NUJ Gongadze case update 2

30 January 2002

Opposition to an inquiry

Opponents of the campaign for an independent international inquiry into the death of Ukrainian journalist Gyorgy Gongadze are claiming there is no legal basis for an inquiry. The NUJ and campaigning organisations rebut this claim, as has the president of the ministerial committee of the Council of Europe, Antanas Valionis.

Please contact your MPs and the Foreign Office, to make sure that the UK, Ireland and other states support the setting-up of an independent inquiry. Above all, please put pressure on governments to offer assistance and support for such an inquiry, to break the "stalemate" of which the leader of the Danish parliamentarian Hanne Severinsen warned last week.

Below please find:

  1. excerpts from the official report of the debate in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, in which Ms Severinsen warned of the "stalemate"
  2. edited translations of two articles that appeared on the Ukrainskaya Pravda web site, detailing the case; and
  3. information about a forthcoming NUJ publication on the case.


Question No. 3

Mrs Severinsen [Denmark, Liberal Party]: "Noting the failure of the Committee of Ministers to comply with the recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly regarding Ukraine;

"To ask the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers,

"Why the Committee of Ministers has failed specifically to comply with the request in Recommendation 1538, Article 3, to initiate a new investigation into the disappearance and death of Mr Gongadze, and to set up an independent commission of inquiry, including international investigators for this purpose."

Mr Valionis [president of the ministerial committee of the Council of Europe, minister of foreign affairs of Liuthuania]: "The Committee of Ministers answered the Assembly's concerns in paragraph 4 of the reply that it gave last week to Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1538.

"The Committee of Ministers specifically states that 'it continues to follow closely the investigation into the disappearance and death of Mr Georgiy Gongadze. Further progress in this investigation is essential. The Committee of Ministers reiterates to Ukrainian authorities the importance of conducting a full and transparent investigation of the case and reminds member states' governments of their call for international assistance in this regard.' It is true that the Committee of Ministers did not set up an independent commission of inquiry. But the fact is that "Ukrainian law does not provide for the establishment of an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate this case", as stated in the reply.

"However, the Committee of Ministers welcomed 'the Ukrainian authorities' readiness to consider steps they might take to facilitate practical implementation of the proposal contained in paragraph 3 (ii) of Assembly Recommendation 1538.'

"I have raised the issue of the case of Mr Gongadze with the authorities of Ukraine during my visit to Kyiv. I have received assurances that they are ready to co-operate with the international community within the legal framework of Ukrainian law. For your information, after my visit the Chairman of the Deputies received the message of the Chairman of the Commission of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine for investigating the murder of journalist Gongadze, asking for international assistance for investigation. It was distributed in the Committee of Ministers.

"The Committee of Ministers will certainly continue to follow this question closely."

The President: "Thank you, Mr Valionis. Would you like to ask a supplementary question, Mrs Severinsen?"

Mrs Severinsen (Denmark): "Yes, I would like to hear how we can break out of a continuing stalemate. One and a half years have passed. The Ukrainian Government says that it is waiting for an initiative from the Committee of Ministers. The Committee of Ministers says that it is waiting for responses from other countries. I am sure that the various countries are waiting for a common signal. The Commission of the Verkhovna Rada is waiting for international assistance. We must adhere to our decision that an international commission should be set up."

The President: "Thank you. Would you like to reply, Mr Valionis?"

Mr Valionis: "Ukraine authorities asked member states to co-operate on this matter and we still wait for the next steps to be taken."


On January 25, 2002, in an interview with the news agency Interfax Ukraine, the Ukrainian deputy General Prosecutor, Aleksei Baganets, stated that the Council of Europe's investigators had agreed with their Ukrainian counterparts that there was no legal basis for the creation of an international investigative commission to investigate the case of Gongadze, and that the Council of Europe had therefore decided not to form one.

Such a statement is mistaken. Reporters Sans Frontières considers that this announcement was nothing other than a strategy that the Ukrainian authorities are resorting to more and more often in order to drag out the process of uncovering Georgy Gongadze's killer.

Antanas Valionis, the Chairman of the Council of Europe's committee of ministers, and Lithuania's Minister of Foreign Affairs, accepted that, at the present time, there is no legal framework for foreign investigators to work in Ukraine, but he did not say that the Council of Europe had decided not to set up an international investigative commission. Three Ukrainian deputies have prepared legislation that addresses in particular the issue of the status and powers of international investigators working on the territory of Ukraine.

Moreover, Hanne Severinsen, a contributor to the monitoring committee PACE regarding Ukrainian issues, wrote a letter on January 24 to the Council of Europe's cabinet of ministers demanding that the process of establishing an international commission to investigate the Gongadze affair be accelerated.

Reporters Sans Frontières would like to take this opportunity to remind readers that on September 27, 2001, the Council of Europe produced a recommendation regarding setting up an international commission to investigate the Gongadze affair, and, with the aim of actually achieving that end, approached the Council of Europe's cabinet of ministers. Aleksei Baganets also announced that, in accordance with the General Prosecutor's Office's petition to Germany, German and Ukrainian specialists would conduct an examination of the "Tarashcha corpse" in Ukraine, neglecting to mention both when this was to happen and which agencies would conduct it.

Reporters Sans Frontières considers it absolutely necessary that there should be a new examination of the body, but that this examination should in no way preclude a genuinely independent investigation of the causes and the circumstances of the journalist's death.

KUCHMA WILL FACE TRIAL, EVEN IF IT TAKES YEARS Ukrainskaya Pravda 25.01.2002, 12:12

Kuchma will, for the moment, not be called to account. On Friday, the Pechersky district court in Kiev rejected Lese Gongadze's petition regarding the Ukrainian General Prosecutor's refusal to prosecute the President of Ukraine, Kuchma, the head of his administration, Vladimir Litvin, and the Minister of Internal Affairs, Yuri Kravchenko, for the death of her son.

Georgy's mother informed UP that she would not let the matter rest at that. Kuchma will face a European court, and this would probably be even better.

In the meantime, the Prosecutor's Office has been issuing statements concerning new aspects of the Gongadze case. Having hinted at the possibility of sensational information having come to light, the Ukrainian Deputy General Prosecutor, Aleksei Baganets, none the less failed to mention any new facts that had been uncovered, citing legislation forbidding the disclosure of information.

"We continue to pursue all the lines of inquiry that we were examining before, but new facts are emerging which we must check with regard to this or that particular line of inquiry. These are not new angles that we are pursuing, rather new nuances of existing ones."

As was stated, the head of the so-called "Tarashcha corpse" (the headless body was found in woodland close to the village of Tarashcha near Kiev) has been sought for some time by investigators "with the use of modern technology and even aircraft." [...]

It is known that the General Prosecutor's Office has been following three lines of inquiry concerning Georgy's murder, these being that the motivation for the killing was a) domestic, b) professional, or c) a random act of violence. You may remember that in May of last year, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Yuri Smirnov, announced that the murder had indeed been solved, and that it was "random in nature, and was the result of hooliganism." Also, two of those responsible have died, "but as far as organisers are concerned, there are none, because it was a spontaneous, unplanned event."

Law enforcement officers had found the bodies of Gongadze's killers. "Those who committed the murder have been found, and are now being held at appropriate locations." Smirnov stated that a well-known criminal known as "Cyclops" (one of those who had been killed) was directly linked with the case, though he was later to become something of a laughing stock when he pointed out that this had been "his own personal view".

On Friday it became known that Ukraine's General Prosecutor, Mikhail Potebenko had ordered a third examination of the "Tarashcha corpse" with the participation of a German specialist. This was also mentioned by Baganets. Moreover, he added caustically, "The General Prosecutor had no reason to doubt the findings of the earlier examinations."

"In making such a decision, Mikhail Alekseevich Potebenko took into account the several requests that had been made by the victim's family that such an examination be made, as well as the fact that the issue had been raised at the Council of Europe and in the mass media."

The decision was made under pressure from public opinion and, it should be noted, the President, who had given the unexpected order to approach Germany with a request for assistance in conducting an additional examination last year. It was a long time coming. Or maybe this was all a deliberate display of disobedience on the part of the General Prosecutor's Office to demonstrate that they would not kow-tow to the President, regardless of what might be said, and that they were on top of things.

Judging from Baganets' statement, the carrying out of the examination has been entrusted to the Chief Office of Forensic Medical Examination, i. e. a Ukrainian agency, but with a foreign (German) expert being brought in to participate. "We put together a letter which pointed out that given the situation and its demands, they have the right to bring in a specialist expert from Germany."

A search is currently being conducted via diplomatic channels in the German Federal Republic for an appropriately experienced specialist capable of carrying out such an examination. This German specialist will examine the body alongside Ukrainian specialists in Ukraine and will take samples back to Germany for testing. "They will be repeating the work which our experts conducted originally with their Russian and subsequently with their American colleagues."

The specialists will need to answer the question of whether the so-called "Tarashcha corpse" is indeed the body of Georgy Gongadze. This will be the fourth examination. At the beginning of last year, the "Russian examination" found that it was 99.6 per cent likely that the body was that of Gongadze, while a month later, Russian scientists conducted an independent study which found that it was 99.9 per cent likely. [...]

It is worth mentioning that the Ukrainian Public Prosecutor's Office continues to insist that there is no legal basis for setting up an international commission to investigate this particular case. Meanwhile, unbiased specialists maintain that Ukrainian legislation in no way forbids the establishment of such commissions, which means that there is nothing to stand in the way of putting together an international group. Nothing, that is, apart from the will to do it. [...]

The General Prosecutor's Office continues with its games, and points at the so-called progress being made by their investigations, but is unable to say anything concrete, because it is forbidden to disclose such information. It yields to the pressure of public opinion and agrees to an additional examination of the body, but only several months after the decision had already been made by the President. All this means that whatever happens, the General Prosecutor's Office is counting on getting the results of the examination after the general election.

The General Prosecutor's Office is shamelessly pulling the wool over the eyes of the international community, who, conditioned as they are to respecting the laws of others, can simply do nothing but trust in the declarations of the authorities in question.

Nothing has changed.

NUJ to publish brochure on the case

The NUJ is putting together a brochure on the Gongadze case, aimed mainly at parliamentarians and fellow journalists' unions around Europe. It will explain the stage reached in the efforts to establish an enquiry and ask people to mount pressure on the Council of Europe. If you would like to receive copies let Ian Howarth at the NUJ head office know.

People to contact

  • Your constituency MP or TD
  • In Scotland or Wales, also your MSP or MWA
  • Peter Hain MP, Minister for Europe at the Foreign Office
    King Charles Street, London SW1A 2AH
  • Brian Cowen TD, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Liz O'Donnell TD, Minster responsible for Overseas Development & Human Rights at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ireland
    Ibeagh House, St Stephens Green, Dublin 2
  • Terry Davis MP, the leader of the UK group in the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe
    House of Commons, London SW1A 2PW
  • the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Alvaro Gil-Robles
    Directorate General of Human Rights,
    Council of Europe,
    F67075, Strasbourg, France.
    Fax +330 3 9021 5053
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