Both sides practice torture, yet the level is different. Separatist republics don’t establish dialogue with human rights activists, unlike the Ukrainian government. Activists urge Ukraine to ratify the Rome Statute.
Kyiv, July 21, 2016. Both the representatives of the Ukrainian authorities and Russia-backed militants in eastern Ukraine are holding civilians in prolonged, arbitrary, and sometimes secret detention and torturing them. These findings have been presented in a joint report by the representatives of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch during a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. “We want to emphasize: the fact that the report covers violations from both sides of the conflict in no way means that we put the parties on the same level. This also does not mean that the parties are equally responsible, or that they have committed the same number of violations,” pointed out Rachel Denber, Deputy Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division, Human Rights Watch. “The main thing is that violations have been committed and these cases should be investigated.”
The report is based on 40 individual interviews with victims, their relatives, lawyers, representatives of international organizations present in eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian government and the so-called “republics”. “We documented 18 cases of arbitrary prolonged detention of civilians by the Ukrainian authorities and Russia-backed militants. Most of the cases took place in 2015 and early 2016. […] Almost all these cases included physical abuse of civilians. Some of them were tortured. In all cases, these people were kept in complete isolation from the outside world,” informed Rachel Denber.
In the report, among other things, particular emphasis was given to the cases of Kostyantyn Bezkorovaynyi from Kostiantynivka, and “Vadym” from Donetsk, whose real name is not disclosed. Kostyantyn Bezkorovaynyi’s wife could not find him for almost half a year, and no information was provided to her by the law enforcement officers until human rights activists at the highest level got involved in the case. A month after Amnesty International started its Urgent Action (in January 2016), he returned home. “Then he informed about his detention and tortures by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in Kramatorsk. They forced him to confess to preparing a terrorist attack and to testify for camera. As a result he found himself in the SBU building in Kharkiv, where he spent 15 months as unrecognized prisoner. At different times from 72 to 16 other people were kept there, who also were considered “disappeared.” At different times most of them were exchanged for prisoners kept by the other side,” informed Denis Krivosheiev, Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia, Amnesty International. He noted that a criminal proceeding on this case has been started. However, human rights activists have not received any clear answers to all their queries about this case. Besides, the SBU representatives stated that allegedly there are no unofficial places of imprisonment in Ukraine.
The case of “Vadym” is unique, because this 40-year-old resident of Donetsk has been held captive by both the SBU and by the so-called “DPR” secret services. He was detained by Ukrainian security forces on the checkpoint near Kurakhovo because he had been involved in organizing the pseudo referendum. Then “Vadym” was kept prisoner by the SBU for 1.5 months. On his returning to Donetsk, the so-called “Ministry of Public Security of DPR” kept him captive for another 2.5 months on suspicion of being won over by the SBU. In both cases, he was held in total isolation from the outside world, beaten and tortured.
Human rights activists stressed that these 18 cases, and two more cases, which have become known after the report preparation are only a few of such cases. The real extent of the problem may be much larger. “Three independent from each other sources that had been held there in captivity informed us that in February 2016, [in the SBU building in Kharkiv] at least 16 people – 15 men and one woman remained there. […] We have submitted this list to the authorities – the Security Service, Prosecutor General’s Office, and Presidential Administration. We will not publish it. But if we get the consent of the victims, then we will do this,” informed Denis Krivosheiev. Much remains to be learned about the situation in the so-called “republics.” There is limited access to information sources, and people are reluctant to get in touch with us. “What we see now in the “DPR” (self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic”) and “LPR” (self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic”) is not 2014, when such detentions were many. Now the number of such cases has decreased, but they continue to happen. People are held captive in Donetsk, in the “MDB” building and in Luhansk. We know and write about it in the report,” informed Tanya Lokshyna, Senior Researcher on Europe and Central Asia, Human Rights Watch. She added that in Luhansk people are also held captive on the territory of the cartridge plant and the former tax service. “Although over these years the self-proclaimed republics have established certain quasi-institutions, and actions of the security forces are stipulated by some documents, a legal vacuum is obvious. As to the “Ministry of State Security” of the “LPR” and “DPR,” some of our interlocutors informed that they are the most powerful organizations operating without any system of control, checks or deterrence, and, literally, “they are doing what they want.”
Human rights activists said that one of the main reasons for secret detention of civilians can be to use them during the exchange of prisoners. “We will not affirm that they were detained for that purpose, but we have seen some tendencies providing grounds for concern that both the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists hold them as “currency” in case there will be exchange of prisoners. If they are detained as hostages, this is a war crime,” stressed Ms. Denber.
Human rights activists reported that beyond the boundary line they could communicate only with the deputy of Ms. Morozova, ombudsman of the so-called “DPR.” Other representatives of the so-called republics did not agree to take part in a dialog. Meanwhile, meetings were held with representatives of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine and the Security Service, including today – with the chief military prosecutor. “We received assurances from the prosecutor’s office that they would consider in detail the cases documented in our report. (…) Now we need to focus on holding an investigation which should be reliable, not superficial, not “pro-forma”, and on ensuring that people, who come with complaints, did not suffer any negative consequences. We will closely monitor this,” underlined Rachel Denber. Denis Krivosheiev also urged Ukraine to ratify the Rome Statute as soon as possible so that the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court began to extend in Ukraine.
Tanya Lokshyna reminded that today no international observers – neither the UN nor the OSCE nor the International Committee of the Red Cross – have access to places of detention in the so-called “LPR” and “DPR”. “Our main appeal is to provide international observers with this access,” emphasized Ms. Lokshyna.