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Council Of Europe Blasts Ukraine's Investigations Into Odesa Violence

The report concludes that substantial progress "has not been made" in investigating the violent events and the deficiency has undermined authorities' ability to bring to justice those responsible.

The Council of Europe says the Ukrainian government's investigations into violence that killed 48 people amid separatist tensions in the southern city of Odesa in May 2014 have fallen short of European standards.

Presenting its findings in Kyiv on November 4, the council said the official probes into last year's street clashes and the deadly fire in Odesa's Trade Union Building "failed to comply with the requirements of the European Human Rights Convention."

Its report also concludes that substantial progress "has not been made" in investigating the violent events and the deficiency has undermined authorities' ability to bring to justice those responsible.

The unrest was part of a wave of protests and counterprotests that swept Ukraine following the Euromaidan ousting of former President Viktor Yanukovych in late February in Kyiv.

On May 2, 2014, clashes broke out in Odesa between what were said to be pro-Russian supporters of greater federalism in Ukraine and pro-union rivals.

As the fighting turned deadly and police failed to restore order, the pro-federalism protesters retreated into the Trade Union Building, where they were surrounded by pro-unionists. The two sides exchanged shots and hurled Molotov cocktails through the windows at each other, with each subsequently blaming the other for the fires that broke out in the building.

The Council of Europe's report does not seek to determine the cause of the fires. It simply notes that official forensic examinations suggested the fires started in five places and that "other than the fire in the lobby, the fires could only have been started by those inside the building."

The panel also takes note of a report by a local nongovernmental organization, the 2 May Group, which says the fire spread to the building after a barricade in front of the entrance was set ablaze as a result of the exchange of Molotov cocktails.

However, the International Advisory Panel does fault the subsequent official investigations into the events for failing to fully establish what happened because "certain forensic examinations were not diligently carried out."

It notes that the first forensic report on the fire was prepared in July 2014 without any on-site inspection of the Trade Union Building. Nine months later, the panel says, an interagency complex forensic examination was ordered in April 2015 and, at the end of August 2015, was still under way.

More generally, the panel says it considers the official investigations into the Odesa events "ineffective," in part because of the authorities "failing to show sufficient thoroughness and diligence in initiating and pursuing" the inquiries.

The Council of Europe panel cites as "the most striking example of a lack of diligence" the fact that "the first real efforts to investigate an unexplained delay of over 40 minutes in the arrival of firefighters to the Trade Union Building were not made until December 2014."

The report of the International Advisory Panel also finds that the government's investigation into the street violence and fire, plus a separate inquiry into the conduct of emergency services staff during the fire, "lacked institutional and practical independence."

The panel says that the inquiries carried out by the interior minister and the State Emergency Services should have been carried out by organs entirely independent from the police and fire services, since those agencies were themselves key players in the events.

The report by the International Advisory Panel expresses "concern" about the prosecution and trials of suspects, particularly decisions to terminate the proceedings against two suspects on grounds of lack of evidence.

And it faults authorities for not taking "coordinated measures" to inform victims and next-of-kin about the progress of the investigations.

The International Advisory Group in Ukraine is led by a former chairman of the European Court, Nicolas Bratza, and includes a former judge of the European Court, Volodymyr Butkevych, and Oleg Anpilogov, a former prosecutor of Ukraine.

The panel was originally established by the secretary-general of the Council of Europe in April 2014 to oversee investigations into violence during the Euromaidan protest in Kyiv. The panel's mandate was extended in September 2014 to examine whether the Odesa investigations met all the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Council of Europe is the continent's leading human rights organization, with 47 member states, including Ukraine. All of the member states have signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights, a treaty designed to protect human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

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