in person

Human rights sentinel

20.06.2014 | By Rustem Khalilov

The nature of human rights protection in Ukraine is such that this process is moving at a snails pace. The character of human rights activists is not in discord with this pace. Human rights activists count not in months, but in years and at times in decades and grow older with people whose rights they protect. Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union Yevhen Zakharov speaks about specifics of the work of human rights activists in Ukraine

KW: Is it possible to improve people´s trust in police?

Y.Z.: It is possible, but for that it needs to be fundamentally reformed and personnel must be substantially replaced. The processes have begun, but the system is very successfully resisting them. If it continues, the prospects of reforms in the police are not very good. Decisive actions are required, although I do understand that it is difficult to reform the police in conditions of a military conflict.

KW: Where would personnel come from?

Y.Z.: Ive seen quite a bit during the two months that Ive been on commission for staff appointments in the Interior Ministry. Difficult but not impossible. Of course, a large part of the police leadership needs to be replaced. Inside the police, everything is clear who is who, who is worth what, and who is not. There is a notion of an honest cop. There are such people. They are not always employed: some were forced to retire, but they could come back. In fact, such appointments were made in some oblast police departments: people were asked back, who have not worked in the police for long, but who were known for not being affiliated to the bad things. The second option is to give a chance to talented young professionals and give them an opportunity to climb up the career ladder. Finally, we need to identify those police employees, who could become seniors. There are three requirements for this: honesty, patriotism and professionalism.

KW: Why do you think tortures in the police continue?

Y.Z.: They cannot work differently; they do it by inertia. The methods of tortures have for many years been passed down the generations. In the past, the bill of indictment without full confession was not acceptable. Over the past year, a lot has changed. Technologies are faster than the law. Right now crimes are being investigated through studying the traffic of mobile communication operators. The number of applications for obtaining information from mobile operators exceeds the possibilities to store this information long enough and in sufficient volumes. In January 2013, when it all got serious, there were 160,000 applications for obtaining such information!!!! In fact, part of that information could be obtained without a court sanction. Now, an investigator studies who was at the place of the crime and compares with his databases. Since there are such methods, it is often not very clear why the crimes are not solved.

KW: Would less torture lead to lower crime solving rate?

Y.Z.: It is true. Crime solving rate in the EU countries is around 30-35%. In fact, to tell you the truth, the crime solving rate of 90%, which was demanded in the past, is simply impossible. Again, it is being said that this has been cancelled and that there is no such indicator, but the report is provided with it. When something major happens, the leadership demands quick solving of the crimes and that is where the ugliness starts. It is impossible to do these things fast; so those who can be appointed a criminal are sought. In fact, not only police, but the whole system of criminal justice needs to be reformed.

KW: Is it like trying to break the wall with bare hands?

Y.Z.: In early 1990s I used to say that to protect human rights is like trying to catch the wind in a net. However, mechanisms appeared that would allow to achieve success. The other thing is that it may stretch out for a very long time. I can tell you hundreds of stories, when human rights were reinstated and compensations were charged. I know cases, when people, who were imprisoned as a result of unfair sentence, were released and received compensation from the government. I know a case, when a child who was infected with AIDS during birth received a colossal compensation, but the story was not resolved for 18 years!

This Criminal Procedural Code cost us 12 years of efforts. It resembled a detective story. In early 2000s we sent the draft CPC, which completely repeated the old CPC, to full revision without giving it the second reading. Now we have a system of free legal assistance. We started in 1999 and it was introduced only in January 2013. We have worked on the issue of decriminalization of libel probably for eight years. We demanded for many years to make torture a criminal offence. All these things require huge efforts, lots of time and energy.

KW: Have you ever been intimidated in your line of work?

Y.Z.: Not really. You see, I have never been involved in politics as such. Ive been repeatedly asked to become a high-level civil servant and I always declined the offer. The only thing that I would agree to is to be ombudsman, if I were elected.

Reducing the level of violence is the most important thing. Many people got infected with aggressiveness, intolerance, lack of compassion. This is something that concerns me most. This needs to be eliminated.

KW: It is hard to speak about human rights during armed conflicts

Y.Z.: Human rights organizations appeal to the state, as the state, though being the violator of human rights, is also protector of human rights. There is nobody to appeal to in Donetsk. Certain successes, that did happen, for instance hostage release all that is factually achieved through Russia. Somebody in Russia makes a call to Strelkov or Ponomaryov and tells him to free a specific person.

KW: How the people detained by the Ukrainian law enforcers are held?

Y.Z.: Far as I know, they are held in normal conditions. Well, not in worse conditions than all other detainees.

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