Human Rights in Ukraine: Arbitrary detentions, disappearances, and torture in eastern Ukraine

13:08 Jul. 21, 2016

Arbitrary detentions, disappearances, and torture in eastern Ukraine

A car drives past damaged Ukrainian military vehicle in Ocheretyno, eastern Ukraine, March 2, 2015 (AP photo)

Human rights watchdogs publish report on crimes committed by both sides of Ukraine conflict

Both the Ukrainian government authorities and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine have held civilians in prolonged, arbitrary detention, without any contact with the outside world. In some cases, the detentions constituted enforced disappearances, meaning that the authorities in question refused to acknowledge the detention of the person or refused to provide any information on their whereabouts or fate. Most of those detained suffered torture or other forms of ill-treatment. Several were denied needed medical attention for the injuries they sustained in detention.

The abovementioned cases are documented in a joint report presented on July 21 by two leading human rights organizations - Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Titled You Don't Exist: Arbitrary Detentions, Enforced Disappearances, And Torture In Eastern Ukraine the report accuses Ukrainian authorities and volunteer battalions of holding civilians suspected of supporting or having connections with Russia-backed separatists. The separatists, in their turn, the report says, are incarcerating civilians suspected of backing or spying for the Ukrainian government.

The document is based on 40 interviews with the victims, their families and lawyers.

Read also Militants torture our guys, where's reaction from OSCE? - Poroshenko's envoy

In almost all of the eighteen cases investigated, release of the civilian detainees was at some point discussed by the relevant side in the context of prisoner exchanges. In nine out of the eighteen cases, they were in fact exchanged. This gives rise to serious concerns that both sides may be detaining civilians in order to have "currency" for potential exchange of prisoners.

In most of the cases Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch investigated, pro-government forces, including members of so-called volunteer battalions, initially detained the individuals and then handed them over to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), who eventually moved them into the regular criminal justice system. Some were later exchanged for persons held by separatists and others released without trial.

Meanwhile in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics local "security services" operate in a complete rule-of-law vacuum with no checks and balances, detaining individuals arbitrarily and holding them in their own detention facilities.

Read also Corrupt justice system, impunity of security forces, torture and abduction in Russian-occupied regions

Whereas it is difficult to estimate the total number of civilians who have been the victims of the abuses, the document quotes the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which stated in a report last month that "arbitrary detention, torture, and ill-treatment remain deeply entrenched practices" in the region.

Summing up, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch call on the Ukrainian government and the de-facto authorities in self-proclaimed DNR and LNR to immediately put an end to enforced disappearances and arbitrary and incommunicado detentions, and to launch zero-tolerance policies with regard to the torture and ill-treatment of detainees.


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