ERRC Letter to Chief Prosecutor in Ukraine


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Date: Tue, 22 Jan 2002 17:05:00 +0200 (EET)
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Subject: ERRC Letter to Chief Prosecutor in Ukraine

From: MINELRES moderator <minelres@mailbox.riga.lv>

Original sender: European Roma Rights Center <errc@errc.org>

ERRC Letter to Chief Prosecutor in Ukraine


On January 16, 2002, the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) sent a
letter to Chief Prosecutor of Ukraine Mr. Potebenyko Mykhajlo
Oleksijovich to express concern about the possible killing by arson of
members of a Romani family by a police officer in the Poltava Province
of Ukraine. Five members of the Fedorchenko family died, and two
others were seriously injured, as a result of a fire in their home in
October 2001. According to local press reports, members of the fire
department found evidence of arson at the site of the fire, as well as
indications that the main door of the house had been blocked from the
outside, apparently to prevent persons inside the house from escaping.
One victim of the fire has reportedly alleged that a police officer
had previously threatened the family that he would "set them all on
fire" because they would not pay him a bribe. In its letter, the ERRC
called upon Chief Prosecutor Oleksijovich to ensure that a thorough
and impartial investigation is carried out into the fatal fire, and
that any and all persons guilty of crimes in connection with the case
be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The ERRC further urged
that any and all harmed parties receive due just remedy, including all
relevant damages. Further information on the human rights situation of
Roma in Ukraine is available on the Internet at:
http://errc.org/publications/indices/ukraine.shtml.

The text of the ERRC letter follows:

Honourable Chief Prosecutor Mr. Potebenyko Mykhajlo Oleksijovich,

The European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public
interest law organisation which monitors the human rights situation of
Roma and provides legal defence in cases of human rights abuse, is
concerned about the possible reported killing of a Romani family by a
police officer in the Poltava Province of Ukraine.

The ERRC has received information that in the morning hours on October
28, 2001, five members of a Romani family were admitted to hospital
from the Malaya Kokhnovka village of the Kremenchug area, Poltava
Province, central Ukraine, with extensive burns and suffering from
smoke inhalation. Zukhra Fedorchenko (21) suffered burns to her
respiratory tract as well as over 65 percent of her body; her
daughter, 6-year-old Snezhana Fedorchenko, suffered 100 percent burns
to her body; her 3-year-old son Misha Fedorchenko suffered 80 percent
burns; 15-year-old  Takhar, Zukhra's brother, suffered 70 percent
burns, and 50-year-old Jurij Fedorchenko suffered 40 percent burns.
Two members of the Fedorchenko family were found dead in the burnt
house - Ms Fedorchenko's husband, 25-year-old Vladimir Fedorchenko,
and their 6-year old son Jura. Snezhana Fedorchenko died 40 minutes
following her arrival at the hospital, Misha Fedorchenko died on the
next day and Ms. Zukhra Fedorchenko died two days later. As of January
14, 2002, Takhar was reportedly still being treated for the serious
bodily injuries he had sustained in the incident.

According to an article published on November 2, 2001, in the weekly
newspaper Kremin, the firemen who extinguished the fire found evidence
of arson - a burnt piece of a 5-liter polythene bottle with the smell
of an inflammable substance. Kremin, referring to unspecified sources,
alleged that some police officers asked firemen to state that the fire
had been started because some straw had ignited, but that the firemen
had refused to strike the "deal". The newspaper also alleges,
referring to witnesses' testimonies, that the entrance door of the
house was intentionally barred from the outside with logs, apparently
to prevent people from escaping. Reportedly, there were two explosions
which followed one another, and witnesses who saw the house after the
explosion told local journalists that it looked "like a building in
Hiroshima in 1945", with windows and doors thrown out in the
explosion, and everything burnt out inside the house. Three men were
reportedly seen by eyewitnesses running from the vicinity of the fire
immediately after the first explosion. Another witness said that she
saw Mr. Jurij Fedorchenko thrown from the house together with the door
in the second explosion. Reportedly, Mr. Fedorchenko was on fire at
the time.

Mr. Jurij Fedorchenko reportedly told the police that the fire was
caused by arson, organised by Major Ivanov of the Kryukov area police
department as punishment because the Fedorchenko family allegedly
could not pay a monthly bribe of 200 hrivnya. According to Mr.
Fedorchenko, prior to the incident, Major Ivanov made a verbal threat
to the family saying "I will set all of you on fire."

According to Kremin=92, authorities investigating the case, in the
first days following the event, claimed that they know the names of
the perpetrators, and area prosecutor Mr. Aleksandr Jarmonik was
quoted by the newspaper as saying that the possibility of involvement
of "drug kings in police uniforms" was being considered as probable.
The County Prosecutor Mr. V. Tsvigun said in public that should in the
course of investigation this supposition be found to be true, he would
contact the General Prosecutor of Ukraine and seek to involve
high-ranking independent law-enforcement officials in the
investigation. Chief of Department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs
of the Poltava County Police General A. Prisyazhnyuk stated at a press
conference on October 29, 2001, that one of the alleged arsonists was
being hidden by his parents; this person had allegedly had stated the
following: "I myself set those Gypsies on fire." This person, whom
officer Prisyazhnyuk did not identify, allegedly had set another two
houses on fire on the same morning with two accomplices. Officer
Prisyazhnyuk also confirmed the likelihood of involvement of a police
officer from the Department of the Fight Against the Illegal Use of
Drugs in the arson and denied any possibility of covering up the
truth. He was quoted in the Kremin' article as having stated: "I have
never illegally protected anyone and never will." In the weeks
following the incident, both prosecutorial officials and the media
reportedly denied any police involvement in the arson. In accordance
with Mr. Prisyazhnyuk's order, Major Ivanov was reportedly temporarily
suspended from his duties. Mr. V. Shapoval, chief of Krjukov area
police department, denied any involvement of Major Ivanov in the
arson, and explained allegations made by Roma from Malaya Kokhnovka as
revenge for Major Ivanov's enthusiasm in performing his work,
particularly in investigating alleged drug dealing by Roma in Malaya
Kokhnovka. As of January 11, 2002, according to an activist who
because of fear of retaliation requested that he not be quoted by
name, no charges against Major Ivanov or other persons had been
brought in connection with the fire. He also told the ERRC that Major
Ivanov regularly makes threats to Roma, many of whom have fled from
the town fearing further violence. The activist also told ERRC that
they believe that high-ranking officials at the county prosecutor's
office and police have covered up police involvement in the crime.

Honourable Chief Prosecutor Oleksijovich, the ERRC calls upon your
office to ensure that a thorough and impartial investigation is
carried out into the fire which caused the death of five Romani
persons and serious injuries to another two Romani persons, and that
any and all persons guilty of crimes in connection with the case are
prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Any and all harmed
parties should receive due just remedy, including all relevant
damages. We respectfully request to be informed of the results of any
actions taken by your office in connection to this case.

Sincerely,

Dimitrina Petrova
Executive Director

Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:

Chief Prosecutor Mr. Potebenyko Mykhajlo Oleksijovich
vul. Riznyts'ka 13/15
Kyiv
Ukraine
Fax: ++ 380 44 290 2603

_____________________________________________

The European Roma Rights Center is an international public interest
law organisation which monitors the rights of Roma and provides legal
defence in cases of human rights abuse. For more information about the
European Roma Rights Center, visit the ERRC on the web at
http://www.errc.org

European Roma Rights Center
1386 Budapest 62
P.O. Box 906/93
Hungary

Phone: +36 1 4132200
Fax:   +36 1 4132201

_____________________________________________

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