Ukraine: Decisive action against torture yet to be taken, says new report

Amnesty International said at a Kiev press conference, as it unveiled its report Ukraine: Time for action: Torture and ill-treatment in police detention

The report focuses on the effective impunity for acts of torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by the police in Ukraine.

Despite promising words from the new government, Amnesty International and local human rights organisations have received allegations of torture and ill-treatment in police detention in the six months since the new government came to power.

Torture methods reported to Amnesty International from 2001-2005 include suspending detainees from metal bars (a method known as "lom" or "the crowbar"); forcing people to wear gas masks so that they partially suffocate (a common form of torture in the former Soviet Union, known as "slonik" or "little elephant"); kicking; and beating with fists or with other items such as copies of the Code of Criminal Procedure, or filled water bottles that do not leave marks on the body.

In other cases psychological pressure has reportedly been used, such as threats of rape, threats of convictions for other crimes, or in one case separating a mother from her sick baby.

There is no comprehensive official information to give a clear picture of the extent of torture and ill-treatment in police custody in Ukraine.

However, a 2004 study carried out by the Kharkiv Institute for Social Research found that 62.4 per cent of those interviewed who had been in police detention were subjected to ill-treatment on arrest: 44.6 per cent had their arms, legs or necks twisted; 32.8 per cent were punched or kicked; and 3.8 per cent claimed to have been tortured and ill-treated using special equipment.

Heather McGill, Amnesty International's researcher on Ukraine said:

"A suspect, a witness or a bystander: all can be at risk of being tortured or otherwise ill-treated by police in Ukraine.

"Allegations of torture are rarely investigated and if such investigations are carried out, most often they are flawed. As a result few police officers implicated in acts of torture and ill-treatment are punished and the victims rarely receive reparation.

"If the government of Ukraine is serious about reaching an associated agreement with the European Union by 2007, it must start immediately on reform in the criminal justice system, root out torture and ensure justice for the victims."

Amnesty International's report highlights some of the weaknesses in the criminal justice system that lead to torture and ill-treatment, including poor conditions in pre-trial detention centres and the lack of safeguards for detainees.

One legacy of Soviet times is the emphasis in police work on very high targets for crime solving rather than on crime prevention.

The Ukrainian authorities admit that police officers abuse their power because they try to achieve high crime disclosure by any means.

As a result, police officers have resorted to obtaining so-called "confessions" by force in order to achieve these targets.

Police ill-treatment is exacerbated by a high level of corruption - police officers are known to beat detainees in order to extract money.

Maksim Kalinin Sixteen-year-old Maksim Kalinin was with a group of teenagers in the centre of Kerch on 6 June 2005 when he got into an argument with a girl.

The girl claimed to have friends in the police and threatened to tell them that he had insulted her. She was seen speaking on her mobile phone and within five minutes a police car arrived.

Three police officers beat up Maksim Kalinin in front of 15 witnesses, some of whom tried to intervene.

Maksim was handcuffed and taken to the local police station where police continued to beat him and threatened to accuse him of a serious crime. He was held in police custody for 24 hours and then taken home.

Maksim Kalinin required hospital treatment for his head injuries. He was diagnosed with a head injury and cranial bleeding and remained in hospital. Maksim Kalinin's parents met obstacles in their efforts to make an official complaint about the ill-treatment of their son.

On 17 June criminal proceedings were started against two police officers and the case is expected to come to court in October.

Heather McGill said:

"Many victims do not lodge complaints because they are scared or don't trust the system. Those who are persistent and brave enough to seek justice may find themselves once more victims of intimidation and reprisals. They rarely receive compensation.

"Any government that wishes to fight torture and ill-treatment must ensure that all allegations of such human rights violations are duly investigated according to international standards of promptness, thoroughness and objectivity, that the guilty are punished and the victims compensated."

The report makes 20 recommendations to the Ukrainian authorities aimed at upholding the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment in police custody and preventing impunity.

President Viktor Yushchenko has made clear his desire to bring Ukraine closer to membership of the European Union. Government officials have made encouraging statements about changes in the criminal justice system that will bring it in line with international human rights standards.

However, allegations of torture and ill-treatment in police detention persist.

The information in Amnesty International's report was gathered through visits to Ukraine, correspondence with local human rights groups, lawyers and victims, and through monitoring of the press.

Amnesty International delegates visited Ukraine in June 2004 and in February and April 2005. The organisation has also raised the issue of torture and ill-treatment, including some of the cases featured in this report, in letters to President Yushchenko and to the Minister of Justice.

View the full report online...

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