Human rights workers: Unwarranted detention usual practice in Ukraine

There has been a lot of talk about misuse of detention as a measure of restraint in Ukraine since the arrest of former Prime Minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. Human rights workers say that it is typical practice for Ukrainian courts to work for the prosecution. 


According to statistics cited by the Human Rights Ombudsperson, if a person is detained and the investigators demand their remand in custody, there is a 90% likelihood that the court will allow this. Nina Karpachova says that according to her information, Ukraine breaks European records for holding people in detention.  Each year up to 60 thousand people are remanded in custody and can stay in a SIZO [remand unit] for years until the investigative and court proceedings are over.

This leads to problems with overcrowding of SIZO and poor conditions which are also violations of human rights. Human rights workers supplement the Ombudsperson’s statistics with more shocking facts: only 0.2 percent of those charged are acquitted. The problem with unwarranted arrest has been mounting for years and the entire system is focused on convicting a person, Ruslan Topolevsky from the SIM Centre for Legal and Political Research says.

"We still have a Soviet approach where it’s better to remand a person in custody so that it’s convenient to question him, convenient for the investigators, not for the person". Ruslan Topolevsky adds that the courts usually do what the Prosecutor wants, not listening to the arguments from the defence lawyers, and do not give grounds for remanding the person in custody at all, simply repeating verbatim the norm of the law which envisages that restraint measure.

Other restraint measures such as bail or release on somebody’s guarantee are used extremely rarely, and then for, say, the children of politicians or others in power. This yet again shows, Mr Topolevsky says, that the justice system in Ukraine has those with privileges and those without. The bail system virtually doesn’t work with judges frightened to use it due to the lack of methodology for calculating the authorities’ expenses should a person abscond.  House arrest which is widely applied in European practice is not envisaged by the Criminal Procedure Code at all.

Ruslan Topolevsky believes that the judges normally go along with the Prosecutor either because in a small city you can have the "I’ll help you if you help me" scenario, or the judges do not feel completely independent and disciplinary proceedings are a means of exerting pressure. There are also absolutely absurd cases where the judges hold court hearings without the Prosecutor’s charges.

It is extremely difficult, he says, to break this pattern and thus reduce the number of unwarranted detentions. To begin with amendments need to be made to the Criminal Procedure Code, the role of defence lawyers needs to be changed, and attention given to the quality of judges.

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