Ukraine: Four years on and still no justice for victims of enforced disappearance

Four years after Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch exposed the practice of secret detention of civilians by both sides in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, no justice, truth or reparation has been attained for any of the victims. In a joint statement released today, the two organizations said that not a single person suspected of involvement in this practice has been prosecuted.

“While the former inmates of the Ukrainian Security Service’s (SBU) secret prisons are still awaiting truth, justice and reparation, the agency continues to deny well-established facts and blames ‘Russian propaganda’ for allegations it chooses not to face,” said Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office Director.

While the former inmates of the Ukrainian Security Service’s (SBU) secret prisons are still awaiting truth, justice and reparation, the agency continues to deny well-established facts and blames ‘Russian propaganda’ for allegations it chooses not to face
Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office Director

“The SBU has a new director but sadly continues its policy of public denial. Until all those suspected of criminal responsibility are identified and brought to justice in fair trials, the ongoing impunity means that civilians on both sides of the conflict line will continue to be exposed to appalling human rights violations.”

In April 2018, Amnesty International received a letter from the SBU stating that it had no secret prisons, but inside the same envelope was a cutting from a furniture catalogue depicting a luxurious bedroom.

“The page bore no relevance to the letter, and whether it was intended as a joke or a hint about certain sleeping facilities which were officially denied, this response epitomized the sense of impunity for grave human rights violations.”

On the other side of the conflict line, on territories under control of Russian-backed armed groups, the situation has deteriorated. Human rights violations and crimes under international law described four years ago in the report You Don’t Exist, continue unabated in the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics”. The de facto authorities there continue to unlawfully deprive civilians of their liberty while concealing their fate and whereabouts for weeks, sometimes months, and subject them to physical violence and psychological abuse.

“Both sides of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine must take steps to address heinous human rights violations committed in the territories under their control. Ukrainians deserve nothing less than full justice for these abuses, which means truth and reparation for the victims, and prosecution in fair trial proceedings for those suspected of criminal responsibility,” said Marie Struthers.

Both sides of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine must take steps to address heinous human rights violations committed in the territories under their control
Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Regional Office Director

Background

Four years ago, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch published a joint report: You Don’t Exist, which exposed crimes under international law and human rights violations and abuses, including arbitrary, prolonged detention of civilians, and torture and other ill-treatment, by both the Ukrainian authorities and Russia-backed armed groups. By 12 December 2016, the Ukrainian authorities released all known prisoners who were subject to enforced disappearance in the SBU secret facilities, but did not acknowledge either the detentions or releases.

The de-facto authorities in the territories under control of armed groups continue to “arrest” civilians and detain them without disclosing their fate or whereabouts for weeks, which amounts to enforced disappearance, and also subject them to torture and other ill-treatment, without providing them recourse to justice or legal remedies.