I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Since its deployment in March 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) has monitored, publicly reported and advocated on the human rights situation in Ukraine.1 2. This briefing note emphasizes the need to ensure justice for the 48 people who lost their lives and for the estimated 247 people2 who sustained injuries on 2 May 2014 in Odesa during the clashes between two groups holding differing views about the state structure of Ukraine. The 2 May 2014 events can be divided into two incidents: (i) the unrest in the city centre during which six men were shot dead, and (ii) the unrest in Kulykove Pole square followed by the fire in the House of Trade Unions, which claimed the lives of 42 people.
The clashes started in the city centre, wheresome 2,000 people who had gathered for the “March for unity of Ukraine” (the so-called ‘pro-unity’ supporters) were attacked by a group of some 300 people who supported the idea of federalisation of Ukraine (the so-called ‘profederalism’ supporters).3 Six men from either one of the clashing groups sustained lethal gunshot injuries as the police failed to prevent and appropriately respond to the escalating violence.
Forty-two individuals (34 men, seven women and one boy) died as the unrest continued in Kulykove Pole square, where some 300 ‘pro-federalism’ supporters barricaded themselves in the House of Trade Unions as ‘pro-unity’ supporters attacked them and burned the tents they had erected on the square. Thirty-two ‘pro-federalism’ supporters died inside the building as it was set on fire by Molotov cocktails that both groups threw at each other; ten more died of lethal injuries they sustained after jumping or falling out of the windows to escape the fire. Firefighters (stationed 600 metres away from the House of Trade Unions) arrived at the scene approximately 40 minutes after they began receiving multiple emergency phone calls.
Five years on, there has still not been any accountability for the killings of six and violent deaths of 42 individuals. Some of the criminal proceedings launched after the tragic events have stalled at the pre-trial investigation stage, while others did at the trial stage. This suggests a lack of genuine interest from the authorities to ensure justice for victims and accountability for perpetrators.
HRMMU is concerned that the police investigations into the clashes in the city centre and the fire in the House of Trade Unions may not meet the criteria of independence and impartiality, given the allegations of police forces’ complicity in this case.4 In addition, HRMMU notes that the investigation into the clashes in the city centre appears to be selective: out of 29 individuals prosecuted in relation to the clashes in the city centre, 28 were ‘pro-federalism’ supporters. At the same time, five years after the fire in the House of Trade Unions, the police have failed to identify individual perpetrators responsible for the fire. According to the police and General Prosecutor’s Office, the main impediments to investigations are difficulties in identifying all individuals involved in the clashes.
HRMMU also notes that some identified suspects managed to abscond and therefore remain outside the reach of Ukraine’s justice system. These include the former deputy head of Odesa regional police department, responsible for maintaining public order on 2 May 2014, and the former head of Odesa regional department of the State Emergency Service, responsible for the deployment of fire fighters. Both managed to flee a few days before being served notices of suspicion by the prosecutor’s office and police respectively. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, extradition requests sent to the Russian Federation have been disregarded, as both suspects were allegedly granted its citizenship.
Furthermore, in cases where the investigation had identified suspects, trials have not progressed. The case of the only individual accused of killing another participant of the clashes in the city centre is emblematic in this regard. Four years after completion of the investigation, the court is yet to start consideration of the case on the merits. The case was transferred between all four district courts of Odesa, and was with the prosecution for more than a year as it revised the indictment, before ending up at one of the district courts of Odesa yet again, which has scheduled the first hearing on the merits on 13 May 2019.
Similarly, the cases of senior officials from the police and State Emergency Services have stalled at the trial stage; four senior officials of Odesa police are charged with negligence and failure of their duty to rescue 48 people who died on 2 May 2014, and two former deputy heads and two mid-level officers of the regional department of the State Emergency Service are charged with failure of their duty to rescue 42 individuals who died in fire. The delays have been caused by the poor quality of indictments, which have been returned to the prosecution for revision, infrequency of court hearings and failure of the authorities to ensure notification and presence of all victims during the preparatory hearings, calling into question the authorities’ willingness to genuinely pursue accountability for the events and discouraging victims and witnesses from participating in these trials.
HRMMU further noted the persistent disruptive behaviour of ‘pro-unity’ supporters in court hearings, which in some cases may amount to interference in the independence of judges and lawyers. The police not only tolerated this behaviour in the court, failing to ensure safety of all participants of the proceedings, they also did little to investigate these incidents. The police referred to difficulties in identifying perpetrators. This is despite the fact that some of these individuals were known, having repeatedly insulted, intimidated and physically abused judges, defendants and their lawyers in the presence of the police. Such a lack of appropriate response from law enforcement has had a chilling effect on judges and resulted in numerous selfrecusals of judges and transfers of the proceedings to other district courts, which in turn has then led to the necessity of restarting the trials.
Based on the above, HRMMU notes with concern that the authorities have not done what it takes to ensure prompt, independent and impartial investigations and prosecution of the acts of killing and violent deaths caused during the 2 May violence.