The Loshchynivka tragedy – a strategic case to overcome discrimination in Ukraine

On August 27, 2016, the body of a young girl showing signs of violent death was discovered in southern Ukraine in the village of Loshchynivka, Odessa Oblast. After this, local residents, believing that the crime was committed by a Romani person, launched mass pogroms, destroyed Roma homes, and drove the Roma out of the village while police and local officials looked the other way. As a result, on the very same day the police detained a member of the Roma community—a young man who lived next door to the girl—and charged him with this terrible crime before conducting an effective investigation or establishing all the circumstances of the case. Without making any assessment of this man’s involvement in the crime, police officers deprived him of is freedom and drove him to the premises of the village council, where they beat him in an attempt to force a confession. They illegally held him there for the entire day without writing up a report.

Having reviewed the case file in detail and seen objective evidence of our client’s innocence (an alibi at the time of death, the presence of foreign DNA particles on the girl’s hands, which an expert opinion confirmed could not belong to our client, significant discrepancies between the indictment and the collected evidence), we understood that this case is of strategic importance to eradicating discrimination in Ukraine and undertook this young man’s defense. To ensure the right to a fair trial, we were able to engage the public’s interest in this case with the help of our international and domestic partners—ADC Memorial, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, the Dignity Legal Monitoring Center, and other NGOs.

Despite resistance from the system, we were able to record the presence of bodily injuries on this man’s body, and later this fact was reflected in the opinion of the forensic medical expert; that is, evidence of torture was documented. On the basis of this opinion, our team of lawyers initiated criminal proceedings in connection with commission of torture by workers from law enforcement agencies—a criminally punishable action. At the national level, we succeeded in having our client acknowledged as a victim in a court ruling in these criminal proceedings and, for the first time, to establish evidence of racial discrimination in this case, since our client is a member of the Roma community. Now, after courts have reversed several judgments on the closing of the criminal case, the torture investigation continues. In parallel, the defense is preparing an application for the European Court of Human Rights concerning violation of the substantive and procedural aspects of the ban on torture guaranteed by Article 3 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the racial discrimination associated with this.

On August 9, 2018, two years after the pogroms in Loshchynivka, the Odessa District Administrative Court found that the actions of members of the local government during the expulsion of the Roma from the village were illegal.

The Loshchynivka case resonated widely with the public, which helped avoid a speedy and unjust sentence, but the judges could not reach a decision to vindicate our client. As a result, the case has been repeatedly forwarded from one court to another for various baseless reasons. This criminal case was considered by the first instance court for over three years and has been in four district courts; the Odessa Oblast Court of Appeals has changed jurisdiction three times. The case has been reviewed by 17 judges in first instance courts, while the accused has been held in difficult conditions in the Odessa Pretrial Detention Center the entire time.

Lawyer Andriy Leshchenko