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16.02.2007 | Halya Coynash

Shadowing for transparency

   

Almost two months ago, I suggested that in the event that Nina Karpachova, State Deputy from the Party of the Regions was elected Human Rights Ombudsperson, that Ukrainian civic society should

a) boycott the whole institution of Human Rights Ombudsperson as having been entirely discredited and / or b) establish a Civic Ombudsperson.

At the time it seemed incredible to believe that any nationally elected deputies could prove quite so incapable of heeding the public and unwilling to think about the good of Ukraine.

This would not, incidentally, have even demanded that they use their brains (Heaven forbid). A mere acquaintance with the Ukrainian Constitution and the Law on the Ombudsperson should have sufficed to preclude any possibility of voting for Nina Karpachova.

Not, of course, to speak of the clear signals from the Council of Europe and other international organizations that such a step would discredit Ukraine in the world.

Unfortunately, nothing irresponsible is alien to far too many of Ukraine’s State Deputies, nor would very much seem sacred.

The deed has been done, despite the calls of over 400 civic and human rights organizations in Ukraine and a considerable number of warning voices abroad.

It would be satisfying to spit in disgust and turn away emphatically.  A brief and cheap satisfaction, however, since for some people whose rights have been violated, the Human Rights Ombudsperson remains the last hope for justice. 

And that is as it must be.  There are powers and mechanisms, however unsatisfactory, held by the Ombudsperson which can help where ordinary civic organizations are helpless.

If she chooses to apply these, and it is here that civic society can and must play a vital role.

In many democracies, there is an institution of “shadow” ministers. The opposition appoints their “shadow Minister of Finance”, for example, to watch all the actions of the Government Minister, and to criticize the latter’s actions. 

It can turn into cheap party propaganda, of course, but it does have some advantages, both in making the government aware that its actions are under scrutiny, and in preventing the opposition from going limp.

Now, in this case, one would not want to join a politically engaged Ombudsperson voted for as an entirely political move by her politician colleagues, in attempting to find political shades for human rights.

There are none.  Human rights are yours, mine and Nina Karpachova’s.

And we are all called upon to defend them.

I would therefore suggest that civic society accept this challenge and institute a Civic – “Shadow “ - Human Rights Ombudsperson. This person could be supported by representatives in every Ukrainian region, each of whom would liaise with civic and human rights organizations in their region. The latter would monitor news about human rights abuses which either warranted the intervention of the Human Rights Ombudsperson, or where the latter had been approached.  They would follow these situations intently, and highlight any irregularities or omissions identified.  They would also, clearly, endeavour to assist where they could and pass on information to other members of the network.

They could also coordinate actions on sending formal requests for information to the Ombudsperson’s Secretariat thus ensuring that the right of Ukrainian citizens and taxpayers to accountability and transparency from public officials is fully observed.

This network, with the Civic – “Shadow “ - Human Rights Ombudsperson providing a focal point could present an invaluable mechanism for both monitoring the work of the Authorized Human Rights Representative of the Verkhovna Rada and strengthening the ability of civic society to defend the rights and freedoms of each one of us.

I would suggest that a major concern should be full accountability and publicity, not only in Ukraine, but in the international community.

It would be wise in the first instance to address all those democratic international institutions who closely followed the situation with a Human Rights Ombudsperson doubling as State Deputy, and then being voted in again (!).  I would suggest explaining that Ukraine’s civic society had no conflict of interests and actively worked for a candidate whose experience, commitment to human rights and lack of political affiliation made him an ideal candidate for the post.

While it would not be appropriate to ask other countries to take diplomatically embarrassing steps, it would, I believe, be entirely acceptable to inform the world community about the steps Ukrainian civic society finds itself forced to take and to note the establishment of a Civic Ombudsperson Institution in Ukraine.

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