Gaols and goals: Ukraine's out of control police force and Euro 2012

I am not sure what I started the day knowing less about: football, or the police service and their tactics in Ukraine, but I have been swatting up on both, so in the absence of my colleague who is something of an expert on both, hold on to your hats, here comes some learning…

The FA's appointment of Roy Hodgson as England manager on Tuesday rather than the assumed shoe-in Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp shows that the FA is about playing it safe – rather than gambling on a wild card. This is a safety first sports body, and I for one salute that. Hodgson will undoubtedly be focusing every waking moment on how to make England a force to be reckoned with at Euro 2012. There they must negotiate a group containing France, Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine, and with a lack of reliable strikers, a profound shortage of midfield creativity, no confirmed captain and a worrying rift between first choice central defenders John Terry and Rio Ferdinand, Hodgson has inherited a hefty catalogue of challenges. But he’s not the only one with something to worry about during next month’s trip to Ukraine (seamless segue) Amnesty has today put out a report warning Euro 2012 fans that they are in danger from a police force that is out of control.

In the report, Ukraine: Euro 2012 jeopardised by criminal police force Amnesty calls on Ukraine to reform its police service. The report details numerous cases where the police have tortured people in an attempt to extort money, extract a confession, or simply because of the victim’s sexuality or ethnic origin.

This in the week when several European leaders cancelled visits to Ukraine over concerns about the alleged abuse in detention suffered by former prime minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year jail sentence in a case labelled by some politically-motivated, and is on hunger strike in protest of the alleged beating.

So what should be done?  Amnesty is calling on the Ukrainian government to set up an independent body to investigate complaints against the police.

Recent experience has taught us that sporting events can be a useful platform, to raise attention about a country’s human rights. The authorities in Ukraine would rather this was about goals than jails, no doubt, but whilst the media’s attention is trained on this country for once, this is an extra chance to air concerns about a police force who are operating above the law. It’s an opportunity to put pressure on the government to reform and to make sure that everyone knows the score – assuming, that is, that people are interested in Euro 2012 this year. I think there’s a fair chance they will be.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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