Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
According to media reports, police in Kryve Ozero allegedly beat a man to death on August 24, after responding to a domestic violence call. Authorities detained four police officers on suspicion of murder. In response, the chief of the National Police disbanded a police station where the killing occurred. On October 2, the detained officers were released on bail; the pretrial investigation continues.
There were also reports of killings by government and Russian-backed separatist forces in connection with the conflict in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts (see section 1.g.).
There were reports of politically motivated killings by nongovernment actors.
On July 20, a car bomb in Kyiv killed Belarusian-born journalist, Pavel Sheremet, as he drove in a car belonging to his partner, Olena Prytula. Sheremet, a Russian citizen, worked for Ukrainska Pravda newspaper and Vesti radio station, where he had been critical of Ukrainian, Russian, and Belarusian authorities. Authorities released a video of two individuals placing the device under the car. As of year’s end, the investigation remained open and authorities had made no arrests.
On March 9, Yuriy Hrabovsky, a lawyer representing a detained Russian special forces soldier, Aleksandr Aleksandrov, disappeared in Odesa. On March 25, his body was found in a shallow roadside grave. The killing remained under investigation at year’s end, and authorities had made no arrests.
Human rights organizations and media reported deaths in prisons or detention centers due to torture or negligence by police or prison officers (see section 1.c., Prison and Detention Center Conditions).
Law enforcement agencies continued to investigate killings and other crimes committed during the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv in 2013-14. Human rights groups were critical of the low number of convictions despite considerable evidence. Human rights groups also criticized prosecutors for focusing on low-ranking officials while taking little action to investigate government leaders believed to have been involved. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, as of mid-November, courts had convicted 45 persons investigated for Euromaidan-related crimes, 152 were on trial, and 190 remained under investigation.
Law enforcement agencies also continued their investigation into the events in Odesa in 2014 in which 48 persons died, including six government supporters and 42 persons who supported more autonomy for regions. Those who supported autonomy died in a fire at the Trade Union Building; authorities largely failed to investigate these deaths, focusing on alleged crimes committed by individuals seeking more autonomy. A Council of Europe report in 2015 found the government’s investigation lacked independence and that the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs failed to conduct a thorough, coordinated investigation. On January 15, a group of civil society activists and journalists released a statement expressing their lack of confidence in the investigation by the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, accusing the authorities of sabotaging the investigation to prevent the perpetrators from being brought to justice. On May 4, Odesa police chief, Petro Lutsiuk, was fired from his position, and the Prosecutor General’s Office later charged him with abuse of authority in connection with the events at the trade union building. Court hearings continued through the year’s end.
There were multiple reports of politically motivated disappearances, particularly in relation to the conflict between the government and combined Russian and separatist forces in the Donbas region and by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea (see section 1.g., Crimea subsection).
Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel punishment, there were reports that law enforcement authorities engaged in such abuse. While courts cannot legally use as evidence in court proceedings confessions and statements under duress made to police by persons in custody, there were reports that police and other law enforcement officials abused and, at times, tortured persons in custody to obtain confessions.
In the Donbas region, there were reports that government and progovernment forces engaged in military operations at times committed human rights abuses, including torture. There were reports that Russian-backed separatist forces in the self-proclaimed “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk systematically committed numerous abuses, including torture, to maintain control or for personal financial gain. According to international organizations and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), abuses included beatings, forced labor, psychological and physical torture, public humiliation, and sexual violence (see section 1.g.).
In a July joint report, Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlighted allegations of the use of torture at SBU detention sites, including beatings, starvation, and electric shocks.
In its March report, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), under the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, gave an undated account of a “profederalism” activist who was allegedly tortured and pressured to sign a confession at an SBU facility in Odesa. The government asserted that such “profederalist” messaging was used by Russia to weaken Ukraine’s central government. The man reported that during interrogation the SBU suffocated him with a plastic bag and beat him. Afterwards, the SBU brought the man to the lobby of the SBU building to witness that authorities had also arrested his son. His son was then brought to a neighboring cell, where the father could hear his son scream as he was abused.
Abuse of prisoners and detainees by police and prison authorities remained a widespread problem. For example, on August 23, 15 staff members of the Chernihiv pretrial detention facility reportedly beat 25-year-old Viktor Kravchenko. After the beating, facility staff placed him in a disciplinary cell and denied his request for medical help. The facility’s administration denied any wrongdoing.
There were reports of hazing in the military. On August 4, the country’s human rights ombudsman sent a letter to the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of Defense expressing concern about military hazing following the suicide of Vlad Khaisuk, a young soldier serving in a unit stationed in Stanytsia Luhanska. After Khaisuk’s suicide, his parents found videos on Khaisuk’s smartphone of him being hazed and humiliated by other soldiers. The Luhansk Department of the Military Prosecutor’s Office investigated and found no signs of military hazing. At year’s end, however, police in Stanytsia Luhanska were investigating the accident as a homicide.
In its September report, the HRMMU noted that it “continued to document cases of sexual violence, amounting to torture, of conflict-related detainees, both men and women. It includes cases of rape, and threats of rape or other forms of sexual violence towards victims and/or their relatives.” In one example, the HRMMU described a case in March where unidentified members of the security services detained a man, took him to an abandoned building, and interrogated him about the positions of armed groups. When he could not provide information, the perpetrators chained him to a metal cage, took a ramrod, and inserted it into the man’s urethra, causing him severe pain.
During the first nine months of the year, the Prosecutor General’s Office forwarded for prosecution 35 cases specifically alleging torture or degrading treatment involving law enforcement officers.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, during the first nine months of the year, authorities opened 133 criminal cases against police officers for crimes including torture, illegal arrests and searches, and illegal confiscation of property. Of these alleged cases of abuse, five were for alleged torture. Authorities imposed disciplinary actions against 20 officers and fired 10.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison and detention center conditions remained poor, did not meet international standards, and at times posed a serious threat to the life and health of prisoners. Physical abuse, lack of proper medical care and nutrition, poor sanitation, and lack of adequate light were persistent problems. The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union maintained that life sentences amounted to slow executions of prisoners because of the poor conditions of their imprisonment.
Physical Conditions: Authorities generally held adults and juveniles in separate facilities, although there were reports that juveniles and adults were not separated in some pretrial detention facilities.
Conditions in police temporary detention facilities and State Penitentiary Service pretrial detention facilities were harsher than in low- and medium-security prisons. Despite a reduction in the number of inmates, overcrowding remained a problem in pretrial detention facilities. Temporary detention facilities often lacked adequate sanitation and medical facilities.
Physical abuse by guards was a problem. For example, according to the Ombudsman’s Office, the staff of the Kryzhopil Correctional Center Number 113 in Vinnytsia Oblast systematically violated prisoners’ rights during the year. Inmates complained to the Ombudsman’s Office about illegal actions of the administration, including systematic beatings, forced and unpaid labor, and lack of medical care. The monitoring team found that a convicted person kept in one of the disciplinary cells tried to commit suicide, which he claimed was due to fear of physical violence by the prison administration. The local prosecutor’s office launched an investigation into the actions of the correctional facility administration.
There were reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. For example, on June 6, an inmate of the Shepetivka correctional facility in Khmelnytskyi Oblast died of a traumatic brain injury inflicted by his fellow inmates. The penitentiary service conducted an investigation of the incident.
According to the Association of Independent Monitors and the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, authorities failed to protect the lives and human rights of prisoners in areas close to the zone of operation against combined Russian and separatist forces in eastern Ukraine adequately and failed to evacuate staff and inmates in a timely fashion. As of September 1, under the auspices of the Ombudsman’s Office, 17 prisoners incarcerated in territories seized by Russian-backed separatist forces were transferred to penal facilities on government-controlled territory.
The condition of prison facilities and places of unofficial detention in areas held by Russian-backed separatist forces was very poor. According to the Justice for Peace coalition, there was an extensive network of unofficial places of detention in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts located in basements, sewage wells, garages, and industrial enterprises. In most cases the places of detention were not suitable for even short-term detention. There were reports of shortages of food, water, heat, sanitation, and proper medical care.
According to October press reports citing information from the Eastern Human Rights Group, abuse of prisoners was widespread in areas not controlled by the government. Prior to the conflict, more than 5,000 prisoners were held in the part of Luhansk Oblast under the control of Russian-backed separatists. According to the group, prison conditions had deteriorated severely. The groups reported systemic abuses, such as torture, starvation, denial of medical care, and solitary confinement, as well as the extensive use of prisoners as slave labor to produce goods that, when sold, provided a direct source of personal income to Russian-backed separatist leaders.
Administration: Authorities kept records of prisoners in detention, but they were occasionally incomplete. In areas controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces, authorities lacked central record keeping, leading to difficulties for prisoners and arbitrarily held detainees. Human rights groups reported instances in which authorities confiscated prisoners’ identification cards and failed to return them upon their release. Prisoners released by Russian-backed separatists often had no identification. There was no prison ombudsman.
In government-controlled areas, prisoners could file complaints with the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman for Human Rights. As of October 1, the ombudsman’s office received 1,114 complaints from prisoners and their relatives throughout the country. The most common complaints were regarding a lack of appropriate living and sanitary conditions; cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment; public humiliation; limited communication with family members and relatives; unjustified punishment; denial of the right to legal consultation; and denial of the right to submit a complaint about actions of the administration. Prisoners also complained about inadequate medical treatment and precautions. For example, authorities did not isolate prisoners with contagious tuberculosis from other patients.
Although prisoners and detainees may file complaints about conditions in custody with the human rights ombudsman, human rights organizations noted prison officials continued to censor or discourage complaints and penalized and abused inmates who filed them. Rights groups reported that legal norms did not always provide for confidentiality of complaints.
Officials generally allowed prisoners to receive visitors, with the exception of those in disciplinary cells. Prisoner rights groups noted some families had to pay bribes to obtain permission for prison visits to which they are entitled by law.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent monitoring of prisons and detention centers by international and local human rights groups. On May 25, the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) suspended its visit to the country after being denied access to places in several parts of the country where it suspected the SBU was illegally depriving individuals of their liberty. On September 5, the SPT resumed its visit and was granted access to the facilities. During the year the Ombudsperson’s Office together with representatives of civil society conducted monitoring visits to penitentiary facilities in 15 oblasts.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but serious problems remained.
AI and HRW reported details of arbitrary secret detentions by the SBU that emerged following the release of 13 persons from an SBU facility in Kharkiv (see section 1.b.). One of those detained, Viktor Ashykhin, was kidnapped from his hometown of Ukrainsk in 2014 and released in July. He told AI that he was moved three times during his 597-day illegal detention to hide him from independent monitors.
The HRMMU, AI, HRW, and other international groups reported numerous unauthorized detentions in areas of Donbas controlled by Russian-backed separatists (see section 1.g.).
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for maintaining internal security and order. The ministry oversees police and other law enforcement personnel. The SBU is responsible for all state security, nonmilitary intelligence, and counterintelligence matters. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reports to the Cabinet of Ministers, and the SBU reports directly to the president. The State Fiscal Service exercises law enforcement powers through the tax police and reports to the Cabinet of Ministers. The State Migration Service under the Ministry of Internal Affairs implements state policy regarding border security, migration, citizenship, and registration of refugees and other migrants.
Civilian authorities generally had control over law enforcement agencies but rarely took action to punish abuses committed by security forces.
Impunity for abuses by law enforcement remained a significant problem frequently highlighted by the HRMMU in its reports and by other human rights groups. In its September report, the HRMMU attributed the problem to “pressure on the judiciary, [and] inability and unwillingness of the Office of the Prosecutor General and Office of the Military Prosecutor to investigate” abuses. The HRMMU also noted that authorities were unwilling to investigate allegations of torture, particularly when victims were detained on grounds related to national security or were seen as proseparatist.
While authorities sometimes brought charges against members of the security services, cases often remained under investigation without being brought to trial, while authorities allowed alleged perpetrators to continue their work. Additionally, human rights groups criticized the lack of progress in investigations of alleged crimes in areas retaken by Ukraine from Russian-backed separatists, resulting in continuing impunity for these crimes. In particular, investigations of alleged crimes committed by Russian-backed separatist forces in Slovyansk and Kramatorsk in 2014 appeared stalled. Human rights groups believed that many of the local law enforcement personnel in both cities collaborated with Russian-backed separatists when they controlled these cities.
Under the law members of the Verkhovna Rada have authority to conduct investigations and public hearings into law enforcement problems. The human rights ombudsman may also initiate investigations into abuses by security forces.
Security forces generally prevented or responded to societal violence. At times, however, they used excessive force to disperse protests and, in some cases, failed to protect victims from harassment or violence. For example, on September 1, approximately 100 persons attacked a camp of peaceful demonstrators near the Odesa City Council on Dumska Street. The attackers pushed protesters from the square using fire extinguishers and tear gas and destroyed their camp. A few protesters were injured and hospitalized. According to witnesses, police watched and did nothing to prevent the clashes.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
By law authorities may detain a suspect for three days without a warrant, after which time a judge must issue a warrant authorizing continued detention. Authorities in some cases detained persons for longer than three days without a warrant.
Prosecutors must bring detainees before a judge within 72 hours, and pretrial detention should not exceed six months for minor crimes and 12 months for serious ones. Persons have the right to consult a lawyer upon their detention. According to the law, prosecutors may detain suspects accused of terrorist activities for up to 30 days without charges or a bench warrant. Under the law citizens have the right to be informed of the charges brought against them. Authorities must promptly inform detainees of their rights and immediately notify family members of an arrest. Police often did not follow these procedures. Police at times failed to keep records or register detained suspects, and courts often extended detention to allow police more time to obtain confessions. Authorities kept suspects under house arrest and occasionally held them incommunicado, in some instances for several weeks.
Under the law the government must provide attorneys for indigent defendants. Compliance was inconsistent because of a shortage of defense attorneys or because attorneys, citing low government compensation, refused to defend indigent clients. According to the Ministry of Justice, 60,500 persons received free legal aid. As of September 1, there were 550 points of access to free legal aid throughout the government-controlled areas of the country.
The law provides for bail, but many defendants could not pay the required amounts. Courts sometimes imposed travel restrictions as an alternative to pretrial confinement. Under the criminal procedure code, prosecutors need a court order to impose travel restrictions on persons awaiting trial. Prosecutors must prove the restrictions are the minimum needed to ensure that suspects will appear at hearings and not interfere with criminal proceedings.
Arbitrary Arrest: The HRMMU reported a pattern of arbitrary detention by authorities. In its September report, the HRMMU reported that the SBU apprehended a married couple in Odesa and reportedly held the couple incommunicado at an SBU compound for 20 hours before recording their detention. SBU also reportedly subjected them to threats, sleep deprivation, interrogation without a lawyer present, and denied requests for legal counsel.
The HRMMU expressed concern over mass arrests in government-controlled portions of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. These oblasts are subject to the Law on Combatting Terrorism, which allows authorities to make arrests with a lower standard of proof than allowed under the criminal procedure code, leading in some cases to arbitrary arrest. For example, in its March report, the HRMMU cited SBU raids, conducted in December 2015 in Krasnohorivka and Avdiivka in Donetsk oblast, in which authorities detained hundreds of persons for several hours for questioning about alleged affiliation with armed groups. Authorities subsequently released most detainees.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Under the law citizens have the right to challenge an arrest in court or by appeal to a prosecutor to obtain prompt release in cases of unlawful detention.
Protracted Detention of Rejected Asylum Seekers or Stateless Persons: Authorities frequently detained asylum seekers for extended periods without court approval. They also regularly detained asylum seekers prior to their deportation (see section 2.d.).
While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the Verkhovna Rada passed a judicial reform package in June, courts were inefficient and remained vulnerable to political pressure and corruption. Confidence in the judiciary remained low.
On June 2, parliament adopted amendments to the constitution regarding the judiciary. The amendments give new powers to the High Council of Justice, stipulate that the majority of High Council members must be judges, and authorize the High Council to make decisions on the election, dismissal, transfer, promotion, and immunity of judges. Parliament and the president no longer have decisive roles in these processes, which limit potential interference with the judiciary. Certain provisions will be implemented gradually. For example, the president retains the right to decide on the transfer of judges for two years.
On September 30, the Law on Judiciary and Status of Judges came into effect, facilitating the implementation of the above constitutional amendments. The law introduces a three-tier system of courts, with the Supreme Court as the highest judicial body, holding the authority to rescind lower courts’ judgments. The law provides for wider civil society engagement in the selection and assessment of judges through a new consultative body called the Public Integrity Council. The law allows anyone to initiate disciplinary proceedings against a judge before the High Council of Justice and imposes anticorruption measures on judges.
As of October 1, the Prosecutor General’s Office had brought 16 criminal cases against judges to court.
Judges continued to complain about weak separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government. Some judges claimed that high-ranking politicians pressured them to decide cases in their favor, regardless of the merits. Other factors impeded the right to a fair trial, such as lengthy court proceedings, particularly in administrative courts, inadequate funding, and the inability of courts to enforce rulings. According to the human rights ombudsman, authorities fully executed only 40 percent of court rulings.
There were reports of intimidation and attacks against lawyers representing defendants considered “pro-Russian” or “proseparatist.” For example, on January 26 in Kharkiv, an unoccupied car belonging to lawyer Oleksandr Shadrin exploded. Shadrin had been working on a number of high-profile cases involving “proseparatist” defendants. On January 29, the Ukrainian Bar Association issued an open letter of concern about the incident involving Shadrin’s car as well as other cases in which the safety of attorneys was threatened. In a similar incident on February 2 in Kyiv, an unoccupied car belonging to another lawyer, Andriy Fedur, exploded. Fedur had been defending the accused murderers of journalists Oles Buzyna and Heorgiy Gongadze.
A single judge decides most cases, although two judges and three public assessors who have some legal training hear trials on charges carrying the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The law provides for cross-examination of witnesses by both prosecutors and defense attorneys and for plea bargaining.
The law presumes defendants are innocent, and they cannot be legally compelled to testify or confess, although high conviction rates called into question the legal presumption of innocence. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, with interpretation as needed; to a public trial without undue delay; to be present at their trial, to communicate privately with an attorney of their choice (or one provided at public expense); and to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. The law also allows defendants access to government-held evidence, to confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses and evidence, and the right to appeal. The law applies to all defendants regardless of ethnicity, gender, or age.
Trials are open to the public, but some judges prohibited media from observing proceedings. While trials must start no later than three weeks after charges are filed, prosecutors seldom met this requirement. Human rights groups reported that officials occasionally monitored meetings between defense attorneys and their clients.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
On May 12, an Ivano-Frankivsk court sentenced blogger Ruslan Kotsaba to three-and-a-half years in prison, on charges that he had impeded the work of the armed forces with his calls to ignore the military draft. Authorities arrested Kotsaba in 2015, and human rights groups deemed him a political prisoner. The court dropped a more serious charge of treason. On July 24, an appeals court overturned the conviction, freeing Kotsaba after 18 months in detention.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The constitution and law provide for the right to seek redress for any decisions, actions, or omissions of national and local government officials that violate citizens’ human rights. An inefficient and corrupt judicial system limited the right of redress. Individuals may also file a collective legal challenge to legislation they believe may violate basic rights and freedoms. Individuals may appeal to the human rights ombudsman at any time and to the European Court of Human Rights after exhausting domestic legal remedies.
The constitution prohibits such actions, but there were reports authorities generally did not respect the prohibitions.
By law the SBU may not conduct surveillance or searches without a court-issued warrant. In practice, however, law enforcement agencies sometimes conducted searches without a proper warrant. In an emergency authorities may initiate a search without prior court approval, but they must seek court approval immediately after the investigation begins. Citizens have the right to examine any dossier in the possession of the SBU that concerns them; they have the right to recover losses resulting from an investigation. Because there was no implementing legislation, authorities generally did not respect these rights, and many citizens were not aware of their rights or that authorities had violated their privacy.
On October 28, the newspaper Ukrainska Pravda published an open appeal to the president and heads of the SBU, the National Police, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The appeal concerned recordings the newspaper received from an anonymous source, which indicated that its journalists and editors had been under SBU surveillance at the request of high-level officials in late 2015 and possibly beyond. The newspaper demanded to know why, how, and on whose authority the surveillance had taken place. The official SBU response said that national security legislation prohibited the disclosure of information sought by Ukrainska Pravda.
Russia controls the level of violence in eastern Ukraine, intensifying the conflict when it suits its political interests, while largely ignoring the September 2014 ceasefire and subsequent attempts to reestablish the ceasefire agreed to by all sides. Russia has continued to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside separatists, and Russian-backed separatists have methodically obstructed and threatened international monitors throughout the conflict, who do not have the access necessary to record systematically ceasefire violations or abuses committed by separatist authorities or combined Russian-separatist forces.
International organizations and NGOs, including AI, HRW, and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) issued periodic reports of human rights abuses committed in the Donbas region by combined Russian-separatist and by government forces. As of August 17, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) fielded 1,102 persons supporting a special monitoring mission, which issued daily reports on the situation and conditions in most major cities.
As of September 15, the HRMMU reported that fighting had killed at least 9,578 persons, including civilians, government armed forces, and members of armed groups. This figure included the 298 passengers and crew on board Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17, which was shot down in 2014 over the Donbas region. Additionally, more than three million residents have left areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts controlled by Russian-backed separatists since the start of the conflict. As of November 15, the Ministry of Social Policy had registered 1.7 million IDPs, although civil society groups believed the actual number to be lower. According to UNHCR there were approximately 1.4 million Ukrainian refugees in other countries, including approximately one million in the Russian Federation.
Media and human rights groups continued to report widespread human rights abuses in areas held by Russian-backed separatist forces. The HRMMU noted a “collapse of law and order” in such areas as well as “serious human rights abuses,” including killings and torture.
Killings: A May 4 special HRMMU report on “extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions” occurring in the context of the conflict in eastern Ukraine expressed strong concern about both sides’ use of “inherently indiscriminate weapons, such as cluster munitions and landmines.” The HRMMU noted in its September report the “widespread practice” by both sides of “engaging in hostilities from residential areas, with civilians suffering the impact of return fire.” For example, on August 24, in the government-controlled area of Donetsk Oblast, a woman in the village of Zolote-4 died while lying in bed, when Russian-backed separatist forces fired on the village.
The HRMMU, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, and human rights groups did not report any extrajudicial killings by government forces during the year in connection with the conflict. Several cases from previous years remained under investigation.
There were no reports by the HRMMU or human rights organizations of extrajudicial killings of civilians by combined Russian-separatist forces during the year, although the press reported several instances. The HRMMU identified unreported cases of extrajudicial killings from previous years that authorities had not yet investigated.
According to press reports, on July 20, three drunken members of the Russian-backed separatist “7th separate motorized rifle brigade” robbed, then shot and killed a resident of the village of Komsomolsk, Luhansk Oblast. Russian-backed separatist authorities reportedly dismissed the men from their positions to conceal their involvement in the killing.
On February 17, a video appeared on the internet showing a Russian fighter code-named “Olkhon” whipping Donbas resident, Alexei Frumkin, with an electrical cord while Frumkin was tied to a post. The combined Russian and separatist battalion that released the video claimed that “Olkhon” killed Frumkin immediately after the video was shot. According to press reports, Frumkin had supported Russian-backed separatists but had vanished in the autumn of 2014, and his fate had been unknown until the video was released. It is unknown when the video was recorded.
In its June report, the HRMMU noted that “since mid-April 2014, up to 2,000 civilians have been killed in armed hostilities, mostly as a result of indiscriminate shelling of populated areas…. Dozens of individuals were subjected to summary executions and killings, or died of torture and ill-treatment in custody. Hundreds of persons remained missing–either in secret detention or, most likely, killed–with their bodies pending recovery or identification.” According to Iryna Herashchenko, Ukrainian representative to the humanitarian subgroup of the Trilateral Contact Group, 498 persons, including 347 civilians, were missing in Donbas in August. Human rights groups criticized the government for not keeping an effective database of missing persons. Russian-backed separatists had no such system and no effective means of investigating missing persons cases. According to human rights groups, approximately 1,000 bodies in government-controlled cemeteries and morgues, both military and civilian, remained unidentified as a result of fighting, mostly from 2014. According to the HRMMU, government authorities lacked coordination among law enforcement bodies in determining the whereabouts of missing persons and the identification of remains.
Abductions: Government forces, Russian-backed-separatist forces, and criminal elements engaged in abductions. The HRMMU noted a pattern of arbitrary and incommunicado detention by government law enforcement bodies (mainly by the SBU) and by military and paramilitary units, first and foremost by the former volunteer battalions now formally incorporated into the security services.
In its reports, the HRMMU repeatedly expressed concern about reports of enforced disappearances and “unacknowledged detention” practiced by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). On July 21, HRW and AI released a report, You Don’t Exist, which documented nine alleged cases of enforced disappearances by the SBU at alleged secret detention facilities in Kharkiv, Kramatorsk, Izyum, and Mariupol. The report highlighted the case of Konstantin Beskorovayni, a local official from the town of Konstantinovka, Donetsk Oblast. Beskorovayni was allegedly subjected to enforced disappearance by the SBU, beaten and threatened during an interrogation, and held incommunicado for 15 months at an SBU facility in Kharkiv before being released on February 24 on the condition that he not speak about his detention. During his detention SBU officials repeatedly denied to Beskorovayni’s family and human rights organizations that he was in SBU custody.
On August 28, HRW and AI released a statement in which they said that, since their initial report in July, 13 individuals had been released from the SBU facility in Kharkiv. The NGOs believed that at least five persons remained confined at the site. They noted that, once individuals had been released, local police simply closed their “missing persons” cases without further investigation.
Human rights groups reported that Russian-backed separatists routinely kidnapped persons for political purposes, to settle vendettas, or for ransom. HRW reported the arbitrary detentions of civilians by Russian-backed separatist forces, “which operate without any checks and balances.” The HRMMU noted in its September report that these kidnappings were “spreading fear among civilians, in particular because of the arbitrary nature of abductions.” The HRMMU also documented an increase in disappearances at checkpoints controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces. For example, on May 27, a former armed group member went missing in Novoluhanske, while travelling from government-controlled territory, where he had been detained by government forces. His mother later found that Russian-backed separatists had detained him at a checkpoint, transported him to Horlivka, and later transferred him to “police custody” in Donetsk. On July 4, “police” told her that they no longer held her son. She has since been unable to ascertain his fate or whereabouts.
On January 27, Russian-backed separatists abducted religious historian and president of the Center for Religious Studies and International Spiritual Relations, Ihor Kozlovsky, allegedly in retaliation for his pro-Ukrainian postings on social media. According to Kozlovsky’s wife, the abductors confiscated keys to his apartment, which they then searched twice, removing equipment, documents, and a valuable collection of antique objects. According to local media, as of late November, Kozlovsky was being held in one of the separatists’ informal detention centers in Donetsk.
Russian-backed separatists also abducted journalists attempting to cover the conflict. On March 3, they released abducted pro-Ukrainian journalist, Maria Varfolomeyeva, in a prisoner exchange after 14 months of captivity in Luhansk.
The politically motivated trial in Russia of Nadiya Savchenko, a military pilot and member of the Verkhovna Rada abducted from eastern Ukraine in 2014, ended in March with a guilty verdict and a 22-year prison sentence. On May 25, after almost two years of detention, Russian authorities exchanged Savchenko for two Russian soldiers (see section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees, of the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia).
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Government and Russian-backed separatist forces reportedly abused and tortured civilians and soldiers in detention facilities. Reported abuses included beatings, physical and psychological torture, mock executions, sexual violence, deprivation of food and water, refusal of medical care, and forced labor.
The HRMMU received reports that government forces committed human rights violations, allegedly including forced deprivation of liberty and torture.
In its September report, the HRMMU noted that in the three-month reporting period reflected in the report, approximately 70 percent of cases documented by OHCHR contained allegations of torture, mistreatment, and incommunicado detention by SBU and other security forces prior to transfer into the criminal justice system. The September report did not provide data on the total number of such cases.
There were reports that Russian-backed separatist forces systematically committed numerous abuses, including torture, in the territories under their control. According to international organizations and NGOs, abuses included beatings, forced labor, psychological and physical torture, public humiliation, and sexual violence.
The HRMMU expressed repeated concern about reports of torture taking place in detention facilities controlled by Russian-backed separatists, to which they did not have access, and noted that reports of torture often surfaced long after the abuses had allegedly taken place. For example, the HRMMU’s June report documented multiple new accounts of mock executions, severe beatings, and intentional deprivation of medical care from 2015. On September 23, in connection with the SPT’s second visit to Ukraine, the SBU published a set of interviews with 11 individuals who alleged that they had been tortured while in the custody of Russian-backed separatists. The SBU also published a list of eight alleged torture sites in Donbas that it reported were controlled by Russian-backed separatists.
The HRMMU continued to document cases on both sides of the line of contact of sexual and gender-based violence of conflict-related detainees, both men and women. In its December report, the HRMMU noted: “In addition to a continuing pattern of sexual violence occurring in conflict-related detention, OHCHR documented cases that indicate the sexual violence and harassment of young women at government-controlled entry/exit checkpoints along the contact line.”
According to the Justice for Peace in Donbas human rights coalition, individuals held in illegal detention facilities in territories controlled by Russian-backed separatists reported cases of gender-based violence, in particular rape, attempted rape, and sexual abuse.
The HRMMU was unable to obtain first-hand accounts of sexual violence in such areas but reported that it had received multiple secondary accounts. For example, a man detained by militants between March and April in an area of Donetsk controlled by Russian-backed separatists told the HRMMU about two women who were reportedly abducted at a checkpoint when coming from government-controlled territory and incarcerated in a room next to his. The detainee heard armed men harassing the women and attempting to rape them; two days later the women were relocated. Their identities or whereabouts were unknown to the interviewee.
Both sides employed land mines without measures to prevent civilian casualties. The HRMMU reported in June that “mines contaminate large areas of agricultural land in east Ukraine, often in areas which are poorly marked, near roads and surrounding civilian areas. This has resulted in civilians being killed and maimed, often while walking to their homes and fields. These risks are particularly acute for persons living in towns and settlements near the contact line, as well as the 23,000 people” who crossed the contact line every day between February and May.
According to the NGO Donbas SOS, approximately 27 square miles of territory in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts were in need of humanitarian demining. According to the Ministry of Defense, since the start of the conflict, 150 civilians have been killed and 500 injured by mines and other ordnance in the conflict zone.
Child Soldiers: There were no media reports of child soldiers serving with government forces, and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) could not confirm the presence of child soldiers in the country. There were media reports that government authorities had detained 17 persons between the ages of 15 and 18 who had fought with Russian-backed separatist forces since the beginning of the conflict in 2014. Russian-backed separatist news sources continued to cite the voluntary recruitment of children as young as 12 into the armed groups. In a January 22 interview in the newspaper Dzerkalo Tizhdnya, the head of the SBU’s Antiterrorism Center, Vitaliy Malykov, described the Russian-backed separatist St. George the Victor battalion, in which he alleged that children between the ages of 12 and 16 were serving.
A three-month-long study by the Justice for Peace in Donbas coalition found that Russian aggression in Donbas has significantly increased the risk of children participating in armed conflict. The group’s analysis of open sources and interviews revealed 41 individual cases of recruitment of children into armed formations. Of these, most were boys 16 to 17 years old participating in armed formations in territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions controlled by Russian-backed separatists.
Other Conflict Related Abuses: On September 28, a team of prosecutors from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, and Ukraine presented the results of their investigation of the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17. The Dutch-led investigation concluded that the surface-to-air missile system used to shoot down the airliner over Ukraine, killing all 298 persons on board, was trucked in from Russia at the request of Russian-backed separatists and returned to Russia the same night. The report largely confirmed the already widely documented Russian government role in the deployment of the missile system, a Buk or SA-11, and the subsequent cover-up. In the report Dutch prosecutors traced Russia’s role in deploying the missile system into Ukraine and its attempt to hide its role after the disaster.
In 2015 government authorities introduced measures to expedite the delivery of humanitarian aid to areas controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces. Russian-backed separatists in Donetsk Oblast, however, sharply restricted government humanitarian aid as well as aid from international humanitarian organizations. As a result persons remaining in territories held by Russian-backed separatists experienced large price increases for everyday consumables, especially meat and fresh vegetables. Human rights groups reported severe shortages of medicine and medical supplies in territory not controlled by the government.
Russian-backed separatists continued to receive convoys of Russian “humanitarian aid,” which Ukrainian government officials believed contained weapons and supplies for combined Russian and separatist forces.
On February 11, HRW released a report, Studying under Fire, documenting “attacks on schools on both sides of the line of contact and the use of schools by both sides for military purposes, which has turned schools into legitimate military targets.” The report also described 15 attacks on operating schools that were not being used as positions by the military.
Treatment for persons living with HIV and tuberculosis was disrupted in the east of the country where fighting interrupted crucial medical supplies. More than 6,000 persons living with HIV in the region struggled with a shortage of medicine and doctors.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. On July 17, parliamentary by-elections were conducted in seven constituencies.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In 2014 citizens elected Petro Poroshenko president in an election considered free and fair by international and domestic observers. Later that year the country held early parliamentary elections that observers also considered free and fair. In October 2015 the country held nationwide local elections.
On July 17, citizens in seven constituencies voted in parliamentary by-elections. According to the OSCE observer mission, the elections were organized and democratic but influenced by economic interests. According to OPORA, a human rights NGO that monitored elections in the country, some candidates started campaigning prematurely, leading to unfair advantages for certain candidates and parties. OPORA considered the elections to be free and fair with electoral irregularities that were not systemic.
IDPs were unable to vote in local elections unless they changed their registration to their new place of residence.
Political Parties and Political Participation: On February 25, President Poroshenko signed a bill that allows political parties to wait until after an election to select which members from a party list will take seats in the Verkhovna Rada. The law was widely criticized by domestic and international election monitoring groups, as it shifts the power of selecting deputies from the electorate to the leadership of political parties.
The Communist Party remains banned.
Participation of Women and Minorities: There are no laws limiting the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process and women and minorities did so.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative and responsive to their views. The government invited human rights groups to participate in monitoring activities, drafting legislation, and adopting administrative rules.
International and domestic human rights groups collaborated with the government to draft the National Human Rights Strategy and related action plan in 2015. During the year civil society closely monitored implementation and expressed concern about government progress on the action plan. Representatives from the human rights ombudsman’s office noted that, as of September 23, the strategy remained largely unimplemented and cited concerted resistance from certain ministries, including the Ministries of Justice and Health, to cooperating with the office on implementation. Human rights groups described particular government resistance to implementing points in the plan that related to the rights of IDPs. The HRMMU stated that, in the Ministry of Justice’s first progress report on the plan, some activities marked as completed were implemented only partially or not in substance.
The Ministry of Justice, the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s, and civil society groups such as the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union participated in open hearings in December to mark the one-year anniversary of the action plan. Nongovernmental representatives reported slow progress and weak intragovernmental coordination, but both government representatives and human rights activists indicated progress in justice sector reform and the provision of social services.
Russian authorities and the separatists they backed routinely denied domestic and international human rights groups access to territories they controlled in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation (see section 2.b.).
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government cooperated with international organizations, such as the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the HRMMU.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides for a human rights ombudsman, officially designated as parliamentary commissioner on human rights. The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office frequently collaborated with NGOs through civic advisory councils on various projects for monitoring human rights practices in prisons and other government institutions (see sections 1.c. and 1.d.).
Valeriya Lutkovska served as parliamentary ombudsman for human rights during the year, and observers considered her office an effective promoter of human rights. The office was a partner with leading domestic human rights groups and an advocate on behalf of Crimean Tatars, IDPs, Roma, persons with disabilities, LGBTI individuals, and prisoners.