Covering events from January - December 2003

Torture and ill-treatment remained widespread in Ukraine. The European Court of Human Rights ruled against Ukraine in favour of six former death row prisoners. Domestic violence was a serious problem. Serious concerns about freedom of the media persisted. There was little apparent progress in determining who was responsible for the "disappearance" of journalist Georgiy Gongadze.

Torture and ill-treatment

There were numerous allegations of torture and ill-treatment by police and prison officials. In April the National Human Rights Ombudsperson, Nina Karpachova, stated in her annual report to the Ukrainian parliament that in the previous two years around 12,000 individuals had alleged that they had been tortured or ill-treated, most commonly in the context of interrogation for the purpose of extracting a confession. Detainees had been beaten by police officers, painfully suspended by their handcuffed hands, suffocated using plastic bags or gas masks, and subjected to electro-shock torture. As a result many detainees had suffered serious injury; some had died as a result. Detainees were frequently denied their rights to a lawyer or a doctor of their choice, and to notify relatives of their detention.

  • The UN Human Rights Committee ruled in September that former death row prisoner Azer Garyverdy ogly Aliev had not received a fair trial. He had been denied access to a lawyer for the first five months of his detention. He had been arrested in Makeevka on suspicion of murder in August 1996 and sentenced to death in April 1997. Azer Garyverdy ogly Aliev had alleged that he and his pregnant wife were ill-treated and tortured by police officers during four days of interrogation shortly after their arrest.
  • In mid-October, public prosecutors in the region of Donetsk reportedly launched an investigation into an incident of alleged torture at correctional facility No. 120. Prison officers allegedly tortured a 25-year-old prisoner, as a result of which he sustained serious injuries to both feet, necessitating their amputation. It was alleged that the incident took place after the prisoner refused to follow the orders of prison officials.
  • In November, 20-year-old Sergei Berdyugin died in hospital in Odessa after reportedly being ill-treated in pre-trial custody.

European Court of Human Rights

In April the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of six men held on death row in various Ukrainian prisons in the 1990s who had lodged complaints about the cruel, inhuman and degrading conditions of their detention. In the case of Borislav Poltoratskiy, the Court ruled that the conditions of his detention caused him "considerable mental suffering, diminishing his human dignity". The Court found that he, in common with other death row prisoners imprisoned at Ivano-Frankivsk Prison, "was locked up for 24 hours a day in cells which offered only a very restricted living space, that the windows of the cells were covered with the consequence that there was no access to natural light, that there was no provision for outdoor exercise and that there was little or no opportunity for activities to occupy himself or for human contact".

Violence against women

Domestic violence continued to be common in Ukraine, although no official statistics were available. In late 2002 Ukraine informed the UN Human Rights Committee of the various measures it was implementing to combat domestic violence. These included the enactment of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Law, which identified the public bodies and institutions responsible for taking preventative action; new procedures to investigate acts of domestic violence; and the establishment of a network of specialized institutions for victims of domestic violence such as crisis centres, shelters and social rehabilitation centres. Despite these positive measures, there remained significant obstacles to women seeking justice.

Freedom of expression

Widespread concerns about freedom of the media persisted. In February the Council of Europe published its experts' report on freedom of expression and information in Ukraine, following a visit to the country in November 2002. The report concluded: "[W]e feel compelled to repeat the conclusion made in our report of 2000 that Ukraine gives rise to very serious concern in terms of expression and information". The report highlighted a whole series of concerns including: the high incidence of defamation suits against media outlets and the level of damages awarded; controversial disputes over the licensing of radio and television stations; attempts by the authorities to guide media content; and crimes committed against journalists.

  • Although several present and former officials of the Ministry of the Interior were reportedly arrested in connection with the "disappearance" of the independent journalist Georgiy Gongadze in September 2000, the investigation appeared to come to a standstill in late October when Prosecutor General Svyataslav Piskun, who was heading the investigation, was dismissed from his post by President Kuchma. It was suggested in certain quarters that his dismissal may have been connected to the arrests.

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