war crimes in Ukraine

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Infant victim of inhuman treatment

01.12.2012    source:
Yevhen Zakharov, Gennady Tokarev

  The latest application to the European Court of Human Rights over torture and inhuman treatment which Kharkiv Human Rights Group have prepared involves a five-month-old baby – S. and his 22-year-old mother K.

Before the infant’s birth and after it, K. was held in a SIZO (pre-trial detention centre) in terrible conditions. While in the maternity home she was constantly handcuffed with chains also on her feet.  S was not examined by doctors and did not receive medical care.

Pregnant woman placed in SIZO

At the beginning of January 2012 police officers took K who was 5 months pregnant from her flat to one of the police stations. One of the officers hit her, smashing her face against the sink in the toilet, and a forensic medical examination found injuries to her face and legs. She called her mother who informed the prosecutor’s office. Officers from the latter arrived at the police station to check the circumstances and removed K’s blood-stained cardigan.  That day K was detained by the investigator on suspicion of taking part in a group violent attack and placed in a temporary holding facility [ITT]. On the third day the court ordered that she be remanded in custody and she was taken to the SIZO,

In the SIZO she was placed in a general over-crowded cell holding 30 women where the women had to either take turns to sleep or sleep two in a bed, sometimes on the floor. K slept on one bed with another of the women. When she was around 8 months pregnant, she was moved to a cell with one other pregnant woman with HIV and an underage young woman.

In the maternity home

K was taken by convoy to the maternity home when she went into labour. At first three women officers chained her by her feet and hands to the bed, however then, at her request, took the chains off. The labour was difficult and lasted 7 hours, with K needing stitches. The only painkiller she had was over-the-counter tablets brought by her mother. The convoy officers were present during the labour, and according to K, held her by the arms and legs, and covered her mouth when she screamed.

She gave birth to a boy, C. who was moved to a separate ward. In the ward the woman convoy officers immediately put handcuffs on K’s hands and feet and lay down to sleep. When she needed to feed the baby, she woke the officers who freed her hands. Despite the doctors’ statement that she needed to remain in the maternity home until her wounds held, at the SIZO’s demand she was discharged on the third day.

Before being discharged, K was taken for a tuberculosis screening, with handcuffs to her hands and feet, to a building next to the maternity home, in full view of passers-by and visitors to the hospital. K was also in a state where even the smallest movement caused her intense pain.

Back in the SIZO

Mother and child were placed in the same SIZO cell together with the other woman who had already given birth and the young woman.

On the fourth day following her return to the SIZO, the baby was examined by the district paediatrician. He was found to have phimosis causing difficulty with urinating.  The foreskin was constantly inflamed, making him irritable, cry and sleep badly. K says that she asked the SIZO Administration on a number of occasions to have her son examined and treated, but got no reaction.

The cell is in a brick building with small windows under the ceiling with virtually no sunlight getting in. The cell is extremely damp, with mould on the walls and floor; poor lighting; no hot water with cold only working from time to time. There was a stove needing to be fixed which gave small electric shocks. To wash the babies, the women asked the guards to bring them hot water in a bucket. When the latter refused, the women were forced to use the defective electric stove. They were allowed walks with the child once a day for an extremely short period (usually 20 minutes) and with rare exceptions were in a tiny square with concrete walls, with human excrement and a roof like a metal mesh with a guard above. Special food intended for feeding mothers in practice constituted a glass of white liquid which was far removed from milk and a small piece of something which was supposed to be butter.

When being taken to the court with the baby, she was in the morning given a cup of tea and a bit of bread. The dry rations stipulated by law were not given to her in the court, and she missed lunch and dinner in the SIZO, meaning that on the day of the court hearing she got almost no food from the SIZO. All that time she survived and was able to feed her baby thanks to numerous food parcels from her mother.

In the courtroom, K and her baby were held in the cage for defendants and when, standing, she took part in the court proceedings, the baby lay on the bench for defendants.

When K appealed to the judge to not keep her and the baby in a cell, he refused, citing a ban by the convoy officers. The totally innocent baby was thus held in a cell for criminals.

K was extremely depressed over these circumstances. The Kafaesque situation did not seem to surprise any of the others.

The defence

A KHPG lawyer, seeing the infant in the cage, was appalled and hurtled to the defence of the mother and child. S at that time was three months old.

K. asked the court to have her son examined, and to provide for regular observation by a paediatrician; proper conditions for her and the baby; appropriate food for a feeding mother; medical examination of her cellmates to check for infectious illnesses. The court rejected her applications, referring to a document in the file notes from a doctor confirming a recent examination of the infant which said that the baby’s state was satisfactory and that he could be held in a SIZO. K asserted that no doctors had examined S in the SIZO aside from the paediatrician immediately after his birth.

There is no paediatrician in the SIZO medical unit therefore the baby was on the medical register of the district children’s clinic. According to their records, a paediatrician visited him only once in four months, after he was brought from the maternity home. Yet in answer to an information request from the lawyer, the SIZO claimed that a paediatrician had visited the child each month.

Having gathered the necessary information, KHPG lawyers sent an application to the European Court of Human Rights to apply Rule 39 of the Court’s Regulations ordering urgent measures to ensure proper conditions for the baby and medical care.

However the Court asked for additional information from us and from the government to confirm the facts presented. It was only on the 43rd day after the application was submitted that the Court applied Rule 39 and approached the Ukrainian government demanding proper conditions for mother and child; medical supervision and care. The Court asked the KHPG lawyers to prepare as a matter of urgency an application regarding violation by the State of the European Convention on Human Rights with respect to K and S.


S was soon examined on the same day by a dermatologist; cardiologist; surgeon; throat and ear specialist; neurologist and paediatrician. The baby was diagnosed as having a heart valve condition requiring further examination, as well as allergic dermatitis. A special diet was recommended for K. Mother and child were moved to another cell intended for mothers with babies (why were they not put there immediately?).

At the first court hearing after Rule 39 was applied, K asked to be released from custody and the court applied a signed undertaking not to abscond. K and her baby are now at home. Before this KHPG lawyers sent the European Court of Human Rights an application alleging violation by Ukraine of Article 3 of the European Convention over the unsuitable conditions in which mother and child were held in the SIZO.

In response to a request for information from the lawyer, the SIZO sent K’s statement which speaks of good conditions in the SIZO, maternity home and proper medical care. Attached were photographs of a wonderful cell and courtyard for the mother and child’s walks.  K confirmed that such a courtyard really does exist in the SIZO but she and the other woman with a baby virtually never had walks there.

Since by that stage K had on many occasions spoken of the bad conditions in the SIZO and the lack of medical care, it was necessary to find out why her assessment had so changed. It turned out that she had written about the wonderful conditions as dictated since she was told that she and the baby would have problems if she didn’t.

In the last few days that European Court of Human Rights has sent additional questions to the Ukrainian Government and we are expecting the government’s objections to our application. The Court has never before begun communicating with the government, effectively not yet having an application regarding a violation of the Convention. Even in the high-profile cases involving former government members Yulia Tymoshenko and Yury Lutsenko, communication with the government began several months after the applications were received.

What kind of barbaric actions are needed to finally change the order which allows detainees to be chained to a bed in civilian hospitals? The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly classified this as inhuman treatment and a violation of Article 3. Such incredible cruelty to women during labour and after it is reminiscent of the days of the Inquisition. What else is needed to change the attitude of SIZO staff to pregnant women whose guilt, incidentally, has not been proven in a court and their innocent babies born in captivity?

Published in Ukrainian on Radio Svoboda under Point of View with the stipulation that the views expressed are not necessarily shared by Radio Svoboda

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