Letter to E.U. President Matti Vanhanen regarding E.U.-Ukraine Summit Meeting
October 24, 2006

Letter urging Vanhanen to use the E.U.-Ukraine Summit meeting on October 27th to seek concrete commitments from the Ukrainian government to improve its record on guaranteeing fundamental human rights protections for people living with and at high risk of HIV/AIDS.

We write to urge you to use the October 27 E.U.-Ukraine Summit meeting to seek concrete commitments from the Ukrainian government to improve its record on guaranteeing fundamental human rights protections for people living with and at high risk of HIV/AIDS.

Ukraine is home to the worst HIV/AIDS epidemic in Europe, and one of the fastest-growing epidemics in the world. The Ukrainian government has taken a number of positive steps to fight HIV/AIDS, chiefly in the area of legislative and policy reform. But these important commitments are being undermined by widespread human rights abuses against people living with HIV/AIDS in the criminal justice and health systems.

As noted in the February 21, 2005 EU-Ukraine Action Plan, the EU has a keen interest in seeing an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Ukraine. One way the EU can help bring this about is to encourage the Ukrainian government to prioritize ending human rights abuses against those most at risk of HIV/AIDS and against people living with the disease.

Below we describe our recent findings on HIV/AIDS-related human rights abuses, and suggest several concrete benchmarks for progress that we hope will inform your dialogue with the Ukrainian leadership.

Torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment

In recent years Ukraine has come under scrutiny from the international community and domestic actors for its failure to address widespread and systemic police abuse.
Recent reports on Ukraine by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) have highlighted mistreatment, including torture, of individuals both at the time of apprehension as well as in custody, as well as appalling prison conditions. In this regard, we wish to draw your attention to our research findings on HIV/AIDS-related abuses in Ukraine—detailed in a March 2006 report entitled "Rhetoric and Risk: Human Rights Abuses Impeding Ukraine’s Fight against HIV/AIDS"—a dominant feature of which were police actions that violate fundamental human rights protections against torture and other forms of ill-treatment. Our research indicates that these abuses drive those at highest risk of HIV/AIDS away from lifesaving services that the government has pledged to provide. Police in Ukraine subject drug users and sex workers to physical and psychological pressure, including severe beatings, electroshock, partial suffocation with gas masks, and threats of rape, as a means to extort money or information from them. Such ill-treatment of these groups not only violates basic, non-derogable human rights standards but also fundamentally undermines the implementation of policies designed to combat HIV/AIDS.

Our research found that police needing to fulfill arrest quotas find drug users in particular especially easy targets for arrest or ill-treatment. Police use drug addiction as a tool to coerce testimony from drug users, who may succumb to pressure to admit to false charges when faced with painful withdrawal symptoms in custody. Ukrainian attorneys and social workers have likewise reported that police intentionally use withdrawal as part of investigative measures to coerce incriminating testimony from drug users; extort money from drug users by threatening to detain them, forcing them to suffer withdrawal; and deny medical assistance to drug users going through withdrawal.

Another systemic factor that contributes to police abuse in Ukraine are the periodic “work plans,” which police reportedly must fulfill, creating an incentive for police to engage in torture or other abusive tactics to extract confessions from criminal suspects. In its 2002 review of Ukraine, the U.N. Committee against Torture expressed concern about “the numerous convictions based on confessions” in the country, as well as the fact that the “number of solved crimes” was among the “criteria for the promotion of investigators.” The Committee concluded that this factor “can lead to torture and ill-treatment of detainees or suspects to force them to ‘confess.’”

The European Union has a crucial role to play if Ukraine is to end torture and other ill-treatment by police that is exacerbating its HIV/AIDS epidemic. We encourage you to use the upcoming summit with Ukraine to seek specific commitments from the Ukrainian authorities, including that it undertake the following measures:
• Stop the practice of coercing testimony from drug users in withdrawal, and ban the use of coerced statements as evidence;
• Stop all other unlawful use of force and other ill-treatment by police and other agents of the state against drug users and sex workers;
• Reform the evaluation of police performance so that the evaluation standard of effectiveness is not based on the simple counting of solved cases but instead on the impact of law enforcement activities on combating major crimes;
• Ensure that drug users and sex workers are able to file complaints about police harassment or torture against them.

HIV/AIDS

As noted in our submission prior to the May 2006 E.U.-Ukraine Partnership and Cooperation Council meeting, Human Rights Watch’s research in 2005 and 2006 found that Ukraine’s efforts to fight HIV/AIDS are being undermined by widespread human rights abuses against drug users, sex workers, and people living with HIV/AIDS in the criminal justice and health systems.

Police abuse of sex workers, drug users, and outreach workers violates fundamental human rights protections against torture and other forms of ill treatment as described above. In addition, police interference with the delivery of HIV prevention information (including with the provision of sterile syringes, a practice supported by Ukraine’s anti-AIDS law), and government failure to ensure access to opiate substitution therapy also violate fundamental rights to obtain HIV/AIDS information and services. Impeding drug users from obtaining or using sterile syringes also amounts to imposing death as a punishment for illicit drug use, violating the fundamental right to life.

Our research also found that people living with and at high risk of HIV/AIDS face widespread discrimination in the health care system. They are denied medical treatment, and face violations of their privacy by health care providers who disclose confidential information about their HIV status. Denial of care was identified by people living with HIV/AIDS, physicians specializing in AIDS care, and AIDS service workers as a particular problem for people seeking treatment at tuberculosis clinics. Tuberculosis is widespread in Ukraine, easily transmitted, and a major cause of death for people living with HIV/AIDS. Refusal to treat people living with HIV/AIDS for tuberculosis threatens to jeopardize their lives and the health of thousands of other people in Ukraine.

A more comprehensive account of these abuses can be found in our above-mentioned March 2006 report "Rhetoric and Risk: Human Rights Abuses Impeding Ukraine’s Fight against HIV/AIDS".

The European Union is well-positioned to support Ukraine’s fight against HIV/AIDS. In doing so, it is vital that the E.U. convey a message that compliance with international human rights standards is critical to an effective fight against HIV/AIDS, and urge the Ukrainian leadership to address the shortcomings pertaining to its record that impede this fight. We encourage the E.U. to use the upcoming summit meeting with Ukraine to urge the government to make specific commitments to address human rights violations fueling its epidemic, including by taking the following measures:

• Stop interference by police and other agents of the state with HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment services for drug user and sex workers;
• Expand the scope and support for humane treatment for drug addiction, including in prisons, and including by promptly implementing opiate substitution therapy with methadone and buprenorphine;
• Ensure that drug users and people living with and at high risk of HIV/AIDS can obtain complete, accurate information about HIV/AIDS, and HIV/AIDS information and services, without fear of punishment or discrimination.

We thank you for your attention to these concerns, and extend our best wishes for a productive meeting.

Sincerely,

Holly Cartner
Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia Division
Human Rights Watch

Joe Amon
Director
HIV/AIDS Program
Human Rights Watch

Lotte Leicht
EU Director
Human Rights Watch

CC:
Mr Erkki Tuomioja, Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs
Mr José Manuel Barroso, European Commission President
Ms Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations
Mr Javier Solana, Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union

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