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Murder of Ukrainian Heorhiy Gongadze Still Unsolved After 3 Years

  • Hon. Christopher H. Smith
    US












House of Representative

108th Congress, First Session

Mr. Speaker, the murder of Ukrainian investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze remains unsolved–three years after he was murdered. On September 16, 2000, Gongadze, editor of “Ukrainska Pravda,” an Internet news publication critical of high-level corruption in Ukraine, disappeared.

 

Ukrainian President Kuchma and a number of high-ranking officials have been implicated in his disappearance and the circumstances leading to his murder. Audio recordings exist that contain conversations between Kuchma and other senior government officials discussing the desirability of Gongadze’s elimination. Over the last three years, the Ukrainian authorities’ handling, or more accurately, mishandling of this case has been characterized by obfuscation and stonewalling.

 

Last month, a prime suspect in the case, former senior militiaman Ihor Honcharov, who allegedly headed a gang of ex-police accused of several kidnappings and murders, died in police custody under mysterious circumstances. His posthumous letters–which give a detailed account of events surrounding Gongadze’s death and which name names–are now being investigated by the Prosecutor General’s office. A few days ago, Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun indicated that some facts in the letters have proved to be true. Reportedly, warrants have been issued for two suspects in the killing.

 

Mr. Speaker, a credible investigation of this case by Ukrainian authorities is long overdue. At the same time, it is important to stress that not only those who committed the actual crime, but those who ordered it–no matter who they may be–need to be brought to justice.

 

Unfortunately, the Gongadze case is not an isolated one. The murder, and deaths in suspicious car accidents, of journalists and opposition figures, have become commonplace. Earlier this year, Ukraine’s Ombudsman Nina Karpachova asserted that journalism remains among the most dangerous professions in Ukraine, with 36 media employees having been killed over the past ten years, and many more have been beaten, including several within the last few months. This past July, Volodymyr Yefremov, a journalist critical of president Kuchma who worked with the press freedom group Institute of Mass Information (11/41), died in a suspect car accident. Just two weeks ago, Ivan Havdyda, who was head of the Ternopil region branch of the democratic opposition “Our Ukraine,” was found murdered in Kyiv under questionable circumstances.

 

Over the last three years, the Helsinki Commission, Members of the House and Senate, Department of State, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and other international institutions repeatedly have raised the Gongadze murder case and urged the Ukrainian authorities to undertake a serious investigation into the this case. The response from Ukrainian officials has done nothing but cast doubt about the Ukrainian Government’s commitment to the rule of law. Last year–just to cite one example–Ukrainian authorities blocked FBI experts from examining evidence gathered during the initial investigation, even after promising to accept U.S. technical assistance in the matter.

 

I also hope that the Ukrainian parliament will take determined action in encouraging governmental accountability for solving the Gongadze and other murders, and bringing those involved to justice.

 

The lack of a resolution of the Gongadze and other cases of those who have perished under suspicious circumstances has tarnished the credibility of the Ukrainian authorities in dealing with fundamental human rights.

 

Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission and in the strongest possible terms, I once again urge Ukrainian authorities to take seriously the many enduring concerns regarding the circumstances that led to Heorhiy Gongadze’s murder and the subsequent investigation.

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