Perpetrators of cimes against humanity in Ukraine must be brought to justice

2014/01/30 • Analysis & Opinion

ImagePoet and translator Ostap Slyvynsky about torture, abuse of prisoners, violating the rules and customs of war. For active and free sharing worldwide.

As of today, January 26, 2014, it may be concluded that atrocities currently taking place in Ukraine not only exceed the level of systematic violations of basic human rights (freedom of expression, personal freedoms and their protection, the right to life), but reach the threshold of crimes against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute as “particularly odious offenses in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of human beings” regardless of place, time and political context. These crimes are known to have no justification, and they could be considered as a symmetric response to any actions. Among these crimes are torture, abuse of prisoners, violating the rules and customs of war. The military terminology is not out of place here, because the clashes between the special police units of the Ministry of the Interior Affairs and organized front of protesters in the streets, especially in the circumstances of legal disarray, can be viewed in military categories.

However, the ambiguous legal status of the conflict compels the side that considers itself as representative of the law to violate the basic ethical standards of the confrontation, such as respect for the messenger, as participant in negotiations (I personally witnessed as a representative of the protesters, who came out with a white flag to the security forces to deliver a note, was immediately beaten and detained without any talk or exchange), or attacks on medical personnel.

Aggression against the medical personnel that provide medical aid to protesters sadly has became a fixture of the confrontation in the streets of Kyiv in recent days. The peak of such aggression took place on 22 January when stun or flash grenades and batons were used to completely destroy the makeshift infirmary, 20 medics were beaten and the fate of the wounded being treated there at the time remains unknown. Medics who treated protesters are being sought and detained throughout the city and far away from the protests’ area. More precisely, they are kidnapped, since none of the procedural requirements for official arrest or detention is carried out. On January 23 Oleksandra Haylak, a 22 -year-old female volunteer of the Maidan medical service was kidnapped by the “Berkut” special police unit at the train station in Kyiv and taken into the woods, beaten and abandoned there. All the medications she carried with her were confiscated, including those that she had used herself to treat her asthma, thus endangering her health and life.

Police abductions, sometimes carried out by mercenaries in civilian clothes, were usually combined with beatings, tortures, and sometimes public torture. In at least one known case (and there may be more cases given the fact that as of today about a dozen people are still considered missing) the kidnapping lead to the death of the victim.

On January 21 “unidentified civilians” kidnapped two wounded activists, Ihor Lutsenko and Yuri Verbytsky straight from the hospital. Ihor Lutsenko survived and was released later. He reported: “First, they questioned us both together using force, then they separated us and took each to a different location in the forest where they continued separately. I just heard that they pressured Juri very hard (…) All this lasted for about forty minutes to an hour. Then they put bags on our heads, loaded us back into the bus and drove off somewhere else.” On January 22 Yuri Verbytsky’s body was found with signs of brutal tortures near the village of Hnidyn outside of Kyiv.

On January 22 outside of Kyiv the “Berkut” special police unit detained six students of the Theater University as they were returning from Maidan. Then, as in the previous case, one of them was released. Mykhailo Nyskohuz, a 17- year-old student, reported that he was tortured and humiliated: stripped naked, chased through a gauntlet of soldiers, beaten, forced to sing the anthem in the snow, had his buttocks cut with a knife.

On January 23 security forces detained Alexander Kravtsov, a member of the so-called AutoMaidan (the protest movement of motorists). He provided a similar account of public humiliation and stripping victims naked in the below-freezing temperatures: “[They] attacked us, smashed cars, brought us to the Mariinsky Park, (…) stripped, forced to stay kneeled in the snow for half an hour … There were approximately 17 of us. ”

Especially disparaging public tortures were perpetrated against Mykhaylo Hawryluk, an activist, who was detained by the police on January 23. Dozens of security forces personnel participated in torturing him as they recorded it on the video, so that the incident gained significant publicity in the media. Mykhaylo Hawryluk reported: “They beat me up while I was on the ground. All who wished would ran up to me, skipped on my head with their feet, and took photographs. Having stripped me naked, they started doing with my head what soccer players do with a ball. They posed as if they were heroes in front of the photo camera taking turns to shoot each other, putting their feet on my naked body while I was lying on the ground. ”

Use of unauthorized means by the police against protesters constitutes not only violations of all possible service instructions, but reaches the threshold of crimes against humanity. In fact, it has been evidenced that the security forces during the conflict used 18.5 mm diameter brass bullets designed for removing mechanical obstacles (for example, knocking down doors) or stopping vehicles. This is quite noteworthy, as it demonstrates the Ukrainian power structures’ absolutely instrumental approach to the protesters: in their eyes the protesters are just obstacles needed to be removed or eliminated. There are no ethical considerations given to the police actions against the protesters. It is this kind of bullet that killed Mykhaylo Zhyznevsky, a citizen of Belarus, on January 22. The bullet pierced through his heart. Also, it was evidenced that special unit police resorted to wrapping stun/flash grenades with small fragments of stone to cause mechanical injuries as they had the effect of fragmentation mini-bombs. The Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers’ authorization to use water cannons in sub-zero temperatures is inhumane and incompatible with human rights as it may cause severe frostbite and death from hypothermia.

The pattern of injuries received by many protesters reveals that the targeted shooting specifically aimed at the head (particularly, the eyes) and the groin areas of victims. Snipers inflicted many such targeted injuries. It is significant that most of the victims with injuries of this nature are journalists and media representatives. Targeted violence against journalists is a characteristic feature of the current confrontation in Ukraine. The Ukrainian authorities’ panic fear of publicity makes them to shoot at journalists. As a result of this practice the words “PRESS” on a vest or a helmet (as well as the Red Cross) have become no protection but rather an additional source of danger. According to conservative estimates, some 40 to 50 journalists were harmed in Kyiv during only five days of confrontation, January 19-23. Among those with the most severe injuries are Stanislav Grigoryev, a cameraman of the REN-TV Russian TV channel (seriously wounded by a stun grenade ), Vlad Bovtruk, a Ukrainian TV journalist of «Hromadske.tv» (wounded by rubber bullets in the leg and abdomen), Vladimir Zinchenko, an ICTV channel journalist (rubber bullet hit the eye).

In summary, no matter how the current confrontation in Ukraine would eventually end, no matter what new political reality may emerge, the perpetrators of crimes against humanity must be brought to justice. This is the duty and responsibility of the entire international community as well as each and every one of us.

Ostap Slyvynsky

26.01.2014 , Lviv, Eurolution.doc Ukraine on Maidan

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