More police violence against Roma in Ukraine

07 November 1997

Further instances of police violence against Roma in Ukraine have been reported recently. In one incident, on September 4, police allegedly raided the Ruski Komarovtzi Roma settlement near Uzhorod, Ukraine. According to Romani Yag, a group of six to eight police officers drove into the settlement in a car and a microbus between 3 and 4 a.m., forced their way into the houses, and pulled sleeping Roma from their beds. Two of the victims, 53-year-old Mr M.S. and Mr J.B.L. told Romani Yag that they were beaten by police. When she saw her son being attacked, the boy's mother, Mrs V.L., tried to intervene. She was allegedly punched in the chest by one of the policemen. A number of the Roma were then indiscriminately rounded up, forced onto buses and brought to the police station in Uzhorod, where they were detained until 1 p.m. the same after noon. The police allegedly did not provide either proper warrants or, in fact, any explanation whatsoever for their actions. Romani Yag has filed a com plaint with the Uzhorod district police.

Romani Yag subsequently appealed to the Uzhorod regional prosecutor's office and, on September 16, the regional prosecutor ordered the police to investigate. On September 23, the Uzhorod regional police replied that an investigation had been conducted. According to the police, "On September 4, 1997, pursuant to an order by the chief of police, a raid was conducted in co-ordination with units from the border police on the Roma neighbourhood in Ruski Komarovtzi to check for residents and to look for individuals suspected of crimes in the area. Instructions were given at 5 a.m. and at 6 a.m. the police units headed for their destination. The operation was commanded by Officer Stjepan Matitzo. Officer Bela Simon did not take part in the raid." The letter concludes that, "No breaches of law occurred during the operation." As it appears from the information available to Romani Yag, no further action has been taken by the prosecution with respect to the complaint.

Another instance of police violence was documented in the same settlement, again by Romani Yag. In the late afternoon on July 6, two Romani men were looking after grazing cattle when a mob of approximately forty people reportedly attacked them. According to eyewitnesses, the mob, which was returning from a football game, included at least one member of the police, Officer D.I. The mob beat the two Roma, Mr Z.L. and Mr M.L., and then left the men on the ground and proceeded to the Roma community. Once inside the settlement, they allegedly tried to start a fight and threatened to burn down the houses. When some of the Romani men present tried to defend the settlement, the mob evidently withdrew, but threatened to return that night. They did not, however, return. On the morning following the attack, the two Roma who had been beaten, Mr Z.L. and Mr M.L., went to the local police office to file a com plaint. Shortly thereafter, the policeman in question, Officer D.L, filed a com plaint against the two Roma, accusing them of beating him.

Invasive police techniques and physical abuse by the police have been documented in the Roma neighbourhood in Ruski Komarovtzi previously. Investigation by the ERRC in August 1996 uncovered a disturbing pattern of attacks by police on Roma living there (see ERRC Report, The Misery of Law: The Rights of Roma in the Transcarpathian Region of Ukraine). Some of these attacks involved destruction of property, violence by the police, and at least one allegation of sexual assault. One police officer told the ERRC that he regarded the Roma of Ruski Komarovtsi as "difficult". Officers Matitzo and Simon have been identified on numerous occasions by the Roma of Ruski Komarovtzi as involved in incidents of police brutality.

Other recent instances of police violence towards Roma in Ukraine have also been brought to the attention of the ERRC. One such incident occurred on July 6 in the Veliki Luchki settlement in the Mukachev district of Transcarpathia, where a Mr V.G., apparently a member of the police, went to the house of Mrs L. and asked her son to go outside with him. There, the officer allegedly hit Mr L. on the head with an agricultural implement. Several other men then arrived and started to beat the victim. The victim obtained a medical protocol documenting bodily injuries. Mrs L. claims that when she went to complain at the police office, they shut the door in her face.

In another incident, a Romani man named Mr R.S. was instructed to report to the local police. Mr R.S. failed to com ply with the order since he was afraid of being beaten. According to the information received by the ERRC from Romani Yag, the police subsequently arrested Mr R.S. on July 14 and took him to the police station. They then beat him and demanded that he supply the names of Roma involved in various thefts in town. They threatened that if he did not, they would beat him again. He was released without being charged. Finally, three drunk police officers allegedly detained a Romani man, Mr K.A., along with two other Roma, and demanded information from them regarding recent thefts. All of the Roma were released on the same day, without being charged.

Romani Yag reports that since late Spring, they have filed five complaints to the prosecutor's office in connection with incidents of-police brutality. Of these, the prosecutor has evidently taken action only in connection with the raid in Ruski Komarovtzi described above. No action seems to have been taken concerning the other four incidents. Additionally, as is evident from the letter quoted above, police oversight in Ukraine often remains limited to prosecutors ordering the police to investigate themselves, without exercising sufficient control over the investigating proceedings conducted by the police.

(Romani Yag)


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