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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ukraine Accused of Secret Executions

KIEV -- A former government minister accused Ukraine on Tuesday of secretly executing over a dozen people this year in flagrant violation of solemn pledges to the Council of Europe to halt capital punishment.

An official in President Leonid Kuchma's administration denied the charge made by Serhy Holovaty, whom Kuchma sacked as justice minister a month ago and who has since declared his intention to run against the president in elections in 1999.

"In the first six months, 13 were shot in Ukraine," Holovaty, a prominent opponent of the death penalty, said in an interview.

His source was official data gathered region by region and issued every six months that did not say when the last of these executions was carried out.

"It's hidden," Holovaty said.

Holovaty's charges could spell a rough ride for Kuchma at a Council of Europe summit in Strasbourg on Oct. 10-11, which he is scheduled to attend. As president, he alone has the power to overturn a court judgment to apply the death penalty.

The Council of Europe has said Ukraine assured it that no one had been executed since January -- when the human rights body said Kiev could be barred if it did not keep a promise made on accession in September 1995 to stop executions immediately.

But Holovaty seemed sure the former Soviet republic had shot prisoners since.

"I am fairly confident I am not mistaken in saying executions were carried out after January," he said.

He also did not rule out that judicial shootings -- a single bullet in the back of the head -- had taken place since May 5 this year, when Ukraine signed Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights that outlaws capital punishment.

Holovaty said that although parliament had ratified a European convention barring executions, it had not passed legislation stopping courts from applying the sentence. Holovaty, appointed in 1995, was the author of a Clean Hands campaign against bureaucracy and corruption, but says he was sacked for accusing top officials of thwarting him.

The head of the appeals department in Kuchma's administration denied any executions had been carried out since last November.

"I cannot answer for Mr. Holovaty's words, but I tell you officially that no executions have been carried out since last November," Volodimir Filipchenko said.

When asked for this year's statistics on executions, he replied: "Read the law. It's a state secret."

The London-based rights group Amnesty International placed Ukraine second to China in executing people last year, putting 196 people to death to Beijing's 4,300. The United States, also a target for European criticism, executed 45 people in 1996.