13.12.2001 | Evhen Zakharov, the Kharkov group for human rights protection

Round table on the questions of human rights (impressions of a participant)


On 11 June the round table «Observance of human rights in Ukraine – international assessment» was held in the quarters of the committees of the Supreme Rada. The round table was organized by the Supreme Rada committee in charge of human rights, national minorities and interethnic relations. This was a praiseworthy initiative, and, when I received the invitation, I decided to go to Kyiv and to take part in the round table. Along with the invitation I got the translation of the report of the US State Department on the state of human rights in Ukraine in 2002.

The small room intended for the sittings of the committee was overcrowded with the participants of the round table: almost all state institutions connected with human rights were presented there, only the representatives of the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court were absent. Almost nobody obeyed the time limit (7 minutes) proposed by Gennadiy Udovenko, the Head of the Committee.

When opening the round table G. Udovenko declared that the violations of human rights in Ukraine had the mass character, that the level of guaranteeing human rights was extremely law, and the goal of the round table was to decide how to improve the situation and to formulate the proper recommendations to state agencies. According to Udovenko’s words, the Committee receives thousands of complaints against the drawbacks in the work of law-enforcing organs and misuses of power committed by them. The report of the USA state department also paid much attention to this question, in particular to the problem of applying physical violence and torture by law-enforcers. Udovenko presented the results of the poll carried out among the officers of criminal investigation and inquiry, which was organized by the National Academy of Internal Affairs. 30% of the respondents confirmed that torture was applied in Ukraine very often, 36% -- sometimes, 33% -- very rarely, and only 3.5% answered that torture was not applied at all. G. Udovenko reminded about the decision of the European Court of 25 May on the complaints of six Ukrainian citizens, who served the life imprisonment, pointed out the long terms of staying in custody before court verdict and informed that Ukraine occupied the second place after Russia in the list of the countries that supplied slaves, which had been published by the UNO Center on preventing international crimes.

After this the report was delivered by ombudsperson Nina Karpacheva; her speech was similar to one delivered by her at the presentation of the annual report in the Parliament (see «PL», June 2003). She remarked that such annual reports were also compiled by other countries, for example, the Great Britain, and by international organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Ms. Karpacheva told that the international assessment of the state of human rights in our country also included the materials of the discussions, conclusions and recommendations of six conventional organs of the UNO and the committees of the Council of Europe. The situation changed during the recent years: the internal assessment of the state of human rights in Ukraine exists now, which is presented in the annual reports of the ombudsperson, and this internal assessment is much more well-grounded and detailed than the reports of international institutions. The ombudsperson also told about torture as one of the most complicated problems, she pointed out the necessity of making the concept of torture more precise in the Criminal Code (as a crime committed by a state officer). More than 12 thousands of citizens have already turned to the ombudsperson in the connection with applying torture by law-enforcers. The analysis of these complaints shows that the most frequent violations were: illegal detention or arrest, ungrounded bringing to administrative and criminal responsibility, violation of the right for defense, illegal persecution, intimidation and application of violent actions, coercive alienation of the objects of property right, etc. Karpacheva believes that the report of the US State Department is completely negative, but, maybe, this is the main purpose of such reports – to point out the violations. N. Karpacheva presented to each participant of the round table the brochure with the texts of her speeches in the Parliament concerning her last two reports.

Natalya Zarudna, a deputy of the state secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, disagreed with N. Karpacheva. She quoted a number of positive aspects mentioned in the report of the State Department: absence of political murders, active work of the ombudsperson, multiplicity of newspapers, active religious life, attention to the problems of national minorities, non-interference of the state to the activities of NGOs, international control of the state of human rights, etc. Besides, Ms. Zarudna pointed out that the main purpose of such reports was not to give positive assessments, but to stop the violations of human rights. Has Amnesty International ever given any positive assessments? Never. N. Zarudna reckons (and, in my opinion, she is absolutely right) that any other situation is impossible in Ukraine, since here the General Prosecutor can call a person guilty before the court decision, and mass media do the same, so the level of the legal consciousness of the society is beneath all criticism. The urgent need of the legal enlightenment exists in the society. Ms. Zarudna pointed out the importance of the State Department report, which influences the Congress in this way, and informed the participants that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent the report to all interested institutions with the request to analyze the report and to communicate to her about their opinion.

Oleksandr Ptashinskiy, a deputy of the head of the Penitentiary Department, told that the European Committee for preventing torture could not find any flagrant facts of abusing human rights in the penitentiary system of Ukraine. The Department agreed with the conclusions of the reports of the Committee. The monitoring organized by the experts of the Council of Europe confirmed that the Department fulfilled the recommendations, which had been given seven years ago, but the Department could not influence the number of the incarcerated. Today their number is 200 thousands, among them about 10 thousand were condemned to the terms less than 3 years. During the first five months of the current year 22 thousand convicts were conditionally released before the term, and 40 thousand got into prisons. The most complicated situation is observed in the preliminary prisons, where 45 thousand persons stay (the total capacity is 36 thousand). Courts almost do not apply such new punishment measures as arrest, since there are no conditions for realizing these measures: special arrest houses have not been constructed yet. Volodymir Malinkovich asked to comment the data on the mortality in penitentiaries adduced in the report – 1381 persons. Ptashinskiy answered that these data were incorrect – the real number was 930, and that the report was imperfect and biased. (It seemed to me that the mortality rate in penitentiaries in 2001 was the same as given in the report. I looked into the report of the ombudsperson: the same number – 1381 was mentioned there; moreover the positive dynamics could be observed, since the similar number in 1999 was almost 2.5 times more – 3015. I showed these data to Karpacheva, who was sitting near me. «Oh, you read my report attentively», she said, «Ptashinskiy merely made a mistake. It is difficult to remember all these data»). Ptashinskiy added that about 9000 incarcerated were ill with TB, and very often they brought the decease to penitentiary establishments from outside». As to the bad conditions of the upkeep in preliminary prisons, building new prisons cannot solve this problem: «Prisons are like roads – there is always lack of them».

The next speaker, Mykhaylo Kornienko, the first deputy of the state secretary of the Ministry of Interior, told that, in spite of the quoted data, there was no mass application of torture. Every complaint against the illegal actions of law-enforcing officers is checked, and the Ministry of Interior has got 14000 such complaints. The guilty were dismissed and brought to responsibility. Thus, this year 48 criminal cases were started against law-enforcers (10% less than last year), 27 former militiamen were condemned and 1225 were acquitted. All in all, up to 1 May 2003 the prosecutor’s organs and courts considered 246 criminal cases against 272 militia officers for committing service crimes, among them 128 – for exceeding the authority and 53 -- for misuse of power. Kornienko told much about the necessity of the cooperation of law-enforcing organs and population, about helplines, public commissions and the five-year program of the creating the positive image of militia that «must play the role of social dispatcher». There are many problems in the sphere of the upkeep in the special establishments of the Ministry of Interior: preliminary prisons are overcrowded in two or three times, the expenses for the nourishment of the detained are not allotted. The problem of nourishment was solved jointly with the ombudsperson, who has good relations with the Ministry of Interior. Kornienko expressed his doubts about the number of the journalists, who perished during the years of independence, which number was adduced in the report of the State Department (38 persons).

Volodymir Malinkovich, the head of the Presidential Commission on promoting the development of civil society, stated that first of all it was needed to complete the political reform, and then to change the administrative system, which did not react to the complaints against the violations of human rights. The aspect of human rights must function on the local level. The civil society should be attracted to this work. It is necessary to conduct public forums and to create profile commissions, which would get the right to control state (in particular, law-enforcing) organs. As to the improvement of the upkeep conditions in preliminary prisons, additional buildings must be built. Malinkovich also told about the necessity of the adoption of anti-monopoly law on mass media, as well as new law on languages, which would protect the languages of national minorities, in particular, Russian language, since the modern situation, when children have no opportunity to study in their native language, is abnormal.

Andrey Khochunskiy, the head of a department of the General Prosecutor’s office, affirmed that only the prosecutor’s surveillance over the ODA might help to solve the problem of the illegal actions of law-enforcers. This surveillance must be stipulated on the legislative level, and the Parliamentary committee in charge of the question of legal policy is going to do this. Khochunskiy communicated the following data: the prosecutor’s office instituted 236 cases against the officers of the Ministry of Interior, more than 200 were passed to courts, more than 60 were already considered by courts. Mr. Khochunskiy believes that the main problem now is the application of laws, which have very low quality. He supported the idea of public control over the activities of law-enforcing organs, but remarked that it had to be stipulated by laws at first. Mr. Khochunskiy, as well as the previous speakers, criticized the report of the State Department for one-sidedness and inexactitude, also reminding about the incorrect data on the mortal level in penitentiary establishments.

After this I took the floor. I said that the Kharkov group for human rights protection translated and published the reports of the US State Department since 1998, and I was sure that the reports were quite unbiased, and the negligible errors might be explained by the lack of information. Since the state organs have no right to render the information to the US Embassy, which prepares this report, they refuse to give the information. Thus, the workers of the embassy look for this information where they can, and, certainly, they can make some mistakes. The very idea that our authorities must render the information to the Americans roused the indignation of some participants, who did not know that the reports were prepared by the US Embassy. They could not restrain their anti-American moods and almost did not let me to continue my speech until the head of the round table appealed to everybody to be tolerant and to respect the opinions of other people. I told why the Western experts regarded as cruel treatment the upkeep conditions in our preliminary prisons and penitentiaries, about the conclusions of the European committee for preventing torture, presented the data on the mortality rate in the establishments of the Penitentiary Department correlating these data with the level of financing: in 1999 the state allotted 8 kopecks per day for nourishing of one prisoner, and the death-rate was 2.5 times more than in 2001; when the financing increased, the death-rate became lower. By the way, this fragment of the State Department report was translated inaccurately -- the original reads: «… during 2001 1381 death cases occurred in prisons and preliminary prisons, many of them were caused by bad upkeep conditions», but not: «in 2001 1381 person died in prisons and preliminary prisons because of cruel treatment». In what followed I told that the recommendations of international organizations were not fulfilled in our country (for example, the recommendations were given more than once to reduce the term of the preliminary investigation (18 months) and to diminish to two years the maximal total term of staying in custody during the investigation and trial, as it was done in Moldova), that the very process of reporting to the conventional organs of the UNO and the Council of Europe was secret instead of being public, that the law-enforcing organs did not published the data about the illegal actions of their officers, and that such non-transparency of the work of militia undermined the respect to this agency.

Mykola Malomuzh and Raul Chichilava, the first deputies of the heads of the State committees on religion and nationalities, pointed out that their institutions gave the information to the US Embassy, and the corresponding sections of the report were adequately reflecting the inter-confessional and interethnic relations in Ukraine. Deputy head of the USS Volodymir Pristayko remarked that the situation in the law-enforcing sphere would not change until the preliminary investigation and the court system would exist separately. They must be connected. V. Pristayko criticized the report of the State Department in the part concerning the USS. He told that the secret sub-units were created not everywhere, as it was written in the report, but only at the places where the necessity of the protection of state secrets existed (it incomprehensible how this statement agrees with the information classified as «for service use only», which exists in every organ of state power and which is protected by these secret sub-units).

Mykola Shulga, the first deputy of the head of the Committee on human rights, professor of sociology, quoted the data of sociological research. One of the questions was: «Which groups play the main role in the society?» 43% of the respondents answered «mafia», 29% -- «businessmen», 23% – «state officials». Only 3% of the respondents agreed that human rights in Ukraine are completely obeyed, 13% -- partly agreed, 56 – did not agree or partly did not agree. Only 3% absolutely trust to power organs, partly trust – 7-8%, and these data are constant independently of the power organ. Complete or partial trust to militia – 12%; this fact should be taken into account at realizing the 5-year program of creating the positive image of militia, about which Mykhaylo Kornienko told.

Professor of law Volodymir Evintov, a member of the European Committee for preventing torture and cruel treatment, concentrated his speech on the problem of non-transparency of the process of international assessment of the state of human rights in Ukraine, on the ignorance of state officials about these questions. Who read the reports of the European Committee that were published on 10 October 2002? Who and how will fulfill the given recommendations? Who will control the fulfillment? There are no answers to these rhetoric questions. Valeria Lutkovskaya, the official in charge of the observance in Ukraine of the European Convention on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, familiarized the participants with the data on the quantity and character of the complaints against Ukraine that were handed to the European Court of human rights. She told that the majority of the applicants complained against the violence on the side of law-enforcing organs, the non-fulfillment of court decisions and meddling of the authorities into the work of courts. As to the report, she advised to pass from the general assessments to concrete actions – to check the facts adduced in the report, then to turn to the State Department through the Ministry of Interior and to point them on the drawbacks of the report. Oleksandr Sasko, the head of the directorate of educational work of the Ministry of Defense, communicated about the positive experience of the cooperation of his directorate with public organizations, he acquainted the participants with the jointly prepared reference books and other editions. «The West has «Reporters without frontiers», and we have «Women without permits», with whom we worked and will work», he joked having in mind «The organization of soldiers’ mothers of Ukraine». If only other state institutions had such attitude to the cooperation with public! Genadiy Udovenko advised to Mykhaylo Kornienko to realize a similar project.

In my opinion, the round table was very interesting and useful. I think that it should be reasonable to publish the record of the round table. Such conferences, devoted to concrete problems in the sphere of human rights, should be conducted regularly. This will noticeably assist in the arrangement of the cooperation of state institutions and civil society.

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