Ukraine’s parliament betrays Maidan victims. Zelensky must react
Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada had the chance on 15 November to save investigations into Maidan crimes from imminent collapse. It failed the test and betrayed the families of over 100 Maidan activists killed during the protests – Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity - and those wounded. Lawyers representing Maidan victims and their families have issued an urgent plea to President Volodymyr Zelensky, asking him to call an extraordinary session of parliament in order to finish what MPs, including an absolute majority of those in his Servant of the People party, “could not find time for”.
With only five days left before all investigations are due to fall into a black hole and face indefinite suspension, the MPs needed only to adopt a critical amendment to the Law on the State Bureau of Investigations (No. 318 of draft bill No. 2116). This would allow investigators now dealing with Maidan crimes to transfer to the State Bureau of Investigations [SBI], in order to prevent disruption of the investigations. One of the Maidan lawyers, Yevhenia Zakrevska reports that at 15.00 on Friday, having passed some other amendments to the law, parliamentarians decided they had done enough. This has left the issue in limbo until the next scheduled parliamentary session, on 3 December. That is 13 days after the prosecutors now investigating the crimes lose their mandate to do so, and the cases are passed to SBI, despite the lack of any department within that body to investigate them. This will mean that any investigations not already in court will be put on hold, and any suspects now subject to detention or other restraint measures will have all restrictions removed.
There have been numerous examples where Maidan investigations have faced obstruction from the Prosecutor General’s Office, from the police or particular judges since the Revolution of Dignity, but this effective suspension of virtually all investigations reeks of sabotage.
The Advocacy Advisory Panel of Maidan lawyers has called on President Zelensky to use his powers and call a special session of Parliament. It is vital that amendment No. 318 is adopted and that a separate department within SBI is formed with investigators from the former Prosecutor General’s Office Department of Special Investigations. It was only with the creation of that Department at the end of 2014 that any progress was made on Maidan investigations. The recent dismissal of its head, Serhiy Horbatyuk, who has earned the trust of the families and lawyers of Maidan victims, and now the effective transfer of Maidan investigations into a black hole, will otherwise demonstrate that on the eve of the sixth anniversary of the Euromaidan protests, Ukraine’s leaders have reneged on all promises of justice for the victims and their families.
There is nothing in principle wrong with the reform due to come into force on 20 November. The public prosecutor’s office should not have investigative functions, and these are correctly being transferred to SBI and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau [NABU]. The problem is that the reform was planned for two years, and there was ample opportunity to ensure continuity of Maidan investigations. This was not carried out, and in a recent interview, SBI Director Roman Truba openly stated that Maidan cases will be suspended for some time.
Zakrevska is convinced that if Maidan cases are now handed over to SBI without the creation of an appropriate department with continuity of investigators, “this will mean simply handing them into the hands of Andriy Portnov”. The latter was a former aide and First Deputy Head of Viktor Yanukovych’s Presidential Administration during Euromaidan, and Zakrevska has previously expressed concern that SBI Director “Truba and Portnov are likely to work together, essentially on blocking investigations and persecuting investigators. She cited the case with the alleged theft of Maidan material as an example. Truba announced on 5 November that SBI had initiated criminal proceedings over the alleged loss of two volumes of a Maidan case by investigators from the Department for Special Investigations. He said that Portnov had brought the two volumes to them.
An ongoing ‘investigation’ by SBI into Portnov’s allegations that ex-President Petro Poroshenko was guilty of ‘provocation’ and essentially caused Russia’s attack on three naval boats near Crimea on 25 November 2018 has elicited outrage, among others, from the lawyers representing the 24 Ukrainian seamen whom Russia seized and illegally held as POW for 10 months. Nor is this the only example of apparent cooperation between SBI Director Truba and Portnov in trying to organize criminal investigations against Poroshenko (details here).
In recent days, Portnov called on Prosecutor General Ruslan Riaboshapka to amnesty former Berkut officers suspected of gunning down protesters during the last days of Euromaidan, He claims that the Department for Special Investigations is “a criminal group aimed at rehabilitating people involved in the shooting of political officers and provoking the killings of Maidan activists, the stealing of weapons, seizure of military units and state institutions”
10 Berkut officers were also killed during Euromaidan and Horbatyuk has strongly rejected Portnov’s claim that those deaths are not under investigation.
It should be noted that in an appeal setting out clear steps to avoid paralysis of the Maidan investigations, the families and lawyers of Maidan victims stressed that people like Portnov and others be prevented from having anything to do with the Maidan investigations.
Instead of heeding this call, on 30 October, Prosecutor General Riaboshapka appointed Viktor Mysyak as head of the PGO’s Department on Investigating Crimes linked with Euromaidan. Oleksiy Donsky was appointed his deputy. The Advocacy Advisory Panel expressed outrage over the first appointment. They noted that Mysyak, had already, “as protégé of Serhiy Kiz” (controversially appointed Deputy Prosecutor General in July this year) headed the procedural department on Maidan cases. Mysyak’s appointment, they said, was totally counter to what they had asked, since both he and Kiz had “systematically sabotaged Maidan cases”.
Ukrainians have long become accustomed to Ukraine’s leaders and enforcement bodies announcing various ‘breakthroughs’ or arrests on the eve of anniversaries like that of the beginning of the Euromaidan protests on 22 November. On this, sixth, anniversary, President Zelensky can either save the investigations, or help bury them.