determined reform of militia are there along with massive violations of human rights by militiamen and resonant cases of unlawful violence and maltreatment by militia.

One of the first orders of new Interior Minister Anatoly Mohyliov disbanded the Department for Human Rights Monitoring in the MIA agencies. This led to suspension of mobile monitoring groups, dismissal of assistants for Human Rights of the MIA Minister and stopping operation of ministry’s Public Councils throughout the country[16].

In view of the fact that mobile groups prevented torture in detention centers and introduced new standards for treatment of detainees, the Assistants to the Minister initiated official inspection of appeals about militia’s maltreatment, and Public Councils designed projects intended to prevent torture; now the public is deprived of these instruments of civilian control in combat against torture and maltreatment.

Therefore in 2010, with the advent of new leadership in the MIA, Ukraine has taken a step back in preventing torture and other forms of abuse.


C. Lack of national preventive mechanism

Ukraine, which ratified the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against torture, cruel or disrespectful treatment or punishment on July 21, 2006 without any postponement (up to three years) under Article 24 of the Protocol, during four years and more that followed failed to create national preventive mechanism.

The Ministry of Justice of Ukraine in cooperation with NGOs in 2008-2009 developed a draft law on national preventive mechanism for preventing torture. It provided for actual public participation in the visits of monitoring groups to prisons in all oblasts of Ukraine, which were coordinated by the small (6 to 8 persons) Committee against Torture, which should have consisted of experts.

However, in August 2010 the bill and two years’ work of ministerial specialists and human rights experts just disappeared; instead, there appeared a new bill, which, contrary to the advice of the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture of the UN Committee against Torture, evaded public discussion, which caused a wave of public protests in Ukraine[17], bringing the bill back for reconsideration.

On September 21, 2010 the human rights organizations wrote an open letter to the Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture about neglect of UN principles and approaches in the formation of mechanisms for preventing torture in the country[18].

It seems that today the new government is ready to adopt any bill on NPM just to support its reformist image. Unfortunately, for the absence of quality bill, such NPM will not be effective, will not solve the tasks set before it, and will not meet the criteria established by the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture[19].


6. Recommendations

  1. Adopt at legislative level a strategy framework for creating a system of prevention and protection from torture and ill-treatment, as well as an action plan, based on the said concept, with clearly defined directions and stages of activity;

  2. Bring the elements specified of the crime of “torture” into line with Article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture, in particular, establish liability for actions which are not violent but which should be recognized as torture according to Article 1 of the Convention against Torture.

  3. Institute the gathering of statistical data in courts and law enforcement agencies on crimes which contain elements of “torture” in the understanding of Article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture;

  4. Make it impossible to apply amnesty and parole for people who have committed actions, which have elements of «torture» in the meaning of Article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture;

  5. Promote the creation of effective mechanisms of public control over investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment.

  6. Provide by legislative means for the activities of non-governmental experts and expert bureaux;

  7. Ensure access by victims and their legal representatives  to medical documents which are of importance in proving torture or ill-treatment;

  8. Assign the same validity as evidence to conclusions provided by independent medical and other experts, who conduct studies at the request of the alleged victim of torture or their legal representative, as that of conclusions made by experts assigned by an investigator or court;

  9. Provide individuals who initiate an investigation or other legal procedure regarding allegations of torture or ill-treatment access to free legal aid should they be unable to pay for the services of a lawyer;

  10. Introduce provisions in Ukrainian legislation on the inadmissibility of any testimony of the accused (suspect) received at the pre-trial stage of the criminal investigation without a lawyer being present;

  11. Provide the appropriate guidelines to prosecutor’s offices and judges for using measures to ensure the safety of individuals who have made an allegation of torture, in particular, if such an individual is held in custody, then to move him or her to another remand centre;

  12. Eliminate the practice whereby judges «extend detention» of suspects held in police custody, or, at least, introduce necessary amendments in order to transfer people whose detention is extended by a judge to a pre-trial detention centre, and not leave them held in police custody;

  13. Introduce into legislation the right of access and the appropriate procedure for gaining access  to an independent doctor and independent expert whom the person detained may choose, especially for persons, who are held in custody;

  14. Provide clear guidelines to prosecutor’s offices and judges concerning immediate consideration of claims and complaints related to investigations into torture;

  15. Put an end to the practice of deploying special anti-terrorist units and swift response groups in response to peaceful protest actions by prisoners

  16. conduct investigations into reports of mass beatings of prisoners at the level of the Prosecutor General

  17. Create a system for ensuring the safety of people making complaints about torture and ill-treatment, as well as witnesses, especially those in places of confinement

  18. Ensure in practice uncensored correspondence by prisoners with the Prosecutor, the Human Rights Ombudsperson and the European Court of Human Rights.

  19. Set out in legislation and ensure in practice the right to uncensored correspondence between prisoners and the domestic courts, the UN Human Rights Committee and other international bodies, as long as with a lawyer.

  20. Put an end to the practice of punishing prisoners for sending complaints to State bodies via illegal channels, and in each case where a complaint was delivered by illegal means conduct a check as to whether the administration are making it possible to send complaints about the actions of the administration

  21. Apply measures to create the possibility for nongovernmental organizations to visit institutions of the Department for the Execution of Sentences.

  22. Accelerate the creation of national preventive mechanisms.

  23. Bring to justice people guilty of violating the principle of re-foulement of refugees and asylum seekers.

  24. Put an end to the practice of violating the principle of confidentiality in view of the applications of refugees, and in particular stop the practice of passing confidential information to a third country.


[1] Prepared by Andriy Kristenko, legal expert of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, Member of the Administrative Board of the Institute for Legal Research and Strategies.

[2] Available online at: https: / / and


[4] Моніторинг незаконного насильства в ОВС України.Харків: Права людини, 2010. – 192 с.


[6] See details on the site of Ombudsman: Torture with hunger, cold and militia beatings of prisoners of Nikopol detention center confirmed:

[7] See more on the site of UHHRU: Lawyers argue about prison torture in Kyiv investigatory isolation ward:

[8] See original text on the official website of the Court:  The same decision in Russian wording:

[9] See in more details:

[10] More details on the website of VHRG:

[11] See in more details:

[12] See in more details:


[14] Моніторинг незаконного насильства в ОВС України.Харків: Права людини, 2010. – 192 с.

[15] See more on the website of UHHRG: How to prevent torture in militia:

[16] 100 днівновогокерівництваМВС. – Харків: Правалюдини, 2010. – 100 с. Internet address:

[17] or


[19] Also see:



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