Amnesty has raised concerns about the brutality reported in the country ahead of Euro 2012, with police still stuck in their old Soviet ways.Their job is to ‘protect and serve’ -to defend the civil liberties of their people and punish those who threaten the security, rights and freedom of both their own citizens and visitors to their nation. It is in the company of the police that the public is meant to feel at its safest.
However, as Ukraine gears up to co-host Euro 2012, there are increasing fears that the very people employed to ensure safety could prove to be the biggest threat to football fans arriving to cheer on their teams.
Human rights organization Amnesty International has demanded urgent reforms of the Ukrainian police force due to a concerning trend of criminality within its ranks, culminating in the case of Ihor Savchyshyn and Andrei Semenyuk, two men beaten and robbed in April by six officers in Lviv, a city where three Group B matches will take place, the first in just 10 days’ time.
According to Amnesty’s release, the two men were held at Sykhivskiy police station after being robbed of around 1800 euros as well as being kicked, punched and sprayed with tear gas before being repeatedly struck with batons while lying in restraints on the floor. At the police station they were held for 12 hours with no medical care or access to a lawyer before being transported to hospital since neither man could walk.
That case was just the latest in a long list of concerning events for human rights campaigners, and Heather McGill, Amnesty International’s Researcher for Europe and Central Asia, told Goal.com that Ukraine’s is a police force which is judged and rewarded under the wrong criteria.
“What we’re worried about is the kind of policing that goes on in Ukraine; the way the police force is managed, and the assessment criteria that the police work towards,” she explained. “The force is very much geared towards finding as many criminals as possible, and is judged on the number of criminals that it brings to book, rather than the quality of the policing and their respect for human rights. So it’s a police force that has not been reformed and is still working really in very much an old-fashioned Soviet style.
|WHAT TO DO IN UKRAINE
The visiting fans' checklist
"We’ve never seen that. We’ve seen governments which have been more willing to set up human rights departments within the Ministry of the Interior, which was slightly more effective possibly than the one we see at the moment, but it’s not really a question of things being particularly bad now, it’s a question of successive governments never showing political will to address the problem.”
But what does this mean for the influx of foreign visitors who will arrive this summer ahead of the biggest event the country has ever hosted?
“People in Ukraine, including foreigners visiting, are exposed to possible extortion at the hands of police officers, " added McGill. "They are badly paid, so one thing that they tend to do is to ask people for ID, and in Ukraine everybody is required to carry ID which people in countries like Britain certainly are not accustomed to having to do and may not necessarily be walking around with their passport.
“If you can’t produce your passport, then you are liable to be fined or detained until you pay up. We’ve seen that in the context of foreigners, asylum seekers, anybody who is visibly different-looking is liable to that kind of abuse.
“And then we’ve got cases where the police’s normal methods for solving crimes are very dependent on confessions. There aren’t a lot of scientific forensic methods available for crime solving, and so the method that we see most often is basically beating confessions out of people. We’ve highlighted many cases where this has happened and police have tortured people in order to try to force them to confess to crimes.”
Visiting fans clearly need to be vigilant when traveling around Ukraine this summer, and McGill believes there is a checklist that supporters can use to avoid friction with the police force wherever possible during June and July.
“Fans should be aware that swearing on the street is an administrative offense. It is a minor offense, but they could be detained for 15 days. And if they behave badly in public, they might be locked up for 10 to 15 days in extremely bad conditions.
“They need to be aware that they need to carry their passports, and any resistance to a police officer could also lead to an administrative offense. So my advice would be to be extremely polite and courteous in the presence of a police officer, make sure that you don’t give them any reason to stop you, and if they do stop you and demand your passport, make sure you have it to show them.”
Some major football championships in the past have been notable for running battles between rival fans as well as between supporters and police, but McGill and Amnesty International hope that Ukraine and its police will see the coming month as an opportunity for positive publicity rather than a chance to cash in on foreign visitors.
“There is a real spotlight being put on Ukraine at the moment, and it can work to our advantage. It could be an opportunity for the authorities to look at the way they are policing, to bring it up to a better standard. There is certainly an awareness that they have to improve the way the police force works in Ukraine, there have been lots of statements over the past year of awareness that ‘we expect too many crimes to be solved, so we’re putting police under pressure and as a result they torture people'.
Co-host | Ukraine will stage games in Lviv, Kiev, Kharkiv and Donetsk
“So there’s an awareness that things have to change, and we know that in the run-up to Euro 2012 the Ministry of the Interior has been working hard to show that it is a European country with a European police force, and they’ve been learning English. We think, though, that they have not solved the main problem which causes the extortion and the ill-treatment, which is the impunity for these acts. We don’t see these police officers who are guilty of extortion and torture being prosecuted, and that is the very core of the problem.
“Euro 2012 could be an opportunity for Ukraine to prove that it really needs to change, and that’s very much the message that we’re trying to put across. Also, all the publicity obviously is a good opportunity to highlight these problems and put traditional pressure on Ukraine in terms of solving this.”
Fans themselves appear to be cautious, but not overly concerned about the impact the Ukrainian police will have on the finals. Kevin Miles, of the Football Supporters’ Federation’s EnglandFans group, says all of his federation's members will be well prepared, and there would never be any consideration given to encouraging a boycott of the finals.
“As with all tournaments, we provide guidance on how to carry yourself as a fan abroad, and we have a guidebook available on our website which includes such pointers,” Miles told Goal.com. “We encourage fans to use common sense in any situation, but we treat football fans like grownups. We do not tell them what to do and where to go, and in this case we are hopeful that there will be enough of a spotlight on Ukraine that there are no problems in terms of policing.”
Amnesty is also hoping that Ukraine can deliver a trouble free tournament.
“We think this is a big opportunity for Ukraine,” said Heather McGill. “They’ve invested a lot of money in it, a lot of people have a lot at stake, and we think this is a very good opportunity to shine a spotlight on the problems in Ukraine. From our point of view, we’d like to use it as a positive, and we wouldn’t ask people to boycott it.”