As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, UN Committee against Torture and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Ukraine has taken on the commitment to ensure that people are not subjected to torture and ill-treatment by public officials. This right is absolute and there are no circumstances justifying the use of torture. The right is enshrined in the Constitution, Article 28 of which guarantees: “No one shall be subjected to torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment that violates his or her dignity”. At the same time, human rights organizations continue to deal with allegations of torture and ill-treatment quite frequently.
The problem of torture is one of the most difficult to resolve. Its roots like in the formula used by Vyshynsky that “a confession is the queen of proof”, in the attitude towards an offender as to an enemy you don’t need to be on ceremony with and in general cruelty in society, with a failure to appreciate the value of each human life. There is a fixed idea among the public that any, sometimes harsh, methods are acceptable in order to eradicate crime. The investigation into a large percentage of crimes is based on the confession of the suspect. Therefore, regardless of declarations about commitment to human rights, the legislators and the courts are reluctant to change entrenched practice and legislation. This is not effective enough at avoiding the use of torture and it also fosters the right conditions for a high level of latency with regard to this crime. The latter makes it positive to present the problem both to Ukrainian society and to international institutions and the international community as minor. Unfortunately, ill-treatment or torture often remain unpunished, or worse, are treated as the norm.
The following remain forms of torture and ill-treatment of a widespread and systematic nature:
the use of torture against those suspected of having committed a crime during the detective inquiry stage or pre-trial investigation;
the conditions and ill-treatment meted out in pre-trial detention centres [SIZO], temporary holding facilities [ITT] and some penal institutions;
“didivshchyna” [hazing or bullying] in the army when more senior servicemen torment and humiliate young soldiers;
Over recent years, however, there has been a change in the attitude of the management of some government bodies implicated in the use of torture.
The Ministry of Defence, for example, has adopted a principled stand in carefully investigating all complaints and cooperating actively with human rights organizations which are able to visit military units, meet with solders and officers, and carry out surveys, etc. Thanks to this, from 2002 – 2006 we observed a reduction in the number of cases of “didivshchyna”, as compared with the period from 1998 to 2001. Although cases do still occur, over recent years there have almost not been any killings or cases where soldiers committed suicide as the result of “didivshchyna”.
The adoption on 4 April 2006 of a new version of the Law “On general military conscription and military service” made a significant change with direct impact on “didivshchyna”. The period of military service in the Armed Forces was reduced from two years to one and in the Naval Forces to 18 months. With this change, the divide between soldiers from the first and second year of their service disappeared. One can still see lighter forms of “didivshchyna”, as when conscripts who have served six months already treat beginners with contempt. The number of criminal investigations over “unfitting relations” [the official term for “didivshchyna”] has fallen sharply, although it is extremely difficult to eradicate the problem. The following is a typical case.
According to the sentence passed by the local military court of the Sevastopol garrison, conscript VCh-AO428 sailor Prokhurenko, in order to demonstrate his imagined superiority over a conscript who had been called up later, and kicked Udin and Dubyn so hard that Dubyn suffered serious bodily injury as a result of which he had to have his spleen removed. The court sentenced Prokhurenko to two years in a disciplinary battalion, however refused to allow Dubyn’s claim for 5,000 UAH in compensation for material damages, although it did partially allow the claim for moral damages, ordering that the defendant pay his victim 20 thousand UAH. The command of the military unit did not take any part in the court proceedings.