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Ukraine loses another case over police torture


The European Court of Human Rights has once again found Ukraine in violation of the Convention over torture and ill-treatment by the police.  The chamber judgment was issued on Oct. 31 in the case of Tarasov v. Ukraine.  The case involved criminal proceedings against Alexei Tarasov for theft and robbery, which resulted in a 5-year sentence.  Taras was represented by Arkady Bushchenko, now the Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. 

Tarasov alleged that he had been ill-treated after being arrested on Jan. 13, 2000. He was held in police custody until Jan. 25, and did not have access to a lawyer.  He alleged that during that time he had been severely beaten, electrocuted and forced to confess to various crimes.

The Court found:

Violation of Article 3 of the Convention both under its substantive limb (i.e. that there had been torture and ill-treatment) and under its procedural limb, due to the failure to investigate his allegations;

Violation of Article 6 §§ 1 of the Convention as regards his right not to incriminate himself;

Violation of Article 6 §§ 1 and 3 (c) of the Convention as regards his right to legal representation;, as well as with respect to his ability to participate effectively in his trial on 21 December 2001;

Tarasov was awarded 27 thousand EUR in non-pecuniary damage and 3 thousand EUR expenses.

From the judgment

63.  Turning to the circumstances of the present case, the Court notes that the applicant sustained a number of injuries, the origin of which has never been properly established. It notes that the domestic court, in its decision of 6 November 2003, admitted that the origin and time of infliction of those injuries had never been properly determined (see paragraph 47 above). The Court further notes that the Government did not contest the applicant’s submissions that the relevant part of the CPT report cited above (see paragraph 52 above) concerned him, and that report supports the applicant’s allegations of ill-treatment, in particular, the signs which were consistent with his allegations of the police having administered electric shock when forcing him to confess. Finally, it does not appear from the case-file materials that the domestic authorities properly examined the possible causal link between the alleged ill-treatment and the applicant’s disability, which developed while in detention and which necessitated his court attendance on a stretcher.

64.  In those circumstances, and given the burden on the State to provide a plausible explanation for injuries sustained by a person under the control of the police, the Court concludes that the Government have not satisfactorily established the circumstances under which the applicant sustained his injuries.

65.  In the light of the above, it must be considered that the applicant sustained the injuries as a result of ill-treatment and that having regard to the serious nature of those injuries such treatment can be classified as torture for which the Government must bear Convention responsibility … There has accordingly been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention under this head.

70.  In the circumstances of the present case, the Court notes that the initial investigation into the applicant’s complaints was incomplete and that this deficiency was acknowledged by the domestic authorities themselves. From the decision of 6 November 2003, it appears that important steps, such as identification of time and manner of infliction of the applicant’s injuries, records of his state of health upon arrest and questioning of the applicant and his cell-mates, were not taken within a reasonable time after the applicant made his complaint of ill-treatment. Furthermore, certain actions could not be conducted at all after a certain lapse of time, given that some documentation had been already destroyed and other information was simply unavailable, which prevented the authorities from questioning certain witnesses and remedying other initial flaws in the investigation at a later stage (see paragraph 49 above).

71.  In the light of the serious deficiencies referred to above, the Court considers that the domestic authorities did not fulfil their obligation to investigate the applicant’s complaints of ill-treatment effectively. Accordingly, there has also been a violation of Article 3 of the Convention under this head.

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