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Ukraine

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: UKRAINE (BELOW) | CRIMEA

Note: Except where otherwise noted, references in this report do not include areas controlled by Russian-backed separatist forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine or Russian-occupied Crimea. At the end of this report is a section listing human rights abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea.

Ukraine is a republic with a semi-presidential political system composed of three branches of government: a unicameral legislature (Verkhovna Rada), an executive led by a directly elected president and a prime minister chosen through a legislative majority, and a judiciary. The country held presidential and legislative elections in 2014; international and domestic observers considered both elections free and fair.

Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces in the territory controlled by the government.

The most significant human rights problems in the country during the year were:

Conflict- and Occupation-related Abuses: Russian-backed separatists in Donbas engaged in abductions, torture, and unlawful detention, employed child soldiers, stifled dissent, and restricted humanitarian aid. To a lesser extent, there were also reports of some of these practices by government forces. In Crimea, Russian occupation authorities systematically targeted perceived dissidents for abuse and politically motivated prosecution.

Corruption and Official Impunity: The country suffered from impunity for corruption and deficiencies in the administration of justice. The Prosecutor General’s Office and the judicial system proved largely unable to convict perpetrators of past or current major corruption.

Insufficient Support for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs): Russia’s occupation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine resulted in 1.7 million IDPs who faced continuing difficulties obtaining legal documents, education, pensions, and access to financial institutions and health care. During the year the government suspended all social payments for IDPs, pending verification of their presence in government-controlled territory, ostensibly to combat fraudulent payments.

Other problems reported during the year included: alleged beatings and torture of detainees and prisoners, as well as harsh conditions in government-run prisons and detention facilities; nongovernmental attacks on journalists; societal violence against women and abuse of children; societal discrimination against and harassment of ethnic and religious minorities; trafficking in persons, including forced labor; discrimination and harassment against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS. There also were limitations on workers’ right to strike, and failure to enforce effectively labor laws and occupational safety and health standards for the workplace.

The government generally failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity. Human rights groups and the United Nations noted significant deficiencies in investigations into human rights abuses committed by government security forces, in particular into allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and other abuses reportedly perpetrated by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The perpetrators of the 2014 Euromaidan shootings in Kyiv and riots in Odesa have not been held to account.

Investigations into alleged human rights abuses related to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the continuing aggression in the Donbas region remained incomplete due to lack of government control in those territories and the refusal of Russia and Russian-backed separatists to investigate abuse allegations.

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.

b. Disappearance

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).

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

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.).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

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.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

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.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

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.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

The law provides criminal penalties for corruption, although authorities did not effectively implement the law, and many officials engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. While the number of reports of government corruption was low, corruption remained pervasive at all levels in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government and in society.

During the year multiple high-level officials who had been brought into the government to oversee anticorruption reform processes resigned due to efforts to impede their work. Complaining of ingrained corruption, Minister of Economy Aivaras Abromavicius resigned in February and was followed by some members of his team. Abromavicius stated in his resignation letter that corrupt officials had blocked systematic reform and were attempting to gain influence over state enterprises.

Corruption: While the government publicized several attempts to combat corruption, it remained a serious problem for citizens and businesses alike. The law establishes two governmental anticorruption bodies, the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) and the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU).

As of October 1, the NABU had launched 243 criminal proceedings in corruption cases with support from the newly created Specialized Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office. Authorities tried 31 corruption cases involving 70 persons, including judges, prosecutors, and state officers, but many were for minor violations. In a major anticorruption case, the Verkhovna Rada stripped Member of Parliament Oleksandr Onyshchenko of immunity from prosecution in July under suspicion of corruption and embezzlement. At year’s end he remained a fugitive outside the country, and the investigation continued.

Civil society criticized the Prosecutor General’s Office and the judicial system for failing to hold high-level officials to account for corruption. According to the anticorruption watchdog group, Nashi Hroshi, between July 2015 and July 2016, 952 persons were convicted of corruption. Of these individuals 312 were fined (70 percent of these fines were below 20,000 hryvnias ($740)), 336 persons received suspended sentences, and 137 had their convictions overturned. One hundred twenty-eight persons were sentenced to prison; of these individuals 33 were serving sentences, while the rest had appeals pending. Of the 952 persons convicted for corruption, only three were officials of significant stature: two heads of district administrations and one deputy head of the state agricultural inspectorate. As of July all three cases were undergoing appeals, and the defendants had yet to begin serving their sentences.

While members of the Verkhovna Rada are immune from prosecution, several members, such as Onyshchenko, were stripped of immunity for prosecution during the year. Judges may not be arrested or detained before courts convict them, unless the Verkhovna Rada rescinds their immunity.

The NAPC is responsible for the development of national anticorruption policies, monitoring national compliance with anticorruption legislation, and verifying asset declarations of high officials. The NAPC, established in March 2015, began operations in May.

The law designates NABU as the lead investigative agency for allegations of corruption by senior government officials, including the president, members of the Cabinet of Ministers, members of the Verkhovna Rada, and local governors. NABU is responsible only for investigating corruption offenses committed after its creation in 2015. The Prosecutor General’s Office had 25,000 open corruption cases that predated the creation of NABU.

There were reports that the Prosecutor General’s Office took steps during the year to hinder NABU’s ability to investigate high-level corruption. On August 5, an investigative group from the Prosecutor General’s Office raided the NABU headquarters in Kyiv, alleging that NABU had illegally wiretapped its employees. On August 12, Prosecutor General’s Office staff allegedly unlawfully detained and beat two NABU detectives who they asserted were engaged in wiretapping. On September 20, three Prosecutor General’s Office employees were suspended pending the outcome of an internal investigation, which continued at year’s end.

According to the Justice Ministry, implementation of a 2014 law on “lustration” was 99 percent completed. Some 700,000 civil servants and state officials were on the list for lustration. The checks resulted in the dismissal of approximately 1,000 state officials. According to the Parliamentary Anticorruption Committee, 80 percent of state officials from the Yanukovych era were discharged from their posts. Law enforcement and judicial agencies, however, avoided full compliance with the law. The SBU subjected only 50 staff members to lustration. The judiciary lustrated only 40 judges, eight of whom contested the decision in court and were restored to their positions.

Financial Disclosure: The law mandates the filing of income and expenditure declarations by public officials, and a special review process allows for public access to declarations and sets penalties for either not filing or filing a false declaration.

By law, the NACP is responsible for reviewing financial declarations and monitoring the income and expenditures of high-level officials. On August 15, the government officially launched an asset e-declaration system. By the conclusion of the first phase on November 1, more than 120,000 officials had submitted e-declarations, indicating near total compliance. The results were made publicly available, provoking public outcry about the lavish lifestyles of many public officials. By law the NAPC reviews the declarations and refers suspected corruption cases to the NABU for further action. Some observers questioned, however, whether the NAPC had the capacity to fulfill this function.

Public Access to Information: The constitution and law require authorities to provide government information upon request, unless it pertains to national security. By law officials must respond to regular requests within five days and within 20 days to requests for large amounts of data. Requesters can appeal denials within agencies and ultimately to the court system. Instructions for filing information requests were a common and conspicuous component of government websites. Implementation of the law on public access to government information and training of officials on the regulations governing such access remained inadequate.

Ukraine (Crimea)

Executive Summary

READ A SECTION: UKRAINE | CRIMEA (BELOW)


In February 2014 Russian forces entered Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and occupied it militarily. In March 2014 Russia announced the peninsula had become part of the Russian Federation following a sham referendum that violated Ukraine’s constitution. On March 27, 2014, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 68/262 on the “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine,” which called on states and international organizations not to recognize any change in Crimea’s status and affirmed the commitment of the UN to recognize Crimea as part of Ukraine. In April 2014 Ukraine’s legislature (Verkhovna Rada) adopted a law attributing responsibility for human rights violations in Crimea to the Russian Federation as the occupying state. The United States does not recognize the attempted “annexation” of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Russian law has de facto applied in Ukraine’s Crimea since the Russian occupation and purported “annexation” of the peninsula. For detailed information on the laws and practices of the Russian Federation, see the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia.

A local authority installed by the Russian government and led by Sergey Aksyonov as “prime minister” of the “state council of the republic of Crimea” administered occupied Crimea. The “state council” was responsible for day-to-day administration and other functions of governing. On September 18, Russia’s nationwide parliamentary elections included seats allocated for occupied Crimea, a move widely condemned by the international community. “Authorities” closed the election to independent observers; it was not free and fair and was held in contravention of the Ukrainian constitution.

Russian authorities maintained control over Russian military and security forces deployed in Crimea.

Russian security services continued to consolidate control over Crimea and restrict human rights. Occupation authorities imposed and disproportionately applied repressive Russian Federation laws on the Ukrainian territory of Crimea.

The most significant human rights problems in Crimea during the year related directly to the Russian occupation.

Russian security services engaged in an extensive campaign of intimidation to suppress dissent and opposition to the occupation that employed kidnappings, disappearances, physical abuse, political prosecution, repeated interviews, and interrogations by security forces. Russian security forces routinely detained individuals without cause and harassed and intimidated neighbors and family of those who opposed the occupation.

Occupation authorities deprived members of certain groups, particularly ethnic Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, of fundamental civil liberties, including the freedom to express their nationality and ethnicity, subjecting them to systematic discrimination. On May 12, Russian authorities banned the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, a democratically elected body representing the Crimean Tatar people, claiming it was an extremist organization, and prohibited all meetings, gatherings, or financial activities of the group. Continuing their policy of imposing Russian citizenship on all residents of Crimea, occupation authorities subjected persons who refused Russian citizenship to discrimination in accessing education, health care, and employment. They also interfered with freedom of expression and assembly, criminalizing the display of cultural and national symbols, preventing groups of private individuals from celebrating their national and cultural heritage, and restricting access to education in Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar languages.

Russian authorities engaged in a widespread campaign to suppress free speech and media in Crimea. Independent media ceased to operate in Crimea. Occupation authorities questioned, detained, and charged with extremism the few remaining independent journalists who worked independently, often merely for expressing their belief that Crimea remained part of Ukraine.

Other problems included poor conditions in prisons and pretrial detention facilities; political interference in the judicial process; limitations on freedom of movement; the internal displacement of thousands of individuals to government-controlled Ukraine; failure to allow residents of Ukraine’s region of Crimea to exercise the ability to vote in periodic and genuine elections to choose their leaders; official corruption; discrimination and abuse of ethnic and religious minority groups; discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; kidnapping and transport of orphans to Russia by occupation authorities; and employment discrimination against persons who did not hold a Russian passport.

Russian-installed authorities took few steps to investigate or prosecute officials or individuals who committed human rights abuses, creating an atmosphere of impunity and lawlessness. Occupation and local “self-defense” forces often did not wear insignia and committed abuses with impunity.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

Russian occupation authorities did not adequately investigate cases of abductions and killings of Crimean residents from 2014 and 2015. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 12 Crimean residents who had disappeared during the occupation were later found dead. Occupation authorities did not investigate other suspicious deaths and disappearances, occasionally categorizing them as suicide. Human rights observers reported that families frequently did not challenge findings in such cases due to fear of retaliation.

b. Disappearance

According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, as of October 1, 28 persons had disappeared since the occupation of Crimea, including 12 later found dead. Russian occupation authorities did not adequately investigate the deaths and disappearances. Human rights groups reported that police often refused to register reports of disappearances and intimidated and threatened with detention those who tried to report a disappearance. Ukrainian government and human rights groups believed Russian security forces kidnapped the individuals for opposing Russia’s occupation to instill fear in the population and prevent dissent.

On May 24, a group of uniformed men kidnapped Ervin Ibragimov, a member of the Bakhchisaray Mejlis and of the Coordinating Council of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, after stopping his car on a road outside Bakhchisaray. Footage from a closed-circuit television camera showed the men forcing Ibragimov into a car and departing. According to the Crimea Human Rights Group, the men wore uniforms of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ traffic police. According to the HRMMU, on May 25, Ibragimov’s father went to the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Simferopol to file a complaint and provide the television footage. The FSB officers allegedly refused to file the complaint and told him to send it by mail. A week before he disappeared, Ibragimov told friends that he had noticed a car waiting outside his house that later followed him during the day. Ibragimov had planned to travel to the town of Sudak on May 25 to attend the court hearing of a group of Crimean Tatars charged for holding an “unauthorized” gathering on May 18 to mark Crimean Tatar Deportation Remembrance Day. On June 1, Ibragimov’s employment record book and passport were found near a bar in Bakhchisaray. While occupation authorities opened an investigation into the case, according to the Crimea Human Rights Group, they specifically excluded the possibility of a political motivation for the disappearance or of state involvement.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

There were widespread reports that Russian authorities in Crimea abused residents who opposed the occupation. Human rights monitors reported that Russian occupying forces subjected Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in particular to physical abuse. For example, on June 11, Ukrainian blogger and activist, Yuri Ilchenko, escaped from house arrest in Sevastopol and fled across the administrative boundary to government-controlled Ukraine. Ilchenko had been awaiting trial on extremism charges from February 2015 for his online writings expressing his opposition to the occupation of Crimea. Ilchenko and his parents claimed to be the first individuals in Sevastopol formally to decline taking Russian citizenship. In August he gave several accounts to the press describing his mistreatment during detention in a pretrial facility in Simferopol that lasted from February 2015 through June 2. Ilchenko claimed that security officials had repeatedly beaten him and collaborated with other inmates to continue beatings and threats while he was in detention, to coerce him explicitly into taking Russian citizenship, and to punish him for speaking Ukrainian. He claimed they forced him to remain awake for days and beat him when he fell asleep in retaliation for refusing to wear a “St. George’s ribbon,” a Russian military symbol. Ilchenko claimed occupation authorities denied him clothing, bedding, and medical care.

Occupation authorities demonstrated a pattern of using punitive psychiatric incarceration as a means of pressuring detained individuals, including in the case of Ilmi Umerov (see section 1.d.). For example, on November 3, authorities ordered that six Crimean Tatar defendants accused of belonging to Hizb-ut-Tahrir be subjected to psychiatric evaluation and confinement against their will without apparent medical need (see section 1.d.).

Human rights monitors reported that occupation authorities also threatened individuals with violence or imprisonment if they did not testify in court against individuals that authorities believed were opposed to the occupation.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Physical Conditions: Prison and detention center conditions reportedly remained harsh and overcrowded. In June the director of the Russian Federal Prison System stated that Crimea lacked sufficient prison facilities and that there were twice as many inmates as there were cells necessary to house them. Human rights groups reported that prisons suffered from overcrowding and poor conditions.

According to a 2015 report on Crimea by the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, health care in prisons had deteriorated since the occupation began. Yuri Ilchenko reported that prisoners in the Simferopol pretrial detention facility lacked proper food, sanitation, and health care. On March 1, the Crimea Human Rights Group reported that a group of four Crimean Tatars detained in February on politically motivated “terrorism” charges were living in cells in a Simferopol pretrial facility that were infested with fleas and bedbugs, were forced to sleep in shifts on a single filthy bed, and given food that contained cockroaches.

Administration: According to the 2015 OSCE/ODIHR report, persons incarcerated during the Russian occupation did not have the opportunity to retain Ukrainian citizenship. Russian authorities compelled all individuals who were in prison or pretrial facilities when the occupation began to accept Russian citizenship. As of August the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Offices of Ukraine and Russia were working on a solution that would allow some prisoners to return to Ukraine.

Independent Monitoring: Occupation authorities did not permit monitoring of prison or detention center conditions by independent nongovernmental observers or international organizations. Occupation authorities permitted “human rights ombudsman,” Ludmila Lubina, to visit prisoners, but human rights activists regarded Lubina not as an independent actor but as representing the interests of the occupation authorities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Occupation authorities arbitrarily detained protesters, activists, and journalists for opposing the Russian occupation.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

Russian government agencies, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the FSB, the Federal Investigative Committee, and the Office of the Prosecutor General applied and enforced Russian law in Crimea. The FSB also conducted security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism activities and combatted organized crime and corruption. A “national police force” operated under the aegis of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs.

In addition to abuses committed by Russian forces, “self-defense forces,” largely consisting of former Ukrainian Ministry of Interior officers allegedly linked to local organized crime, reportedly continued to operate and commit abuses. These forces often acted with impunity in intimidating perceived occupation opponents and were involved in extrajudicial detentions and arbitrary confiscation of property. While the “law” places the “self-defense forces” under the authority of the “national police,” their members continued to commit abuses while receiving state funding for their activities as well as other rewards, such as beachfront property and service medals. For example, on December 8, members of “self-defense” forces allegedly beat two residents of the village of Shchelkino. Police arriving at the scene declined to arrest members of the self-defense forces. An investigation into the incident continued.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

Arbitrary Arrest: There were reports that Russian occupation authorities made arbitrary arrests, in particular targeting Crimean Tatars.

On May 12, police arrested Ilmi Umerov, a member of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, accusing him of “undermining the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation” for stating that Crimea remains part of Ukraine. Umerov, who suffered from health problems, has since been taken from court hearings in poor health. On August 18, Umerov was forcibly subjected to psychiatric hospitalization, ostensibly for an examination, exacerbating his health problems. On September 7, occupation authorities released him from the hospital following international publicity over the case. At year’s end his case remained in pretrial investigation.

As of October 25, occupation authorities had arrested 19 Crimean residents, mostly Crimean Tatars, accusing them of belonging to Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islamic organization prohibited in Russia but not Ukraine. Human rights groups believed occupation authorities intended to intimidate Crimean Tatars, discredit the Mejlis leadership, and instill fear in the local population to prevent dissent through the arrests.

Russian authorities continued to detain Akhtem Chiygoz, the deputy leader of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis. Russian authorities arrested Chiygoz in January 2015 and charged him with “inciting a mass riot” during protests he organized at the Crimean parliament in 2014 that were disrupted by pro-Russian activists, resulting in clashes between the groups. Subsequently, occupation authorities prosecuted individuals alleged to have participated in the protest, although Russia did not exercise control over Crimea at the time. Human rights groups reported that authorities reviewed video of the incident and selectively brought charges against leading Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian individuals who subsequently opposed the occupation, in particular members of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis. Video footage shows Chiygoz and other Crimean Tatar leaders working to defuse tensions in the hopes of avoiding clashes with counterprotesters. Occupation authorities refused to investigate acts of violence committed by pro-Russian “protesters,” who were likely working for Russian security services according to independent observers. On December 12, authorities extended Chiygoz’s detention until April 2017.

Throughout the year Russian authorities conducted mass arrests designed to humiliate and intimidate Crimean Tatars. On April 1, Russian security forces detained 35 men, mostly Crimean Tatars, in Pionierske, took them to a “center to combat extremism,” and collected DNA samples from them. Human rights groups claimed that Russian security forces attempted to recruit some as police informants. On May 6, Russian security forces detained more than 100 Crimean Tatars at a mosque in Molodizhne. On May 7, Russian security forces detained another 35 Muslims, many of whom were Crimean Tatars, at a market in Simferopol.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Under the Russian occupation regime, the “judiciary” was neither independent nor impartial.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

See the Country Reports on Human Rights for Russia for a description of the relevant Russian laws and procedures that the Russian government applied and enforced in occupied Crimea.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Russian occupation authorities routinely detained and prosecuted individuals for political reasons (see section 1.d.). They also transferred Crimean cases to Russia’s legal system and changed the venue of prosecution for some detainees. Human rights groups identified several dozen Crimean residents as political prisoners held in either Crimea or Russia. These included: Oleg Sentsov, Oleksander Kolchenko, Oleksiy Chirniy, Oleksander Kostenko, Ilmi Umerov, Akhtem Chiygoz, Ali Asanov, Mustafa Dehermedzhy, Mykola Semena, Andrii Kolomiets, Ruslan Zaytullaev, Rustam Vaytov, Nuri Primov, Ferat Sayfullaev, Enver Bekirov, Vadim Siruk, Muslim Aliev, Emir-Ussein Kuku, Refat Alimov, Arcen Dzhepparov, Enver Mamutov, Remzi Memetov, Zevri Abseitov, Rustem Abultarov, and others.

According to Mejlis member Gayana Yuksel, as of October 26, occupation authorities have deprived 67 Crimean Tatar children of a parent because of politically motivated imprisonment since the start of the occupation.

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Occupation authorities and others engaged in electronic surveillance, entered residences and other premises without warrants, and harassed relatives and neighbors of perceived opposition figures.

Russian occupation authorities routinely conducted raids on homes to intimidate the local population, particularly Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians, ostensibly on the grounds of searching for weapons, drugs, or “extremist literature.” In its June report, the HRMMU expressed concern about “the growing number of large scale ‘police’ actions conducted with the apparent intention to harass and intimidate Crimean Tatars and other Muslim believers.” On February 11 and 12, Russian occupation authorities raided Crimean Tatar villages in the Yalta and Bakhchisaray regions. According to the Crimea Human Rights Group, men with guns and in balaclavas burst into homes and in some cases broke through doors or windows, despite encountering no resistance from the residents. Between April 16 and 20, authorities conducted several raids on Crimean Tatar homes in the Alyushta region. According to press reports, police entered Crimean Tatar homes and demanded to know how many persons lived in the house, where they went shopping, where their children studied, and who sold drugs in the village. They also demanded to inspect gardens and greenhouses.

Human rights groups reported that Russian authorities had widespread authority to tap telephones and read electronic communications and had established a network of informants to report on suspicious activities. According to Mejlis members, Russian authorities had invited hundreds of Crimean Tatars to “interviews” where authorities played back the interviewees’ telephone conversations and read their e-mail aloud. Media reported that in July the FSB interviewed a doctor in a Feodosia hospital after a colleague had denounced him for privately expressing pro-Ukrainian views. The doctor stated that posters in the hospital hallways advertised an FSB hotline. The eavesdropping and visits by security personnel create an environment in which persons are afraid to voice any opinion contrary to the occupation authorities, even in private.

According to press reports, on January 22, the Russian FSB sent a notice to all post offices in Crimea containing a list of individuals deemed “extremist,” but which was in fact a list of individuals known to oppose the occupation, with instructions to report to the FSB any correspondence sent or received by these individuals.

Occupation authorities harassed family members of a number of political opponents. On February 2, Russian migration and security officials questioned Erol Abdulzhelilov, grandson of Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Jemilev, demanding his passport and summoning him to a police station. On February 18, Russian authorities summoned Yevgeny Kostenko, the brother of Oleksander Kostenko, imprisoned on political grounds, and threatened him with a forced psychiatric examination when he refused to answer questions. On September 26, occupation authorities pressured the young children of imprisoned Crimean Tatar activist, Emir-Ussein Kuku, to make statements about Kuku that could be used to strip him of his parental rights.

Following the sabotage of electrical lines from government-controlled territory to occupied Crimea, Russian officials cut power and natural gas to the homes of Crimean Tatar Mejlis members in retaliation.

Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government

Corruption: There were multiple reports during the year of systemic rampant corruption among Crimean “office-holders,” including through embezzlement of Russian state funds allocated to support the occupation. According to media reports, more than half of the funding for transportation infrastructure during the year was misspent or unaccounted for, and funds for infrastructure in Crimea were being funneled to the Kerch bridge project without adequate oversight. Human rights sources also reported misspent or stolen medical services funds adversely affected the provision of health care under Russian occupation.

Financial Disclosure: There were no known requirements for Russian occupation authorities or their agents to file, verify, or make public any income or asset disclosure statements, nor was there a mechanism to provide for public access to information about their activities.

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