European Court of Human Rights made a ruling that Ukraine violated Art. 3, 6 and 11 of the Convention when we protected a park in Kharkiv in 2010

On 18 June, 2018, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Ukraine to pay 6000 euros as a compensation for moral damage to 4 protesters against deforestation in Maxim Gorky park in Kharkiv in May 2010. Trials on this matter lasted 9 years. “Active Citizens” asked the participant of those events, the head of the Coordination Council of NGO “Green Front”, Oleg Peregon, about the details of this case.

Oleg, I remember well, how at that time, hundreds of other police services, human rights defenders and I signed an appeal in your support, remember how we followed your daily/weekly posts on e-mails. What exactly happened then?”

– More than 2000 habitants of Kharkiv have defended Maxim Gorky Central Park for Culture and Recreation and protected the park trees from cutting down for more than 2 months. In the end, the townspeople partially defeated the authorities, as the building blocks have never appeared in the park, but the road, which locals have since called the “road of death”, was built.

Deforestation of the park began with a slogan “Construction of a convenient highway for guests of “Euro-2012”. Kharkiv residents found, that in fact our park being destroyed in order to make a convenient entrance to an elite hotel complex and for building it. There was no public discussion of this construction. Acting mayor of Kharkiv, Hennadiy Kernes and the head of  the Kharkiv Regional State Administration, Mykhailo Dobkin claimed that the road was being built according to the city general plan of 2004, that all appropriate authorizations were received and that public hearings were held as required not only by national laws, but also by the provisions of the Orgus convention. Nevertheless, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment commissioned to withdraw the decision on approval of the project, as there was no discussion and there were many violations. Kharkiv authorities did not listen to the ministry and decided to cut down 503 trees anyway. Although in fact, they were cut down more. On the 20th of May, they began to cut down trees, without observing safety regulations, and the territory was not blocked.

Foto DW

So, then our “Green Forest” appeared as a spontaneous social movement. At first, the loggers had been prevented from cutting down trees by 2 people, then 7, then 20, and when the tent camp was demolished in the park, early in the morning of 2 June, 2010, its defenders were beaten and trees were cut down – even those on which the climbers were sitting. There were about 200 people in the camp.

Foto WorldProNews

People got in the way of equipment, climbed trees, hugged them. But that didn’t stop the loggers. When there were a lot of people and it became difficult to cut trees down, the police and people in civilian attire came to the building site. Since then, such people will be called titushki.

Did the loggers have any permits?

– To all questions about the legality of logging, the deputy head of the Dzerzhinsk District Department of Internal Affairs, Lieutenant Colonel Shkuropatsky, answered by himself: “There are all the documents for logging in the local police department, logging is legal.” However, he couldn’t explain why loggers didn’t even have tree cutting permission at the site. He also could not answer the question of why the place where trees been cut down was not fenced, although trees fell on the paths along which people walked and cyclists rode. Kharkiv residents resisted logging, standing right under the trees. On May 21, the first blood was shed – the foreman of loggers, along with several henchmen, attacked two activists of the organization “We are Kharkiv residents” – Yevhenyi Solovyov and Yuryi Kalchenko, who were forced to go to the emergency hospital.

The next day, the “Pechinihy” eco-group found out that significantly more trees were being cut down than had been required by the decision of the executive committee of Kharkiv. This angered people. And then the employees of KP “Kharkivzelenstroy” wanted to bring an eradicating forest bulldozer digger to the logging area, as people considered this process as an attempt to destroy evidence of committing a crime. In front of the equipment, they became a human shield, and by evening a real barricade was built from chopped trunks. The first, by the way, in a hundred years.

“Pechenihy” did a huge job – they photographed and documented all the cut down trees – there were more than 600 of them. In addition, they found a lot of destroyed nests, dead chicks and adult birds that tried to protect their offspring until the last moment – this, let me remind you, was the end of spring.

Activists were constantly attacked. So, on May 25, loggers appeared in the forest at 4 o’clock in the morning, accompanied by more than a hundred police officers from several regional departments. They surrounded the area. Park defenders who tried to protect the trees with their bodies were pulled out and beaten by law enforcement officers.

Foto tsn.ua

 

On May 27, the authorities recruited young people of specific appearance – skin-headed “boys”. At the same time, an excavator went at people and, as a result, there are more victims, then the hospital called again. 28 May – these recruits came back, and even with a police escort. Police name tags were marked with “municipal security”. Some of them were wearing uniform vests. A forceful dispersal of the protest participants began. More than 10 of them were detained.

 

On May 31 and June 1-2, skinheads stormed the positions of eco-activists every morning at 4-5 o’clock. The police watched in silence as the park defenders were beaten and maimed, and journalists were attacked. On June 2, loggers cut down the last trees, conducting a final assault. People were trampled, crushed with ropes and chains, which they chained themselves to trees, sawed trees on which there were people. And the police detained the victims! Many activists were injured. People filed complaints with the prosecutor’s office and the police, but law enforcement officers refused to initiate criminal cases.

“At the 46th second, I am ripped from a tree,” Maxim Dudnik writes in his comments.

– What is the Green Front doing now?

– We continue dealing with environmental problems of the city, namely in the courtrooms, at pickets, community working days and other actions. Participants of the “Green Front” are ordinary Kharkiv residents of different political beliefs who want to protect the green zones of their native city from the arbitrariness of the authorities and officials. The green front is also supported by public organizations, mainly of a human rights and environmental nature.

– How did you manage to win the case on protecting the rights of victims?

-From the very beginning, the action was supported by the Kharkiv Human Rights Group of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union, for the help of which I thank very much. Subsequently, CPG lawyers helped file a complaint with the ECHR (European Court of human rights) to eleven protesters. I am very proud of my fellow countrymen, my friends, who found the strength and patience, courage and perseverance to stand up for their rights. After all, at first they had to go through all the circles of hell in Ukrainian courts, all instances. All this lasted nine years! And on June 18, the ECHR ordered Ukraine to pay 6 thousand euros to each of four protesters against the cutting trees in Gorky Park in Kharkiv in May 2010, as compensation for non-pecuniary damages. And it also admitted that it was appropriate to give the five applicants in total 16,6 thousand euros, which cover legal costs (the court’s decision).

– What prompted the court to make such a decision?

– The court declared that the state was responsible for the ill–treatment to which the protesters were subjected – this is how they assessed police actions. In addition, the state did not protect citizens, although we repeatedly called the police to the scene and warned them about attacks on us. In fact, the police contributed to the attacks, in particular, by arresting Kharkiv residents who tried to face titushky.

The ECHR held that Ukraine violated Article 3 of the Convention on Human Rights (lack of investigation of events by law enforcement officers); Article 6 (the right to a fair trial) – this is in relation to those activists who were not only detained, but also soldered administrative responsibility to them; Article 11 (the right to peaceful assembly).

The court also told the authorities that using titushky was wrong. Officially, this sounds like “the court expressed concern about the impropriety of using private security structures to disperse people participating in peaceful assemblies.”

So this is not just a victory for four activists, it is a victory for all of us who are not indifferent: all those who defend the right to have a pure environment, to have free assembly, and to have peaceful actions. Now such cases from Ukraine will be considered in the ECHR much faster, because there is a precedent that is of great importance for European legal proceedings.

Oleg Listopad

Translated by Anastasiia Lytovka

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