Impunity reigns for abductions and ill-treatment by pro-Kyiv vigilantes in eastern Ukraine

In eastern Ukraine, the battle lines have been shifting for months, after pro-Russian separatists asserted effective control over several key towns across the region.In a bid to assert its control, the Ukrainian forces have been fighting for months, to reinstate Kyiv’s authority over areas held by pro-Russian separatists.Law and order do not necessarily follow. In the broader context of a deteriorating security situation in the east, Amnesty International has recently raised its concerns with the Ukrainian authorities about one particularly errant MP who has been “detaining” – in effect abducting – and ill-treating individuals across the region. He’s called Oleg Lyashko, he is the leader of the pro-Ukrainian Radical Party, Member of the Ukrainian Parliament and former presidential candidate. He travels in the company of muscular armed young men in military fatigues and the ubiquitous camera to record his exploits. His website makes for some grim viewing – Oleg Lyashko is shown entering private and public premises, always accompanied by armed men, and subsequently abducting individuals or forcing them to carry out his instructions. Oleg Lyashko is supposed to be a lawmaker, but he has taken the law into his own hands. “Glory to Ukraine, death to the occupiers” is his rallying cry.Though he doesn’t have the right to detain people, he abducts them and abuses them verbally and physically while the camera is rolling. His and other similar websites feature numerous video clips showing what appear to be cases of abduction and violations of the rights to fair trial, liberty and security of the person, and the right not to be subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. In May 2014, Oleg Lyashko and his armed cohort abducted two men. In a video clip, the two men are sitting hooded with their hands tied in the back of a van. Their hoods are removed and Oleg Lyashko is then seen interrogating one of them, who identifies himself as Igor Khakimzyanov, former “minister of defence” of the self-styled People’s Republic of Donetsk. He is dressed only in his underwear with two bleeding cuts to his body. Another video, dated 10 March this year, shows Oleg Lyashko abducting a member of Luhansk regional council, Arsen Klinchayev, in an office in Luhansk. The armed men with him hold the council member down by force and then drag him to a bus where he is interrogated. He is bare-chested, handcuffed and clearly dazed. After being driven around, the van returns to the regional council office where Oleg Lyashko verbally abuses and threatens Arsen Klinchayev, including saying he will go to prison for 15 years if he doesn’t obey him.Three further videos, which appear to be dated 8 July, expose Oleg Lyashko’s continuing campaign of violence, intimidation and abduction against individuals. In one, he forces the mayor of Slovyansk to write a ‘voluntary’ letter of resignation. The mayor is clearly resisting and at one point Oleg Lyashko threatens to throw him out of the fourth-floor window. Eventually, the mayor concedes. In a second video Oleg Lyashko threatens to kill the local Prosecutor or the chief of the Slovyansk police department, whom he blames for not having yet arrested Vitaly Rybalko, an alleged pro-Russian separatist leader. The police chief gives him Vitaly Rybalko’s private address and he and his armed men are then seen entering Vitaly Rybalko’s home, abducting him and taking him back to the police chief.A third video shows Oleg Lyashko interrogating a 62-year-old man who cannot be identified as he has a plastic bag over his head. His hands are tied to his legs with tape and he is huddled awkwardly in an unidentifiable place. Oleg Lyashko is questioning him about his involvement with separatists, an allegation he denies. One of the most recent video clips on Oleg Lyashko’s website is a television news report showing him and four armed men abducting Yuriy Borisov, allegedly the acting mayor of Stakhanov, Berdyansk on 27 July and, at one point, even kicking him. A video clip the next day shows Yuriy Borisov on his knees apologizing to the Ukrainian people for his part in organizing a “referendum” in Stakhanov on 10 May following which the separatists declared “independence” from Kyiv.  Amnesty International regards the actions of Oleg Lyashko and his armed associates as a flagrant violation of international legal standards which clearly state that only competent authorities can arrest or detain people. Despite that, to date, Oleg Lyashko is enjoying complete impunity.Amnesty International has documented the deteriorating security situation in eastern Ukraine, with abuses perpetrated by both sides of the conflict, including incidents of abduction and ill-treatment of captives by both pro-Kyiv forces and separatist armed groups. Over many years Amnesty International has documented the vulnerability of ordinary people at the hands of corrupt officials and the continuing failure of the Ukrainian authorities to properly investigate human rights violations and bring perpetrators to justice. Given the extraordinary circumstances facing Ukraine today, this ongoing impunity will only further undermine the rule of law. In a recent letter to the General Prosecutor of Ukraine, Amnesty International called for an immediate investigation into violations committed by Oleg Lyashko and all incidents of abduction and ill-treatment by pro-Kyiv forces. Amnesty International delegates met with senior representatives of the National Security Council, the Ministry of the Interior and State Security Service at the end of June, and in each of these meetings we were repeatedly told that Oleg Lyashko is not authorized to carry out detentions. All those responsible for, or complicit in, these violations must be brought to justice, and the victims of such abuses must receive reparation.Additionally, anyone who has been abducted must be released immediately and, in cases where abductees are handed over to the Ukrainian authorities, they must be promptly informed of any charges against them, given immediate access to a lawyer and brought promptly before a judge or released. Anything less is a recipe for further abuses and impunity, where the likes of Oleg Lyashko can run riot with no fear of being brought to justice.