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29.09.2006 | Yevhen Zakharov

On openness of the authorities and human rights in Kharkiv and the region in 2005-2006

   

On 27 September the «Maidan» Alliance, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group and the Civic Information and Methodology Centre «Vsesvit» [«Universe»] presented their annual report «Human rights in the Kharkiv region – 2005».  The report was written thanks to the financial support of the International Renaissance Foundation and the US Embassy in Ukraine.  It was recently published as a book containing 224 pages, with a print run of 500 copies

As in previous years, in 2005 and the first half of 2006 human rights violations were most apparent at the regional level. This especially applies to rights violations caused or connected with the actions or omissions of the local authorities. In the Kharkiv region the following violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms were observed.

The right of freedom against torture and ill-treatment and protection from arbitrary arrest

The work of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) has become more open and transparent, and Public Councils have been created attached to the MIA and its regional departments. A successful project was run with the participation of human rights organizations on monitoring human rights in MIA institutions 

However the stream of reports of unlawful actions by the police has not abated, although it should be noted that the number of punishments meted out has quadrupled. Unfortunately, departments of the prosecutor’s office remain as ever almost totally closed to scrutiny, while the situation in penal institutions has even deteriorate, as demonstrated by the numerous complaints, both official and unofficial, the cases of attempted suicide and hunger strikes,  evidence of the existence of so-called «press huts»[1], etc, relevant examples of which are provided in the report. One should also point out the enormous importance of the judgment handed down by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Afanasyev. At present the Court is in communication to the Government over 8 cases of alleged torture initiated by lawyers of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group.

The right to a fair trial

Most complaints are over the violation of this right, this reflecting the failings of the judiciary. The substantial increase in the number of judges delivered by the European Court of Human Rights against Europe also involved Kharkiv.  More than ten Kharkiv residents were paid money owed to them in wages and compensation for material and moral damages in accordance with judgments from the Court. A huge problem is also the excessive periods of court proceedings which can drag on for years. KHPG has identified and analyzed some of the reasons for judicial red tape.

The right to privacy

Infringements of confidentiality of communications and information occur as before due to inadequacies in legislation.

Freedom of opinion, conscience and religion

In summer 2006 repeated occasions were recorded where the state authorities shirked their duty to ensure the right to freedom of religion, these involving aggressive displays by believers from one denomination on those from another. For example, the so-called «Orthodox Community of Kharkiv» organized a picket by members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate near a Church of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC KP) , aimed at preventing Patriarch Filaret of the UOC KP from visiting the Church, this taking place was with the full encouragement of the local authorities.

Access to information

The study carried out showed that the least open structure, both in the Kharkiv region, and in Ukraine as a whole, is the prosecutor’s office which fails to respond to formal requests for information and is extremely bad at informing the public about its activities. The most open structure, on the other hand, was found to be the State Court Administration.  In Kharkiv the best in providing information are the Kharkiv Regional State Administration and the regional Department on Registration and Migration Affairs with the most up-to-date and informative websites.

Freedom of Expression

Improvements were evident in the media realm during 2005, however following the 2006 elections this freedom is again under threat.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

We still see the same out-dated internal regulations on the organization and holding of political rallies, demonstrations and other public actions which are based on resolutions dating back to the Soviet period which run counter to the Constitution  The requirement to provide notification of plans to hold some events 10 days in advance is clearly out of date.

Overall the situation with freedom of peaceful assembly improved in 2005, however since the 2006 elections instances have again begun occurring where employees in the state sector are again forced to attend meetings on threat of dismissal. Such violations of freedom of peaceful assembly are, in our view, even worse than court-imposed bans on holding meetings

Socio-economic rights

Articles 11.1 and 12.1b of the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are infringed on a mass scale. Numerous complaints were received about substantial deterioration in the quality of life caused by extra construction work reducing living space in various districts of the city. There were also cases where physical and psychological pressure was brought to bear on those defending their rights in this area.

There are reports of attempts by monopoly-holding providers of communal and accommodation services to extract, including via court proceedings, payment for services not provided, as well as of cases where physical and psychological pressure was placed on people standing up for their rights.

Freedom of business activities

In the summer of 2006 kiosks run by businesses representing bodies of local self-government were removed en masse with no legal grounds being presented for such actions. The work on the annual report also had practical benefits. Coverage of the information received in the local media and on the «Maidan» website «enabled us to heighten awareness of the problem of human rights infringements in carrying out the construction work mentioned, and to draw the attention of the public and the local authorities to the issue.

Information obtained by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group played an important role in the creation and organization of the work of the Public Council attached to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

The work in preparing the report was closely coordinated with other projects run by KHPG and by «Vsesvit», in particular with the Campaign against torture and ill-treatment in Ukraine» and «Exercising the right of access to information on the work of the authorities».

Similar reports have been prepared by human rights organizations in the Vinnytsa, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Kirovohrad, Luhansk, Lviv, Odessa, Rivne, Kherson, Chernivtsi and Chernihiv regions, and Kyiv. A generalized overview of the human rights situation was provided in the annual report of human rights organizations «Human Rights in Ukraine – 2005».  The latter is available in English on the KHPG website: www.khpg.org

The report will be circulated among civic organizations, the media, bodies of power and administration, and copies will be sent to the President’s Secretariat, the Verkhovna Rada and the Cabinet of Ministers.

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