The Public in control!
On 12 December Chernihiv saw two important events which can serve as impetus for improving the human rights situation. The “Dobrochyn” [“Charity”] Centre held a roundtable with the title: “Human Rights in the Law Enforcement System of the Chernihiv region”, as well as a live public debate on television called: “Human rights – the present situation and suggestions”.
The initiatives were both aimed at discussing the actual level of observance of the rights both of individuals detained by law enforcement officers, and of police officers, preparing suggestions for improvements and bringing these to the attention of the management of the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA] and profile committees in the Verkhovna Rada.
The events were attended by representatives of Ukrainian civic organizations, the management and employees of the Department of the MIA for the Chernihiv region, the regional prosecutors office and the regional state administration.
The discussion was fairly heated and touched on issues of protecting the rights of those detained in temporary holding centres (ITT) as well as of police officers. During the roundtable, an analytical report on the results of research on the human rights situation which “Dobrochyn” carried out from August through November 2006 were presented.
Oleksandr Pidhorny from “Dobrochyn” stated that the rights of those being held in custody are constantly violated, this being from the first moments of detention, with police protocols not being drawn up on time, relatives not being notified during the legally established time period and those detained not being informed of their rights. Most frequently they are not informed of the right to refuse to give testimony or explanations without a lawyer being present.
Ensuring that people detained or remanded in custody are informed of their rights is an important factor. Here there can be only one recommendation, and that is that legislation regarding such provision of information be complied with. Immediate action is needed on preparing a printed leaflet setting out the right to have legislative requirements observed regarding the provision of printed explanations of articles of the Constitution and of detained peoples rights.
For further systemic changes there needs to be an “external” mechanism for submitting complaints since at the present time people held in ITT effectively have no real possibility of protesting against unlawful actions.
Nataliya Drozd talked about the results of the survey of police officers. The majority of those asked said that the level of observance of law enforcement officers rights did not meet either Ukrainian or international norms 67.3% complained of violations of their social rights, including the failure to provide housing, and the irregular working hours.
O. Yas, Deputy Prosecutor for the Chernihiv region asserted that the rights of those held in custody are safeguarded at present more than the rights of average members of the public.
Representatives of the Department of the MIA for the Chernihiv region acknowledged that there were indeed problems, these being firstly inadequate financing by the state, and secondly the lack of staff and unsatisfactory professionalism of new police officers.
O. Betsa from the International “Renaissance” Foundation summarized the human rights problems in ITT at the national level and pointed out positive changes which have been taking place in the law enforcement agencies over the last 5 years. It is specifically under pressure from publicly active civic organizations that these changes are taking place.
These open and frank encounters resulted in the drawing up of proposals on improving the situation with observance of human rights at the local level and the possibility of state bodies and the public joining forces.
Safeguarding of human rights is a vital principle and must be an integral component of any state police, including the protection of the rights of individuals remanded in custody, and of the staff of special institutions. In order that police officers work efficiently, the must have the necessary material provisions and social protection adequate for such difficult work. The conditions of work also need to be improved with appropriate levels of state funding.
A rise in the professional level of staff is also needed since this will promote positive changes in the later process of reform. It would be sensible for this to involve the resources of nongovernmental organizations.
Police openness would also be promoted through an attentive attitude by Internal Affairs bodies in relation to appeals and formal requests for information that they receive. Answering such requests for information and informing the population on the most topical issues would be highly beneficial in the everyday work of the police, and would promote cooperation between the police and the public.
Public appearances on television, reporting to the public on work carried out and on funds used, budget and non-budget, problems confronting the management of the Department of the MIA both for the region, and for the city, as well as problems of district police department, can all be described as TRANSPARENCY. It is vital to also listen to the opinions of the population about the work of human rights defenders.
Who uses the services of the police – CITIZENS? And who, if not the average citizen should access the work of the police? There must be periodic monitoring of public opinion on the level of public trust in the police. The state must not stand back from the issues which at present get in the way of police offers on a day-to-day basis.
The “Dobrochyn” Centre http://www.dobrochyn.org.ua/