SYSTEMIC VIOLENCE BY STATE AGENTS IN UKRAINE IN JANUARY 2014 – A Backgrounder

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UPDATED AND CORRECTED 27/Jan/2014 

SYSTEMIC VIOLENCE BY STATE AGENTS IN UKRAINE IN JANUARY 2014

Violence has escalated in Kyiv after adoption, with gross procedural violations, on 16 January 2014 of several highly repressive laws aimed at protesters, media, journalists, NGOs and civic activists (see Summary of adopted laws). The laws entered into force on 22 January 2014. Adopted laws incited more radical actions by protesters, including throwing of stones, molotov cocktails and fireworks at the police (at a new protest site on Hrushevskogo street). In response law enforcement and security forces launched disproportionate and brutal attacks on the protesters, including those who did not take part in the violent actions; state agents have allegedly carried out forced disappearances and even killings. Below is description of some of the methods used since 19 January; it is supported by evidence, including video recordings and witness testimony which abound on the internet. Description is followed by very short legal analysis. Description below does not aim to recount all cases or provide all available evidence of the allegations, but to summarise main examples of apparent abuse and gross violations of human rights.

 

Special police units (called “Berkut”) have several times used excessive force, which in many cases amounted to torture, after beginning of the peaceful protests: on 30 November 2013 by violently dispersing at night protesters, mostly young people, on Independence square; on 1 December 2013 on Bankova street by brutally beating protesters, including those who were lying on the ground and showed no resistance, among them medics and journalists who clearly identified themselves; at night of 11 December 2013 by using force trying to “clean up” Maidan; etc. Authorities did not pursue any active investigation into police brutality; on the contrary Prime Minister, President and Minister of the Interior publicly praised the police for “protecting public order”. On 16 January 2014 parliament adopted and president signed a law which released from liability for crimes committed during events in November-December 2013 with regard to mass protests, including crimes of excess of office, causing bodily injuries and harassment of journalists – offences which concern mainly state officials. Such impunity and explicit endorsement by the highest authorities caused further escalation of violence by law enforcement personnel.

 

UPDATE: No investigation into below allegations of police brutality, torture, etc. has been conducted (except for death of persons). New examples of high-level endorsement of excessive use of force and other violations: on 24 January President Yanukovych stated that “law enforcement agencies acted within their powers, within the laws which oblige them to maintain order”LINK; interior troops personnel was awarded with distinction “People’s Respect” at night near site of protests LINK.

 

KILLING OF PROTESTERS

 

UPDATED: Overall at least four dead people were confirmed since the events on 22 January, names of these people have been established:

– 2 protestors (20-year old Serhiy Nizoyan, 25-year old Mykhailo Zhysnevsky) died on 22 January 2014 from bullet wounds received during protests on Hrushevskogo street (LINK). Reportedly bullets were fired from adjacent buildings by snipers; during previous two days media and witnesses reported about snipers who were seen on the roofs (LINK). There is no proof so far that shots at protesters were fired by the policemen and other law enforcement personnel; prime minister Azarov stated (LINK) that according to forensic examination shots were fired from above, from the roofs, he also asserted that policemen had no firearms and shots could have been fired by radical protesters themselves. Medics extracted bullets from the corpses – in one case a bullet of 7.62 mm caliber of Dragunov rifle, in another – bullet of 9 mm caliber (probably fired from Makarov gun). UPDATE: Spent and unused firearm cartridges were found on the roof of the ‘Ukrainian House’ building which faces European square from which Hrushevskogo street starts (presenting a perfect location for sniper targeting Hrushevskogo street). LINK ENVIDEO. Police denied the use of firearms and called this information a provocation. LINK

– Protester (Roman Senyk) died on 25 January after being shot on 22 January in circumstances similar to the described above; he was in coma and underwent several surgeries (pierced lung, hand amputated). He was shot with a bullet of so called “balle blondeau” type (a special bullet used for hunting of large animals or shooting through body armor).  LINKLINKLINKUPDATE: According to another version the bullet that was shot at the protester is the one used by the police to break through closed doors by shooting through the lock, it is produced by a special factory affiliated with the ministry of the interior and is not sold to civilians. LINK EN

– According to the media, two dead bodies were found on 22 January on the outskirts of Kyiv with signs of torture; police confirmed only one body (LINK). One body belonged to protester Yuriy Verbytsky, who – together with activist Ihor Lutsenko – was kidnapped at night of 21 January 2014 in hospital by unidentified persons, taken outside of Kyiv, heavily beaten and tortured. Ihor Lutsenko was released in the forest and stayed alive (see below), while Yuriy Verbytsky was found dead with sign of torture on his body. Police stated that death was caused by hypothermia and not detected injuries. LINK EN

– It should be noted that immediately after events on 22 January the head of the medical assistance on Maidan Oleh Musiy noted that overall 4 people were killed by firearms shots in the morning of that day – those included (later identified) Serhiy Nizoyan and Mykhailo Zhysnevsky, but also two other unidentified persons who sustained heavy firearms wounds and were carried by medics but abandoned when the police stormed the protesters; according to witnesses and video on-line streams Berkut police units hauled two unmoving bodies. It is possible that those people dies as well. LINK

– Also according to media reports, during attack on 20 January Berkut captured and severely beat two protesters on the columns at the entrance to the stadium on Hrushevskoho street, one of them jumped down and survived, while another was thrown down by Berkut from high altitude and may have died, but there is no confirmation. LINKLINK

 

Right to life. While at the moment there is no proof of direct involvement of state agents in killings of protesters by shooting, the authorities failed to exercise their positive obligation to safeguards the right to life in view of real and imminent risk. Despite several reports of snipers seen on the roofs before the day of shootings, no action was taken to investigate them and prevent killings. As regards the person who was kicked from the high altitude (columns on Hrushevskogo street) and beaten – state agents (riot police) bear direct responsibility for this act and violation of the right to life. As regards Yuriy Verbytsky who was abducted by unknown (at the moment) persons, tortured and found dead, the state, in absence of indication of their direct involvement in the act, bears procedural responsibility to effectively investigate – it is too early to assess whether investigation has been conducted in an effective manner.

 

TORTURE OF CAPTURED PROTESTERS

 

– There are several reports that when captured during protests on Hrushevskogo street protesters were stripped naked being outside in freezing temperature and humiliated. See video of naked protester (Mykhailo Gavryliuk) surrounded and abused by special forces policemen – VIDEOVIDEOLINKLINK ENLINK EN (same protester immediately after capture – VIDEO). See account of another captured protester who was heavily beaten, stripped naked and forced to say “I love Berkut” while recorded on video and then released – LINKUPDATE: In response to incident with Mykhailo Gavryliuk Minister of the Interior Zakharchenko made a public apology and ordered an internal investigation; however, no criminal prosecution was launched, no information is available about any sanctions imposed.

– Protesters captured in the area of active protests on Hrushevskogo street are not brought immediately o police precincts, but first are kept for several hours in unheated prisoner transportation buses, then some of them are taken outside of Kyiv, beaten, often left to stand on the knees on the snow, stripped naked, tortured (LINKLINK). These people after many hours of abuse are then brought to different police precincts where they are not provided with medical assistance but kept and formally arrested under various criminal charges. Systemic excessive use of force during or after arrest, extended detention in prisoner transportation vehicles was confirmed by office of the Ombudsman LINK.

– UPDATED: A 17-year old student Mikhailo Niskoguz was captured on Hrushevskogo street, dragged by riot police into adjacent park, heavily beaten and tortured. According to him, he was “kicked, beaten, cut with a knife and sprayed on with pepper gas”. Hewas later diagnosed with a concussion, three broken fingers, a broken elbow, a broken toe; he had multiple, visible cuts on his face and left hand, and bruises all over his body. LINKLINK EN. See also a detailed report by Human Rights Watch.

– On 19 January 2014 police stormed one of the buildings near area of protests on Hrushevskogo street and beat two construction workers who stayed there, stripped them naked and shot them with rubber bullets at point-blank range, then poured water on them and forced to go naked outside on the street where temperature was -10 decrees Celsius (LINK).

– Two men were abducted when leaving the area of protests on 19 January 2014 (not near Hrushevskogo street). Abductors did not wear uniform, but according to one of the abducted driver of the minibus where they were put was in “Berkut” unit uniform. Two men (19 and 30 years old) were taken to unpopulated area outside of Kyiv, stripped of their shoes, heavily beaten while lying on the ground. They were left in the forest and then managed to crawl to the nearest village. LINK

– UPDATE: According to testimony of Oleksandr Kravtsov, one of activists of Automaidan who was abducted at night of 23 January (see below), he and activists arrived at location where according to their information cars were crashed and people were abducted, they were immediately attacked by the police (Berkut) while still being in the car, windows were broken and people pulled out, then severely beaten, brought to nearby park and forced to stand on the knees for about an hour and half, some people without outer clothes, about 17 persons were held and beaten like this. See video of testimony, LINK. Oleksandr Kravtsov was detained by court for two months pending investigation. Another Automaidan activist managed to escape after severe beating by Berkut and is now in hiding, sustained broken arm, ruptured lung, numerous hematomas (LINK).

 

Prohibition of torture. All cases described above amount to torture – the most severe form of ill-treatment defined in the ECHR case-law as ‘deliberate inhuman treatment causing very serious and cruel suffering’. Suffering was caused intentionally by policemen with the purpose to punish and intimidate protesters. The burden of proof that torture was not inflicted by the state agents lies on the authorities.

 

ABDUCTION

 

– At night of 23 January 2014 special police units “Berkut” assisted by so called “titushki” (see below) stopped and attacked the cars, beat and abducted more than 15 activists of Automaidan (activists who use their cars to protest). LINKLINKLINKVIDEO. The police, however, officially stated that Automaidan activists attacked and pursued the police and were arrested for that.

– On 23 January 2014 it became known that one of the Automaidan leaders Dmytro Bulatov disappeared. (As of time of writing no details of the disappearance were known).

– Activist Ihor Lutsenko and protester Yuriy Verbytsky were abducted at night of 21 January 2014 from hospital by about 10 persons in plain clothes. They were transported together to different locations, heavily beaten, tortured. After 10-11 hours after kidnapping Ihor Lutsenko was finally released in forest, put on the knees facing a tree and told to pray, his abductors then left and he managed to come to populated area and was hospitalized. Yuriy Verbytsky was found dead on the next day (see above).LINKLINKLINK EN. See also a detailed report by Human Rights Watch.

– Two men were abducted when leaving the area of protests on 19 January 2014 (not near Hrushevskogo street). Abductors did not wear uniform, but according to one of the abducted driver of the minibus where they were put was in “Berkut” unit uniform. Two men (19 and 30 years old) were taken to unpopulated area outside of Kyiv, stripped of their shoes, heavily beaten while lying on the ground. They were left in the forest and then managed to crawl to the nearest village. LINK

– During 22-23 January 2014 there were reports that riot policemen (“Berkut”) tried to snatch injured people who came (were brought by other protesters or ambulances) to hospitals with injuries obtained at the site of protests (wounds from grenade fragments, rubber bullets, etc.). LINKLINK.

– UPDATED: A 22-year old female medical volunteer was abducted by the police (Berkut) at the railway station when the police saw a Euromaidan badge she had on her, she was taken out in ordinary car to forest outside of Kyiv, hit in the kidneys area and left there (police also took her asthma inhaler), she survived. LINKLINK.

 

Right to liberty and security. The state is required to take effective measures to safeguard against the risk of disappearance and to conduct a prompt and effective investigation into an arguable claim that a person has been taken into custody and has not been seen since. In several cases described above the police illegally detained persons not in the area of any clashes with protesters and without formally charging them restricted their liberty. This can be seen as arbitrary detention.

 

DISPROPORTIONATE USE OF FORCE BY RIOT POLICE

 

Since 19 January 2014 when protests started at the Hrushevskogo street disproportionate use of force by riot police became systemic:

 

– Rubber bullets aimed at vital parts. Police started using pneumatic weapons shooting with rubber bullets. Contrary to internal instructions to shoot when not closer than 40 meters from rioting protesters and only in the feet direction, police repeatedly shot aiming at head or upper body of protesters, often specifically targeting people who had clear identification as press (bright orange shirts and cameras); there are several videos when police is shooting from close range aimed directly at cameras of journalists. These resulted in numerous and heavy injuries – on 19 January at least three people lost an eye after being shot. LINKLINK,LINKLINK

 

– Grenades thrown in the middle of crowd. Police has been actively using gas and flash-bang grenades and shooting them directly at protesters, not near them as required by instructions. This resulted in hundreds of people injured with fragments of plastic or metal cartridges, mostly in the lower body area, but also in other parts. For instance, one of the grenades tore to pieces hand of the protester (LINKLINK).

 

–  Severe beatings. Riot police when going from defensive stand into attack was chasing protesters, kicking them off their feet and then heavily kicking and beating them with batons – often several policemen attacking single person lying on the ground. In many cases such persons were then dragged on the ground or pushed to detention buses, while being repeatedly hit and verbally abused; some people were stripped in the process of their coats (in freezing temperature). Beating was usually continued in the detention buses until the persons were handed over to ordinary police and dispatched to police precincts (if not kidnapped – see above). See: LINKLINKLINKLINK. See another example – in the evening of 20 January riot police beating protesters caught on the columns (a row of columns serving as an entrance to stadium in the area of Hrushevskogo street), one of the protesters may have died after being thrown down from the columns by the police (see above) – LINK.

 

– Force used indiscriminately. The police attack not only those who throw stones or are violent otherwise; force is used indiscriminately against anyone who is in vicinity of active protests – regardless of age and sex and despite absence of any signs of aggression or moreover active resistance. Journalists and even medics are equally attacked and subjected to brutal use of force described above.

 

– Use of water canons in freezing temperature. According to regulations adopted in 1991 by the Council of Ministers of the USSR (On the use of special means during protection of public order), which are still in force in Ukraine (albeit amended several times), use of water canons is allowed to disperse participants of mass disorders only if temperature is not less than 0o Celsius. Despite that and the freezing temperatures in Kyiv (-7oC on 19 January, -10oC on 20 January), water canons have been extensively used and were aimed not only at burning vehicles, but also on many occasions were intentionally aimed at protesters. On 22 January 2014 the Government amended the said regulations and revoked any temperature restrictions; this however does not make this practice acceptable – use of water canons in freezing temperature can be viewed as inhuman treatment.

 

– Attacks targeting medics and journalists. Riot police attacked by shooting with rubber bullets and beating medics who help wounded protesters, even though they are clearly identified as medical personnel. During one of the attacks on protesters police stormed premises which were used for providing immediate medical assistance and assaulted medical volunteers and Red Cross personnel – LINK. In another case policeman shot from close range into foot of a medical volunteer, see video – LINK. Equally many cases of journalists being targeted by the policemen have been reported – see the list of injured journalists starting from 19 January 2014, LINK. Journalists who wore clearly visible identification as “Press” and were video recording protests, were shot at by the policemen who specifically aimed at video cameras or tablet computers when held near head; other journalists were beaten by the policemen (LINKLINKLINKLINKLINK).

 

– Use of forbidden means. Riot police was attacked with stones and Molotov cocktails, it responded in kind – by throwing back stones and Molotov cocktails. While attacks on police are illegal, the police are not allowed to respond in the same manner – there are strict and specific instructions on the use of force and special means of protection and they do not allow riot police to throw back stones and burning liquids.

 

Freedom of from ill-treatment. Numerous cases of excessive use of force by the police may qualify as inhuman treatment. Such use of force was disproportionate and not indispensable in the circumstances. The state has to provide convincing and credible arguments which would provide a basis to explain or justify the degree of force used  – no such justification was provided.

 

 

VIOLENCE BY PERSONS ACTING WITH SUPPORT OR ACQUIESCENCE OF THE STATE

 

– During last two months there have been numerous reports of people hired to attack or intimidate protesters. They are known as “titushki” (LINKLINKLINKLINK) – illegal units of hired provokers, sporty young men used for forced dispersing of rallies, beating protesters, arranging scuffles. There are media reports and video/photo evidence that “titushki” are protected by the police, often seen talking with them or are allowed by the police to enter areas which are closed for other persons. There was also no case reported of police arresting any of them even when illegal acts are committed in plain view of the police.

– During the night of 21 January especially large number of such hired thugs (about 2,000) was dispatched in various locations of Kyiv surrounding Maidan to beat and intimidate people, vandalise property. Police did not react to numerous reports about criminal activity of “titushki”. To protect people vigilante groups were formed who pursued and apprehended “titushki” around the city. LINKLINK 

UPDATE: Use of “titushki” was extended to regions, where protesters blocked or stormed regional administrations. On 26 January In Dniepropetrovsk, Zaporizhia, Cherkasy and other cities “titushki” were openly protected by the police, hid in the premises of the state administrations and attacked protesters from there using pneumatic weapons and sticks. Not only did not the police try to stop the violence, but it actively protected and shielded attackers. LINKLINKLINKLINKLINK

UPDATE: Reportedly on 27 January the Government approved regulations on “police helpers” aimed at legalizing use of criminal elements as “police helpers”. LINK

 

Freedom from ill-treatment. Police ignored numerous reports about groups of provokers, thugs roaming streets of Kyiv and other cities, often attacking or intimidating peaceful bystanders, damaging property. The state therefore failed to execute its duty of protecting public order and safety of people. On the contrary, there are credible allegations that police and other law enforcement agencies protected, provided support to such men (“titushki”) and even coordinated their activity, thus taking responsibility for their actions.

 

ARBITRARY ARRESTS AND DETENTIONS

 

– The police detained a number of people for alleged participation and/or organization of mass disorders. According to the Interior Ministry, as of 26 January, 116 persons were arrested for mass disturbances, 81 of them were notified of suspicion.

– In its official statement on 23 January 2013 the Prosecutor’s General Office proposed: “In case if radically inclined persons stop violent actions, arson, pogroms, resistance to law enforcement agencies and free Hrushevskogo Street, prosecution bodies will request courts to replace preventive measures with milder ones for persons who have already been detained and to choose a preventive measure not related to arrest for those with regard to whom the measure has not been chosen yet”. LINK

– Media reported about protesters who did not take part in the violent clashes on Hrushevskogo street but were detained far from Maidan area, in particular about students who were attacked by “titushki” who then called policemen (“Berkut”) to arrest them.LINKLINK

– In another case two journalists were detained at a gas station as they tried to buy petrol for generator which was used for on-line live broadcasting; police suspected them of buying petrol for Molotov cocktails and charged with organization of mass disorders.LINK

– Road police arrested at least three persons for having spare tires in their trunks, alleging that they were intended to be burnt on Hrushevskogo street; they were charegd with organization and participation in mass disorders and detained by courts for 2 months pending investigation. LINKLINK

 

Right to liberty and security. Even without analyzing grounds on which courts relied to detain persons arrested allegedly for participating or organizing mass disorder, statement by the Prosecutor’s General Office clearly shows that prosecutors do not justify detention orders by grounds provided for in the law, but by political and other considerations. Detained persons are in fact treated as hostages – other protesters were offered to ensure their release by withdrawing from Hrushevskogo street. Justification for any period of detention, no matter how short, must be convincingly demonstrated by the authorities. Detention may not be based on refusal of other persons to end protests and leave certain areas. Statement by the prosecutor’s office attests to the arbitrary nature of arrests and detentions and that the right to liberty has been restricted not for reasons provided for by the law.

 

 

Prepared by Dmytro Kotlyar 


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