Legal assistance to victims of natural disasters not in the Human Rights Ombudspersons scope?
The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union Advice Centre in Ternopil is run with the assistance of two local civic organizations: the Environmental and Humanitarian Organization “Zeleny svit” [“Green World”] and “Helsinki Initiative – XXI”.
The catastrophic floods at the end of July 2008 wrought devastation to six regions of Western Ukraine. In August representatives of the above-mentioned groups visited populated areas especially hard-hit in the Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk regions. As a result of their findings, various appeals were sent to the authorities and law enforcement bodies.
A letter was also sent to the Human Rights Ombudsperson asking her to send her own appeal to the Government in defence of the victims constitutional rights. According to Article 50 of the Constitution, “Everyone has the right to an environment that is safe for life and health, and to compensation for damages inflicted through the violation of this right”. .In the cases over which we approached the Ombudsperson, the infringements were truly substantial. One involved the death of a person during the flooding, two others – total loss of privatized plots of land. Difficult to imagine, yet the land was totally swept away by the waters.
The problem is that the procedure for compensation in such cases has not yet been set down in acts from the President and Cabinet of Ministers, and therefore the victims and their representatives are now fruitlessly traipsing around the local authorities.
Our request of the Ombudsperson was modest: to ask the Cabinet of Ministers to adopt supplements and explanations to already existing normative acts which would regulate these issues. In order to finally get people placed on the register of victims of the disaster or so that their families could receive compensation.
In the last few days we received a response from the Ombudspersons Secretariat, signed by the Head Consultant V. Radko. The “response” is, unfortunately a mix of bureaucratic clichés and classic examples of legal concepts being twisted in order to refuse to send appeals to the Government.
The question arises of why the Secretariat of the Ombudsperson with its large staff cannot at least re-address an appeal from human rights defenders to the authorized State body. Is this just an unfortunate misunderstanding, or is it a primitive case of “revenge” against the Helsinki Union for well-deserved criticism of Ms Karpachova who by no means always fulfils her duties? Yet how are the victims of floods involved? Or does Ms Karpachova have a gut aversion to all “West Ukrainians” with their problems?
We are presently assuming that this is just a regrettable mistake by the Secretariat, but will obviously not be accepting such a rejection.
Oleksandr Stepanenko, Coordinator of the UHHRU Advice Centre (very slightly adapted)