Ukraine is a republic with a semipresidential 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 issues included unlawful killings and politically motivated disappearances in the context of the conflict in the Donbas region; torture; and harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary arrest and detention; and lack of judicial independence. Other abuses included widespread government corruption; censorship; blocking of websites; government failure to hold accountable perpetrators of violence against journalists and anti-corruption activists; and violence against ethnic minorities, and LGBTI persons.
Russia-led forces in the Donbas region engaged in politically motivated disappearances, torture, and unlawful detention; restricted freedom of speech, assembly, and association; restricted movement across the line of contact in eastern Ukraine; and restricted humanitarian aid. The most significant human rights issues in Russian-occupied Crimea included politically motivated disappearances; torture; and restrictions on expression and association.
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 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 Russia-led forces 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 was at least one report that the government or its agents committed possible arbitrary or unlawful killings. For instance, on December 6, human rights groups reported that beating(s) by police might have caused the death of 25-year-old Dmytro Lystovnychy in a Lutsk pretrial detention center. Lystovnychy had been arrested four days prior for allegedly stealing a bottle of whiskey. While the State Penitentiary Service initially alleged Lystovnychy had died of “acute hepatitis” and then asserted that he had committed suicide, Lystovnychy’s family publicized photos of his body that showed significant injuries consistent with beatings. After the family filed a complaint, the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) opened a murder investigation, which continued at year’s end.
There were reports of killings by government and Russia-led forces in connection with the conflict in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts (see section 1.g.).
There were reports of apparent politically motivated killings by nongovernment actors. On March 23, former member of the Russian parliament Denis Voronenkov, who had been granted Ukrainian citizenship after fleeing the Russian Federation in 2016, was shot and killed in downtown Kyiv. According to the PGO, Voronenkov had given testimony and “was one of the main witnesses of the Russian aggression against Ukraine and, in particular, the role of [former Ukrainian president] Yanukovych regarding the deployment of Russian troops in Ukraine.” As of year’s end, the investigation remained open, and authorities had made no arrests.
On June 27, Maksym Shapoval, a high-ranking military intelligence official, was killed by a car bomb in Kyiv. He was reportedly investigating Russia’s military aggression in the conflict in Donbas to support the country’s case against Russia in the International Court of Justice. The office of the military prosecutor was investigating the case at year’s end.
On October 30, Amina Okuyeva was shot and killed in Kyiv Oblast. Her husband, Adam Osmayev, was injured in the shooting but survived. Okuyeva and Osmayev were well-known pro-Ukraine volunteer fighters in 2014 to 2015, as well as former Chechen dissidents who had relocated to Ukraine. On June 1, Okuyeva thwarted an attempt against Osmayev’s life in downtown Kyiv when she returned fire, injuring the shooter. Osmayev’s assailant had reportedly presented himself as a French reporter and asked Osmayev for an interview hours before the attack. The Kyiv Regional Prosecutor’s Office designated Okuyeva’s killing and the attempt on her husband as contract killings.
In March 2016 Yuriy Hrabovsky, a lawyer representing a detained Russian special forces soldier, Aleksandr Aleksandrov, disappeared in Odesa. His body was later found in a shallow roadside grave. The Military Prosecutor’s Office arrested two suspects, and their trial began in December 2016. In January the judge ruled that subsequent hearings would be closed. The trial continued at year’s end.
Authorities made no arrests during the year in connection with the 2016 killing of prominent journalist Pavel Sheremet. Human rights and press freedom watchdog groups expressed concern about the lack of progress in the government’s investigation, suggesting high-level obstruction or investigatory incompetence as potential reasons. Independent journalistic investigations of the killing released in May uncovered significant evidence that investigators had apparently overlooked. On May 15, President Poroshenko expressed dissatisfaction with the investigation.
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 criticized 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 PGO, as of late July, five individuals had stood trial while 21 had absconded and were on the wanted list, including 15 suspects who had received Russian citizenship and were in Russia and three who had received political asylum in the Russian Federation.
On September 18, the Chornomorsk court in Odesa Oblast acquitted 19 defendants in the 2014 trade union building fire case due to lack of evidence. Two defendants were then rearrested in the courtroom and subsequently charged with attempting to violate the territorial integrity of the state. The case stemmed from violent clashes between Euromaidan and anti-Ukrainian unity demonstrators in downtown Odesa in 2014, during which 48 persons died, including six prounity and 42 pro-Russia individuals. Those who supported autonomy died in a fire at the trade union building; authorities largely failed to investigate their deaths, focusing on alleged crimes committed by individuals seeking more autonomy.
There were multiple reports of politically motivated disappearances in connection with the conflict between the government and Russia-led forces in the Donbas region and by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea (see section 1.g. and the Crimea subsection).
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution and law prohibit torture and other cruel and unusual 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 made under duress 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 engaging in military operations at times committed abuses, including torture. There were reports that Russian-led 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.).
Abuse of prisoners and detainees by police and prison authorities remained a widespread problem. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) expressed concern about the frequency of allegations of mistreatment by police officers. In most cases police allegedly inflicted the mistreatment while attempting to obtain a confession. For example, police detained 24-year-old Ihor Kozoriz in Terebovlya, Ternopil Oblast, on suspicion of robbery and hooliganism; they then brought him to a police station where they beat, electrocuted, and raped him. At year’s end the local prosecutor’s office had an open investigation into the case.
There were continued reports that authorities had used torture against individuals detained on national security grounds. According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Human Rights Monitoring Mission (HRMMU) and human rights groups, most of these abuses were associated with the SBU. The HRMMU noted most related cases occurred during prior years but were only documented during the year. According to a UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture (SPT) report released in May and based on two 2016 visits to Ukraine, the SPT “received numerous and serious allegations of acts that, if proven, would amount to torture and mistreatment. Persons interviewed by the Subcommittee in various parts of the country have recounted beatings, electrocutions, mock executions, asphyxiations, acts of intimidation and threats of sexual violence against themselves and their family members. In the light of all the work done and experience gained during the visit, the Subcommittee has no difficulty in concluding that these allegations are likely to be true. Many of the above-mentioned acts are alleged to have occurred while the persons concerned were under the control of the State Security Service or during periods of unofficial detention.”
According to Human Rights Watch, on August 15, SBU officers in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast forced 29-year-old Daria Mastikasheva out of her car, pushed her to the ground, beat her, blindfolded her, and took her to a basement facility, where she was interrogated and tortured overnight, including by suffocation, to force her to confess on video to collaborating with Russian security services. She agreed to a video confession only after the officers threatened to harm her family. At year’s end Mastikasheva was awaiting trial on treason and weapons possession charges.
There were reports of sexual violence being committed in the context of the conflict in eastern Ukraine (see section 1.g.).
Reports of hazing in the military continued. The PGO stated it initiated 117 criminal proceedings to investigate alleged hazing in the military that resulted in convictions of 54 service members.
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.
Physical Conditions: While authorities generally held adults and juveniles in separate facilities, there were reports that juveniles and adults were not separated in some pretrial detention facilities.
As of September 1, the Ministry of Internal Affairs registered eight deaths in pretrial facilities, six due to detainees’ preexisting medical conditions, and two suicides. As of October 1, the Ministry of Justice reported 476 inmate deaths, 42 of which were suicides. On September 28, an inmate of the Chernihiv pretrial center was killed in custody by another inmate, a killing reportedly involving negligence and lack of supervision by the facility personnel. The local prosecutor’s office launched a criminal case and charged several law enforcement officers with neglect of official duties. The case continued at year’s end.
Conditions in police temporary detention facilities and 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, after inmates killed a remand facility guard at an Odesa pretrial facility on August 17, staff members beat inmates. The PGO opened five criminal cases to investigate the incident.
There were reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. For example, on August 28, staff failure to intervene during a fight between detainees at the Chernihiv pretrial facility resulted in an inmate’s death. The local prosecutor’s office’s investigation into the incident remained open at year’s end.
During visits to detention facilities under the control of Ukrainian authorities, the HRMMU identified systemic problems with the provision of medical care. Bureaucratic and financial impediments prevented the prompt transfer of inmates to city hospitals, resulting in their prolonged suffering, and delayed diagnoses and treatment. In one case, on March 27, two prisoners died in the interregional hospital for convicts at the Lviv remand facility due to inadequate medical care.
The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union maintained that life sentences amounted to slow executions of prisoners because of poor prison conditions. In the report on its November 2016 visit to Ukraine, the CPT expressed concerns regarding practices applied to prisoners with life sentences, including routine handcuffing, other excessive and degrading security measures, the lack of organized purposeful activities, segregation from the rest of the prisoner population, and constant surveillance inside the cells.
According to monitors of the National Preventive Mechanism, prisons are often old and in poor condition with inadequate facilities and services. Cells had limited access to daylight and were not properly heated or ventilated. For example, one random reading the temperature in the quarantine station at the Kazankivska correction colony 93 was 57 degrees Fahrenheit. The facility did not have a designated dining area; the inmates had to eat in their cells sitting on chairs. Electricity and water supplies were periodically discontinued, and inmates complained about poor hygienic conditions. Cells in both pretrial facilities and prisons were overrun with insects and rats.
According to the Association of Independent Monitors and the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, authorities failed adequately to protect the lives and human rights of prisoners in areas close to the zone of operation against Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine and failed to evacuate staff and inmates in a timely fashion.
As of February approximately 9,500 detainees were in non-government-controlled territory. On September 14, under the auspices of the Ombudsman’s Office, 19 prisoners incarcerated in territories seized by Russia-led forces were transferred to penal facilities on government-controlled territory. Since 2015 a total or 178 inmates were transferred to the penitentiary facilities in government-controlled areas.
The condition of prison facilities and places of unofficial detention in areas held by Russia-led forces remained 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, these places were not suitable for even short-term detention. There were reports of shortages of food, water, heat, sanitation, and proper medical care.
Prior to the conflict, more than 5,000 prisoners were held in the part of Luhansk Oblast under the control of Russia-led forces. According to press reports citing information from the Eastern Human Rights Group, prison conditions in the area have deteriorated severely. The group 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 personal income to the leaders of the Russia-led forces.
Administration: According to the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office, authorities generally respected prisoners’ right to religious observance. Prisoners were permitted to receive visitors.
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. According to representatives of the National Preventive Mechanism, an organization that conducted monitoring visits of places of detention, authorities did not always conduct proper investigations of complaints.
Officials generally allowed prisoners, except those in disciplinary cells, to receive visitors. 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 June 19, the SPT published its report on its visit to the country in November 2016. During a 10-month period of the year, the Ombudsperson’s Office together with representatives of civil society conducted 16 monitoring visits to penitentiary facilities.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not always observe these requirements.
The HRMMU, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other international groups reported numerous arbitrary detentions in areas controlled by Russia-led forces (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 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 agencies remained a significant problem frequently highlighted by the HRMMU in its reports and by other human rights groups. The HRMMU noted 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. In addition, human rights groups criticized the lack of progress in investigations of alleged crimes in areas retaken by the government from Russia-led forces, resulting in continuing impunity for these crimes. In particular, investigations of alleged crimes committed by Russia-led forces in Slovyansk and Kramatorsk in 2014 appeared stalled. Human rights groups believed that many local law enforcement personnel collaborated with Russia-led forces when they controlled these cities.
Under the law members of the parliament 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.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs indicated it provides 80 hours of compulsory human rights training to security forces, focusing on the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Law enforcement training institutions also include courses on human rights, rule of law, constitutional rights, tolerance and nondiscrimination, prevention of domestic violence, and freedom from cruel, inhuman, or degrading punishment.
Security forces generally prevented or responded to societal violence. At times, however, they used excessive force to disperse protests or, in some cases, failed to protect victims from harassment or violence. For example, during the May 9 march to mark Victory Day, activists and representatives of the Socialist Party and Opposition Bloc argued over the use of Soviet-era political symbols (flags) in Dnipro. As a result of these clashes, eight participants in the event and six police officers were injured. The head of the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast police department and his deputies were dismissed for failing to ensure a peaceful march. The minister of internal affairs opened an official probe into the clashes.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
By law authorities may detain a suspect for three days without a warrant, after which 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, more than 400,000 persons received free legal aid since its introduction in 2014. 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 law 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 continued pattern of arbitrary detention by authorities, particularly in government-controlled portions of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. For example, in its September report, the HRMMU documented arrests and detentions of individuals for allegedly running businesses and paying taxes in the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic.” The report cited the SBU arrest of four entrepreneurs charged with terrorism for business activities in territory controlled by armed groups. As of August 15, all four individuals remained in pretrial detention in Mariupol.
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.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
While the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, courts were inefficient and remained vulnerable to political pressure and corruption. Confidence in the judiciary remained low.
Despite efforts to reform the judiciary and the PGO, corruption among judges and prosecutors remained endemic. Civil society groups 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. Some judges and prosecutors reportedly took bribes in exchange for legal determinations. 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.
There were reports of intimidation and attacks against lawyers representing defendants considered “pro-Russian” or “proseparatist.” For example, the PGO initiated a criminal case against Oleg Veremiyenko, an attorney representing Ukrainian Army Colonel Ivan Bezyazkov, who had been charged with treason and creating a terrorist organization. The local prosecutor charged Veremiyenko in February with resisting and influencing a law enforcement officer. As part of the investigation, law enforcement officials searched Veremiyenko’s office without an appropriate court warrant and seized two computers.
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 to confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses and evidence, and the right to appeal.
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 officials occasionally monitored meetings between defense attorneys and their clients.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were reports of a small number of individuals that some human rights groups considered to be political prisoners.
On August 1, the SBU detained Vasyl Muravytsky, a reporter and columnist from Zhytomyr. Muravytsky was charged with state treason, infringement of territorial integrity, incitement of hatred, and support for terrorist organizations based on statements some deemed pro-Russian. According to the SBU, he could face up to 15 years of imprisonment. Some domestic and international journalist unions called for Muravytsky’s release, claiming the charges were politically motivated.
On June 1, a higher court overturned a July 2016 appeals court decision reversing the May 2016 conviction of Ivano-Frankivsk blogger Ruslan Kotsaba. Kotsaba had been sentenced 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. At year’s end Kotsaba was not in detention. According to Kotsaba’s defense lawyer, the July 2016 decision was overturned to postpone their planned appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
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 ECHR 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.
There were some reports that the government had accessed private communications and monitored private movements without appropriate legal authority. For example, on October 20, journalist Oleksandr Chernovalov filed a complaint with the police alleging the government had conducted illegal surveillance on him. The Darnytsia district police in Kyiv launched an investigation, which remained underway.