New support to torture victims in Ukraine

Photos: Ergün Cakal

For the first time, DIGNITY will work on rehabilitation of torture victims and better documentation of torture in Ukraine in collaboration with the two Ukrainian partners and supported by the EU.

It’s been many years since Ukraine ratified the UN Convention on Torture.

This happened back in 1987, and Ukraine was then somewhat of a pioneer country – ahead of both Belgium, Germany and Island. But despite a comprehensive legal framework and an authority willingness to eliminate the use of torture and other inhumane treatment, it continues to be prevalent and today experts call for a comprehensive need of both treatment and documentation.

The situation has been particularly aggravated by the conflict, which erupted in eastern Ukraine in 2014. Nearly six years of fighting between Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists have resulted in about 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and a 2017 report by the independent international peace-building organisation International Alert has indicated, that between 17 and 32 percent of them may suffer from PTSD, anxiety or depression.

In addition, both the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the European Committee of the Prevention of Torture and the UN Human Rights Council have documented human rights violations on both sides of the conflict, including widespread use of violence, torture and inhuman treatment against both conflict combatants and the civilian population. In addition, psychological torture like threats, humiliation and prolonged sleep deprivation is frequently used by Ukrainian police.

Being subjected to torture is traumatising, and torture survivors often suffer from severe anxiety attacks, depression, flashbacks, concentration difficulties and chronic pain in the body for many years after. This makes it difficult for them to move on with the life or, for the IDPs, build a new one.

Early detection of trauma however increases the chance of successful recovery, but in Ukraine there is a shortage of healthcare professionals who can identify signs of torture, inhumane treatment or trauma and provide the necessary treatment. This further means that documentation of the use of torture is deficient, and almost no incidents of torture are taken to trial. It mostly happens in cases of extensive media coverage.

The purpose of this new project carried out by DIGNITY – Danish Institute against Torture and the Ukrainian human rights organisations, Forpost and SICH, is therefore to train both lawyers, medical professionals and psychologists in effectively identifying, documenting and treating victims of torture and other inhuman treatment. The aim is to improve both methods of rehabilitation of torture victims and ensure accountability.

Rasmus Grue Christensen, executive director of DIGNITY, says about the project:

»Unfortunately, the use of torture and violence is widespread in Ukraine and several years of conflict have only aggravated the situation. It is therefore vital that we support efforts of improving identification and documentation of the use of torture, to ensure that victims will get the vindication they are entitled to«.

Elena Podolyan, Director of Forpost, says:

»We keep in our memory the consequences of living in the totalitarian Soviet regime: Tolerance for infringement of civil rights and freedoms, as well as an insensitivity to violating both state and personal bodily borders. Therefore, it is now extremely important to publicly discuss the mechanism for the eradication of torture in Ukraine, to improve the qualifications of specialists and to build a reliable international partnership«.

Dmitry Reva, Director of SICH says:

»In our activities aimed at assisting victims of torture and ill treatment, we regularly face the problem of the lack of effective mechanisms for investigating torture cases at the official state level. This leads to the fact that the number of convictions against perpetrators of torture is extremely small, and the victims cannot fully rely on justice. We are confident that our cooperation with DIGNITY will be an important factor in changing the situation for the better«.

The project is a partnership between the Danish human rights organisation, DIGNITY – the Danish Institute against Torture, and the Ukrainian human rights organisations Forpost and SICH.

It is a two-year project running from December 2019 and supported by the European Union.

This publication was produced with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of DIGNITY and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.


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