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UN expert says persistent claims of torture and impunity in Ukraine

Russian | Ukrainian

KYIV (11 June 2018) – The UN Special Rapporteur on torture has called on the Ukrainian Government and all de facto authorities controlling parts of the country’s territory to put into place an effective system of monitoring, safeguards and accountability for the prevention of torture.

“Despite noticeable improvements in the recent past, torture and ill-treatment continue to be practiced with impunity throughout the country, including in territories outside the control of the Government,” the UN Special Rapporteur, Nils Melzer, said at the end of a 12-day visit to the country.

Melzer visited various places of detention and met with relevant authorities and human rights institutions, as well as with civil society organisations, victims of torture and their families. Melzer also visited territories under the de facto control of armed groups in Donetsk and Luhansk, but was unable to access the Crimean Peninsula under the control of the Russian Federation.

“I regret to report that, in all parts of the country, my team and I received persistent allegations of torture and ill-treatment at the time of the arrest and during interrogation, both at the hands of national police and state security services, and at the hands of security services established by de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk,” he said.

Irrespective of the authority concerned, the reported ill-treatment followed a common pattern of intimidation, punishment and forced confessions. “In addition to threats of sexual violence and insults, the most frequent methods of torture allegedly include kicking and beating, electric shocks, suffocation, suspension techniques, and mock executions, including against teenagers as young as 14 years old,” the expert said.

While the Ukrainian Government has made significant progress in avoiding unnecessary police custody and ensuring prompt transfers of arrested persons to proper detention facilities, several detainees reported having been tortured in unofficial places of detention for several days before the officially registered time of arrest.

Formal investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment appear to be rare, thus creating a strong perception of impunity. “I urge the Ukrainian authorities to take all necessary measures to prevent any complacency with, or impunity for, torture and other ill-treatment,” said the Special Rapporteur.

While Melzer welcomed ongoing reforms of the penitentiary system, living conditions in many detention facilities remained difficult and most of the infrastructure was in dire need of renovation.

The expert noted with particular concern that children between the age of 14 and 18 were held under inadequately harsh conditions in the same institutions as adult detainees. 

In the territories controlled by armed groups in Donetsk and Luhansk, the Special Rapporteur was able to obtain restricted access to three places of detention, but was not authorised to speak with inmates of his choice without the presence of guards. “While the detention infrastructure is generally comparable to areas controlled by the Government, the conditions under which I had to undertake these visits did not allow for a reliable assessment of the treatment prevalent in these places of detention.”

“Particularly in the places under the control of the de facto authorities in Luhansk, I found the regime to be extremely oppressive and intimidating, with the inmates being completely prevented from freely communicating with my team.”

The expert also expressed grave concerns at a system of “preventive” or “administrative” detention introduced in both Donetsk and Luhansk, under which detainees reportedly can be held without access to a lawyer and or any outside communication for up to 60 days. “Any practice of such incommunicado detention is completely incompatible with the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment and must be halted immediately,” the expert said.

The Special Rapporteur reminded all parties in Ukraine of their obligations under both human rights law and international humanitarian law. “The prohibition of torture and ill-treatment is one of the most fundamental norms of international law, and allows for no exceptions under any circumstances,” Melzer said.

“The systematic and independent monitoring of its faithful implementation throughout the territory of Ukraine therefore must be a top priority not only for the government and the various de facto authorities, but also for the international community as a whole.”


Mr. Nils Melzer (Switzerland) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in November 2016. Mr. Melzer has previously worked for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and is currently the Human Rights Chair of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and Professor of International Law at the University of Glasgow.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
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For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact:
Jeremy Laurence (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

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