war crimes in Ukraine

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227 judges who persecuted Maidan activists remain in their posts

Halya Coynash
If post-Maidan hopes of a full overhaul of Ukraine’s judiciary always seemed dangerously optimistic, there was an expectation that judges who had taken part in persecuting Maidan activists would not be able to continue as though nothing had happened

If post-Maidan hopes of a full overhaul of Ukraine’s judiciary always seemed dangerously optimistic, there was an expectation that judges who had taken part in persecuting Maidan activists would not be able to continue as though nothing had happened. 

According to a report / database produced by PROSUD, the Automaidan project on monitoring Ukraine’s judiciary.  227 Ukrainian judges involved in jailing badly beaten Maidan activists; in banning perfectly legal protests; in stripping Automaidan activists of their driving licences, etc., remain in their posts.  Some are very successfully building their careers, with their knowingly wrongful rulings during the Revolution of Dignity proving to be no impediment.

The authors scrutinized court rulings and information from the investigations into Maidan crimes, and found 337 judges in total who were implicated in persecuting Maidan activists. 

As of 1 February 2019, 55 of them (16%) had been dismissed for violations, while a further 42 were dismissed from their posts, but without loss of status and life pension. 13 judges (4%) were able to resign themselves on various grounds.

Of the 57 judges who had appealed against their dismissal, seven were successful and 31 unsuccessful, while 9 are still underway, and the result of ten appeals unknown.

Since 67% of the judges remain in their posts, it is worth stressing that these were cases where judges could not possibly have just made a mistake.  The investigation into Maidan crimes has concluded that President Viktor Yanukovych’s Administration passed instructions, via the presidents of the courts, to judges to impose the maximum possible sentences on Maidan activists.  Virtually all the rulings in such cases were based either on falsified documents, or on material that contained no evidence of any wrongdoing. 

The document provides details about specific judges, the ruling(s) they passed and whether they have been dismissed or in any way punished.

Two laws – On an Overhaul of the Authorities and On Restoring Confidence in the Judiciary – envisage liability for judicial persecution of Maidan activists. 

129 judges were due to undergo testing by the High Qualification Commission of Judges,  with 65 having already passed through this stage successfully.  Of the others, so far there have been recommendations to dismiss 15, though for the moment not one has been dismissed.

There have been some criminal prosecutions.  At present 13 indictments have been passed to the court, while a further three judges have been acquitted.  In two cases, the indictment is about to be passed to the court, and three other people have been informed that they are under suspicion.

According to Roman Maselko, 112 judges should be dismissed for wrongful rulings, in accordance with the law on lustration.  That is the theory, however at present no one has been dismissed.  Maselko points to a deliberate fiddle with the lustration check carried out on the basis of wrongful rulings added to the Single Register of Court Rulings, whereas the dodgy rulings had simply not been added to the register.

At a press briefing on the report, Volodymyr Bondarchuk, whose father Serhiy was killed on Maidan and who heads the NGO Families of Nebesna Sotnya Heroes, pointed out that many of those who passed wrongful rulings against Maidan activists, are now involved in cases involving serious crimes, killings and injuries. It is those judges, Bondarchuk asserts, who are responsible for dragging out cases, with some trial still not starting after two years.

The authors of the study put the blame for this situation on the President, the High Council of Justice; the High Qualification Commission of Judges and the Prosecutor General’s Office.  Maselko suggests, somewhat controversially, that the problem with some of these bodies is that they are made up of judges who cannot be expected to carry out a reform involving other judges.  He believes that the members of such bodies should be chosen by members of the public and international experts.

Although this is in no way an excuse for imprisoning innocent people or other acts of persecution, it is true that under Yanukovych the court system had been so corrupted that judges could face consequences for refusing to provide the rulings demanded of them.  One Kyiv judge, Iryna Mamontova, was forced into resigning from her post as president of the Obolon District Court in Kyiv after refusing to issue instructions to jail activists or deprive them of their licences.

She was replaced by Vladyslav Devyatko, after which he and other judges passed numerous wrongful sentences against Maidan activists.  Judges from his court were involved in cases linked with one of the first brazenly punitive actions carried out by Berkut riot police.  As reported, on 23 January 2014 over 20 activists were lured into a trap by Berkut officers who proceeded to savagely beat them up and destroy their vehicles.  The activists were then detained and accused of having attacked a Berkut unit.  All of the detained activists had evidently been beaten and the charges against them were simply absurd, yet this did not stop Devyatko, for example, from remanding Lviv activist Oleksiy Salyha in custody for two months.

Devyatko had also considered cases against activists who took part in the protest trip to Mezhyhirya (then Yanukovych’s sumptuous and illegally appropriated residence) on 29 December 2013.  All of these cases were based on falsified reports from the traffic police, with evidence of the falsification presented in court, yet Devyatko stripped the activists of their licences.  One man had pleaded to not have his licence removed as his small daughter was very ill and he needed the car to take her for treatment.  This was simply ignored, and the man’s licence taken away.

The reason for dwelling on Devyatko is that it was he who may well have been deliberately chosen to act as presiding judge in the trial by absentia of Yanukovych which recently ended with Yanukovych being convicted of treason and sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment.

In July 2018, the Public Integrity Council set out all the facts regarding previous involvement as judge and president of the court in the persecution of Maidan activists and gave their assessment that Devyatko does not meet the necessary criteria of integrity and professional ethics.

Maselko noted then that an application had been lodged with the High Council of Justice for Devyatko’s dismissal, however the latter had postponed its consideration of the application several times until ‘suddenly’ the timeframe for holding him to answer had ended. Maselko believed that this had all been quite deliberate, and aimed at having Devyatko involved in the trial of Yanukovych. 


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