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Preliminary observations and recommendations of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Nils Melzer, on his official visit to Ukraine 28 May - 8 June 2018

Russian | Ukrainian


From 28 May to 8 June 2018, my team and I visited the Ukraine in order to assess the prevailing situation and challenges in the country concerning the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the Government of Ukraine for the invitation to conduct this visit and for the excellent cooperation I enjoyed during the visit. I thank the Government for the many meaningful official meetings held with various relevant authorities. I also would like to thank the armed groups and their de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk for their goodwill and cooperation during my presence in the territories under their control. I further wish to thank the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) for the assistance provided throughout my visit.

My delegation visited the cities of Kyiv, Odesa, Kharkiv, Starobilsk, and Bakhmut, as well as the territories controlled by armed groups and their de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk. In Kyiv I had the opportunity to exchange views with officials of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Health, Social Policy, Internal Affairs and its structures, Ministry of Defence and Ukrainian Armed Forces, Security Service of Ukraine, as well as with the General Prosecutor’s Office, the National Ombudsperson’s Office and magistrates of the Supreme Court. Furthermore, I had exchanges with member of civil society organizations and victims of torture and ill treatment.

In Donetsk, I had the opportunity to engage in an open and constructive dialogue with the Ombudsperson and the deputy head of the Penitentiary Service of the de facto authorities. Unfortunately, despite repeated requests, I was not able to meet with the Prosecutor’s Office, and the de facto Ministries of Justice and Interior. In Luhansk, I met with a member of the People’s Council and with the acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of the de facto authorities.

In government-controlled territory, we visited Kyiv pre-trial detention centre, Kyiv city (Lukianivske SIZO, the Police Unit № 4 of Shevchenkivskyi district Police Department (Prorizna Street, 12), Shevchenkivskyi rayon Police Department (Hertsena Street, 9), Kyiv Temporary Detention Facility (ITT), in Odesa we visited Odeska prison № 14, Odeska penitentiary institution № 21: prison with SIZO functions, the Guardroom of the Southern territorial administration of the Military Service of Law and Order, Kyivskyi Police Division in Odesa city.

In Kharkiv we visited the Reception centre for children of the Main Department of the National Police in Kharkiv region. In Starobilsk we visited the Temporary detention facility (ITT), the Starobilskyi pre-trial detention centre (SIZO). In Bakhmut we visited Bahmutska penitentiary institution (№ 6): prison with pre-trial detention centre (SIZO). In Kramatorsk we visited the Kramatorsk Temporary Detention Facility (ITT) and Sloviansk municipal treatment-preventive institution «Regional Psychiatric Hospital of Sloviansk city».

In the territory controlled by the de facto authorities in Luhansk, I was able to obtain restricted access toKrasnyi Luch penal colony Nr.19 and Petrovske penal colony Nr.24. In the territory controlled by the de facto authorities in Donetsk, I was able to obtain restricted access the pre-trial detention facility No.5 (SIZO) in Donetsk city.

Throughout my visit in the government-controlled territory, my team and I enjoyed unrestricted freedom of movement and access to all places where people are deprived of their liberty, with the exception of the psycho-neurological facility for women in the Sviatoshynskyi district of Kyiv, where access was unduly delayed by the management, and which therefore could not be visited. We were able to meet with and interview all male, female and juvenile inmates of our choosing in private, in full compliance with the terms of reference of my mandate.

While the de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk provided me with access to places of detention under their control, the modalities of these visits did not meet the requirements of the terms of reference of my mandate. The authorities had pre-selected the sites my team and I were authorized to visit, and no other institutions could be accessed.

Moreover, in the visited facilities under the control of the de facto authorities in Luhansk, I was not authorized to conduct any confidential interviews with the detainees, and even collective interviews of a general nature were made impossible by an oppressively intimidating presence of prison staff. I also was not authorized to access the disciplinary sections of these facilities.

In the institution visited in Donetsk, I was authorized to visit all sections to which I requested access, including the disciplinary section. I was also given the opportunity and to speak individually to four detained members of the Ukrainian armed forces selected by the authorities, albeit under conditions of supervision by prison staff which did not ensure full confidentiality (guard positioned approximately 5 meters away, just outside the open door of the interview room). All dialogue with other inmates seen during my visit to the various sections had to take place in the immediate presence of one or several guards and, therefore, remained extremely limited. Also, I regret to report that, in Donetsk, access was arbitrarily denied to one member of my team despite formal and timely announcement of the entire delegation.

In view of the restrictions imposed on my visits to places of detention controlled by the de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk I must stress that I accepted to conduct these visits on an absolutely exceptional basis only, taking into consideration a multitude of factors including, most notably: (a) the fact that these detention places are not under the control of the authorities of the Ukraine or any other internationally recognized State having extended an official invitation to my mandate; (b) the prolonged lack of access to these detention places by other international monitoring mechanisms, such as the Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT), the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), or the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC); and (c) the resulting lack of reliable information on the living conditions and treatment of thousands of persons held in these places of detention. Therefore, my decision to conduct these visits under the given circumstances constitutes an exceptional measure of confidence building tailored to the Ukrainian context and does not reflect any intention to deviate from the official terms of reference of my mandate.

In preparing my official visit to Ukraine, I sought access to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea on the basis of the United Nations General Assembly resolutions  68/262, 71/205 and 72/190. Having received the authorization of the Ukrainian authorities, I also sought the concurrence of the authorities of the Russian Federation for my delegation to visit Crimea. The Russian Federation responded positively to my request but required that such access take place in accordance with the procedures required for an official visit to the national territory of the Russian Federation. Therefore, I was unable to access the Crimea in the framework of my visit to the Ukraine.  
The observations I am presenting today are preliminary and non-exhaustive. Based on the information collected during my mission, I will draft a more comprehensive and updated report that will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2019.

Situation in Government-controlled territory

1. Conditions of detention

  • Pre-trial detention

In the course of my visit, I received numerous complaints from detainees about the perceived excessiveness of their pre-trial detention and the absence of judicial action taken on the part of the adjudicating authorities. Alternative measures to detention were reported to be used in exceptional cases only, accompanied by serious deficiencies in terms of expediting criminal proceedings. The regime for pre-trial detainees is significantly more restrictive than the regime applied to convicted detainees, including very limited contact with family members, a strict regime regarding food parcels, and the prohibition of paid work. Visits, telephone calls and letters are only allowed with the express permission of investigating officers. For detainees accused of crimes in connection with the armed conflict, who undergo lengthy investigations, the resulting isolation from the outside world is often additionally prolonged.

  • I urge the judicial authorities to apply measures and sanctions alternative to detention to the maximum extent permitted by existing law.

The overall conditions of detention we observed were generally acceptable, and efforts to renovate and modernize some centres, in particular various "Temporary Detention Facilitites" (ITT) under the Ministry of Interior, can be noted. However, most of the detention infrastructure is very old and in dire need of renovation or replacement. Some cells and pavilions we visited had poor sanitary conditions. Some detainees reported that their cells were poorly heated and infested with cockroaches. In Odesa remand prison (SIZO) the cells walls were covered in mould and sanitary installations were reported to be often clogged. In addition, occasional leaking or lack of heating was noticed in some cells, while others were poorly ventilated.

In most of the visited remand prisons and colonies the occupancy rate was smaller than the maximum capacity of the institution, there was therefore no overcrowding. However, the official capacity of detention places appears to be calculated on the basis of available beds rather than available space per inmate, which in some facilities results in available surface areas as small as 2m2 or less per inmate, in clear contravention to universally applicable Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (Mandela Rules).

Blankets and mattresses were available, although many were old and in need of replacement. Detainees in Bakhmut remand prison (SIZO) complained about poor sanitary conditions and bedbugs. Most hygienic products including toilet paper and soap reportedly were not provided by the administration and detainees highly rely on outside support including family contributions or donations from humanitarian organizations to maintain tolerable living conditions. This is also particularly the case for the specific needs of female detainees. All detainees reported to receive three meals a day, although in most places the food was described as “inedible”. As a consequence, most inmates relied on supplementary food they received through family parcels.

I am pleased to inform that the conditions in the Guardroom of the Southern territorial administration of the Military Service of Law and Order, are fully compliant with international standards. Cells were adequately lit and ventilated, the quality and quantity of the food seemed satisfying, detainees had access to basic hygienic products and the relationship between detainees and guards seemed correct.

  • I strongly recommend that the Ukrainian authorities commit the funds necessary for the successive renovation and/or replacement of outdated detention facilities, and to ensure nutrition, space, ventilation and hygiene in accordance with international standards.
  • Detention of Juveniles

While understanding the government’s efforts to ensure that juveniles are not isolated, I noted with concern that, throughout Ukraine, adolescents from 14 to 18 years old are accommodated in the same institutions as adults, under conditions which, considering their age and vulnerability, must be regarded as inadequately harsh. It is my considered view that all juveniles should be accommodated in institutions separate from adults, which provide conditions corresponding to their specific vulnerability and needs, and to the best interests of the child.

  • I strongly recommend that the Ukrainian authorities introduce alternative regimes and separate institutions for juveniles, keeping in mind that detention must always remain a measure of last resort. Where detention is absolutely necessary, the State party should ensure that all juveniles benefit from regular family contacts as well as educational and recreational opportunities.

 Access to Health

I am particularly concerned by reported shortcomings in the access to medical care in the penitentiary system. We have noted that specialized medical services such as gynaecology and odontology, among others were not always available due to a lack of necessary transportation and guarded wards in general hospitals. Despite a high prevalence of drug addiction, special treatment for drug addiction is either lacking or is terminated upon entry into a place of detention. The procurement of medication for prisoners with HIV and multi-resistant tuberculosis seemed adequate for sentenced detainees but difficult to access for pre-trial detainees. I am also concerned by the apparent shortage in mental health professionals including psychologists or social workers.

While I welcome the envisaged transfer of responsibility for health care from the penitentiary administration to the Ministry of Health, I note with concern the reported reluctance of some concerned authorities in completing this crucial change. The current unclear supervisory chain of health professionals in detention centres may impede them from documenting and reporting torture or ill-treatment resulting injuries.

I also note with concern the failure of medical staff to conduct thorough medical examination of detainees, despite existing regulations. Medical staff was reported not to inquire about injuries or probe further for explanations. Many medical personnel are generally unfamiliar with the Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Istanbul Protocol), and in some places of detention do not consider it their duty to question whether injuries observed may be the result of torture and ill-treatment.

  • I call on the Ukrainian authorities to allocate adequate resources to prison health services and to ensure that medical services in detention centres are under administration of the Ministry of Health.
  • I also recommend that all medical staff operating in detention facilities are properly trained on the Istanbul Protocol.
  • I also call on the authorities to consider introducing effective drug-replacement therapy in detention centres.

2. Legal framework

Ukraine has ratified most of the international human rights treaties relevant to my mandate, including the Convention against Torture (24 February 1987), the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (19 September 2006) and the ICCPR (12 November 1973). Moreover, since 12 September 2003, Ukraine accepts the inquiry procedure and the individual complaints procedure under the CAT. At the regional level Ukraine has ratified the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (11 September 1997), and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (5 May 1997). Furthermore, Ukraine has ratified the Geneva Conventions (3 August 1954) and their Additional Protocols of 1977 (25.01.1990). While Ukraine is not a party to the Rome Statute, on 17 April 2014, the Government lodged a declaration under article 12(3) of the Rome Statute accepting the ICC's jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed on the territory of Ukraine from 21 November 2013 to 22 February 2014. Further, on 8 September 2015, the Government of Ukraine submitted a second declaration under article 12(3) of the Statute accepting the exercise of jurisdiction by the ICC in relation to alleged crimes committed on its territory from 20 February 2014 onwards, with no end date. The Court may therefore exercise its jurisdiction over Rome Statute crimes committed on the territory of Ukraine since 21 November 2013.

To a large extent, these international and regional legal regimes are complemented at the national level where a strong normative and procedural framework is in place to prevent and punish torture: the right to be free from torture is protected by article 28 of the National Constitution and article 127 of the Criminal Code. The necessary legal safeguards, including access to a doctor and to a lawyer in the first hours of detention, are protected by law. I am also pleased to report that in my meetings with the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government, all officials emphasized their unequivocal commitment to the absolute and non-derogable prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

In my view, the fact that the Criminal Code of Ukraine penalizes torture by any perpetrator, regardless their official status, may have certain benefits in the current circumstances where parts of the Ukrainian territory is controlled by de facto authorities lacking recognized status as state officials. However, I am concerned that the definition of the crime of torture in Article 127 of the Criminal Code does not incorporate all elements required by article 1 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Most notably, the mere consent or acquiescence of State officials with regard to acts of torture or ill-treatment does not appear to be criminalized. Moreover, it appears that, in practice, acts that could amount to torture and ill-treatment under article 1 of the Convention against Torture are instead prosecuted under articles of the Criminal Code relating to abuse of power or authority.

  • I strongly recommend that Ukraine amend its legislation to include a definition of torture in the Criminal Code that is, as a minimum, in conformity with the Convention against Torture and covers all the elements contained in article 1 of that instrument, in particular the infliction of torture by, or at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of, a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. Furthermore, acts of torture and ill-treatment should be made punishable by penalties commensurate with their gravity.

3. Allegations of torture and ill-treatment

Despite existing international, regional and domestic legal safeguards to prevent torture, and improvement in the recent past, violence by civilian and military law enforcement agencies seems to be structural and impunity widespread. The forensic expert who accompanied my visit conducted a number of medical examinations of inmates, which confirmed physical injuries consistent with the allegations of torture or ill-treatment received.

i. Police violence

I received numerous allegations of torture and ill-treatment at the hands of the police, including against juveniles as young as 14 years-old, almost always occurring at the time of apprehension and interrogation. Most inmates reported that such treatment was used to intimidate them or to force them to confess an alleged crime.

In addition to threats and insults, 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 ill-treatment and torture. Others reported having been subjected to techniques of torture specifically designed to leave no marks.

I have noted with satisfaction that efforts have been taken to avoid unnecessary prolonged police custody in order to reduce the risk of ill-treatment by police officers. I have not met any detainees held in local police stations in the course of my visit. However, a number of inmates whom we interviewed claimed to have been detained and ill-treated for several days in unofficial places of detention before being officially apprehended by the police. 

ii. Conflict-related torture and ill-treatment

Testimonies of detainees and released victims suggest that cases of incommunicado detention and torture in government-controlled territory were common between 2014 and 2016 but later decreased. Also, torture allegedly frequently occurred in the custody of the State Security Service (SBU), or during periods of unofficial detention. It is my understanding that, in some cases, such abuse was committed by private individuals or volunteer battalions.
Detainees accused of crimes linked to the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine alleged having been tortured in order to extract information regarding their involvement, perceived or actual, in separatist activities or to identify armed groups’ military positions.

In some cases, the confessions extracted under torture were videotaped and later shown on Ukrainian TV broadcasts. Such torture-tainted evidence has been admitted by the courts, in clear violation of the exclusionary rule, which constitutes a cornerstone of the prevention of torture.

iii. Ineffective investigation of claims of torture and ill-treatment

I welcome the measures taken by the authorities to investigate cases of torture and other ill-treatment, most notably by the Office of the Prosecutor of Ukraine. However, despite persistent allegations of systematic torture and other ill-treatment made in relation to the aftermath of the conflict of 2014, formal investigations and prosecutions of such allegations appear to be rare, thus creating a strong perception of de facto impunity for acts of torture and other ill-treatment.

In some institutions, I have also noted a perceptible reluctance of victims to speak about ill-treatment, both because of their fear of reprisals and their general distrust in the ability and willingness of the judicial authorities to hear their claims.

Several interviewees who had filed a complaint for acts of torture with the Office of the Prosecutor reported that law enforcement officials intimated them or their relatives, pressuring them to withdraw their complaints. Furthermore, the forensic expert accompanying my mission noted that medical personnel often lacked the expertise to conduct efficient and genuine documentation of acts of torture. Interviewees further reported that lawyers – state or private - did not make any real efforts to present their case.
I also note with concern that detainees do not appear to have access to their personal medical and judicial records. In some cases, that I have been able to verify, these records seemed to have been tampered with a view to conceal potential evidence of torture and other ill-treatment. This observation concerns particularly the documentation of physical injuries, which is does not appear to be systematically undertaken, or not in accordance with the international standards set forth in the Istanbul Protocol. 

  • I strongly urge the Ukrainian authorities to take all necessary measures to effectively enforce the legal prohibition of torture and prevent its occurrence through: (a) effective monitoring of police, military and SBU detention and interrogation, (b) prompt, impartial and transparent investigation of allegations of torture and ill-treatment by a body independent from the executive branch and with no other institutional or hierarchical connection to the alleged perpetrators, and (c) effective prosecution and punishment of perpetrators.
  • I also strongly urge the judicial authorities to ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings (Exclusionary Clause).
  • I call on the authorities to promptly give full strength to the newly created independent State bureau of investigations established to investigate crimes committed by high-ranking officials, judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers, and to provide it with the nececessary powers and resources to fulfil its indispensable function.

4. Psychiatric and mental health institutions

I welcome the ongoing initiative of deinstitutionalization undertaken by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Policy and encourage the initial steps taken to ensure community based alternatives. Regardingthe process of admitting individuals to mental health institutions, we have noted that individuals above the age of 14 years are required by law to give consent before being placed in a mental health institution. It is important to maintain a close court supervision of the process and of the medical treatment provided and ensure channels for formal complaints mechanism. I would like to note with concern that my request to access to the psycho-neurological facility for women in the Sviatoshynskyi district of Kyiv was unduly delayed by the centre’s director, thus not allowing me to conduct the visit and undertake an assessment of the conditions and treatment prevailing there.

My delegation also visited the Regional Psychiatric Hospital of Sloviansk city, in particular the sections for children, and Tuberculosis patients wards. The facilities were in excellent condition and had been renovated thanks to international donations. Regarding children in psychiatric institutions, it appears that information about their health status and rights, potential interventions and alternatives to medical treatment, are not provided to them taking into account their age and disability.

  • I urge the authorities to systematically investigate the conditions of detention and treatment of patients in psychiatric hospitals and to take all necessary measures to ensure compliance with their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  • I urge the authorities to ensure that decisions concerning legal capacity, involuntary hospitalization and involuntary treatment are subject to regular judicial oversight.
  • I invite authorities to provide age-appropriate and accessible information to institutionalized children on their health status and alternative to medication in institutions where they are being placed.

5. Monitoring of detention conditions and role of NPM

I note that the Ukrainian national preventive mechanism, under the responsibility of the parliamentary Ombudsperson, has come a long way in establishing a solid and longstanding relationship with civil society. In particular, through an exemplary system of accreditation ("Ombudsman plus" system), the Ombudsperson has been facilitating the regular participation of various civil society actors, medical doctors and media personnel in the monitoring detention centres and fact finding regarding potential violations. I call on the new ombudsperson, who has been recently appointed, to maintain and further strengthen this best practice and to facilitate the accreditation of civil society actors previously engaged in monitoring tasks. It my considered view that regular monitoring of places of detention is one of the most effective measures to prevent torture. I also commend the work of the non-governmental actors involved in this monitoring process and encourage them to continue to strengthen this activity throughout Ukraine.

The mechanism’s preventive activities should also be strengthened by ensuring a structural unit for data collection and investigation of torture and ill-treatment cases. It is also crucial that the authorities establish a follow-up mechanism within the concerned ministries to ensure the effective implementation of the mechanism’s recommendations.

  • I urge the Ukrainian authorities to ensure that all relevant detention monitoring bodies operating under the "Ombudsman plus" system have free and unhindered access to places of detention.
  • I also urge  the Ombudsperson’s office to ensure a swift accreditation process to permit the participation of experienced and adequately trained civil society organisations in such monitoring tasks.

Territory controlled by de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk 

Conditions of detention

a) Luhansk:

Although I was able to obtain restricted access to Krasnyi Luch penal colony Nr.19 and Petrovske penal colony Nr.24, both facilities had been pre-selected by the de facto authorities in Luhansk. The conditions under which I had to undertake these visits were not in accordance with my terms of reference and did not allow for a reliable and a comprehensive assessment of the conditions of detention prevalent in these facilities. Most notably, was not authorized to access all sections of my choice in these facilities, or to conduct any confidential interviews with the detainees. Even collective interviews of a general nature were made impossible by an oppressively intimidating presence of prison staff, resulting in an overall climate of fear. 

In both institutions, all detainees were forced to abandon their cells and pavilions and to stand in the courtyard with their faces facing the wall throughout the entire time of my visit. In colony 24 educational programs were played on loudspeaker.

Due to the impossibility of interviewing detainees confidentially, we had to rely upon information provided by recently released inmates transferred to the Government-controlled territory. According to their reports, the de facto authorities conducted violent searches by special forces, which involved arbitrary and severe beatings of inmates by masked officials, generally without any particular cause. Former inmates also reported insufficient medical care, particularly regarding specialised treatment, and the quality of the food was generally assessed as being extremely poor and the quantity as insufficient.

b) Donetsk:

In the Donetsk, I was able to obtain restricted access to the pre-trial detention facility No.5 (SIZO) in Donetsk city. The conditions under which I was allowed to interview detainees in this institution did not ensure full confidentiality and I was therefore not able to comprehensively assess the conditions of detention and treatment prevalent in this institution.

I am very concerned to have found that juveniles are detained in this institution under conditions clearly not corresponding to their age, vulnerability and best interests. Despite the presence of a medical staff, access to healthcare appeared to be restricted and the quality of the food was reported to be unacceptable, forcing inmates to rely on family parcels. This presented a significant problem for conflict related detainees with difficulties of maintaining contact with family members in Government controlled territory. Some of the collective cells I was allowed to visit did not provide sufficient space per inmate, were poorly ventilated, resulting in mould on the walls next to the sanitary installations. Overall, the infrastructure of the building was very old and in dire need of renovation.

Legal and procedural safeguards

I regret that many of the interlocutors I requested to meet with in both Donetsk and Luhansk were not available for a meeting, despite repeated and timely requests. I was therefore not able to conduct a proper and meaningful assessment of the legal and procedural safeguards in place, and to evaluate their effective implementation.

However, it is with the utmost concern that I take note of the recent amendment to the martial law by the de facto authorities, which introduced systems of 'administrative arrest' (Donetsk) and ‘preventive arrest’ (Lunhansk), that can be applied for up to 30 days and then extended to 60 days without any contact to a lawyer or the outside world. It must be stressed that any such regime of incommunicado detention is absolutely incompatible with the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment, and provides not safeguards whatsoever against arbitrary detention.

I also received several reports that detainees who have completed their sentence in territories controlled by the armed groups could not be released due to the absence of the required judicial authorisations. I also received several inquiries from detainees as to the possibility of transfers into the Government controlled territory. I therefore encourage the Ukrainian authorities, to the maximum extent possible to them,  to facilitate any pending judicial proceedings or other measures to allow the concerned detainees to serve their sentence in the Government-held territory where they have their families.

  • I strongly urge the de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk to respect and ensure the basic principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights concerning the respect for the life, security, liberty integrity and fair trial rights of persons under their control, including the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment.
  • In particular, I strongly urge all de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk to prohibit and form of incommunicado detention.

As far as conflict-related torture and ill-treatment is concerned, regardless of the precise legal qualification of the Ukrainian armed conflict, all belligerent parties, including the de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk, have direct international obligations to respect applicable international humanitarian law, including the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment.

  • In accordance with Art. 3 common to the Geneva Conventions I strongly recommend that, without prejudice to their respective legal status, all parties to the conflict in the Ukraine endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, the other provisions of the Geneva Conventions, including the obligation to allow visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross to all persons deprived of their liberty.

Allegations of torture and ill-treatment

I was able to interview individuals detained by armed groups and released to Government-controlled territory following the 27 December 2017 simultaneous release under the Minsk agreements. These interviews provided some insight into the treatment of security detainees and the methods of torture used in the territories controlled by the de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk. However, not having been allowed to interview detainees of my choice currently being detained there confidentially prevented me from properly assessing the situation of individuals deprived of their liberty in these territories.

The allegations I was able to gather illustrate a pattern of torture and ill-treatment very similar to the methods used in the Government-held territory of Ukraine. Interviewees reported having been apprehended in the street or at home by armed men in civilian clothing, and transferred to the Security Services (MGB) of the respective de facto authorities where they underwent interrogation for prolonged period of time, with no access to lawyers.

The interrogation period was marked by sever ill-treatment involving beating and kicking, threats of sexual violence against them or their families, electrocution, mock executions and suffocation. The primary purpose of such abuse was reportedly the extraction of confessions or information. Many of the interviewees reported to have been charged with espionage, subversive activities or terrorism on the basis of self-incriminating statements extracted under torture. Civilians who regularly cross the contact line appear to be at high risk of being arbitrarily arrested and subjected to torture.

  • I strongly urge all de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk to respect and ensure respect for the absolute and universal prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment under both human rights law and international humanitarian law.
  • I remind all parties to the Ukrainian conflict, including the de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk, that common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions provides binding rules which must be respected as an absolute minimum and in all circumstances.
  • I also strongly encourage the de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk to permit regular, independent, and impartial international monitoring based on the principles of unrestricted and unannounced access to all places of detention and complete privacy of interviews with all inmates.

Allegations of torture and ill-treatment in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea

I have met with a number of persons who left the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, allegedly after having been subjected to severe acts of torture and ill-treatment at the hands of Russian law enforcement officers. According to the information received, Crimean Tatars were particularly targeted, especially those who boycotted the March 2014 referendum, under the justification of fighting extremism. 

In addition, I am seriously concerned at information I received according to which a large number of prisoners and pre-trial detainees are reported to have been transferred to the Russian Federation, in apparent contravention to international humanitarian law.

However, without access to Crimea in the context of my present official visit to the Ukraine, I unfortunately was unable to more comprehensively examine the situation relating to torture and ill-treatment in that territory.

  • I urge the Russian Federation to take all measures necessary to ensure the protection of the rights of all residents of Crimea in accordance with its international legal obligations and, in particular, to prevent any discriminatory measures and practices, arbitrary detention, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • I further urge the Russian Federation to ensure the prompt and unimpeded access of independent and impartial international human rights monitoring missions to Crimea.