PACE monitoring co-rapporteurs appeal for political forces in Ukraine to agree democratic and legal reforms
We pass on the statement the co-rapporteurs of the Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Hanne Severinsen and Renate Wohlwend gave at the end of their visit to Ukraine. They called on Ukraines political forces to come to an agreement over the future of building democratic institutions, adopting important judicial and legal reforms and taking forward the fight against corruption, despite differences of opinion and fierce political combats over the monopolisation of power.
Speaking at a press conference at the conclusion of an eight-day monitoring visit to Kyiv and Donetsk (28 February to 6 March 2007), the co-rapporteurs said: “Eleven years is a long time for any country to be under monitoring and – as rapporteurs – we would like to see this heavy procedure replaced by the lighter form of post-monitoring dialogue as soon as possible. However, in order to be able to recommend the lifting of full-scale monitoring, we need the Ukrainian authorities to assist us by giving us credible assurances in the coming months that they are committed to engaging in serious, coherent and well-targeted reforms.”
They continued: “We are glad to see some positive signs in that direction. For example, our discussions with the President, the Prime Minister, various ministers and political parties allow us to believe that a major breakthrough is possible as regards reform of the judiciary. The two presidential drafts submitted to the Verkhovna Rada on the new wordings of the Law on the Judiciary and the Law on Status of Judges have found the support of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Justice and are likely to be presented for a first reading very soon. “
“We have also received assurances from the authorities that a green light has been given for the transfer of the prison system to the Ministry of Justice and that there is consensus among all relevant professional bodies on the establishment of a system of public service broadcasting. These are all very important steps, though rhetoric needs to be backed up by concrete action.”
The co-rapporteurs also acknowledged general progress in freedom of expression and media pluralism in Ukraine, though regretted that cases of intimidation and violent action against journalists still occurred and that the investigations into high-profile cases had still not led to convictions of the perpetrators.
Among the recommendations listed in Assembly Resolution 1466 (2005) on the honouring of obligations and commitments by Ukraine, Mrs Severinsen and Mrs Wohlwend outlined the following areas where substantial concerns remained:
The constitutional amendments of December 2004 have unbalanced the system of checks and balances in Ukraine, causing a systemic political crisis. The country cannot move ahead with any serious reform project as long as it does not resolve this question, and align its Constitution with European standards.
In this respect, the recent adoption of the Law on the imperative mandate at Local Council level by the Verkhovna Rada, promulgated by President Yushchenko, has been a step back as regards democratic practice and the Venice Commissions recommendations. Also, further amendments need to be made to the Constitution with a view to bringing the functions of the Prosecutor Generals Office into line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission.
The constitutional framework laws that would clearly outline the functions and competences of the two respective state institutions, in full compliance with the provisions of the Constitution and agreed principles of power-sharing, need to be adopted without further delay.
Another long-overdue task of constitutional reform is the enhancement of the system of local self-government by the creation of executive bodies of regional councils, abolition of local-level bodies of the state executive branch and other adjustments. These changes should be complemented by amendments to the basic laws on local self-government and on local executive bodies. These reform measures should comply with the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
The reform of the legal system should be continued in line with Council of Europe standards by the completion of judicial reform, the adoption of a new law on the Bar (one of Ukraines original commitments when it became a Council of Europe member state), reform of the prosecutors service, as well as bodies of the interior, security service and other law enforcement agencies, reform of the substantive and procedural criminal law and the creation of an effective free legal aid system.
The setting up of a fully-fledged administrative jurisdiction should be speeded up. We regret that there continue to be long delays in setting up the system of local administrative courts, which should have been created by 2005. The development of administrative courts was, until recently, the main real achievement of the judicial reform carried out in the last five years and its reversal would hurt Ukraines aspiration to instil the rule of law principle by protecting its citizens right to appeal against the state machinery through the mechanism of administrative jurisdiction.
The efforts to fight corruption, although significant if compared with previous inactivity, have to be stepped up and implemented in practice. We hope that the parliament will soon adopt the draft anti-corruption legislation currently pending before it. However, we understand that enforcement activity in this direction is dependent on the success and pace of reforms in the criminal justice system which are also under way.
The system of broadcast and print media requires profound transformation through the setting-up of a public broadcasting service on the basis of the state television and radio companies and privatisation of print outlets (co-)founded by state or local self-government authorities. The current legal framework, which guarantees access to information, has to be changed to offer more efficient mechanisms for ensuring the accountability of state authorities.
During their visit, Mrs Severinsen and Mrs Wohlwend met the President of Ukraine, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of Parliament, members of the government and parliament. They also held meetings with representatives of the civil society and media, members of local and regional authorities in Donetsk, and visited a pre-trial detention centre in the region.