Ombudsman: State stopped fulfilling its basic obligations in Donbas

Author : Natalia Vlashchenko

Respondent : Valeria Lutkovska

Source : 112 Ukraine

Valeria Lutkovska on human and children's rights violation in Donbas and Crimea, exchange of hostages, and political prisoners
18:02, 31 January 2017

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Vlaschenko: Today our guest is Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights Valeria Lutkovska.

Mrs. Lutkovska, recently you have been to Crimea. Our politicians and officials are convinced that visiting Crimea is dangerous. Why did you go there?

Lutkovska: Perhaps, indeed, this is dangerous. But in this situation it is not important at all. It is important to understand that Ukrainian citizens live in Crimea, and they just need to be protected. In some situations, moral support, moral protection is more important than any active actions in defense of certain citizens. I went to Crimea because many Ukrainians in Crimea are in pre-trial detention, in custody. When we faced the problems Crimea, we did not forget to withdraw military units from the Crimea, but we have forgotten that there are people in custody. Crimean prison system remains independent, and the people who were in custody, are actually the hostages at the moment.

How many people are in custody there?

Too be frank, I do not know. And I doubt that someone knows this figure. Regarding the colonies, correctional centers, of course, this information is opened. But no one knows how many people are kept there, because all the records are kept paper. And, accordingly, each institution has information concerning its own prisoners only.

Related: ATO is not a reason to suspend pension payments, - Ombudsman Lutkovska

Do we know how many prisoners are kept in Ukraine, by regions?

I think you should ask the Ministry of Justice. Today, they are responsible for the prison service system.

What did you see in Crimea? Have you there to do something?

We have long been negotiating with the Ombudsman of the Russian Federation that we will try to achieve an "Ad hoc" mechanism to move those who remained in the penitentiary institutions to the territory controlled by Ukraine. It is Ukraine’s duty to take care of these people, to provide them with life, health, and adequate living conditions. But during this very visit I was able to meet prisoners who are now accused of a certain kind of offense, a political offense. Precisely, meeting, which was held February 26, 2014, under the jurisdiction of Ukraine, in accordance with the legislation of Ukraine, but, nevertheless, three Crimean Tatars were accused of committing a criminal offense in relation to the Russian Federation. I was able to meet and talk with A. Chiygoz, Degermendzhi M., A. Asanov. After that, I was able to talk to the administration of the detention facility.

Do these political prisoners have any prospects there? And what would be the fate of those prisoners who were convicted before the annexation?

I hope that they some chances. And these will not be agreements between the two countries, but between two Ombudsmen, because these are humanitarian issues, and that ombudsmen should solve them. Regarding those accused of the so-called political crimes, they should wait for the verdict, and, accordingly, then it would be decided whether they would be moved to Ukraine. They are citizens of Ukraine, and they have such right to. In terms of our legislation, we simply do not accept the court's decision, voiced by Crimea, because it is not the court, which is set by law.

Related: Ukrainian, Russian ombudswomen agree to cooperate in Klykh and Odintsov cases

How many political prisoners and hostages are there in Crimea and in Russia?

I have several groups. I will not talk about numbers, because they change. The first group, in which we are working constantly includes those who have already been convicted or are in the stage of condemnation, but for which we are negotiating to recognize their Ukrainian citizenship. This is exactly the problem of Sentsova and Kolchenko because they are Crimeans, they were in Simferopol pre-trial detention, and during this time Russia’s special law on Crimea was passed, and they automatically became citizens of the Russian Federation. Although neither Sentsov nor Kolchenko got a passport or wrote a statement saying that they wanted to be citizens of the Russian Federation. That is, they are citizens of Ukraine. So here we are fighting for their recognition as citizens of Ukraine and, accordingly, for their turning back to Ukraine. The second group is those who came in the convention on the fight against human trafficking. They signed contracts in Ukraine for the work in the Russian Federation: couriers, carriers, drivers; and then on the territory of the Russian Federation the police found drugs during their personal searches, and they are now in custody.

Related: Ombudsman asks to convoy Ukrainian prisoner closer to Ukraine

Do you think that someone slips those drugs?

Most likely.

What for?

I do not know. For me it is a mystery. But National Police responded to my appeal to them, and it has already initiated criminal proceedings in Ukraine with respect to human trafficking. If we can prove that it is human trafficking, then, in theory, victims of trafficking should not be prosecuted. Then we can talk further about the Ukrainians, who are in custody in the Russian Federation.

Maybe, our Constitution should be more suitable to today's historical circumstances?

It is necessary to change the vector. The Constitution is the social contract. This social contract must comply with the ideal perception of both sides - the government and the people, what both sides see in their ideal dreams.

War always mean violation of human rights. Today, the Hague court is considering 90 claims for the Donbas - on both sides. Can you, as an ombudsman, help these people?

If we talk about the uncontrolled territory of Donbas, the state does not help at all. State, for some reason, has self-eliminated, and does not even carry out any of its obligations, which are unconditional.

Related: Ukraine’s Ombudsman to meet Chyigoz and two other prisoners in Crimea

It is believed that helping people who live in the occupied territories, we are strengthening the terrorist groups that keep the territory under control.

I do knot laud this view. We have stopped paying the social benefits, which do not depend on the conducting  anti-terroristic operations. We stopped paying pensions quite illegally, despite the fact that there are no grounds for stopping payment of pensions.

Politicians claim that people on the uncontrolled territories receive two pensions - from the Russians and from us.

So why don’t we say it officially? We are not ready to admit it. Why, then, we stopped paying pension? This is the first thing. Secondly, I do not believe, and I feel great sarcasm to the idea that a pensioner who receives 1200-1800 hryvnia would still finance terrorism. As well as a single mother, who was left with a child in her arms – she will not give her little money from the social payments to the terrorists. But coal purchases from the uncontrolled territory of Luhansk region - this is indeed a serious issue. And who buys coal? I am not an expert on heating issues. I am a specialist in the other field, and the right to get pension and other social benefits must not be violated. You cannot blame the terrorist financing pensioners, despite the fact that you are purchasing coal. And in this situation, we are obliged to pay a pension. And if we still have not come up with the mechanism of how to implement it, this is the problem of the state, not the problem of those pensioners who cannot, for whatever reasons, move from the uncontrolled territory.

Related: Russian Ombudsman promised to return Crimean prisoners to Ukraine

How do you cooperate with the Minsk Group for the release of prisoners? Is there any coordination of your actions?

We cooperate, we exchange information. But I do not take part in the exchange. It is always a political agreement, and I am not a politician. On the other hand, I understand that there is a territory, controlled by the Ukrainian authorities, and it would be strange for me to send some people to the uncontrolled territories as a part of exchange deal. Yes, of course, we need to take back our people who became hostages there. I believe that this is a political agreement, and I do not have the right to take part in this.

Well, but we send fighters there, right?

We send people who are suspected or convicted of assisting in the organization of terrorism.

And do we have Russian soldiers in custody? Did Russian Ombudsman appeal to you with such questions?

I managed to get to Simferopol detention facility only as a part of simultaneous monitoring visit. At one day, we have visited the Simferopol prison and a detention facility in Mykolaiv, where two citizens of Ukraine, suspected in desertion, are kept; and from the point of view of the Russian Federation, they are citizens of Russia. They were soldiers who served in the territory of Crimea. There was an order to move to Kherson region, but they failed to comply with the order.

Are there some representatives of Russian military personnel there? I mean are they detained?

You should better ask SBU. Of course, there is such a request from the Russian ombudsman, and I will answer it, but I will not response concerning Russian officers, and I will answer about the citizens of the Russian Federation, who are imprisoned.

Related: Ukrainian Ombudswoman urges Russia to investigate tortures against detained Karpyuk

How many of these people can be here?

Up to 100 people.

There are a lot of questions on children's rights. Some of the children were transferred from Donbas to Russia. What is the fate of these children?

All children (except for the two institutions) from government institutions of occupied Donbas, whom state is responsible for, were transferred to the territory controlled by Ukraine. It was difficult, lives of some children were under threat; sometimes we transferred them through the territory of the Russian Federation.

And what about "Dr. Lisa" (Russian humanitarian worker and charity activist)?

There were some children, who had parents, and there were agreements with the parents. I have also contacted with her for a while, but at some point, I realized it and stopped all sorts of contacts with her. There were children, living in the families, but they required special medical care, which could not been provided in those conditions of hostilities in Donbas.

How many children she took?

We have different information, and I think that we will collect it for a long time. If these are children with parent, the state has no right to interfere in the decision of parents.

Related: Most cases in European Court of Human Rights are against Ukraine

And if children's rights are violated?

Here we have to decide the question of parental rights first. If the life of a child is under threat, then the state is acting as parents. But as long as we have not decided it, parents are responsible for what they do.

In addition to IDP children, there are about 100 thousand disadvantaged children. Do you have a rapid response tools to react on what is happening to them?

You idealize Ukrainian ombudsman. Response tools belong to National Police, guardianship and custody, i. e. those authorities that are specifically designed for the quick response. But our function is to make these bodies to perform their functions.

Related: Ukraine calls on UN to increase pressure on Russia due to its violation of human rights

Did you investigate any cases of the children, who were left in the house alone and then died?

I have an official response of National Police that no one called the police. But I have information from Kuleba (President's Special Envoy on children's rights) that the police came to the house. So now this case is under investigation, and I will not leave this matter until I find out whether the police really came.

Do you feel secure?

On the one hand, I quietly live, work and fulfill my duties. With regard to all allegations about me, I worked as Deputy Minister of Justice at that time, when the Prime Minister was Tymoshenko, Azarov, and Yekhanurov. I have quite a long professional career.

 Is it true that I. Lutsenko might take your place?

I have no idea.

Related: US concerned about worsening of human rights situation in Crimea

Related: Klykh grew insane due to tortures in Russia, - human rights defender

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