3 Years On: No Jus­tice

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY OLENA GONCHAROVA AND OLEG SUKHOV [email protected] AND [email protected]

Three years af­ter the EuroMaidan Rev­o­lu­tion prompted Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych to flee to Rus­sia, Ukraine’s lead­ers have not pun­ished the killers of 100 demon­stra­tors. Nor have they made progress in prose­cut­ing Yanukovych-era crimes or re­cov­er­ing bil­lions of stolen dol­lars.

Volodymyr Holod­nyuk has spent the last three years hop­ing to find out who killed his 19-year-old son at the height of the EuroMaidan Rev­o­lu­tion that drove Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych from of­fice three years ago.

All he knows is that it was a 7.62-mil­lime­ter bul­let that took the life of Ustym Holod­nyuk, one of the 48 protesters killed on Maidan Neza­lezh­nosti in Kyiv on Feb. 20, 2014.

Three years later, only one per­son – Az­eri-born Aziz Razim Ta­girov – is be­hind bars for crimes against EuroMaidan protesters. He was given a four-year sen­tence last year for as­sault­ing demon­stra­tors.

The rest of the 35 peo­ple con­victed for EuroMaidan crimes so far have been given fines or sus­pended sen­tences. An­other 185 sus­pects are still fac­ing trial, but most of these cases have seen lit­tle progress.

Mean­while, cases against the sus­pected or­ga­niz­ers of the EuroMaidan mur­ders have not even been sent to court.

These in­clude Yanukovych, ex-In­te­rior Min­is­ter Vi­taly Zakharchen­ko, Yanukovych’s chief of staff An­driy Klyuyev, ex-Se­cu­rity Ser­vice head Olek­sandr Yaky­menko, ex-Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral Vik­tor Pshonka and Stanislav Shulyak, former head of In­te­rior Min­istry troops.

The multi­bil­lion-dol­lar cor­rup­tion of Yanukovych’s regime also re­mains un­pun­ished. Only one Yanukovy­chera top of­fi­cial, ex-Jus­tice Min­is­ter Olek­sandr Lavrynovyc­h, faces a trial on graft charges and no as­sets al­legedly stolen by Yanukovych al­lies have been re­cov­ered.

Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral Yuriy Lut­senko has ad­mit­ted that the cases had been sab­o­taged un­der pre­vi­ous pros­e­cu­tors gen­eral -- Ukraine has had four of them since the rev­o­lu­tion -- but ar­gued that he was speed­ing them up.

See­ing the im­po­tence of the coun- try’s law en­force­ment sys­tem, the fam­i­lies of slain ac­tivists have started tak­ing mat­ters into their own hands.

“I don’t even need to know who ex­actly pulled the trig­ger… I want jus­tice… all of them should be held to ac­count,” Holod­nyuk says. He spends most of his time search­ing for new ev­i­dence and com­mu­ni­cat­ing with pros­e­cu­tors and pro-bono lawyers.

One of the lawyers for slain protesters, Vi­taliy Ty­tych, be­lieves EuroMaidan mur­der cases have lit­tle to no chances to be solved in Ukraine.

“Only some low-level sus­pects might be pun­ished,” he said.

Stonewalle­d cases

The lack of progress has been at­trib­uted to both law en­forcers’ in­com­pe­tence and in­ten­tional sab­o­tage.

Many of the judges who per­se­cuted EuroMaidan ac­tivists are now hear­ing cases against other judges and po­lice of­fi­cers who cracked down on the protesters. These judges are un­likely to con­vict the sus­pects be­cause that would be tan­ta­mount to self-in­crim­i­na­tion, Ro­man Maselko, a lawyer for the Au­toMaidan protest group, told the Kyiv Post.

There are no jury tri­als in Ukraine, even though the con­sti­tu­tion al­lows for em­pan­eled cit­i­zens to de­cide guilt or in­no­cence.

More­over, hear­ings in EuroMaidan cases are con­stantly de­layed and blocked by courts.

An­other prob­lem is that “the In­te­rior Min­istry is pro­tect­ing its em­ploy­ees sus­pected of as­sault­ing protesters and abuse of power and refuse to fire or sus­pend them,” Yevhe­nia Zakrevska, a lawyer for the mur­dered demon­stra­tors, told the Kyiv Post.

Le­gal ob­sta­cles

Send­ing cases against former top of­fi­cials and riot po­lice of­fi­cers who are hid­ing in Rus­sia to court would lead to their col­lapse be­cause the cur­rent law on tri­als in ab­sen­tia is at odds with in­ter­na­tional law, in­clud­ing the ban on se­lec­tive jus­tice, Sergii Gor­batuk, head of the depart­ment for tri­als in ab­sen­tia at the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice, and the lawyers of the slain protesters have ar­gued.

Leg­is­la­tion has been sub­mit­ted to the Verkhovna Rada to im­prove the cur­rent law on tri­als in ab­sen­tia but this leg­is­la­tion does not re­move pro- vi­sions that con­tra­dict in­ter­na­tional law, Gor­batuk and Ty­tych told the Kyiv Post.

Ty­tych said au­thor­i­ties ig­nored pro­pos­als by protesters’ lawyers on how to change the law. “They’ve just de­ceived us,” he added.

Gor­batuk said, how­ever, that Lut­senko had asked him to voice his pro­pos­als on the bill sev­eral days

ago, even though he had al­ready made his pro­pos­als last year, and they had been ig­nored.

Mur­derer-in-chief

The key sus­pect, Yanukovych, has been charged with or­ga­niz­ing the mur­der of protesters, steal­ing Hr 220 mil­lion ($8.8 mil­lion) and trea­son.

In Novem­ber, Yanukovych tes­ti­fied to a Ukrainian court for the first time via a video link from Rus­sia. He ap­peared as a wit­ness, though Ty­tych says this con­tra­dicts the law be­cause he is also the sus­pected or­ga­nizer.

Yanukovych spent four hours an­swer­ing the ques­tions, but giv­ing no specifics on the events of the win­ter of 2013-2014. He said he didn’t give or­ders to law en­forcers to use firearms against protesters.

Ukrainian lawyer Markiyan Hal­a­bala be­lieves that ques­tion­ing Yanukovych won’t shed much light on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Hal­a­bala says there’s a chance to send the cases against some or­ga­niz­ers to trial, but only those where there’s tes­ti­mony of lower-level co-or­ga­niz­ers.

Chief Mil­i­tary Pros­e­cu­tor Ana­toly Ma­tios said on Feb. 20 that the trea­son case against Yanukovych would be sent to court on March 14. It in­cludes a pho­to­copy of the state­ment in which Yanukovych urges Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin to send troops to Ukraine dated March 1, 2014.

Ty­tych dis­missed the case as a pub­lic re­la­tions stunt, say­ing that it had lit­tle chances of suc­cess due to the le­gal prob­lems of the law on tri­als in ab­sen­tia.

Un­pun­ished mur­ders

Five Berkut riot po­lice of­fi­cers are cur­rently on trial on charges of gun­ning down protesters on Feb. 20, 2014. It is seen as the most suc­cess­ful case just be­cause court hear­ings are reg­u­lar and more than 100 in­jured protesters have tes­ti­fied al­ready. How­ever, the lawyers warn that there won’t be any ver­dicts in 2017 be­cause the court still has to ques­tion about 1,000 wit­nesses and that the trial may drag on for years.

As many as 14 of the 23 wanted former Berkut of­fi­cers sus­pected of the killings have now re­ceived Rus­sian cit­i­zen­ship while Berkut riot po­lice com­man­der Dmytro Sadovnyk fled the coun­try af­ter Pech­ersk Court Judge Svit­lana Volkova re­leased him on bail in 2014.

Ty­tych and Zakrevska sus­pect that Sadovnyk could only have been re­leased with the ap­proval of top Ukrainian of­fi­cials be­cause his tes­ti­mony could have com­pro­mised them. Fin­gers have been pointed at Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko and his loy­al­ist, then Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral Vi­taly Yarema, who deny the ac­cu­sa­tions.

The case against Volkova, who is ac­cused of mak­ing an un­law­ful rul­ing, has seen no progress what­so­ever, Gor­batuk said.

Po­lice bru­tal­ity

An­other in­ves­ti­ga­tion rum­bles on re­gard­ing the events of the morn­ing of Feb. 18, 2014, when the po­lice cracked down on protesters near the Verkhovna Rada build­ing and on In­sty­tut­ska Street. How­ever, courts have re­leased six of the riot po­lice of­fi­cers from de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties, with one of them roam­ing free and five placed un­der full or par­tial house ar­rest. This could make it much eas­ier for them to flee.

The other cases have been less for­tu­nate.

There’s no progress in in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the killings of Ar­me­nian na­tive Sergiy Nigoyan, Be­larus­sian Mykhailo Zhyznevsky and Ukrainian Ro­man Senyk on Jan. 22, 2014. The pros­e­cu­tors said the shots had been fired from a dis­tance of up to three me­ters and the shoot­ers are yet to be iden­ti­fied. Not a sin­gle no­tice of sus­pi­cion has been filed yet in the cases.

More­over, 82 traf­fic po­lice of­fi­cers are on trial for per­se­cut­ing Au­toMaidan car-based protesters. How­ever, po­ten­tial sen­tences against many of them are likely to be can­celed be­cause the dead­lines for the cases ex­pired in De­cem­ber, Maselko ar­gued.

Un­pun­ished judges

Nor do pros­e­cu­tors have much of a de­sire to pur­sue cases against judges in­volved in the per­se­cu­tion of protesters, Maselko said.

Only 11 judges are on trial for such crimes, and one of them, Vla­dyslav Ly­senko, has been ac­quit­ted. “They botched the in­ves­ti­ga­tion (against Ly­senko). They sent it to trial know­ing that it would col­lapse,” Maselko ar­gued.

A ma­jor ob­sta­cle is that are just four in­ves­ti­ga­tors work­ing on the cases against judges, in­ves­ti­ga­tors and pros­e­cu­tors ac­cused of per­se­cut­ing EuroMaidan ac­tivists, Gor­batuk said.

Out of the about 300 judges al­legedly in­volved in the per­se­cu­tion of protesters, only 33 have been fired so far un­der the lus­tra­tion law.

The High Coun­cil of Jus­tice ar­gues that it had no le­gal frame­work to fire the rest of the 300 judges un­til early Jan­uary but Maselko says the coun­cil has been drag­ging its feet and block­ing the dis­missals. Dead­lines for the fir­ings are al­ready ex­pir­ing, though Maselko said some of them would come in March to May.

In­ter­na­tional court

Lut­senko, the na­tion’s top pros­e­cu­tor, said last year that some of the EuroMaidan cases could be sent to the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court (ICC).

But lawyers say the ICC is un­likely to ac­cept the cases. One prob­lem is Ukraine’s fail­ure to sign the Rome Statute, the court’s found­ing doc­u­ment.

Mean­while, in 2015 the ICC opened a pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion in Ukraine’s case but said the mur­ders of EuroMaidan protesters did not qual­ify as crimes against hu­man­ity, which are in­ves­ti­gated by the court.

A mother of killed EuroMaidan pro­tester tes­ti­fies in Svy­atoshyno Dis­trict Court dur­ing the hear­ing of the case of former Berkut riot po­lice of­fi­cers in Kyiv on Sept. 27. (Volodymyr Petrov)

Rays of light reach for the heav­ens near Maidan Neza­lezh­nosti on Feb. 20 in honor of 100 protesters killed dur­ing the EuroMaidan Rev­o­lu­tion from Nov. 21, 2013 to Feb. 22, 2014, when Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych fled power and sought asy­lum from his...

Peo­ple com­mem­o­rate slain protesters killed three years ago on Maidan Neza­lezh­nosti in cen­tral Kyiv on Feb. 20. (Kostyan­tyn Ch­er­nichkin)

Medics help a wounded ac­tivist in Kyiv’s Zhovt­nevy Palace on Feb. 20, 2014. (Anastasia Vlasova)

Azer­bai­jan na­tive Aziz Razim Ta­girov is the only one to re­ceive a sen­tence for EuroMaidan crimes. He’s serv­ing a four-year sen­tence. (5th TV Chan­nel screenshot)

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