The leaders of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group presented the coalition at the Interfax News Agency.
On January 16, twelve human rights organizations from Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa, Dnipro, Lviv, Kropyvnytskyi, Lutsk, Kherson and Chortkiv (Ternopil Oblast) signed a Memorandum of the Coalition Against Torture. The participants of the press conference were Arkadiy Bushchenko, Executive Director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Yevhen Zakharov, director of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, and Oleksandr Pavlichenko, chairman of the Helsinki Human Rights Union. They briefed journalists about the human rights violations in this field, main activities of the Coalition and principles of the cooperation.
The main goal of the coalition is to reduce the level of torture and ill-treatment in detention facilities in the country. The organizations-founders of the coalition have long been working together in this area. However, nowadays human rights violations become more serious and require more joint efforts to improve the situation. At the press conference, the experts noted that other coalitions that were established in recent years do not cover the problem of torture in full and barely protect human rights in specific cases; they are more focused on the monitoring of state agencies. Therefore, there is an urgent need to form a coalition that would cover a significant field of human rights protection issues and at the same time will focus primarily on the protection of victims of human rights violations.
Arkadiy Bushchenko stressed that the issue of torture in detention facilities in Ukraine was always presented by the authorities as something that was not on the agenda. Systematic facts of this phenomenon began to be declared only after victories against the state in the European Court of Human Rights. The human rights defender said that the tradition of cruelty was rooted in the minds of law enforcement officers. So the task of the Coalition is particularly assertion of the principle of zero tolerance for torture.
The level of illegal use of force by the police in regions that were not affected by the armed conflict has declined dramatically. These are the results of the survey conducted five times by the Kharkiv Institute for Social Research by the projects of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group in 2004, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2015. Thus, in 2011 the estimated number of victims of torture by the police amounted to 984 200, and in 2015 – 409 080; the number of torture dropped respectively from 113 331 to 62 935. However, 63 000 victims of torture per one year are still too many. In Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts the scale of torture and ill-treatment was significantly larger, with many complaints of torture by the Security Service of Ukraine.
The total increase of transparency of the penal system, the possibility of visiting its facilities by human rights defenders has shown that ill-treatment is systematic and widespread. The coalition has the task to conduct monitoring visits to cover all correctional institutions and to strengthen the protection of prisoners’ rights by putting this question as key to reforming these institutions.
In recent years, the violation of the principle of non-refoulement is systematic, when asylum seekers are either forcibly returned to their countries of origin or extradited in the cases, where there is a threat of death, torture, and political persecution.
Oleksandr Pavlichenko, among others, also noted the problem of health, because of which prisoners cannot serve their sentence. For example, if the condition is consistently critical, but there is no negative dynamics, the prisoner continues to serve his sentence in the same conditions.
The comparison of the number of recorded cases of torture and ill-treatment with the number of state agents convicted of crimes suggests almost complete impunity of those who unlawfully use force, sometimes even deadly. This is one of the main challenges for the Coalition.
Since 2014, the torture and ill-treatment and other extraordinary human rights violations – summary executions, enforced disappearances, gender-based violence in Crimea and southeastern Ukraine as a result of military aggression of Russia and military conflict caused by this aggression added to the previously known areas of systematic torture (police, penal system). This entire complex problem must also be the subject of the Coalition.
According to Yevhen Zakharov, in the gray area, the relation to people was merciless. He told of cases where due to the installation of extensions, the civilian population of the occupied territories suffered. The issue of violence, according to human rights activist, is acute in the context of the future reintegration of the occupied territories to Ukraine.
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