By Aleksey Lukyanov
Every year in the world there is a growing sense of growing tension and level of conflict. Conflicts have always been and this is normal, today it’s human nature. But the confrontation of various political and economic systems is becoming more and more fierce. This can be clearly seen in the example of confrontation between the world’s leading powers and blocs of states. International sanctions now no one is surprised. On the contrary, it even began to be perceived as a routine. The civil conflicts in various countries (Iraq, Libya, Syria, the Balkans, Ukraine and many others) became commonplace, terrorism, which we almost did not hear about in the 90s, has now become an integral part of our newsfeeds. The institutions of regulation of international conflicts known to us cease to function. The UN, the OSCE, PACE and other Western international organizations in reality today can only act as observers or simply step back from the problem and stop noticing it, pretending that it does not exist, or it will be resolved by itself. Time convinces us of the opposite, it will not be resolved. On the contrary, it will only worsen.
Personally, I felt this very distinctly in the last year, when in November 2016 a citizen of Ukraine, Vadim Chekhovsky addressed us for help. I am the head of a small organization that unites people from the Ukrainian city of Kharkov in Russia, and Vadim is my fellow countryman, who in March 2015 was kidnapped by fighters of the nationalist battalion Azov. Vadim spent 3 months secretly from his relatives kept in improvised prisons, regularly beaten, brought to such a state that he urgently needed an operation, which was eventually done secretly without observing any official procedures.
The most terrible thing is when your closest people suffer with you and you can’t help them, except to agree to the conditions that you put forward. When Vadim refused to recognize the accusations of possession of weapons and membership in the “terrorist” organization, the employees of the Security Service of Ukraine abducted Vadim’s wife and began to beat violently in the next interrogation room, “interrogation” continued until Vadim agreed to sign the necessary papers. Neither Vadim nor his wife were charged with official charges during the detention, the court’s permission to arrest was not received, almost all human rights and legal procedural norms were violated.
As a result, Vadim was taken to court only 3 months after his first arrest, where he was completely broken both morally and physically, he was intimidated and forced to give up his lawyer. The court sentenced Vadim to 1 year in a strict regime colony. A very strange term, as for a “dangerous terrorist”. The evidence presented was so weak that the judge realized the real state of affairs and simply did not want to take responsibility for making a murderous innocent person for the decision. Unfortunately, today’s situation in Ukraine is such that the court is compelled to make compromises with the law enforcement agencies and take such decisions as would be acceptable to the Security Service of Ukraine.
In the fall of 2016 Vadim left prison and decided to tell everything that happened to him, as well as the stories of those with whom he met in prison, to tell about the same as himself political prisoners. Vadim wrote the text and made a video message (http://simonzzz2.livejournal.com/688.html) in which he told his story in the hope that it would help to pay attention to the situation that has developed in Ukraine and will facilitate the fate of those who remained in Ukrainian prisons.
When Vadim showed us this video and asked us to help convey this information to human rights organizations, to report on those people who still remained Ukrainian dungeons, we immediately agreed and first wrote several official letters to leading Western human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The letters were sent both to the official e-mail addresses indicated on the websites of organizations and by registered mail to the physical address. We were convinced that we could establish a dialogue and build effective joint work. Especially after in June 2016 Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations Ivan Šimonović accused the Security Service of Ukraine that the service is conducting “mass detentions of supporters of the insurgency in the country and systematically applies torture to them. This happens in five secret centers”. Then the Service did not let the UN commission on its facilities, in fact, disrupting the inspection trip, so the UN special commission demonstratively left Ukraine. Afterwards, the UN and Amnesty International issued reports on a systematic violation of human rights and cruelly treatment of prisoners in Ukraine.
In our letter we asked to include the case of Vadim in the register of cases to investigate the facts of human rights violations, to examine the lists of people who were still in custody, many of them at that time were imprisoned without presenting any official accusations, like Vadim they were simply kidnapped. We asked to see the prisoners, take them under their control and guardianship.
What was our surprise when we ran into complete disregard. We did not receive any reply at all. Only from the address of the Paris branch of Human Rights Watch came an automatic response from the bot-system that our appeal is accepted and we will be contacted as soon as possible. We waited a few months until the end of 2016, but nobody contacted us. At the end of the year, we phoned with the main offices of AI and HRW and tried to find out the fate of our appeals. We were told that they did not receive any letters from us and asked us to repeat them. In February 2017, we supplemented and updated the information and resubmitted our addresses to the addresses indicated, but faced the same problem – complete disregard. Only this time we received a response from the automatic bot-system of the London branch of AI, in which it was said that our appeal was accepted and taken to consideration.
We decided to make sure that our appeal was actually received and phoned the phone indicated in the letter. We were told that our letter has been received and will be contacted with us to clarify the details. We very much asked to draw attention to the list of people who, according to our information, are still in prison and in an uncertain status. We were ready to help establish contacts with relatives and lawyers of other prisoners. However, after this call with us no one else contacted. Subsequently, we tried to establish relations with the Ukrainian branch of Amnesty International and the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, but each time the effect was absolutely identical. The employees with whom we spoke even refused to write an official reply that they had received a letter from us, and the case of Vadim Chekhovsky was included in the register of cases for the proceedings, its registration number and at least an approximate time for its consideration.
Also in June 2017 we applied to the Ukrainian Helsinki Group for Human Rights with the same request, where we were formally responded in a letter that we took note of the information we provided, but unfortunately they can’t help because the case is the jurisdiction of the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine and only it can give a legal assessment of the events that have occurred. However, in the same letter, the lawyer of the organization frankly wrote that he doubted that the “executioners” would be brought to justice.
Ok, what should we do in a situation when all the human rights organizations known to us, in fact, were helpless and useless? At the same time, these are huge respected international structures, what then to speak about volunteer regional formations? The key question is whether these human rights organizations really can’t do anything or simply for some reason, for example political reasons, decided to distance themselves from these kinds of problems?
As a result, in July 2017, according to the instructions, we formalized and sent a formal complaint to the UN Committee against Torture and the UN Human Rights Committee. We were told that we will be contacted a few months after studying the circumstances and details of the complaint. Now we are waiting for feedback. Of course, for most prisoners, whom we indicated in the lists – it’s just a lost time and the conditions for each of them have already changed several times.
Returning to the beginning, how many conflicts have we really managed to resolve in recent times within the framework of global international organizations? Does international law really work, has it become an instrument in the hands of politicians who prefer to interpret the law and human rights in a way that is politically advantageous for them? Ukraine and the situation that has taken shape there is only a vivid example of the global problem that is encountered in Europe. And it does not matter whether the problem is refugees from Africa or is an increasing number of regional conflicts. We must reconsider our usual views, abandon the political myths that are imposed on us in many media and clearly distinguish between political propaganda and real events.
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