Killings, torture, kidnappings, arrests — this is Ukraine at the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014
“Government agents” are not punished
During a two-month period, human rights activists and lawyers have barely had the time to document the beatings, abuse, harassment, disregard for rights and freedom during detention and the setting of bail, violations of the right to privacy during searches, and violations of the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
“People do not trust the existing judicial system and government in Ukraine. We have a paradoxical situation. None of the security force members responsible for acts of violence have been detained, even when identified. At the same time, more than 200 individuals, who can rightfully be considered hostages, have been arrested,” said attorney Vasyl Kysil, member of the Commission to Investigate Human Rights Violations in Ukraine.
“In these cases, when we see the victims, we can assume that the violence had been carried out by government agents. Furthermore, the victims have severed hands, gouged eyes. These are very serious matters that absolutely need to be investigated by the European Court of Human Rights. Torture calls for maximum penalties,” said Stanislav Shevchuk, a judge at the European Court of Human Rights.
Ukraine has not ratified the Statute of the International Criminal Court
Ukrainians and the world have witnessed actions that fall under the category of “crimes against humanity,” the lawyers said.
“Ukraine has signed but not ratified the statute of the International Criminal Court (the Rome Statute). The state is not bound by any agreement, including that of the International Criminal Court, if it is not a party to this treaty. By way of exception, the prosecutor may file a criminal complaint for crimes against humanity if he receives an appeal from the Security Council of the United Nations,” said Volodymyr Vasylenko, former judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia.
Security forces deliberately attacked journalists and medical personnel
In addition to torture, kidnappings, intimidation and beatings of peaceful civilians, violations of the rights of third parties also have been documented during the hostilities. Specifically, doctors were attacked by police on January 22 and journalists have been victimized by the security forces throughout the two months of civil conflict.
“I was trying to document the throwing of cobblestones on the protesters. I noticed that something was thrown at me, but I simply didn’t think it was a grenade. Right now I no longer have my left eye, the vision in my right eye has deteriorated dramatically and I can barely see. My motor coordination is impaired. I have hearing problems and terrible headaches at night. I can barely sleep and even though I no longer have my eye, it continues to hurt,” said journalist Ihor Demchenko.
According to preliminary estimates, some 136 Ukrainian journalists and foreign mass media representatives have been injured since the beginning of the protests. According to data collected by the Institute of Mass Information, these incidents consist of deliberate shelling, destruction of equipment, and beatings with the purpose of inhibiting professional activities.
“The only international court that investigates these types of crimes is the International Criminal Court in the Hague,” said Kysil. “There is no precedent for the non-enforcement of the judgments of this court. What is blatant for us today can absolutely become the subject of this court in ten, fifteen, or twenty years. There is no statute of limitations.”
Lawyers documenting acts of violence in a”Black Book”
Leading Ukrainian international lawyers have formed a commission to investigate human rights violations in Ukraine. The collected evidence will be included in a so-called “Black Book” and distributed to international institutions.
“The main role of the committee is to adequately prepare evidence that can be delivered to international institutions. After Ukrainian citizens exhaust all existing forms of legal protection in Ukraine, the materials will be passed on to the European Court of Human Rights. The “Black Book” is being prepared in Ukraine in order to transfer this database to the UN Security Council as well as to other countries interested in the growth of democracy in Ukraine,” said lawyer Stanislav Batryn, member of the Commission for Investigating Human Rights Violations in Ukraine.
“Look at Article 7 of the International Criminal Court. It covers crimes such as murder, torture, grievous bodily harm, kidnapping, and arbitrary destruction of property. In other words, everything that is now happening in Ukraine,” said Vasylenko.
The Rome Statute, required for the International Criminal Court, is not in force in Ukraine
Crimes against humanity are investigated by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. However, the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court, is not in force in Ukraine. The ratification of this statute was one of the requirements in the Association Agreement with the EU that President Yanukovych refused to sign.
“This statute is one of the main reasons why the government would not sign the Association Agreement,” explained Valeriy Chalyy, an expert on international issues at the Razumkov Center (Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies).”The Association Agreement, in addition to the much discussed matters relating to trade, also includes political obligations. Specifically, it includes the obligation to adhere to the requirements of the International Criminal Court. Quite possibly someone who understood the personal implications of this requirement did not wish to take this step,” he said.
“If there is an escalation of human rights abuses as a result of the use of massive force against peaceful civilians, then the UN Security Council could decide to give jurisdiction to the International Criminal Court to prosecute. It is unlikely that Putin would risk the authority of Russia to save the reputation of Yanukovych,” Vasylenko concluded.
Arkadiy Bushchenko, executive head of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, thinks the likelihood of such a move is doubtful. “If one considers cases where such special tribunals were set up — for example, Yugoslavia and Rwanda — the scale of crimes is not comparable. That kind of decision by the UN would mean that there is a humanitarian catastrophe in Ukraine,” he said.
Ukrainians may approach the European Court of Human Rights
Despite the documented facts and evidence, there have been no investigations of human rights violations in Ukraine and no punishment of those responsible. Consequently, after exhausting all legal avenues in Ukraine, victims will have a chance to bring their cases before the European Court of Human Rights. If the court determines that violations have occurred, nearly every citizen who pays taxes will be punished.
“The size of the compensation for damages is increasing, sometimes exponentially. As a result, the government is forced to consider the crisis in this country. The size of the compensations can reach 15, 20, 30 thousand Euros, depending on the damage caused,” said Oleksandr Pavlichenko, expert at the Kharkiv Human Rights Group.
“The greatest penalties are assessed for instances of torture and execution. Given the scale of violations, the sums can be very high. If you multiply a thousand complaints by 20 thousand Euros, you have a sum of 20 million. It is impossible to predict how much exactly,” said Bushchenko.
Winning a case before the Court requires a strong desire to restore justice and the qualifications of attorneys, experts point out. However, not all citizens of Ukraine are prepared to seek punishment for the offenders.
“I had multiple injuries: a concussion, after all they really shook my head, bruises over my whole body and a damaged tailbone that kept me from walking, I could only drag my feet behind me. Well thank God I’m better now and could probably outrun anybody. Lawyers have contacted me suggesting that I sue for millions, for a lot of money, but I don’t need it. They didn’t steal millions from me. I don’t need anything from them, only the Lord’s judgment,” explained kozak Mykhaylo Havryliuk regarding the abuses he suffered as a Maidan protestor.
The European Court has made the case of a Maidan protester a priority
Meanwhile, Ukraine has already beaten a record — the European Court for Human Rights has taken the case of Maidan activist Ihor Sirenko and made it a priority The victim testified that he had been beaten by special police units during the forcible dispersal of peaceful demonstrators and that he had been illegally detained on 30 November 2013. Sirenko alleged a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Because of the priority that the European Court has given to this issue, lawyers believe that a decision can be expected by mid-March. According to available information, this is unprecedented since the case has not yet been presented to courts in Ukraine, and rules call for the European Court to take on a case only after all recourse in national courts has been exhausted. Lawyers believe this could mean that the international community no longer has any faith in the justice of Ukrainian courts.
Translated by Anna Mostovych, Edited by Michael Stecyk and Lesia Stranget