Maidan massacre probe to face even more threats in 2020

20 February, Kyiv, Instytutska street. Phpto: radiosvoboda.org 

Ukraine

In the sixth year after the Euromaidan Revolution, not only those involved in persecution and killings of the protesters back in 2014 have not been punished yet. Human rights activists are deeply worried about the overall prospects of the investigation of the Maidan cases. The recent decision to release former Berkut police officers accused of mass killing from custody for the impending prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine, new appointments in the agency responsible for the investigation, and changes to managing the investigation diminish the chances for justice to come.

On 22 January film director and ex-political prisoner Oleg Sentsov commented on the news that runaway president Viktor Yanukovych’s lawyer got appointed in the State Bureau of Investigations (DBR),

“Today is a Unity Day, the holiday of unification of our state. Today is a day when a first person of the Heavenly Hundred died on Maidan. For me, it’s equally important things. Because Ukrainians were uniting for one thing – freedom… And now the authorities congratulate the chief enemy of Ukraine on holidays and appoint Yanukovych’s lawyer to manage the case of mass shooting the protesters. It’s a spit in the eyes of all those alive and a disrespect to the fallen heroes. Of those who are ready to unite around the main thing – freedom, not just around the cleanliness of sidewalks,” he said.

Read also: What the Ukrainian nation should be – Zelenskyy’s New Year speech provoked discussion on identity and nationhood

Oleksandra Matviychuk, Chairwoman of NGO Center for Civil Liberties points that just a few understand what obstructs the effective investigation of more than 4,700 criminal episodes in terms of the large scale and systematic attack of the government on the people who took to the streets in November 2013.

Matviychuk puts down that there will be no result without proper organization of the investigation. She says that despite all the promises, the previous government wasn’t paying sufficient attention to this issue.

“In the first year of the investigation, criminal proceedings were scattered across various investigation bodies. No investigator or prosecutor had an idea about a big picture and simply could not establish the connections between the episodes,” Matviychuk says.

Later, the Department of Special Investigations was established to coordinate the investigation. For a long time, the investigators didn’t even have enough offices, computers, and people.

In time, then Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko came up with an idea of the “big case” of the runaway president Viktor Yanukovch which changed the logic of the investigation.

“Instead of spinning up a ‘chain of orders’ from direct executors of criminal episodes to those who gave them, it was proposed to focus on President Viktor Yanukovych and his inner circle, who fled the country immediately after the Maidan.”

Matviychuk goes on saying that apart from the case against Yanukovych and his entourage, there should be an investigation into the particular episodes “from the bottom up to the top.” Without it, there might be a legal opportunity to bypass the “middle link”, which was involved in systematic and large-scale attacks against civilians during Euromaidan and which remained in office later on.

“When the Prosecutor General realized that the ‘Yanukovych’s big case’ also required considerable technical and organizational efforts, and you couldn’t get it done for half a year (additionally, the legislation on proceedings in absentia wasn’t put into order), his enthusiasm somewhat faded away. Instead, the practices of unreasonable job cuts with interference in the probe, unjustified transfers of cases away from the Department or making changes to teams of investigators and prosecutors began.”

Matviychuk says that the legislative changes related to the investigation that came later didn’t take into consideration obtaining justice in Maidan cases.

Recent legislative changes

After a new government came to power in 2019, it launched the long-awaited public prosecution reform. Under a new law, investigative function was transferred from prosecutors to State Bureau of Investigations (DBR) and other law-enforcement bodies. However, the step caused a pause in the Maidan killings probe, as the prosecutors of the Special Department for the Maidan cases within the Prosecutor General’s Office (GPU) were not able to do their job. The crimes committed by law enforcers, like the Maidan killings, fell under DBR’s jurisdiction.

Read also: Ukraine’s public prosecution reform leaves Maidan massacre probe in limbo (updated)

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The question arose: who would investigate these cases now? Will new people explore everything from scratch or the current investigators would continue with the probe?

Activists were standing for a simple amendment to the DBR law that could fix the issue, allowing the GPU prosecutors who have been investigating the Maidan cases to continue their activities as DBR operatives by getting employed in the agency under a simplified procedure. Lawyer Yevheniya Zakrevska even announced a hunger strike to draw attention to the necessity of passing this amendment.

On 3 December the legislators finally voted for it.

“The delay in transferring the investigators from the Department of Special Investigations to the DBR led to their forced transfer to other units of the Prosecutor General’s Office. And most importantly, the clear reluctance of the Prosecutor General’s Office management to protect the investigations in these cases and the prosecutors, who not only investigated it, but also resisted unlawful interference, led to the discouragement of many investigators and prosecutors regarding the need for their expertise,” Serhiy Horbatiuk, former head of the Department of Special Investigations said.

The ambivalent appointments

The new appointments in the DBR also raised doubts on wether the cases would get proper investigation and prosecution.

At first, new DBR chief Irina Venediktova appointed Oleksandr Buriak as head of the department for investigating Maidan cases. According to Matviychuk, it happened without any consultations with the lawyers of the victims. Previously, Buriak served as an acting head of the Kyiv Prosecutor’s Office. Activists say that during that time, there was zero progress in the Maidan cases under the jurisdiction of Buriak’s office.

More challenges for the probe emerged in the beginning of 2020 with further appointments in the DBR. In particular, when Oleksandr Babikov became the deputy head in the agency.

The appointment sparkled outrage among civil society because Babikov used to defend Yanukovych in court as a lawyer.

Rumours of his upcoming appointment began to circulate earlier. Based on them, civil society organizations came up with a statement calling not to appoint Babikov. The main reason for that was Babikov’s obvious conflict of interests.

“We believe that it is the non-compliance with the appointment procedure and competition, and the opacity of the process that allows for the possibility of such results of the competition,” reads the statement that concludes that the appointment would lead to total loss of trust in the DBR as a law enforcement institution.

Nevertheless, Babikov was still appointed. Iryna Venediktova in turn labelled the protests against her decision a manipulation aimed to discredit the DBR.

“I have repeatedly emphasized and will repeat it again that the division for Maidan cases is subordinated exclusively to the DBR head. All legal measures to prevent the conflict of interests have been taken.”

Former MP Ihor Lutsenko who was abducted in the Euromaidan Revolution gives the reasons why the threat to Maidan probes is nowadays higher than ever in his opinion:

  1. The algorithm for swapping the so-called detained persons was implemented incorrectly. It resulted in a release of the accused in the most high-profile case related to the Maidan.

“As a reminder, until now it’s not standardized at all, [I mean] the procedure of exchanges of any kind in such a situation in general.”

  1. Legal mechanisms for trials in absentia in Ukraine are only formal and, in fact, do not work.
  2. The above-mentioned Babikov’s appointment violates procedures.

“The competition was held outside the legal framework in terms of impossibility for the third parties to participate in it. Even those who did manage to do it were ignored, they were not provided with any information.”

Babikov, instead, knew about his appointment in advance.

Read more:

Case of Euromaidan massacre may never be solved as Berkut suspects freed for prisoner exchange with Russia

An unequal exchange: the spies and terrorists Russia got for releasing Oleg Sentsov and 34 other Ukrainian political prisoners & POWs

 

Edited by: Yuri Zoria

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