Real measures not imitation needed

 Open Appeal over numerous human rights infringements in the work of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences

The appeal is addressed to the President, Prime Minister and Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada

On 22 February we addressed an open letter to you in which pointed out serious failings in the work of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences [the Department].  We expressed concern that despite upbeat statements from those in charge, the Department is extremely secretive, virtually not subject to control and is not accountable to the public.  We warned of grave violations of the rights both of prisoners and personnel of penal institutions, to the use of unlawful force against people deprived of their liberty and of numerous financial irregularities.

Over almost four months we have had no response from you and do not know your position on the infringements mentioned and concerns expressed in our letter.

Yet subsequent events have merely served to confirm the seriousness of the situation in penal institutions.

The unmotivated beatings continue of prisoners carried out by spetsnaz [Special Forces] units. There are reports that the latest such beating occurred on 12 June in the Dnipropetrovsk Penal Colony No. 89, and before that on 3 June In the Volyanska Penal Colony No. 20 in the Zaporizhya region.

The standards of justice of the present management of the Department is reflected in cases where they have put forward for honours from the Ministry of Justice heads of territorial divisions of the Department, for example, those from the Chernihiv and Vinnytsa regions whose actions have been found by courts to have contravened the Constitution and legislation. One can only try to guess how, without corruption, they could have received such honours.
The mythical "openness" of the Department is contradicted by new court rulings over the failure to provide information about the actions of penal institutions, with the actions of the very head of the Department Vasyl Koshchynets being found unlawful. We are compelled to repeat that the lack of reliable information from penal institutions renders impossible an objective and unbiased assessment of the human rights situation there.

It is to be regretted that all of this is taking place with your tacit consent.

We turned in our letter to you, Viktor Andriyovych, "They are threatening to shoot at prisoners and set dogs on them in your name!" It would seem, Mr President, that you didn’t hear that, which is truly very sad.

We reiterate that the human rights situation in the penal institutions is catastrophic. It is important to stress that the management of the Department is unable to adequately assess both the dangers and their causes, since they see the source of any problems are coming from outside.

All too symptomatic was the reaction of the management to our open letter. Instead of explanations over the examples of human rights abuse in penal institutions, the management began a campaign in the media aimed at discrediting the authors of the appeal, not balking even at over untruths. The management’s message boiled down to the assertion that nobody was stopping human rights defenders from visiting penal institutions (which is not true), that the authors do not see the penal institutions, which is also false.  The stress was placed on human rights organizations receiving grants for their work from foreign donors, while remaining silent about the fact that the Department also receives funding for Department spending from abroad in considerable quantise for which they do not account to the public. The management of the Department did not even stop at accusing human rights defenders of carrying out orders from criminal elements which is total nonsense.

In our appeal on 22 February we stated that Penal legislation requires major reworking, both at the conceptual level and in details. Internal normative documents of the Department do not pass through the appropriate expert assessment and discussion, neither with specialists nor with the public and they often clash with current legislation and fail to comply with international norms and human rights standards.

We must note with regret that we received yet another confirmation of legal illiteracy with regard to the system. It is no secret that there were grave infringements of the procedure for preparing and adopting the Concept Strategy for reform of the State Penal Service, recently approved by Presidential Decree № 401/2008.  This Concept clearly contradicts provisions of the previously adopted Concept Strategy for the Reform of the Criminal Justice System. This not only demonstrates the extraordinarily low level of preparation of the document, but also the secretive procedure for its being pushed in its final version, as well as the open disregard for the critical assessment of experts and the public. This document and the procedure for its adoption put our country to shame before the European community. It forces them to look at Ukraine as a country where personal relations between politicians and behind the scenes deals reign and lawful democratic procedures are ignored.

We consider that the problems in the system are accumulating because of the indifference and disregard from the leaders of the country to its problems, those of its staff who for ten years have not felt confident in their future. We confirm our conviction that to a large extent the reasons for this situation is the incompetence of the Department’s management, combined with active resistance to fulfilling Ukraine’s commitments made when joining the Council of Europe in 1995 regarding the subordination of the Department to the Ministry of Justice. Initiatives of the Ministry of Justice’s leaders for improving the situation are ignored by the Head of the Department and the Ministry as yet has no legal mechanisms for influencing the Department’s activities.

We are forced to once again turn to you.

We call on you to give your attention to the appalling human rights situation in penal institutions and to publicly state your position on this.

We ask you to show the political will to finally transfer the State Department for the Execution of Sentences to the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice as demanded by the commitments, as yet not fulfilled, to the Council of Europe, and not try to trick them with a mere imitation of such subordination;

We urge you to demand that all employees of the Department, from the Head down, show respect for the dignity both of prisoners and of personnel of the system and strictly observe the standards of social fairness, and demonstrate real openness, not just an imitation,  of its activities for the public, including for human rights organizations and the media;

We call on you to finally put aside the habits of local corporate considerations and give priority to State interests, and to seriously consider the expediency of Vasyl Koshchynets’ and his deputies remaining in their posts since in our view they have demonstrated their inability to manage such a complicated and specific department.. The capacity of the department to ensure the implementation of the tasks before it will depend largely on the resolution of these staffing issues. This in turn has direct impact on public safety, as well as on the image of the President, Government and Ukraine as a democratic and civilized European country.

We reiterate that we will maintain our zero tolerance for the flagrant violations of human rights in the penal institutions of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences.

Yevhen Zakharov, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Oleksandr Bukalov, Donetsk Memorial, Ukrainian Penitentiary Society

Oleksandr Betsa, independent specialist on the penitentiary

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