The Council of Europe has slammed Ukraine's probe into violence that erupted in Odesa on May 2, 2014, and left 48 dead when clashes between pro-EU nationalists and pro-Russian federalists ended with a petrol bomb attack on a building held by the latter group.
The council's report will add to perceptions that Ukraine's law enforcement system is ineffective, with both sides still maintaining the other was responsible for the violence and deaths. The report underlines that it does not seek to analyse whose actions directly caused the tragedy, but rather to pass verdict on the Ukrainian investigation of the events.
"It was never the role of the Panel to conduct or assist the investigation into, or to establish the facts concerning, the violent incidents in question," the report says. "This was and is exclusively the responsibility of the Ukrainian investigatory authorities, namely the Prosecutor General Office and the Ministry of the Interior, both of which were charged with responsibility for certain of the casefiles in the Odesa-related investigations," it adds.
According to the document, forensic evidence analysed by Ukraine's State Emergency Service found that the deadly fire in the Trade Unions House in the city centre could only have been started from within. At the same time, the report quotes officers from the service saying that efforts to stop the blaze were hindered by more petrol bombs thrown into the building from outside.
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, who was elected president only three weeks after the tragedy, said at the time there were signs that the deaths were the results of a special gas released in the building, likely by Russian security services. However, the Council of Europe report quotes results of medical expertise that most of the deaths were caused by carbon monoxide fumes from the blaze.
Investigation not independent
"Given the evidence indicative of police complicity in the mass disorder of 2 May 2014 in Odesa, Articles 2 and 3 require that the investigation into the mass disorder as a whole be carried out by an organ entirely independent from the police," reads the report. "Similarly, the investigation into the conduct of the fire service cannot be regarded as independent, given the structural links between the State Emergency Service and the Ministry of Interior," the report's conclusions read.
"The Panel finds the division of investigative work between the Prosecutor General's Office and the Ministry of Interior to be inefficient and detrimental to the effectiveness of the investigations, given that they concern the same set of closely connected events and overlap to a certain extent as regards evidence, witnesses and victims," the report finds.
The Council of Europe study also argues that the decision for the local Ministry of Interior to investigate the structurally linked State Emergency Service was misguided, given that the ministry itself remained inactive during the crucial stages of the conflict, thereby implicating itself in the tragedy.
"These concerns again highlight the need for an independent and effective mechanism for the investigation of serious human rights violations committed by law enforcement officers and other public officials," the report concludes.