Ukraine: Report calls on new President to back 'words with deeds' on human rights

Amnesty International is calling on newly-elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his government to ensure accountability for human rights abuses by bringing the country’s laws and practices into line with international standards.

Put deeds before words: deliver human rights for Ukraine , a 13-page briefing addressing new President Yanukovych, contains recommendations on how to protect people in Ukraine from torture police custody, from racial discrimination, and how to protect the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers.

Amnesty International Senior Director Nicola Duckworth said:

“The new authorities in Kyiv must not squander the progress in the protection of human rights that Ukraine has made over the last 20 years.

“Statements in support of human rights are commendable. They must be backed up by deeds - by impartial and thorough investigations into all allegations of human rights violations, by bringing those responsible to account, and by providing redress for the victims.”

Amnesty has carried out substantive research in Ukraine on human rights violations, and will measure the performance of the new government on whether it takes decisive action to tackle the issues outline above.

In the five years since its last report on torture and ill-treatment in police detention in Ukraine, Amnesty has noted that these practices persist, fostered by a climate of impunity as police continue to rely on extracting confessions and fail to respect the presumption of innocence. Procedures for investigating allegations of torture and other ill-treatment fall short of European standards of impartiality and independence, and few prosecutors bring charges against police officers for torture.

Nicola Duckworth added:

“Ukraine’s new government must establish, as a matter of priority, an independent police complaints mechanism. It must also allow independent, regular and unannounced visits to all places of detention as a reliable deterrent against torture or other ill-treatment.”

Racially-motivated crimes are all too often prosecuted as ordinary crimes, most commonly as “hooliganism”. This policy hides the scale of the problem and prevents the government from analysing and tackling racial discrimination. Racism is part of police culture in Ukraine too. Anyone who looks “different” is vulnerable to document checks by the police, which may be followed by arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and the extortion of money.

Migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers often fall victim to these human rights violations by the police, and the situation is compounded by an asylum system that fails to protect the right of asylum-seekers to seek international protection. Asylum-seekers are at risk of being forcibly returned to countries where they can face torture or other ill-treatment or persecution.

It is not only that an extremely low number of asylum applications are ever successful in Ukraine - 0.7% in 2007 and 5.7 per cent in 2008 - but the authorities have repeatedly forcibly returned asylum-seekers and even recognised refugees to countries where they are at risk of serious human rights violations.

Amnesty’s briefing to President Yanukovych recommends concrete steps to ensure respect for human rights, including the recording and monitoring of all incidents of racially-motivated crimes, the establishment of a functioning and fair asylum system, and the creation of an independent agency to investigate all allegations of human rights violations by the police.

Case study

The February 2009 case of three asylum-seekers from Somalia is illustrative of the pervasive culture of racist discrimination and of alleged torture or other ill-treatment by police officers.

They were detained and taken to a police station in Vinnytsya in western Ukraine where two of them were allegedly beaten by police officers, reportedly in revenge for the kidnapping of Ukrainian sailors by Somali pirates. The local prosecutor failed to open an investigation into the allegations. The two police officers alleged to have perpetrated the abuses were reported to have been discharged, but no charges were brought.

However, in January 2010, the Somali men were approached by three men in plain clothes outside their apartment who asked them to produce their documents and forced their way in without identifying themselves. They took money from the apartment of the Somali men who recognised two of the men as the police officers who had allegedly beaten them the previous year.

Download the report (pdf)

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