Torture with impunity?

Not one law enforcement officer was convicted of torture last year despite the fact that even the Prosecutor General is aware of cases of torture. The reason for such impunity is considered to be flaws in the entire judicial and law enforcement systems.

27-year-old Valentin Koliychuk is a Capitan in the Border Guard Service. During his holidays six months ago he was stopped by police while driving his father’s car. “They obstructed me from doing a manoeuvre. I got out of the car and immediately received a blow to the head and lost consciousness. When I came to, I was lying in handcuffs, with my face smashed in. I only moved and they thrust me face down in the boot and hit me around the waist and on the buttocks. I never did understand the reason, but they began discussing in front of me how to justify their actions.”
The police patrol decided to conceal their actions by claiming that Valentin had been inebriated, his father says. “They poured vodka over him and took him to the drug and alcohol treatment centre, and then traffic police drove him in an unknown direction for another four hours. They brought him unconscious to the military hospital in Zhytomyr.”

The case involving Valentin’s beating has been continuing for several months. The police are not commenting. The Head of the CID for the Zhytomyr Regional Police Serhiy Talko told Radio Svoboda that he knew nothing about the case, since he’d only returned from holiday the day before. He gave a telephone number for the department dealing with such complaints. They checked and the number is not used in the network.

According to bar lawyer Volodymyr Hrechanivsky it is very difficult to prove that the police applied torture and to get prosecutions. He attributes this to flaws in the Criminal Procedure Code and also to lack of professionalism within the service and lack of control over the police.

Both lawyers and human rights groups are calling for judicial reform and changes to criminal legislation. Lawyer Oleh Veremiyenko believes that special criminal courts should be created to reduce the period of waiting for cases to be heard. He also considers that juries need to be introduced as normal courts have been totally discredited. He mentions also the need to fix the period of time a person can be held in a SIZO [pre-trial detention centre], and suggests that torture could be reduced if there were independent forensic medicine units at each SIZO.

A draft law envisaging restrictions to the powers of the criminal investigation units has been sent to the Verkhovna Rada. The Head of the Parliamentary Committee on Legislative Provisions Viktor Shvets acknowledges the problem of torture and ill-treatment by police officers, but believes that the political will is lacking to achieve reform. He claims that society is also not ready to carry out reform of the law enforcement system.

Each year half a million people spend time in a SIZO. In 2008 15 remand prisoners died.

According to information from the Prosecutor General’s Office, last year 14 cases involving alleged torture by police officers were examined, however there was not one conviction.

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