Ukraine: Suspect arrested in the killing of Katerina Gandzyuk: Fighting impunity must be a priority

16/11/2018
Press release
en ru

Paris-Geneva, November 16, 2018 - Ukraine’s authorities have arrested an individual for alleged involvement in the attack against Ms. Katerina Gandzyuk. The brutal acid attack she suffered that ultimately led to her death constitutes yet another of the litany of attacks against human rights defenders, including women, in the country. The Observatory (FIDH-OMCT) calls upon Ukrainian authorities to effectively investigate this crime as well as all the other attacks on activists and human rights defenders, and to take all necessary measures to guarantee the safety of all civil society representatives in Ukraine.

The attacks on human rights defenders and activists in Ukraine have become more frequent in recent months. On November 4, 2018, Ms. Katerina Gandzyuk succumbed to the injuries she had suffered from an earlier attack. Ms. Gandzyuk was a member of the Kherson city council (Southern Ukraine) and a prominent campaigner against police corruption and Russia-backed separatism. On July 31, assailants poured almost a litre of sulfuric acid on her, which resulted in chemical burns to over 35% of her skin. On November 12, an assistant of a ruling-party deputy of the Ukranian Parliament, Igor Pavlovsky, was arrested as a suspect in this case. The authorities believe him to be an intermediary between the perpetrators and those who had ordered the murder.

The tragic death of Katya Gandzyuk should become the final call for the authorities to take notice of the problem of persecution of activists in regions where the security services have merged with the corrupt local elites. We demand the effective investigation of all cases of attacks and a real fight against impunity” stated Oleksandra Matveychuk, Head of the Center for Civil Liberties, FIDH member organisation.

Since the beginning of 2017, human rights organisations have documented as many as 55 unsolved attacks against activists. According to the United Nations, from May 16 to August 15, 2018, 30 attacks on journalists, defenders and activists, including physical violence, humiliation and intimidation, have been committed in Ukraine. Against this background, the statement of Prosecutor General of Ukraine Yury Lutsenko, made during a September-27 press conference after a session of the Parliament’s Committee on national security, that some of the activists “show an atmosphere of utmost hatred for the authorities” and therefore bear the blame for the attacks, is extremely irresponsible.

Among the most notorious examples of recent attacks against human rights defenders, on January 1, 2018, the body of human rights defender Ms. Irina Nozdrovskaya, who was investigating the death of her sister, was found in the woods near Kyiv. On June 5, environmental activist Mr. Mykola Bychko was found dead in a village in Kharkiv region. Mr. Bychko was documenting the pollution of a local river, allegedly caused by a nearby plant.

Those attacks against human rights defenders take place in a context of broader violence against activists, such as Mr. Vitaly Oleshko, Donbas veteran and a political activist, who opposed the local authorities, and was shot in Berdyansk on July 31. A few days after, on August 2, a truck rammed a car with the two Odessa anti-corruption activists, investigative journalist Grigory Kozma and head of the Odesa branch of the People’s Movement of Ukraine party Mykhailo Kuzakon. On September 22, also in Odessa, an unknown person shot activist Mr. Oleg Mikhailik, who had campaigned with the People’s Power movement (“Syla Lyudei”), a political party, against illegal construction in Odessa. This list continues to grow every day. Those who ordered the crimes have not been identified in any of these cases. In some, even the names of the perpetrators remain unknown.

We are extremely concerned about the brutality of Katerina Gandzyuk’s murder. The murder of the defender is a marker of an unhealthy, aggressive climate in which human rights defenders of Ukraine are forced to work and resist”, highlighted Ilya Nuzov, FIDH Eastern Europe and Central Asia Desk Director. “We join the requests of the international community and the civil society in Ukraine to conduct an impartial, effective, prompt and transparent investigation. Attacks on human rights defenders should not go unpunished and all those responsible shall be brought to justice” concluded Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

For further information, please contact:
FIDH: Audrey Couprie: +33 1 43 55 25 18 / acouprie@fidh.org
OMCT: Miguel Martín / Delphine Reculeau: Tel: +41 22 809 49 39 / Email: dr@omct.org

Read more
communique