Ukrainian opposition activists clash with riot police on July 4, 2012 during a protest in Kiev against a new language law as President Viktor Yanukovych summoned the leaders of parliament to limit a growing crisis. Several people were left covered in blood and broken glass littered the street. The police used tear gas in an apparent bid to bring the situation under control. The opposition has reacted furiously to the Verkhovna Rada's rushed passing late on July 3 of the law elevating the status of Russian, which was not on the parliament's agenda for the day.
AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY
According to sources within the police force, officers were given the order: “Do not touch” when it came to European fans. Ukrainians reporting public order offences (urinating, vandalism, verbal abuse) were asked by police: “Who is doing it, Ukrainians or foreigners?” If it was foreigners, the police refused to turn up.
In one incident, foreign fans brawling outside the Olympic stadium in Kiev were surrounded by police, but not dispersed – the officers simply waited for the fight to end.
Meanwhile, police business continued as usual for ordinary Ukrainians, even in the host cities. On 8 June in Donetsk three young women were allegedly beaten and sexually molested by police in an attempt to compel them to confess to a theft from a Swiss national.
Alexander Kudimov, head of a Donetsk-based NGO called Rule of Law, told Amnesty that after he helped the women formally complain about their treatment the police made a statement to local media accusing him of working as their pimp. The father of two of the women was threatened and the third woman was attacked in her home by an unknown man who warned her to drop her complaint.
In the same city on 17 June police allegedly sexually assaulted a man with a police baton and savagely beat him after he was detained for drinking on the street. His brother told us that officers demanded US$20 for his release. He has undergone surgery to repair his internal organs and is still in hospital with concussion. Of the five officers alleged to have tortured him, only one has been arrested – the other four continue to work as police officers.
Amnesty International’s Ukraine campaigner Max Tucker said:
“Before the European championships, Amnesty had raised a number of human rights concerns in the country, noting particularly that an often violent and corrupt police force posed a significant threat to affluent Europeans visiting for the football.
“We detailed numerous cases where police used electric shocks, suffocated or savagely beat their victims in order to extort money, extract a confession, or simply because of the detainee’s ethnicity or sexual orientation.
“In the event, Euro 2012 fans were spared such treatment thanks to police orders not to touch visiting fans. So how did the Ukrainian authorities manage to bring this brutal, ill-equipped and underfunded force into line to effectively police a major sporting event? The answer, of course, is they didn’t. Officers were simply ordered not to touch foreign fans while police business continued as usual for ordinary Ukrainians.”
While a stern top-down instruction to police may have been enough to keep officers on a leash when it comes to foreign fans, it is clear that far more drastic action needs to be taken to spare Ukrainians violent abuse at the hands of those who are supposed to serve and protect them.
Since last October Amnesty has been pushing the Ukrainian government to create an independent institution dedicated to investigating crimes by police officers, and it seems that, perhaps with the help of Euro-inspired international media coverage, this idea is finally gaining some traction.
Amnesty is currently working with the country’s judicial authorities and NGOs to help establish a new State Investigation Bureau and shape it into an effective institution that can rein in police excesses.
Although it is still much too early to tell what the State Investigation Bureau will look like when eventually presented to parliament, this opportunity presents a glimmer of hope for Ukraine.
Amnesty believes the current government, and whoever governs after elections due to be held in October, has a chance to show it is serious about turning Ukraine’s parasitic police force into one of public service.