London, 3 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Amnesty International has issued an urgent appeal to Ukrainian authorities immediately to stop any further executions of prisoners convicted of criminal offenses.
The London-based human rights movement said last night that its appeal is in response to what it called "the shocking information" disclosed by a Council of Europe representative last week that Ukraine has secretly executed more than 100 prisoners this year.
The representative, Zsolt Nemeth, told a news conference in Kiev on Friday that the executions were "barbaric" and in defiance of the commitment Ukraine made to institute an immediate moratorium on executions on joining the Council of Europe in November, 1995.
Amnesty International, which campaigns against the death penalty worldwide, said last night: "This is a shameful number of executions -- only China is known to have executed more prisoners this year."
Nemeth's disclosure came at the end of an international seminar in Kiev on the death penalty organized by the 40-nation Council of Europe. He said the executions called into question the credibility of Ukraine.
"Ukraine must now institute an immediate moratorium on executions and provide a timetable for abolishing the death penalty," Nemeth said. "We cannot be satisfied with promises. We need to see concrete plans."
Nemeth called on the Ukrainian authorities to disclose the names of those executed -- under a 1993 law, information on the death penalty is a state secret. He said that executed prisoners were buried in unmarked graves and their families were not notified of the executions.
After this disclosure, Ukrainian Justice Minister Serhiy Holovaty confirmed that 89 prisoners were executed in the first six months of 1996. He told the news conference he believed Ukraine must honor its obligation to stop executions.
Eric Prokosch, an Amnesty International representative, said Ukraine must take five steps to implement its Council of Europe commitment.
First, there must be a political decision not to sign any more execution orders.
Second, the government must issue an order to all prison governors that no further executions are to be carried out.
Third, the government must prepare public opinion to accept the abolition of the death penalty.
Fourth, it must sign Protocol No.6 to the European Convention on Human Rights, providing for the abolition of the death penalty in peacetime.
Last, government and parliament must enact legislation to remove the death penalty from Ukraine's penal code.
Amnesty International says the number of executions disclosed by the Council of Europe representative confirms reports that about 100 people were executed this year. Amnesty International has been able to confirm five of these executions. The human rights organization has appealed to President Leonid Kuchma to grant clemency to all death penalty prisoners, but Kuchma never replied to the appeals.
Birger Hagard, chairman of the committee on Legal Affairs of the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, says "Ukraine hurts itself by having these executions."
"Ukraine hurts its reputation as a free country with relations to the rest of Europe," he said.
According to Amnesty International, relatives of Sergey Tekuchev, executed in October, have claimed he was innocent and his confession was obtained under duress. It is claimed he was beaten and refused medication in prison
The parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe agreed in June, 1996, that any state joining the Council must stop executions immediately and indicate willingness to abolish the death penalty. Ukraine acceded to the Council in November, 1995.