11/25/2001 | free
Torture still widely practised in Ukraine: UN rights panel

GENEVA, Nov 23 AFP|Published: Saturday November 24, 8:14 AM

Torture was still widely practised in Ukrainian jails despite recent legal moves to stem it, the United Nations Committee Against Torture said today.

The committee's 10 independent experts published their conclusions following a review of the former Soviet republic's record in applying the 1987 UN Convention Against Torture.

The main concern focused on a report by the Ukrainian national commissioner on human rights which says up to 30 per cent of prisoners are subjected to torture.

The committee called on Kiev to take the necessary measures to ensure any testimony obtained through torture would not be admitted in court.

It also expressed its concern about living conditions inside Ukrainian detention centres, citing overcrowding, inadequate sanitary facilities and a high incidence of tuberculosis, as well as a lack of access to adequate medical care.

The UN rights panel also pointed out that prison guards lacked basic training in knowing and respecting the rights of prisoners.

Also denounced by the committee was the brutality of the armed forces in informal initiation ceremonies for new recruits - the so-called "dedovvshshina".

During its investigation, the committee noted several reports of threats and harassment against independent journalists and other people who had denounced human rights violations by public officials.

Also condemned was pre-trial detention, which although limited by law to 18 months, can last up to three years.

Vagrants can be jailed for up to 30 days.

The committee urged the government to implement measures to prevent the trafficking of women - a growing phenomenon in the country.

The UN experts also welcomed government attempts to reform the legal system with the adoption of a new penal code which outlaws the death penalty and defines torture as crime, as well as of a new immigration law and the creation of a post of national commissioner for human rights.

The UN convention has been ratified by 126 states around the world.



  • 2001.11.25 | free



    Press Release


    27th session
    21 November 2001

    Panel Continues Review of Report of Israel

    The Committee against Torture offered its official response this afternoon to a third periodic report of Ukraine, calling among other things for effective steps to end maltreatment, as there were "numerous instances" where torture was still practised and the nation's Commissioner for Human Rights had contended that 30 per cent of prisoners were victims of torture.

    The panel of 10 independent Experts also recommended that Ukraine clarify and strengthen standards for access by detainees to legal counsel; that it absolutely prohibit the use in court of evidence obtained by torture; that it reduce a current 72-hour period during which detainees could be kept in isolation cells before being brought before a judge; and that it take effective measures to prevent trafficking in and violence against women.

    The Committee cited among positive developments the establishment by Ukraine of an Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman); ongoing efforts to reform legislation, including the adoption of a new Criminal Code which contained an article qualifying torture as a specific crime; and abolition of the death penalty.

    The Ukrainian report was introduced by a Government delegation at the Committee's meeting of 14 November and was further discussed on the afternoon of 15 November.

    The Committee also carried on this afternoon with consideration of a third periodic report of Israel, hearing a Government delegation say that interrogation methods used by its General Security Service did not and never had amounted to violations of the Convention, and that complaints of maltreatment from Palestinian and Lebanese detainees had to be carefully studied by the Committee on a case-by-case basis, with more evidence sought than that provided in the detainees' affidavits.

    The Israeli delegation also said that Security Service interrogators did not identify themselves to detainees for reasons of security, but had nicknames which the detainees knew and could cite if they wished to file complaints; that doctors present in detention centres and during interrogations were there only in case medical services were needed; and that questions from the Committee related to treatment of the general population in the West Bank and Gaza strip were not appropriate under the Convention, as the Convention applied to prisoners and detainees.

    The delegation reiterated that the country was struggling with a severe and long-standing terrorist threat which had already killed hundreds of innocent civilians. That, Government representatives said, explained among other things why one known terrorist leader had been kept in administrative detention since 1989.

    Formal conclusions and recommendations on the report of Israel will be issued at 10 a.m. on Friday, 23 November.

    Ukraine and Israel, as States parties -- along with 124 other countries -- to the Convention against Torture, are required to present periodic summations to the Committee of national efforts to put the Convention's provisions into effect. Government delegations generally appear before the Committee during the consideration of such reports to answer questions and to provide additional information.

    The Committee will reconvene in public session at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 22 November, to offer its conclusions and recommendations on the reports of Benin and Indonesia. The panel's two-week autumn session will conclude on Friday, 23 November.

    Conclusions and recommendations on fourth periodic report of Ukraine

    The Committee cited among positive developments ongoing efforts by the Government to reform legislation, including the adoption of a new Criminal Code which contained an article qualifying torture as a specific crime; removal from the "State Secret Act" of offenses concerning breaches of human rights; abolition of the death penalty; and establishment of an Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman) who could visit and have full access to all places where persons were deprived of liberty.

    Among concerns expressed were that numerous instances indicated that torture was still regularly practiced in the country, and that, according to the country's Commissioner for Human Rights, 30 per cent of prisoners were victims of torture; that judges were sitting in newly formed "co-ordination committees on crime fighting" jointly with representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, which could affect the independence of the judiciary; and that there had been numerous convictions based on confessions which -- in combination with improved promotion prospects for investigators who obtained convictions -- could lead to torture or ill-treatment of suspects to force them to "confess".

    The Committee recommended, among other things, that effective measures be taken to prevent acts of torture and ill-treatment in view of persistent reports that torture was still regularly practiced; that Ukraine deposit with the United Nations Secretary-General its declaration accepting the Committee's competence with respect to articles 21 and 22 of the Convention, allowing individual complaints to be made to the Committee; that Ukraine establish its jurisdiction over offenses of torture even if the offender was not a Ukrainian national but was present in any territory under its jurisdiction; and that it clarify and reconcile sometimes contradictory provisions pertaining to the timing of when a detainee had the right to defence counsel and to ensure the right was exercised from the moment of arrest.

    The Committee also recommended that Ukraine prohibit interrogation of detainees without the presence of defence counsel; that it take appropriate measures to ensure independence of the judiciary and counsel for the defence, as well as the objectivity of the procuracy; and that it ensure absolute respect for the inadmissibility of evidence obtained through torture.

    It further called for effective steps to establish a fully independent complaints mechanism to carry out prompt, independent and full investigations of allegations of torture; for improvements in prison and detention conditions; for shortening of the current 72-hour pretrial detention period during which detainees could be held in isolation cells before being brought before a judge; for effective measures to prevent and punish trafficking in women and violence against women; and for adoption of a more effective system to end bullying and hazing in the armed forces.

    Discussion of third periodic report of Israel

    A three-member Government delegation from Israel, responding to questions put by the Committee on Tuesday morning, said among other things that the absolute prohibition of torture in article 2 of the Convention accorded with Israel's view; that the Government had always maintained that the methods it used for interrogation had never amounted to torture in that they had never amounted to severe pain or suffering; that Israeli officials were not authorized to use torture even in cases where it might prevent terrible acts; and that Israel had never used the terrorist threat it constantly faced as an excuse to commit torture. On the other hand, nothing was more humane than to take reasonable, forceful steps to save the lives of innocent children about to be killed by a car bomb. In isolated cases during the last two years, interrogators had used force because it was deemed necessary to prevent terrorist attacks, and in several cases charges subsequently had been filed by those interrogated and investigations were being carried out.

    The use of cruel, inhuman, or degrading procedures was prohibited in Israel, and perpetrators were subject to prosecution, the delegation said. In extreme and appropriate circumstances, where it was judged necessary to save lives, force could be used in interrogations, but it was not such force as to amount to torture. Necessity was a fundamental moral principle, as was the absolute prohibition of torture; any full interpretation of the Convention had to allow for the co-existence of these two principles.

    Israel accepted the burden to justify the detention of all it chose to detain; however, it did not accept the burden of proving that its methods of interrogation were not violations of the Convention; complaints of violations had to be judged on a case-by-case basis, after exhaustion of internal remedies, and had to be proved by reliable evidence. Israel repeated its caution to the Committee about relying solely on affidavits filed by Palestinian and Lebanese detainees. Several of the complaints now before the Committee had never been brought before complaints mechanisms within Israel. Seven other cases mentioned by the Committee had been investigated by Israel and found groundless.

    Another case involved someone who had been directly involved in the kidnapping and holding of an Israeli navigator who was still being deprived of his liberty, the delegation said; the kidnapper had not been released when other Lebanese detainees had been released, since he was directly involved in this crime and was a known terrorist; further, many of his complaints of maltreatment, including that he had been held in incommunicado detention for four years and had been kept naked for days at a time, as listed by the Special Rapporteur on torture of the Commission on Human Rights, were false and had not even been listed by this same detainee in a civil case he had brought in Israeli court. Since he did not mention these supposed crimes in his own court complaint, it was hard to give them much credence in the report of the Special Rapporteur.

    The allegation that there had been interrogation of a Palestinian 10-year-old detainee was false, the delegation said; it was likely he had been held for his and others' protection; one aspect of the recent violence was that Palestinian children were often used as foils for armed adults during violent demonstrations; in fact they were used as shields for armed persons involved in the disturbances and were otherwise badly used by such adults, and encouraged to engage in violent actions such as throwing rocks.

    In one case referred to by the Committee, seven police officers had been charged with a series of offenses related to maltreatment of a detainee who had been charged with the brutal murder of two people in a police station; the crime had been horrible and one could understand the anger of the police officers who responded, yet these officers would be tried and if found guilty they would face serious criminal punishment for any maltreatment.

    Doctors at interrogations were not members of the Israeli Security Agency, the delegation said, and were present in detention centres and at interrogations for only one reason: to provide medical services if needed.

    Security Service interrogators did not identify themselves for security reasons, but used nicknames, the delegation said; interrogators were not allowed to misidentify themselves. Detainees always knew the nicknames of their interrogators and so could identify them if they wished to file complaints.

    Some monitored access could be allowed between those detained incommunicado for suspected terrorism and legal counsel, the delegation said, but there were restrictions as it had been found that on some occasions improper information had been passed through the legal counsel to those outside. Relatives were always informed of such detentions.

    Committee comments on incorporation of the Convention into the Israeli legal system would be noted and seriously considered, the delegation said.

    A number of matters raised in "shadow" reports put before the Committee by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and mentioned by some Committee members did not fall under the Convention, the delegation contended. The Convention applied to persons in detention or otherwise deprived of their liberty; the text and history of the Convention had not historically been applied and was not intended to cover categories of behaviour beyond this framework. Was Israel being singled out and held to a different standard? There also was the matter of territorial applicability; the Israeli Government did not agree with the legal opinion on territories under its jurisdiction that had been given by the UN Office in New York. The Convention was not an appropriate instrument for monitoring the situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Further, some complaints related to events in territory directly under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

    Closures in the occupied territories were part of Israel's right under security agreements with the Palestinian Authority, the delegation said; however, the Government had learned from experience and applied the closures humanely so that they did not have negative consequences on, for example, pregnant women. The delegation said it did not consider the Committee's questions about the demolition of houses in the occupied territories appropriate under the Convention.

    Administrative detention was used with reluctance, the delegation said, and in recent years there had been a steady drop in the number of such detentions. Currently there were 34 such detainees. International standards for detention conditions were upheld for the most part, although in some cases there was a lack of proper facilities, now being rectified.

    One leading terrorist had been held in administrative detention since 1989, the delegation said; legal review had upheld his continued detention; he was a leader of the Hezbollah terrorist organization, and given the current climate of violence and the continued attacks carried out by his organization, it was considered very dangerous to release him. He was held in comfortable circumstances and had full access to the court system, which he had fully used to contest his detention. He was provided with free legal counsel.

    Trafficking in women was being given high priority by law-enforcement authorities, the State Attorney, and the Security Service, the delegation said; a recent law strictly prohibited trafficking in persons for purposes of prostitution, and the offense was punishable by up to 16 years in prison. There had been a significant increase in the number of investigations being carried out in relation to trafficking, and increased attention was being paid to the rights and well-being of victims.

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