Several major international organizations, including the United Nations, report that torture is common in the prison system of Ukraine. Correspondent Peter Fedynsky looked into the allegations from VOA's Moscow bureau and reports that mistreatment of detainees may begin at the moment of their arrest.
Allegations of torture in Ukrainian prisons emerged in recent reports by the United Nations Committee against Torture, the Council of Europe, and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights.
In one report based on monitoring conducted two years ago, the Council of Europe says ill-treatment consists mainly of punches, kicks and baton blows, but also of asphyxiation. The International Helsinki Federation alleges use of electric shocks as well. In addition, the federation reports at least 12 prisoners were hospitalized with severe injuries inflicted three weeks ago by a special unit at the Buchansk Penal Colony near Kyiv. Members of the unit are reported to have worn masks.
The administrative director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group for Human Rights, Yevhen Zakharov, told VOA that beatings are used to intimidate inmates.
The main problem, says Zakharov, is that authorities try to break prisoners who rebel and complain against violations, and unfortunately the system is filled with abuse.
The human rights activist says the violations begin when a suspect is first detained and the arresting officer tries to force a confession out of the detainee, which violates the presumption of innocence. In a separate report, the United Nations Committee Against Torture also notes a lack of Ukrainian legal safeguards, including restricted access to lawyers, prior to a defendant's court appearance. Zakharov says the abuses continue after conviction.
Zakharov says it is considered normal to mistreat a person convicted of a crime in Ukraine. Any cruelty, any violence is seen as justified, because the victim is a criminal. But Zakharov notes that the degree of punishment should be determined by lawmakers and judges, not prison officials.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry referred VOA's request for an interview about these allegations to its subordinate agency, the Department on Enforcement of Sentences, which requested 10 days to review the matter. However, the Council of Europe met with department director Vasyl Koschynets in 2005 and an online Ukrainian government report says his agency has already thoroughly analyzed the allegations.
Ukrainian Helsinki Group member Yevhen Zakharov says there are efforts by some senior government officials to put an end to prison torture. He mentions, in particular, Ukrainian Interior Minister Vasyl Tsushko and his predecessor, Yuri Lutsenko, who said there should be no place for such cruelty in their country. And the Council of Europe notes prison repairs and ongoing construction of new facilities in Ukraine to improve living conditions for the incarcerated. The problem, according to Zakharov, lies with lower level officials, police officers and prison guards, who either deny allegations of torture, or mistakenly believe they have a right to abuse people in their custody.