Ukraine: Only two low-ranking police officers punished for EuroMaydan violence - new report

Hundreds of victims of police abuses during the EuroMaydan protests in Ukraine last year are still being denied justice, Amnesty International said in a new report published today (18 February) on the first anniversary of the height of the violence.

The 20-page report, Ukraine: A Year After Maydan, Justice Delayed, Justice Denied, reveals that only two low-ranking officers have been convicted for abusing protesters after being caught on camera forcing a man to stand naked in sub-zero temperatures in public. It also explains that, according to prosecutors, security forces destroyed evidence in the immediate aftermath of the protests and that their reluctance to cooperate has been a significant obstacle to investigations.

The report adds to the abysmal human rights picture in Ukraine, after Amnesty said last week that both sides in the conflict in the east of the country have violated the laws of war by carrying out indiscriminate attacks that have killed civilians.

EuroMaydan protests

What started in November 2013 as a peaceful protest against the government’s refusal to sign an association agreement with the EU, evolved into a mass protest against the government itself with violent confrontations between demonstrators and security forces. According to the Ministry of Health, 105 people died, including at least 13 police officers.

Amnesty documented numerous cases of unlawful use of force, including killings and torture, during the demonstrations. It has repeatedly submitted the details of cases of arbitrary and excessive use of force to the Ukrainian authorities, but has not yet seen demonstrable progress in any of the cases it has been following.

The officers convicted after being caught on camera forcing a man to stand naked in sub-zero temperatures were given suspended sentences of three and two years for “exceeding authority or official powers”. Several other police officers involved in the ill-treatment escaped punishment altogether.

John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s Director of Europe and Central Asia, said:

“The deplorable lack of progress in delivering justice for those killed, injured and tortured exposes once again the deep failings of the Ukrainian criminal justice system.

“The failure to address the widespread abuses during the EuroMaydan protests risks entrenching a long-standing culture of impunity for police officers. Justice needs to be delivered, not just for those killed, but also for the many more who were ill-treated.”

Killing and torture

The first protester to lose his life was 21-year-old Serhiy Nihoyan who was shot four times, including in the head and the neck, on 22 January last year. The identity of his killer is still unknown.

Many protesters were tortured or mistreated. A 23-year-old man was beaten and dragged by his lips to a police vehicle and had tear gas sprayed on his genitals, before losing consciousness. One woman, aged 51, was hit with a baton in the face by a police officer as she watched the protests. Her skull was fractured and she lost the sight in one eye.

Almost all of the victims Amnesty spoke to said that they had not been interviewed as victims of crime, though many had initially been interviewed as alleged perpetrators. None have been informed of the progress of investigations many months after filing their complaints.

Delayed and obstructed investigations

Following the downfall of President Yanukovych in February last year, the new government was quick to name him and his closest associates - all of whom fled the country - as the principal culprits of the violations committed during the EuroMaydan protests.

The new Ukrainian authorities have made numerous promises to properly investigate all human rights abuses and bring those responsible to justice.

As well as destruction of evidence by security forces and the reluctance of officers to cooperate, prosecutors told Amnesty that a lack of resources and the overlapping competences of different investigative authorities were also obstacles to proper investigation.

John Dalhuisen said:

“The efforts of investigators to date have focused on the killings and the alleged responsibility of senior figures in the previous government, but even on these there have been more declarations of progress than actual signs of it. For most of those who were injured and ill-treated, investigations have barely even begun.

“The sheer number of incidents and the complexity of some of the cases need to be acknowledged. However, the bigger truth is that without significant reform of the institutions responsible for investigating abuses by security officers, justice for the victims of EuroMaydan related abuses will remain elusive and the vicious cycle of impunity that contributed to them unbroken.”

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