There was continuing impunity for torture and other ill-treatment. Reforms of the justice system failed to increase independence of the judiciary, and the rule of law was undermined by the use of the criminal justice system for political ends. Asylum-seekers risked being forcibly returned and were unable to access a fair asylum procedure. Human rights defenders were at risk of prosecution and physical attack for their work.
There were continuing reports of torture and other ill-treatment in police custody. The European Court of Human Rights ruled in nine cases against Ukraine, finding that Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which prohibits torture, had been violated.
A culture of impunity for the police continued. Structural shortcomings, corruption, non-existent or flawed investigations into criminal acts committed by the police (even in the face of medical or other credible evidence), harassment and intimidation of complainants, and the subsequent low level of prosecutions, all fuelled this lack of accountability. A high number of complaints about the police were rejected at the first instance. In July, the Prosecutor General’s Office stated that out of the 6,817 complaints made against police officers in 2010, only 167 had resulted in criminal investigations, of which 21 were subsequently closed for lack of evidence.
The process of reform of the justice system continued. In July a new draft Criminal Procedural Code was presented to parliament, but was not passed by the end of the year.
The independence of judges was threatened by pressure from the Prosecutor General’s Office, which retained the power to prosecute judges. On 7 June, the Deputy Prosecutor General requested the dismissal of three judges from the Kyiv Court of Appeal because they refused a prosecutor’s request to detain a suspect, on the basis that there were no grounds to hold him.
In October, amendments to the Law on the Judiciary and the Status of Judges were passed. The amendments responded to criticism of the Law passed in 2010, which had, among other reforms, seriously reduced the role of the Supreme Court.
The amendments only partially reinstated the Supreme Court’s role.
In October, the Council of Europe criticized the role of parliament in the appointment and dismissal of judges. Appointing judges initially for five years before confirming their appointment for life threatened their independence. It recommended that such judges should not be appointed to deal with “major cases with strong political implications”.
On 8 July, Ukraine adopted a new law “on refugees and persons in need of complementary protection”. It improved the status of refugees, simplified documentation for asylum-seekers, and introduced the concept of complementary protection for those who did not fall strictly within the definition of the Refugee Convention. However, it fell short of international standards by not offering complementary protection for reasons of international or internal armed conflict. UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, criticized the new law for failing to provide it with access to people of concern, or with an advisory role in refugee status determination.
A new State Migration Service of Ukraine, co-ordinated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, had been established in December 2010. Regional migration offices stopped working in October: the new system was operational at the end of the year. Asylum-seekers risked return to countries where they could face serious human rights violations.
Human rights defenders, who exposed corruption and human rights violations by local officials and police, faced physical attacks and prosecution in an attempt to silence them.