16.12.2006 | Yevhen Zakharov

Human rights situation giving cause for concern


1.  Since August this year the human rights situation in Ukraine has deteriorated significantly as compared with the period from 2005 – July 2006. This can be seen in the first instance in the heightening of administrative pressure on people in Ukraine as a result of substantial increases in the tariffs for housing and communal services, and the revival of checks on businesses by the Tax Inspectorate, with fines to be imposed fixed in advance (this is effectively a return to the practice under Kuchma’s regime).

In this context, one must also mention the trend towards expansion of executive bodies and controlling bodies (the Control and Audit Department, the Tax Inspectorate and others) which are controlled by one political faction – the Party of the Regions, and the restoration of old mechanisms for allowing “their” businesses to avoid paying tax, as under Kuchma. At the same time the public are no longer psychologically prepared to accept the return in full measure of the old rules of social life. The conflict which has emerged between the authorities and society is increasingly more heated, and it would seem that the present politics of the government could lead to a confrontation between the authorities and the public as took place in the second part of 2004.

2.  Clearly, the state cannot continue indefinitely to subsidize housing and communal services, and the responsibility for these needs to be transferred to other owners, with an inevitable increase in tariffs. However this increase must be transparent, well-founded and not lead to a fall in the standard of living. Instead the new tariffs are hard to understand and the state has done nothing to mitigate their consequences.  It is pointless to count on subsidies as the procedure for receiving them is extremely complicated and degrading, and a considerable percentage cannot receive them at all (if the family has a car, however old, or if husband or wife is not officially employed, or if there is an allotment [a plot of land for growing vegetables], and so forth).  The promises from the authorities to simplify the procedure have already been criticized by officials (who will in any case check all the information from the applicant) and the period for obtaining subsidies has increased to up to 2-3 months. This is clearly a serious violation of the right to an adequate standard of living. According to official statistics, 28% of Ukrainians have an income which places them below the poverty line – 352 UH (per month). Although these statistics do not take into account undeclared income, a large number of Ukrainians are still just eking out an existence, and not living.  On top of this comes an increase in the housing and communal charges which these people will simply not be able to pay.

And this then puts property rights in jeopardy since the issue will soon arise of forcibly evicting those who can’t pay (like in Moscow where they build semi-barrack style communal accommodation with one WC for three families) on the outskirts of the city. A new law on subsidies is needed urgently in order to remove this tension and to protect the socially vulnerable. The 2007 Budget has virtually no provision for such protection. Rawl’s rule “inequality beneficial for all” is not working in Ukraine, this leading to an even greater divide between rich and poor which is already too great.

3.  The State Department for the Execution of Sentences remains unreformed and closed off from the public with no system at all for review of complaints over the actions of the administrations of penal institutions. According to present legislation prisoners are under the total control of personnel. Of 3,473 complaints alleging unlawful actions by penal staff in 2005 and the first half of 2006, according to figures from the State Department, not one was decided to have been well-founded (we would note that the majority of complaints arrive, having bypassed censorship, and they can simply not be checked). For comparison, of 4,000 complaints made against police officers in 2006, 385 were found to be warranted (this is approximately the same percentage as in well-developed democracies). At the same time we know of numerous suicide attempts and cases of self-mutilation in penal institutions following which the media reported that the prosecutor’s office had uncovered violations by administration staff. Of concern are also the brutal actions of the spetsnaz  [special forces] formed within the State Department and which are effectively not subject to any external control.

 4.  The restoration of general surveillance by the prosecutor’s office as a result of the amendments to the Constitution through Law No. 2222 from 8 December 2004 is effectively hampering judicial reform with the latter being impossible while the prosecutor’s office holds such powers.

The prosecutor’s office remains the least open state body in the country. Its normative acts are not registered by the Minister of Justice and are often entirely unknown since they are not published (for example the Instruction on Procedure for working with citizens’, or the List of data which is classified as being information on restricted access and which receives the stamp “For Official use only” (including, “Special reports about catastrophes, accidents and natural disasters”?!) . These documents of the Prosecutor General became publicly known entirely by chance. The lack of investigation by the prosecutor’s office of allegations of torture by police officers is also still a problem.

5.  There continues to be a problem over the violations of privacy linked with the state’s wish to introduce a single universal identification code in keeping with the Concept for a Single State Automated Passport System [SSAPS] which will be used in all registers created by state bodies. SSAPS is being de facto implemented despite the lack of a law on maintaining registers and a basic law on personal data protection.  This will lead to the creation of a shared database with which in a matter of seconds it will be possible to obtain data about any individual, information about marital status, income, taxes, property, credit history, trips, whether the person has a criminal record, etc. A country which introduces such as system can only be described as a police state. There are also infringements of confidentiality of communications as a result of a considerable degree of interception of messages (landline and mobile telephones, email, monitoring of traffic in real time). Again there is no law allowing for such measures, while the scale of such activities is extremely large – over the first 9 months of 2005 there were 11,000 warrants for interception of communications channels, whereas criminal proceedings were launched only in a few dozen cases. This means that the effectiveness of investigative operations is extremely low. Yet the statistics for such investigative operations are classified.  Is this not to conceal from the public the helplessness and unlawful activities of operational units?

6.  Over the last four months there has been a significant increase in the number of cases of racially motivated violence, mainly in the East of the country. Foreign nationals studying in Ukraine speak of experiencing real psychological terror. Evidence suggests that these occurrences (marches by skinheads at night with candles and a St. Andrew flag ending in attacks on all “non-Russians”) are most probably instigated from outside Ukraine. It should be noted that there is no concept “discrimination” in Ukrainian legislation. The concepts of direct or indirect discrimination, as well as a prohibition on discrimination are not included in the Civil Code, where the section on personal non-property rights does not even refer to such.

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