Media event on Ukraine’s interstate claim against RF on political prisoners: key messages

Co-hosted on 13 August 13 2018 by the Ministry of Justice and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the event welcomed the following speakers:

Pavlo Petrenko, Ukraine’s Minister of Justice:

  • By this inter-state application, Ukraine reports and requests the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) to recognize widespread human rights violations (involving torture, restrictions on the right to liberty, personal integrity, right to a fair trial, right to privacy, freedom of expression, assembly and association) perpetrated by the Russian Federation against 71 Ukrainian citizens.
  • Our goal is to get a judgment by the ECtHR that would recognize violations of the said provisions of the Convention [for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms] and obligate Russia to release Ukrainian nationals and return them to the territory of Ukraine.
Photo – Petro Petrenko’s page on Facebook
  • What makes this complaint unique: we argue that there is no evidence of justice or a legal system in Russia regarding Ukrainian nationals. Ukrainians are essentially persecuted in Russia solely on the grounds of nationality, religion, political position or public views. For instance, a prison sentence [for pro-Ukrainian activist Volodymyr Balukh] for displaying the Ukrainian flag over his own house in Russia-occupied Crimea is unprecedented from the perspective of international law.
  • We are counting on the European Court of Human Rights to examine this interstate complaint quickly and will be asking to label it as a priority case, since it concerns the fate of the illegally detained people who experience serious psychological and physical problems.
  • The interstate application to the ECtHR will be supplemented as information comes in concerning each Ukrainian, who found himself in the hands of the RF’s law enforcement agencies.
  • A lot of work is being done at the level of diplomatic communication with the aggressor state, but this is the first time the Ukrainian government has filed a legal document against Russia on widespread violations of the rights of Ukrainian political prisoners, with specific names of the responsible Kremlin’s officials (including those high-ranking). This gives us grounds for introducing additional personal sanctions against Russia’s entire leadership and Russia’s officials involved in the politically motivated persecutions.
  • We will be applying to our international partners with a proposal to create a separate sanctions list, similar to the Magnitsky Act, which will include persons involved in the abductions, imprisonment, torture and ill-treatment of Ukrainian political prisoners.
  • In addition to the six submitted interstate complaints against the Russian Federation, there are also individual applications from citizens and legal entities to the European Court of Human Rights, as well as cases pending before the International Court of Justice. The latter concern the violation by Russia of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. One more case lodged with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea deals with the violation of Ukraine’s right to the subsoil resources and water landscape that were in fact seized by Russia.

Ivan Lishchyna, Government Agent before the European Court of Human Rights:

  • We argue that these are not isolated cases and that there is a pattern in all of them: to find a person, to beat false confession out of him/her, and when the person points to someone else, Russia’s officials also force this person to testify against another one, and the process continues. When preparing this application, we had the impression that we were working with Moscow trials of the 30’s of the last century, when cases were built on testimonies tortured out of people or their friends.
  • These cases prove systematic violations of the right of Ukrainian citizens to not be subjected to torture, their unlawful detention, absence of respect for fair trial standards, violation of the right to respect to private and family life, lack of effective remedy, and violation of Article 18 of the European Convention “limitation on use of restrictions on rights”.
Ivan Lishchyna,
  • There also exist violations of the right to freedom of expression. For instance, the Hizb ut-Tahrir organization is not banned in Ukraine, and Ukrainian citizens that lived in Crimea could be its members or simply be involved in its activities. Since Russia, where this organization is banned, has occupied Crimea, these people automatically became offenders under Russia’s Criminal Code.
  • As regards the prospect of Russia’s compliance with the ECtHR judgment concerning the Ukrainian political prisoners: “Russia may recognize certain ECtHR decisions as unenforceable in connection with a violation of the constitutional provisions, but this happened only twice so far. In addition, there exists a special mechanism for enforcing the ECtHR judgments, which involves supervision of their execution by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The pressure exerted on a respondent state by this body and other Council of Europe bodies usually results in the judgment’s eventual enforcement.”

Darya Svyrydova, UHHRU’s lawyer:

  • The submission of an interstate complaint like this will, first of all, bolster individual applications, as well as demonstrate the scale, systematic nature and overall picture of the political persecution of Ukrainian citizens by the Russian Federation.
  • Such GOU’s actions aimed at protecting its citizens are extremely important now when persecution of and pressure on those human rights lawyers and defenders, who continuously protect Kremlin’s prisoners under conditions of total impunity and lack of fair trial in the occupied territories, is on the rise in Crimea. We have documented at least 10 such incidents, from threats, unlawful detentions and home searches to arrests and prison sentences (for instance, the arrest of lawyer Emil Kurbedinov, or Server Mustafayev, a human rights defender and prominent activist of the Crimean Solidarity movement).
  • Human rights organizations have no choice but to conclude that the issue of the GOU’s systematic support for Kremlin’s prisoners and their families is yet unresolved, both during their detention and after their release.
Darya Svyrydova, UHHRU’s lawyer
  • It is regrettable that Ukrainian MPs still have not regulated at the legislative level the issue of protection and support for those unlawfully deprived of their liberty in connection with the international armed conflict, which entered its fifth year. For instance, co-developed by the Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories and People’s Deputies draft bill No. 6700 on the state-funded aid to political prisoners has been gathering dust at the Parliament for over a year. Other draft laws, by which MPs intended to regulate the status and social guarantees for such categories of people, generated so many comments that the authors publicly recalled the documents, in order to combine efforts and co-develop a new text.
  • We expect that in the short run MPs and human rights activists will jointly elaborate a bill on the legal status of certain categories of protected persons that have been detained in temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine and abroad in connection with the international armed conflict. This law should finally address the issue of the state-funded aid and other assistance and services for such persons, as well as establish the procedure of their award.

Igor Kotelianets, Head of NGO “Association of Families of Kremlin’s Political Prisoners”:

  • More than half of the Ukrainian political prisoners were subjected to terrible tortures. Both the relatives of the political prisoners and their advocates helped to collect relevant evidence.
  • The family members of political prisoners are used to visiting various government institutions, asking and demanding for the state support, assistance or actions to be done… Therefore, this interstate complaint means a hope for the restoration of justice and a chance that torture, which is still being used against Kremlin’s prisoners, will be stopped. We want those responsible for the wrongdoings to be punished appropriately depending on their actions against Ukrainian nationals.
  • We ask the international community for support, specifically with imposing personal sanctions on human rights violators, and this complaint gives us the opportunity to raise and promote the issue on different domestic and international fora.
  • Ensuring sufficient level of legal protection for our relatives still remains a hard task. Thus, we are very grateful to those international organizations and foundations helping us with the issue, since the GOU’s efforts are not systematic (they are rather occasional, such as the support granted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). Therefore, this interstate complaint is important, because it concerns all political prisoners (those with as well as without lawyer’s support).

Thus, by submitting the current interstate application, Ukraine addresses two key tasks at once: to bring this issue from a political dimension into a legal one, and to establish Russia’s responsibility for violating the rights of Ukrainian political prisoners. In addition, this draws additional attention of the international community to the violations of the rights of Ukrainians, as well as serves to inform the public of the scale, frequency and systematic nature of such violations.

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