Head of state: Leonid Kuchma
Head of government: Viktor Yushchenko (replaced Valery Pustovoytenko in December)
Capital: Kiev
Population: 50.7 million
Official language: Ukrainian
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes

Ukraine abolished the death penalty following persistent pressure from the Council of Europe. There were a significant number of allegations of police ill-treatment and torture of detainees, which in certain cases had resulted in death. People at risk of serious human rights violations in their country of origin were deported, in breach of international standards. AI received information about a number of possible prisoners of conscience.


Ukrainian citizens voted the incumbent President, Leonid Kuchma, back into office in two rounds of presidential elections in October and November. The elections were marred by sporadic violence, violations of election procedure and accusations that President Kuchma received unfair access to the media.

Death penalty

Ukraine came under increasing pressure from the Council of Europe to fulfil its commitment, originally made upon entry to the Council of Europe in November 1995, to abolish the death penalty. In June 1999, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe gave Ukraine until its next session in January 2000 to make substantial progress towards reforms aimed at improving human rights or it would commence the procedure for the annulment of the credentials of the Ukrainian delegation at the Council of Europe. During the debate in the Parliamentary Assembly, members cited as reasons for the January 2000 deadline the forthcoming presidential elections, the need to support democratic forces in the country and the need to engage in constructive rather than punitive criticism.

On 5 August the head of the Supreme Court of Ukraine, Vitaliy Bokyo, stated in a news conference that 35 people had been sentenced to death in the first six months of 1999. However, other unconfirmed sources suggested that the real figure was nearly twice as high for the same period.

In December the Constitutional Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional since it violated the principle of the right to life which is enshrined in the country's Constitution, and contravened the constitutional provision that no one should be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The Ukrainian parliament was charged with the task of removing the death penalty from the Ukrainian Criminal Code as soon as possible.

  • In a live television broadcast during the presidential election campaign, President Kuchma suggested that he might ignore the existing moratorium on executions in the case of Anatoly Onuprienko. This was not the first time that President Kuchma had spoken out in favour of executing the prisoner, who was convicted of serial murder by a court in the town of Zhytomyr in Western Ukraine on 1 April.

Forced deportations

People at risk of serious human rights violations if returned to their countries of origin were deported, in breach of international standards. The forced deportations were believed to be part of a joint operation between Ukrainian and Uzbek law enforcement agencies against suspected opponents of the President of Uzbekistan.

  • Four men were deported from Ukraine on 18 March. Two of them – Muhammad Bekzhon and Yusif Ruzimuradov – were prominent members of the banned Uzbek opposition party Erk . Both men had lived in Kiev since 1994 after they fled from Uzbekistan to escape arrest during an official clampdown on Erk .

Ill-treatment and torture

Ill-treatment and torture of detainees by law enforcement officials were relatively widespread. In July a delegation of the Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ECPT) carried out a nine-day visit to Ukraine.

  • AI received allegations that Sergey Ostapenko died from gangrene on 10 May after being tortured by police officers from the Cherkassy branch of the Directorate Against Organized Crime. Police officers allegedly hung him for several hours by his handcuffed hands so that his feet did not touch the floor. According to reports, he developed gangrene because the flow of blood to his hands was stopped, and he was not given adequate medical care until the gangrene was in an advanced state.

Possible prisoners of conscience

During 1999 AI learned of several individuals who appeared to have been arrested for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

  • Dr Sergey Piontkovski, an academic at the Institute of Biology of the Southern Seas based in Sevastopol, was arrested by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU, the former KGB) on 17 October. He was charged with passing on scientific data collected in the Soviet era to several Western universities. He was also charged with receiving grants in hard currency for research purposes, as part of international research in the field of marine biology. Although he was released shortly after his arrest, the charges against him remained in place. A number of other academics at the institute were also reportedly under investigation.
  • The Nash Mir (Our World) Gay and Lesbian Centre was refused official registration as an official public organization by the Lugansk Regional Department of Justice in April rendering illegal any further activities by the organization and exposing active members to possible imprisonment. AI learned that the authorities later reversed their decision, officially registering Nash Mir on 30 November.

Prison conditions

Conditions in prisons and pre-trial detention centres continued to fall below international minimum standards, and amounted to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. AI received reports that people were sometimes detained for long periods of time before coming to trial.

AI country reports

  • Ukraine should abolish the death penalty by January 2000 (AI Index: EUR 50/005/99)
  • Concerns in Europe, January – June 1999: Ukraine (AI Index: EUR 01/002/99 )

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