IN THIS SECTION: Ukraine (BELOW) | Crimea
Note: Except where otherwise noted, references in this report do not include areas controlled by Russia-led forces in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine or Russian-occupied Crimea. At the end of this report is a section listing 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 who is head of state and commander in chief, and a prime minister who is chosen through a legislative majority and as head of government leads the Cabinet of Ministers; 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.
Following the Russian Federation’s November 25 attack on and seizure of Ukrainian ships and crewmembers in the Black Sea near the Kerch Strait, the country instituted martial law for a period of 30 days in 10 oblasts bordering areas in which Russian forces are located. Martial law expired December 27 with no reports of rights having been restricted during the time.
Human rights issues included: civilian casualties, enforced disappearances, torture, and other abuses committed in the context of the Russia-induced and -fueled conflict in the Donbas region; abuse of detainees by law enforcement; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons and detention centers; arbitrary arrest and detention; censorship; blocking of websites; refoulement; the government’s increasing failure to hold accountable perpetrators of violence against activists, journalists, ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; widespread government corruption; and worst forms of child labor.
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 alleged human rights abuses committed by government security forces, in particular into allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, and other abuses reportedly committed by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The perpetrators of the 2014 Euromaidan shootings in Kyiv had not been held to account.
Russia-led forces in the Donbas region engaged in: enforced disappearances, torture, and unlawful detention; committed gender-based violence; interfered with freedom of expression, including of the press, peaceful assembly, and association; restricted movement across the line of contact in eastern Ukraine; and unduly restricted humanitarian aid.
Human rights issues in Russian-occupied Crimea included: politically motivated disappearances; torture and abuse of detainees to extract confessions and punish persons resisting the occupation; politically motivated imprisonment; and interference with the freedoms of expression, including of the press, and assembly and association. Crimea occupation authorities intensified violence and harassment of Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian activists in response to peaceful opposition to Russian occupation (see Crimea sub-report).
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.
Human rights organizations and media outlets 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). For example on September 2, a detainee who was being held alone in a cell was found dead in Lukyanivske pretrial facility in Kyiv. According to the forensic examination, the cause of death was damage to the internal organs. Police opened a murder investigation.
There were civilian casualties in connection with the conflict in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts between government and Russia-led forces (see section 1.g.).
There were reports of politically motivated killings by nongovernment actors, and in one case with the alleged involvement of a parliamentary aide. For example, on July 31, an unknown person poured concentrated sulfuric acid on public activist and advisor to the Kherson city mayor, Kateryna Handzyuk, resulting in serious chemical burns to over a third of her body. Handzyuk died of her injuries on November 4. Police at first opened a criminal investigation for “hooliganism.” They later requalified the attack as “causing severe bodily harm,” and then changed it to “attempted murder.” In August authorities arrested five suspects. In November authorities arrested a sixth individual, Ihor Pavlovsky, who at the time of the attack was an assistant to Mykola Palamarchuk, member of parliament for Bloc Petro Poroshenko. Human rights groups believed that the men arrested were credibly connected to the attack but criticized authorities for not identifying the individuals who ordered the attack. On November 6, parliament formed an interim parliamentary commission to investigate the murder of Handzyuk and attacks on other activists. Activists and media questioned the committee’s ability to impartially and effectively investigate or resolve the attacks because of the alleged political connections of some committee members.
On January 2, the body of lawyer Iryna Nozdrovska was found in a river in Kyiv Oblast with stab wounds and other signs of a violent death. Nozdrovska had criticized law enforcement and court authorities while pursuing justice for her sister, who had been hit and killed in 2015 by a car driven by an intoxicated driver, Dmytro Rossoshanskiy, who was the nephew of a powerful local judge. On January 8, authorities arrested Yuriy Rossoshanskiy, the father of Dmytro, and charged him with murdering Nozdrovska. Yuriy and Dmytro Rossoshanskiy were reported to have previously threatened Nozdrovska and her mother in retaliation for their support of the case against Dmytro. Authorities referred the case for trial on August 15. Media and civil society widely criticized a lack of transparency in the investigation and noted that many questions remain unanswered about the case, including the possibility that there were other assailants involved in the killing.
Authorities made no arrests during the year in connection with the 2016 killing of prominent Belarusian-Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet. On August 2, Sheremet’s widow filed a lawsuit against the prosecutor general, alleging inaction by his office on the case. 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 2017 uncovered significant evidence that investigators had apparently overlooked. President Poroshenko expressed dissatisfaction with the progress of the investigation in February during a press conference.
Law enforcement agencies continued to investigate killings and other crimes committed during the Euromaidan protests in Kyiv in 2013-14. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) noted some progress in the investigation of the killings of protesters. Human rights groups criticized the low number of convictions despite the existence of considerable evidence. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, as of late November, 279 persons had been indicted and 52 had been found guilty.
The HRMMU noted there was limited progress in the investigation and legal proceedings connected to a 2014 trade union building fire in Odesa that stemmed from violent clashes between pro-Russian and Ukrainian unity demonstrators. During the clashes and fire, 48 persons died, including six prounity and 42 pro-Russia individuals. On May 30, an indictment against the former heads of the Odesa city police and the city public security department for “abuse of authority or office” was submitted to the Prymorsky district court in Odesa. The trial against the head of the Odesa Oblast police on charges of abuse of authority, forgery, and dereliction of duty in protecting people from danger continued. Observers noted that appeal proceedings challenging the September 2017 acquittal by the Chornomorsk court in Odesa Oblast of 19 defendants in the 2014 trade union building fire case due to lack of evidence appeared to be stalled.
There were multiple reports of politically motivated disappearances in connection with the conflict between the government and Russia-led forces in the Donbas region (see section 1.g.).
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 at times committed abuses, including torture, against individuals detained on national security grounds. There were reports that Russia-led forces in the so-called “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 remained a widespread problem. In its report on the seventh periodic visit to the country, published on September 6, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) expressed concern over a considerable number of recent and credible allegations from detained persons regarding excessive use of force by police and physical abuse aimed at obtaining additional information or extracting a confession.
In a report released on June 8 on his visit to the country, the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (UN SRT) stated that, according to victims he had interviewed, during interrogations “police forces reportedly resorted to kicking and beating, used suffocation techniques, most notably by placing plastic bags over the head, suspension and prolonged stress position. Numerous inmates also reported having been electrocuted and, in some cases, subjected to mock executions. Several detainees showed signs of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and some still displayed visible marks of mistreatment and torture. Others reported having been subjected to techniques of torture specifically designed to leave no marks.” On February 26, in Odesa Oblast, two patrol police detained and allegedly beat motorist Serhiy Grazhdan, claiming that he was driving drunk. According to press reports, police threw Grazhdan to the ground, handcuffed him, and beat him until he lost consciousness. When Grazhdan’s wife attempted to intervene, police threatened her with a gun. Grazhdan was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Police opened two investigations–one into the actions of the police officers and another into allegations that Grazhdan insulted and inflicted minor injuries on one of the arresting officers.
There were reports of sexual violence being committed in the context of the conflict in eastern Ukraine (see section 1.g.).
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: Overcrowding was a problem in some pretrial detention facilities. While authorities generally held adults and juveniles in separate facilities, there were reports that juveniles and adults were often not separated in some pretrial detention facilities, a concern emphasized in the June 8 UN SRT report.
Physical abuse by guards was a problem. For example on June 8, staff of the Chernivtsi pretrial facility brutally beat detainees, one of whom was hospitalized in the intensive care unit of the local hospital as a result. According to the detainees’ relatives, staff allegedly beat detainees while they were handcuffed, and humiliated them by making them squat and crawl. The administration of the remand facility claimed they were attempting to put down a riot. The local prosecutor’s office conducted an investigation of the incident, which concluded that prison staff had not exceeded their authority.
There were reports of prisoner-on-prisoner violence. The CPT noted that inter-prisoner violence was a problem in all but one of the establishments it visited. For example, on August 18, staff of the Lukyanivske penitentiary facility found a 34-year-old inmate who had been beaten to death by his cellmate.
Conditions in police temporary detention facilities and pretrial detention facilities were harsher than in low- and medium-security prisons. Temporary detention facilities often had insect and rodent infestations and lacked adequate sanitation and medical facilities. The CPT expressed concern that prisoners in pretrial detention were generally not offered any out-of-cell activities other than outdoor exercise for an hour per day in small yards.
The quality of food in prisons was generally poor. According to the June report of the UN SRT, inmates received three meals a day, although in most places the food was described as “inedible,” leading inmates to rely on supplementary food they received through parcels from family. According to CPT, in some pretrial detention centers, detainees did not have consistent access to food and water. According to UN SRT, most hygienic products including toilet paper, soap, and feminine hygiene products were not provided and detainees relied on supplies provided by family or donated by humanitarian organizations. In some facilities, cells had limited access to daylight and were not properly heated or ventilated.
UN and other international monitors documented systemic problems with the provision of medical care. The CPT observed a lack of medical confidentiality, poor recording of injuries, and deficient access to specialists, including gynecological and psychiatric care. There was a shortage of all kinds of medications with an over-reliance on prisoners and their families to provide most of the medicines. Conditions in prison healthcare facilities were poor and unhygienic. Bureaucratic and financial impediments prevented the prompt transfer of inmates to city hospitals, resulting in their prolonged suffering, and delayed diagnoses and treatment.
As of February more than 9,000 detainees were in Russia-controlled territory. On February 7, under the auspices of the Ombudsman’s Office, 20 prisoners incarcerated in Russia-controlled territory were transferred to penal facilities on government-controlled territory. Since 2015 a total of 198 inmates had been transferred to the penitentiary facilities in government-controlled areas.
The condition of prison facilities and places of unofficial detention in Russia-controlled areas continued to deteriorate. 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 severe shortages of food, water, heat, sanitation, and proper medical care. The HRMMU was denied access to detainees in the Russia-controlled territory of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR)” and “Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR).” The lack of access to detainees raised concerns about the conditions of detention and treatment. The UN SPT was granted access to places of detention in the “DPR” and “LPR,” but this was limited to preselected sites and he was unable to conduct confidential interviews with detainees. The UN SPT indicated that these restrictions did not allow him to fulfill his mandate in this part of Ukraine. Based upon his limited observations of official detention facilities in the “DPR,” he reported that healthcare appeared to be restricted, the quality of the food was reported to be unacceptable, and ventilation and sanitation appeared very poor. The East Human Rights Group continued to report systemic abuses against prisoners in the “LPR,” 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: 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. Human 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.
While 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 were entitled by law.
Independent Monitoring: The government generally permitted independent monitoring of prisons and detention centers by international and local human rights groups, including the CPT, the Ombudsman’s Office, and the UN SRT. During its May-June visit, the UN SRT also had access to a very restricted set of facilities in the “DPR” and the “LPR.”
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 or her arrest or detention in court, but the government did not always observe these requirements.
The HRMMU and other monitoring groups reported numerous arbitrary detentions in connection with the conflict in eastern Ukraine (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 broadly defined, nonmilitary intelligence, and counterintelligence and counterterrorism 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.
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, on June 8, a group of violent nationalists from the National Druzhina organization–established with support from the National Corps–attacked and destroyed a Romani camp in Kyiv after its residents failed to respond to their ultimatum to leave the area within 24 hours. Police were present but made no arrests, and in a video of the attack posted on social media, police could be seen making casual conversation with the nationalists following the attack.
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 that was frequently highlighted by the HRMMU in its reports as well as by other human rights groups. The HRMMU noted authorities were unwilling to investigate allegations of torture and other abuses, particularly when the victims had been detained on grounds related to national security or were seen as pro-Russian.
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. According to an April report by the Expert Center for Human Rights, only 3 percent of criminal cases against law enforcement authorities for physical abuse of detainees were transferred to court. 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 the 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.
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. In its September report, the CPT expressed concern about a widespread practice of unrecorded detention, in particular, the unrecorded presence in police stations of persons “invited” for “informal talks” with police, and noted that they encountered several allegations of physical mistreatment that took place during a period of unrecorded detention. Authorities occasionally held suspects incommunicado, in some cases for several weeks.
According to the Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement, detainees were not always allowed prompt access to an attorney of their choice. 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.
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.
Arbitrary Arrest: The HRMMU and other human rights monitors reported a continued pattern of arbitrary detention by authorities. For example, according to the HRMMU, on March 12, the SBU searched the apartment of an opposition journalist in Kharkiv. SBU staff presented a search warrant but did not allow the suspect to contact a lawyer. After the SBU seized a plastic bottle with ammunition rounds which they claimed they found in the journalist’s apartment, they took him to the regional SBU department, interrogated him for 12 hours, and pressured him to cooperate with SBU. They released him later without pressing official charges.
There were multiple reports of arbitrary detention in connection with the conflict in eastern Ukraine. As of mid-August the HRMMU documented 28 cases in which government military or SBU personnel detained presumed members of armed groups and held them in unofficial detention facilities before their arrests were properly registered. According to the HRMMU, on June 16, armed men wearing military uniforms and masks stormed a house where a Russian citizen was staying. They blindfolded him and brought him to an unofficial detention facility located in Pokrovsk at a transportation company facility where he allegedly spent two days handcuffed to an iron bed. On June 18, SBU officers offered him two options, either to be placed in custody or “to disappear.” He was brought to a court hearing and then sent to pretrial detention.
There were reports that members of nationalist hate groups, such as C14 and National Corps, at times committed arbitrary detentions with the apparent acquiescence of law enforcement. For example according to the HRMMU, on March 14, members of C14 unlawfully detained a man in Kyiv Oblast who was suspected of being a member of an armed group in the “LPR.” After interrogating him while he was face down and handcuffed, C14 handed him over to the SBU.
Arbitrary arrest was reportedly widespread in both the “DPR” and the “LPR.” The HRMMU raised particular concern over the concept of “preventive arrest” introduced in February by Russia-led forces in the “LPR.” Under a preventive arrest, individuals may be detained for up to 30 days, with the possibility of extending detention to 60 days, based on allegations that a person was involved in crimes against the security of the “LPR.” During preventive arrests, detainees were held incommunicado and denied access to lawyers and relatives.
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 Prosecutor General’s Office, 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.
The National Bar Association reported numerous cases of intimidation and attacks against lawyers, especially those representing defendants considered “pro-Russian” or “pro-Russia-led forces.” For example on July 27, representatives of nationalist hate group C14 attacked lawyer Valentyn Rybin, who was representing a citizen charged with separatism at the Kyiv City Appeals Court. Police opened an investigation into the incident.
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.
Russia-led forces terminated Ukrainian court system functions on territories under their control in 2014. The so-called “DPR” and “LPR” did not have an independent judiciary, and the right to a fair trial was systematically restricted. The HRMMU reported that in many cases individuals were not provided with any judicial review of their detention, and were detained indefinitely without any charges or trial. In cases of suspected espionage or when individuals were suspected of having links to the Ukrainian government, closed-door trials by military tribunals were held. There were nearly no opportunities to appeal the verdicts of these tribunals. According to the HRMMU, “accounts by conflict-related detainees suggest that their degree of culpability in the imputed ‘crime’ was already considered established at the time of their ‘arrest,’ amounting to a presumption of guilt. Subsequent ‘investigations’ and ‘trials’ seemed to serve merely to create a veneer of legality to the ‘prosecution’ of individuals believed to be associated with Ukrainian military or security forces.” The HRMMU reported that de facto authorities generally impede private lawyers from accessing clients and that court-appointed defense lawyers generally made no efforts to provide an effective defense, and participated in efforts to coerce guilty pleas.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were reports of a small number of individuals that some human rights groups considered to be political prisoners.
As of October the trial of Zhytomyr journalist Vasyl Muravytsky, was ongoing. Muravytsky was charged with state treason, infringement of territorial integrity, incitement of hatred, and support for terrorist organizations based on statements deemed pro-Russian. He could face up to 15 years of prison. Some domestic and international journalist unions called for his release, claiming the charges were politically motivated.
On February 20, the Dolyna court returned an indictment against Ruslan Kotsaba, a blogger from Ivano-Frankivsk, to the prosecutor’s office for lack of evidence that a crime had been committed. Kotsaba was not incarcerated at the time and had been released in 2016 following his 2015 arrest on charges of impeding the work of the armed forces by calling on Ukrainians to ignore the draft. During the period of his arrest, human rights groups had deemed him a political prisoner.
According to the SBU, Russia-led forces kept an estimated 113 hostages in Donbas.
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.
The country endorsed the 2009 Terezin Declaration but has not passed any laws dealing with the restitution of private or communal property, although the latter has been dealt with partly through regulations and decrees. In recent years most successful cases of restitution have taken place as a result of tacit and behind-the-scenes lobbying on behalf of the Jewish groups.
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. The SBU and law enforcement agencies, however, 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. There was no implementing legislation, and 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 April 26, a judge of the Uzhhorod city court complained of illegal surveillance. Representatives of the National Guard who were entrusted with guarding the court premises had allegedly installed a listening device in his office. Police opened an investigation into the complaint.
There were reports that the government improperly sought access to information about journalists’ sources and investigations (see section 2.a.).
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides for the freedom of peaceful assembly, and the government generally respected this right. There are no laws, however, regulating the process of organizing and conducting events to provide for the right, and authorities have wide discretion under a Soviet-era directive to grant or refuse permission for assemblies on grounds of protecting public order and safety. Organizers are required to inform authorities in advance of plans for protests or demonstrations.
During the year citizens generally exercised the right to assemble peacefully without restriction in areas of the country under government control. There were reports, however, that police at times used excessive force when dispersing protests. For example, on March 3, police destroyed a protest tent camp that had been set up near the parliament in October 2017. Police allegedly beat protesters and used tear gas against journalists. Nineteen persons sustained injuries (10 had head injuries and nine other types of physical injuries), including journalists from Radio Liberty, Hromadske TV, and the Insider news outlet. The journalists reported deliberate attacks by police despite the fact that they had clearly identified themselves as members of the press. According to the chief of the Kyiv police, investigators and police were lawfully investigating criminal acts in connection with protester attempts to seize the International Center for Culture and Arts in Kyiv in December 2017 and clashes at the parliament on February 27. Police initiated two criminal investigations on possible use of excessive force by officers and interference by police in the work of journalists who were attempting to record the event. The investigation continued as of December.
While the main 2018 Pride March in Kyiv was protected by thousands of police, police at times did not adequately protect smaller demonstrations, especially those organized by persons belonging to minority groups or opposition political movements. Events organized by women’s rights activists or the LGBTI community were regularly disrupted by members of nationalist hate groups. On March 8, members of right-wing groups attacked participants in public events in Uzhhorod, Lviv, and Kyiv aimed at raising awareness of women’s rights and gender-based and domestic violence. Police launched investigations of the incidents. Police briefly detained attackers but no charges were filed.
In Russia-controlled territory, the HRMMU noted an absence of demonstrations because “people are concerned that they may be ‘arrested’ if they organize protests or assemblies against the policies” of Russia-led forces. The HRMMU also noted the only demonstrations permitted in these areas were ones in support of local “authorities,” often apparently organized by Russia-led forces, with forced public participation.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The constitution and law provide for freedom of association, and the government generally respected this right.
Human rights groups and international organizations continued to criticize sharply a law signed by the president in March 2017 that introduced vague and burdensome asset-reporting requirements for civil society organizations and journalists working on anticorruption matters. The law was widely seen as an intimidation and a revenge measure against the country’s anticorruption watchdogs, which had successfully pushed for increased financial transparency for government officials. Heads and members of the boards of anticorruption NGOs had to submit their asset declarations by April 1. Observers continued to express concern that these asset declarations have the potential to endanger the staff of NGOs working on human rights and anticorruption, particularly if they work on issues related to Russian-occupied Crimea or areas of the Donbas controlled by Russia-led forces.
Human rights organizations reported a growing number of unsolved attacks on members of civil society organizations, which they believed created a climate of impunity. A September 26 joint statement by several dozen Ukrainian civic organizations stated that there had been more than 50 such attacks in the previous 12 months and accused the government of failing to investigate these crimes properly.
There were reports of incidents in which observers alleged that the government targeted activists for prosecution in retaliation for their professional activity. For example, several major human rights groups expressed concern about the government’s prosecution of Vitaliy Shabunin, head of the anticorruption NGO AntAC, which they alleged was selective and politically motivated. On January 15, authorities charged Shabunin with allegedly inflicting bodily harm on a journalist, a charge that carries a heavier penalty than the crime of inflicting intentional moderate bodily harm with which he had previously been charged in 2017. Both charges stemmed from an incident in June 2017 in which Shabunin allegedly punched Vsevolod Filimonenko, a supposed journalist who had reportedly harassed one of Shabunin’s colleagues. Human rights groups noted that video footage of the events suggested that Filimonenko may have been sent by the country’s security services to provoke a conflict with Shabunin and that the resources and vigor the government applied to prosecuting Shabunin far exceeded their usual approach to prosecuting attacks on journalists, including attacks where the resultant injuries were much more grave.
According to the HRMMU, in the territories controlled by Russia-led forces, domestic and international civil society organizations, including human rights defenders, could not operate freely. Residents informed the HRMMU they were being prosecuted (or feared being prosecuted) by the “ministry of state security” for their pro-Ukrainian views or previous affiliation with Ukrainian NGOs. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation. The HRMMU also noted an increase in civil society organizations run by Russia-led forces, which appeared to require certain persons, such as public-sector employees, to join.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and law provide citizens with freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. The government, however, restricted these rights, particularly in the eastern part of the country near the zone of conflict.
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. International and domestic organizations reported the system for protecting asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern did not operate effectively.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities frequently detained asylum seekers for extended periods without court approval.
In-country Movement: The government and Russia-led forces strictly controlled movement between government-controlled areas and territories in the Donbas region controlled by Russia-led forces. Crossing the contact line remained arduous. Public passenger transportation remained prohibited.
While five crossing points existed, only four were in operation for much of the year. According to the HRMMU, between May and August, an average of 39,000 individuals crossed the line daily. The HRMMU reported that individuals crossing the contact line, predominantly the elderly and people with medical issues, had to spend several hours standing in line. According to the State Emergency Service of Ukraine in Luhansk Oblast, up to 100 persons experienced health incidents each day at the Stanytsia-Luhanska checkpoint between May and August.
The government used a pass system involving an online application process to control movement into government-controlled territory. Human rights groups expressed concern that many persons in Russia-controlled territory did not have access to the internet to obtain such passes and that the pass system imposed significant hardships on persons crossing into government-controlled territory, in particular those who sought to receive pensions and government benefits, which were not distributed in the territory controlled by Russia-led forces. As of April 2017, crossing permits no longer expire and residents of territory adjacent to the line of contact on the government-controlled side did not need a permit to cross.
The HRMMU repeatedly voiced concern over reports of corruption by checkpoint personnel on both sides, including demands for bribes or goods in exchange for easing passage across the line of contact. Russia-led forces continued to hinder freedom of movement in the eastern part of the country.
The government and Russian occupation authorities subjected individuals crossing between Russian-occupied Crimea and the mainland to strict passport controls at the administrative boundary between Kherson Oblast and Crimea. Authorities prohibited rail and commercial bus service across the administrative boundary, requiring persons either to cross on foot or by private vehicle. Long lines and insufficient access to toilets, shelter, and potable water remained prevalent. Civil society, journalists, and independent defense lawyers continued to maintain that the government placed significant barriers to their entry to Crimea, including lengthy processes to obtain required permissions, thereby complicating their ability to document and address abuses taking place there.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
According to the Ministry of Social Policy, as of late September more than 1.5 million persons were registered IDPs due to Russia’s aggression in eastern Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea. Some NGOs and international organizations estimated the number to be lower, since some persons returned to their homes after registering as IDPs, while others registered while still living in the conflict zone. The largest number of IDPs resided in areas immediately adjoining the conflict zones, in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts as well as in Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts. Many resided in areas close to the line of contact in the hope they would be able to return home.
The government granted social entitlements only to those individuals who had registered as IDPs. By law, IDPs are eligible to receive payments of 880 hryvnias ($33) per month for children and persons with disabilities and 440 hryvnias ($16) per month for those able to work. Families may receive no more than 2,400 hryvnias ($89) per month. According to the law, the government should provide IDPs with housing, but authorities did not take effective steps to do so. On October 10, the president signed a law providing for the priority provision of social housing for IDPs with disabilities. Humanitarian aid groups had good access to areas under government control.
Housing, employment, and payment of social benefits and pensions remained the greatest concerns among IDPs. Local departments of the Ministry of Social Policy regularly suspended payment of pensions and benefits pending verification of their recipients’ physical presence in government-controlled territories, ostensibly to combat fraud, requiring recipients to go through a burdensome reinstatement process.
According to the HRMMU, the government applied the IDP verification procedure broadly. The suspensions affected the majority of IDP residents in government-controlled territory, as well as most residents of Russia-controlled areas; effects were especially acute for the elderly and disabled, whose limited mobility hindered their ability to verify whether they were included in the lists or to prove their residency. The government often suspended payments without notification, and IDPs reported problems having them reinstated. On September 4, the Supreme Court ruled that the verification requirement did not constitute lawful grounds for termination of pension payments.
According to research conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 59 percent of surveyed IDP households relied on government support as one of their main sources of income. More than 15 percent of IDP respondents indicated their social payments had been suspended.
IDPs were unable to vote in local elections unless they changed their registration to their new place of residence.
According to the HRMMU, IDP integration remained impeded by the lack of a government strategy and the consequent absence of allocation of financial resources, leading to IDPs’ economic and social marginalization. Local civil society organizations and international humanitarian organizations provided the bulk of assistance for IDPs on a temporary basis. NGOs reported their ability to support IDPs was limited and nearing exhaustion. UN agencies reported the influx of IDPs led to tensions arising from competition for scarce resources. Critics accused internally displaced men who moved to western areas of the country of evading military service, while competition rose for housing, employment, and educational opportunities in Kyiv and Lviv.
A shortage of employment opportunities and the generally weak economy particularly affected IDPs, forcing many to live in inadequate housing, such as collective centers and other temporary accommodations. Other IDPs stayed with host families, volunteers, and in private accommodations, although affordable private accommodations were often in poor condition.
NGOs reported employment discrimination against IDPs. Some IDPs, particularly those in government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, lacked sufficient sanitation, shelter, and access to potable water. IDPs continued to have difficulty obtaining education, medical care, and necessary documents. Romani activists expressed concern that some Roma in eastern areas could not afford to flee conflict areas, while others had no choice but to leave their homes.
In 2015 the Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeal overturned a National Bank decision that Crimean IDPs were nonresidents, which had restricted access to banking and financial services for those fleeing the Russian occupation. Nonetheless, media reports indicated that banks continued to restrict banking services for Crimean IDPs even after the court decision.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Refoulement: The government often did not provide for protection against the expulsion or return of asylum seekers to a country where there was reason to believe their lives or freedom would be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. For example on September 12, the Prosecutor General’s Office authorized the extradition of a Russian citizen, Timur Tumgoyev, to the Russian Federation, which subsequently prosecuted him on terrorism charges. According to press reports, Tumgoyev had been in the country since 2016, had apparently fought in a progovernment battalion in the Donbas, and had requested asylum. The UN Human Rights Committee had previously called on the country’s authorities to halt Tumgoyev’s extradition pending consideration of his assertion that he would face torture if forcibly returned. On September 19, the Prosecutor General’s Office opened an investigation into whether there had been criminal negligence on the part of the state agencies involved in Tumgoyev’s extradition. On October 6, the Russian press reported that Tumgoyev had been severely beaten in detention in Russia.
There were also allegations that officials deported some individuals to countries where they were at risk of imprisonment without providing an opportunity for them to apply for asylum. For example on July 12, the SBU in Mykolaiv detained Turkish opposition journalist Yusuf Inan, who had a permanent residence permit in Ukraine. On July 13, a Mykolaiv court ruled to extradite him to Turkey, where he was wanted on charges of being a member of the Gulen movement. According to press reports, authorities immediately transported Inan to Turkey, denying him the ability to appeal the court decision or apply for asylum.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a legal system to protect refugees. Protection for refugees and asylum seekers was insufficient due to gaps in the law and the system of implementation. As of July 1, only seven persons had received refugee status since the start of the year. The country is a transit and destination country for asylum seekers and refugees, principally from Afghanistan, the Russian Federation, Bangladesh, Syria, and Iraq.
Human rights groups noted that the refugee law falls short of international standards due to its restrictive definition of a refugee. The law permits authorities to reject many asylum applications without a thorough case assessment. In other instances government officials declined to accept initial asylum applications without a legal basis, leaving asylum seekers without documentation and vulnerable to frequent police stops, fines, detention, and exploitation. Asylum seekers in detention centers were sometimes unable to apply for refugee status within the prescribed time limits and had limited access to legal and other assistance. Asylum seekers have five days to appeal an order of detention or deportation.
A lack of access to qualified interpreters also hampered the full range of asylum procedures. International observers noted the government did not provide resources for interpreters, which created opportunities for corruption and undermined the fairness of asylum application procedures.
Employment: Most asylum seekers were unable to obtain a work permit as required by law. Some asylum seekers worked illegally, increasing their risk of exploitation.
Access to Basic Services: The national plan on the integration of refugees adopted by the government did not allocate resources for its implementation. A UNHCR report indicated all newly recognized refugees received a one-time grant of approximately 30 hryvnias ($1.10). Some reports, however, indicated the government did not always provide payment.
Temporary accommodation centers had a reception capacity of 421. Asylum seekers living outside an official temporary accommodation center often experienced difficulties obtaining residence registration, and authorities regularly fined them more than 500 hryvnias ($19) because they lacked registration. According to the State Migration Service, refugees and those seeking complementary protection could receive residence registration at homeless shelters for up to six months.
According to UNHCR, gaps in housing and social support for unaccompanied children left many without access to state-run accommodation centers or children’s shelters. Many children had to rely on informal networks for food, shelter, and other needs and remained vulnerable to abuse, trafficking, and other forms of exploitation. UNHCR noted a lack of educational programs and vocational activities for those in detention for extended periods.
Temporary Protection: The government also provided temporary protection (“complementary protection”) to individuals who may not qualify as refugees; as of July 1, authorities had provided complementary protection to 37 persons during the year, bringing the overall total to 739.
UNHCR estimated there were 35,463 stateless persons in the country at year’s end. Persons who were either stateless or at risk of statelessness included Roma, homeless persons, current and former prisoners, and persons over 50 who never obtained a Ukrainian personal identification document after the fall of the Soviet Union and were no longer able to obtain one.
The law requires establishing identity through a court procedure, which demanded more time and money than some applicants had. UNHCR reported Roma were at particular risk for statelessness, since many did not have birth certificates or any other type of documentation to verify their identity. Homeless persons had difficulty obtaining citizenship because of a requirement to produce a document testifying to one’s residence.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: In 2014 citizens elected Petro Poroshenko president in an election considered free and fair by international and domestic observers. The country held early legislative elections in 2014 that observers also considered free and fair.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The Communist Party remains banned.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption. 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.
On June 26, the president signed the Law on the High Anticorruption Court (HACC); on August 2, he signed an amendment to the law that clarified the HACC appeals processes. Observers noted that the HACC’s creation completed the country’s system of bodies to fight high-level corruption. Its success will depend on the integrity of the selection procedures for its judges as well as on the effectiveness and independence of the other two previously created anticorruption agencies, the National Anticorruption Bureau (NABU) and the Special Anticorruption Prosecutor (SAP). The process for selecting HACC judges began in August. In November anticorruption watchdogs expressed concern about apparent limitations on the work of an international expert panel that the law mandates participate in the HACC judge selection process to ensure the integrity of candidates.
The new independent anticorruption bodies faced political pressure that undermined public trust, raised concern about the government’s commitment to fighting corruption, and threatened the viability of the institutions. Anticorruption watchdogs noted that several appointments to NABU’s audit board during the year were seen as personally loyal to the president and posing a threat to NABU’s independence. Observers alleged that the release of leaked conversations by the head of SAP in early 2018 indicated he had engaged in witness tampering and obstruction of justice. He refused to resign, was not disciplined by the Prosecutor General or prosecutorial body, and allegedly proceeded to undermine NABU investigations, weakening efforts to hold high-ranking officials to account.
Corruption: While the government publicized several attempts to combat corruption, it remained a serious problem for citizens and businesses alike.
On February 13, NABU arrested Odesa Mayor Hennadiy Trukhanov and three city council deputies, who were charged with embezzlement and causing financial damage to the state. He was released on bail on February 15. According to NABU, Trukhanov and his associates profited from a fraud scheme in which the Odesa city government bought a building from a fictitious private company for 185 million hryvnias ($6.9 million) in 2016. That company, allegedly beneficially owned by Trukhanov and associates, had allegedly bought the building just months earlier from the Odesa city government for just 11.5 million hryvnias ($430,000) at an auction and had made millions of dollars in illicit profit from the resale. A court began reviewing the case on November 14.
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 National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) is responsible for reviewing financial declarations, monitoring the income and expenditures of high-level officials, and checking party finances. Observers increasingly questioned, however, whether the NAPC had the capacity and independence to fulfill this function, noting that in practice NABU had proven to be more effective for oversight of declarations, even though this was not its core mandate. In July, Transparency International Ukraine noted that the NAPC had fully reviewed only 300 declarations out of 2.5 million that had been submitted and had identified multiple serious holes in its verification procedures. On September 25, the NAPC launched “automated” verification of declarations, which would purportedly allow easier identification of declarations at “high risk’ of fraud. Observers noted serious flaws in this automated procedure and doubted it would result in improved verification. Observers noted that the NAPC’s December announcement that it would open criminal cases regarding party financing against the lead opposition party Batkivshchyna and several minor parties after years of general inactivity raised concerns that it might be used for political purposes ahead of the 2019 election cycle.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. During the year burdensome new reporting requirements on NGOs working on anticorruption matters came into effect. The requirements were adopted in 2017 in apparent retaliation for the NGOs’ activities (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).
Authorities in Russia-controlled areas in eastern Ukraine routinely denied access to domestic and international civil society organizations. If human rights groups attempted to work in those areas, they faced significant harassment and intimidation (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).
Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides for a human rights ombudsman, officially designated as legislative commissioner on human rights. The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office frequently collaborated with NGOs through civic advisory councils on various projects for monitoring human rights practices in prisons and other government institutions.
The Ombudsman’s Office collaborated with leading domestic human rights groups and acted as an advocate on behalf of Crimean Tatars, IDPs, Roma, persons with disabilities, LGBTI individuals, and prison inmates.
On March 15, the parliament appointed Lyudmila Denisova parliamentary commissioner for human rights. The office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson cooperated with NGOs on various projects to monitor human rights practices in various institutions, including detention facilities, orphanages and boarding schools for children, and geriatric institutions. Denisova took a proactive stance advocating on behalf of political prisoners held by Russia, Crimean Tatars, Roma, IDPs, and persons with disabilities.