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No more than 3% of police torture cases in Ukraine reach the courts

Halya Coynash

Two and a half thousand Ukrainians who sought help from medical institutions in 2017 reported that their injuries had been caused by police officers.  While the number of such cases is on the rise, the number of criminal proceedings initiated by the prosecutor’s office has decreased. 

Hromadske Radio has spoken with one of the authors of a recent study into police torture and abuse of power based on analysis of court cases and statistics from medical institutions.  It was carried out by the Human Rights Expert Centre [HREC], in cooperation with the National Police and Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office. 

Kostyantyn Bushuyev, Deputy Head of the National Police, does not dispute the figures, however stresses that not all accusations are found to be warranted during pre-trial investigations.

It is doubtless true that some allegations are false, however those statistics that are available are alarming.  Yuri Belousov, HREC Executive Director says that out of 1500 criminal investigations initiated, only around 30-40 are sent to the court (more or less 3%)  Of these, only isolated cases get carried through to their conclusion.  

It is also clear that in some cases, no investigation is carried out despite apparent grounds.  Hromadske Radio spoke with Tetyana Kurmanova, and investigative journalist and is also one of the independent observers who check places of confinement as part of the National Preventive Mechanism under the auspices of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office.  She visited a Ternopil prison in the summer of 2017 and spoke with ten prisoners, including Ihor Kozoriz, who asserts that the police used electric shocks to force out testimony, and also ‘raped him with a mop’.  Kurmanova stresses that the allegations could not be checked, however it is telling that there had been no forensic examination, even after Kozoriz’ lawyer spoke of his allegations of torture in court and asked for such an examination.

Despite apparent safeguards introduced in the Criminal Procedure Code in 2012, rights activists still report that the police do not add information quickly enough to the register of detentions, nor do they call lawyers straight away.

The changes in the CRC were introduced because of the frequent abuses carried out during that critical period when a person is totally under police control, while there is no official records of their detention. 

The brutal reason for this was put succinctly by Oleksandr Hatiatullin, head of the NGO ‘Ukraine without Torture’.  It’s simpler to beat a confession out of somebody, than to carry out thorough investigation into a case.  This is easiest to do while the person is officially ‘not there’, and there is no lawyer there to defend his or her interests.

Grounds for concern have also been provided by the Coordination Centre for Legal Aid which reported in February 2018 that 3,085 cases had been uncovered where police officers had acted in breach of the Criminal Procedure Code, with one in ten detentions having been carried out without a lawyer being informed.

A pilot scheme has been initiated in Dnipro which will have human rights inspectors holding interviews immediately with detainees and CCTV cameras recording everything from the person’s arrival, with the information added to an electronic database.  If deemed successful, the new scheme will be extended to other oblasts.

Belousov is not alone in believing that police impunity is the main reason for unwarranted use of force against detainees.  He stresses, however, that the prosecutor’s office must also play a more proactive role in preventing torture by seeking evidence to back or refute allegations of torture or ill-treatment.  Doctors must also provide proper assessments. 

As reported here, an earlier survey by the Kharkiv Institute for Social Research in February 2018 found that the number of victims of unlawful police violence had risen by well over 200 thousand since 2015, with the number of alleged victims of torture rising from almost 63 thousand in 2015 to almost 96 thousand in 2017.  

This research is based on respondents’ view as to the prevalence of police torture and ill-treatment in Ukraine.  While these are not verified statistics, it was noticeable that there had been a positive dynamic in 2014, when the number of believed victims of torture fell.  The authors of the study reported a reverse trend now, and noted that  none of the promised reforms which could seriously improve the situation had been carried out.

They pointed to the lack of any change in the outdated system for evaluating police work despite the declarations made by the Interior Ministry and National Police.

The Ukrainian system whereby police assessment, and remuneration, effectively depends on statistics about how many arrests have been made, how many crimes supposedly solved, has long been recognized as a major element encouraging the use of illegal methods, including torture as a means of extracting ‘confessions’.

There had also been no reform in the system for receiving complaints about the police and investigating rights violations by the police.  Such complaints continue to be received, processed and ‘investigated’ by the law enforcement agencies themselves.  This deters a very considerable number of victims of torture from lodging formal complaints, though some instead turn to the media.  This all means that the real scale of unlawful police violence remains concealed and may bear little relation to the official statistics.

The authors of the February study believe that the failure to consider important factors like the above has resulted in the ‘new patrol police’ increasing showing the patterns and use of unlawful violence typical of their predecessors.

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