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27.03.2007 | Yevhen Zakharov

Brief report on the work of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Public Council for the Observance of Human Rights

   

The Public Council for the Observance of Human Rights attached to the Ministry of Internal Affairs (hereafter the Public Council) has been functioning for just over a year, having been created at the end of December 2005.

It is a consultative and advisory body aimed at promoting human rights observance in the work of the MIA.

10 working groups have been established, namely groups:

  • on complaints alleging unlawful actions by law enforcement officers;
  • on protection against torture and the right to liberty and personal security in MIA work;
  • MIA and human rights during elections;
  • MIA and freedom of peaceful assembly;
  • the right to privacy in MIA work;
  • the rights of the child and the MIA;
  • the rights of refugees and migrants;
  • preventing domestic violence and ill-treatment of children, human trafficking and gender issues in the MIA;
  • human rights education;
  • normative legal and method backup for the work of the Council

Documents regulating the activities of the Council and its membership are away on the Public Council’s webpage on the website: www.helsinki.org.ua and also on the MIA website.

The members of civic organizations on the Council engage in this work within their own organizations and use their results in the relevant working groups.

Some examples:

Volodymyr Chemerys and his Institute “Respublica” carry out regular monitoring and protection of freedom of peaceful assembly;

The International Renaissance Foundation, the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group and the Kharkiv Institute for Social Research, and their representatives on the Council – Roman Romanov, Arkady Bushchenko, Yury Belousov and Yevhen Zakharov run programmes for defending and affirming freedom from torture and ill-treatment, the right to liberty and personal security, the right to free legal aid provided by the State, openness of law enforcement agencies and observance of the right to privacy;

The international human rights centre “La Strada – Ukraina” and its representatives on the Public Council – State Deputy Kateryna Levchenko and Olha Kalashnyk – run programmes on preventing domestic violence, ill-treatment of children, human trafficking and sexual discrimination;

The representative of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine Ihor Popov and the joint Ukrainian-Canadian Project “Building democracy” Andriy Senchenko are running a programme on ensuring that law enforcement safeguard human rights during elections. They have produced a manual under the title: “The competence of the Ukrainian police in protecting human rights and public order during the election process”.

Results

“The Chronicle of violations of the right of peaceful assembly” records violations throughout the country. 12 flagrant cases were recorded in 2006, involving violations by police representatives, the local authorities or courts (as against 42 in 2005).

The working group also prepared its own draft law “On freedom of peaceful assembly” and received positive assessments from OSCE and Venice Commission experts. The draft law has now been tabled for consideration by the Verkhovna Rada.

Members of the working group represent organizers of rallies and demonstrations against whom executive bodies have sought court orders to have them banned.

 

The working group on freedom from torture and ill-treatment, the right to liberty and personal security has produced digests of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights on violations of Articles 2, 3 and 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights;

It has produced relevant books which it circulates among law enforcement officers, judges and lawyers;

An analysis was carried out of the compliance of Ukrainian legislation and practice with the recommendations of the European Committee against Torture. The results have been published in booklet form.

The group also carried out direct defence of victims of torture or violations of the right to liberty. More than 50 applications have been lodged with the European Court of Human Rights.

11 training seminars on applying international and European standards were held for investigators and various enforcement officers in 11 different regions of the country.

A project for providing free legal aid during detention was introduced. With the support of the International Renaissance Foundation, a pilot office was opened in Kharkiv in the Chervonozavodsky Police Station. Another opened in the town of Bila Tserkva in the Kyiv region.

The Public Council supported and developed work of MIA mobile groups on monitoring the observance of human rights in MIA places of imprisonment, mainly in its temporary holding centres [ITT].

Thus far 102 members of mobile groups have attended special training seminars held with the support of the OSCE Project Coordinator in Ukraine for law enforcement officers and human rights organizations.

As a result of these training seminars, a national network has been created, this being a prerequisite for creating a national preventive mechanism against torture and ill-treatment in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT).

A booklet has been published providing an overview of the work of such mobile groups.

As a result of these activities, more attention has been paid to the conditions in ITT and there has been an improvement in these. The work of the mobile groups was assessed highly by OSCE and Council of Europe experts.

In cooperation with a network of human rights organizations, the co-chair of the Council Yevhen Zakharov carried out a study into the level of openness of law enforcement bodies of the MIA, SBU [Security Service] and prosecutor’s office, as well as of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences.

The survey showed a significant improvement in the level of openness of the MIA which proved the most open of the bodies mentioned.

For example, the number of complaints against unlawful actions by law enforcement officers had increased and came to 3,346 in the first 10 months of 2006, with 386 being found to be justified. This percentage of complaints recognized as valid is typical for the police in countries of the European Union.

If one compares this with the number of complaints received by the State Department for the Execution of Sentences alleging unlawful actions by the latter’s employees, we find that not one complaint was found to be warranted.  The increase in the number of complaints to the MIA does not reflect an increase in violations, but rather in the expectation that complaints will be heard.

The working group on the rights of refugees took part in an internal enquiry into police action in Simferopol over the illegal deportation of 11 Uzbek asylum seekers. This proved that the MIA officers had carried out unlawful orders from the Crimean prosecutor’s office and SBU, this later being confirmed by the Ministry of Justice.

The working group on protection of privacy looked into the issue of including not only last names, but also name and patronymic, and passport details on railway tickets. During the discussion at a Council session, the members of the civic part of the Council demonstrated that such a step would lead to a violation of the right to privacy and would significantly complicate the work of ticket desks. As a result, the management of the MIA decided not to introduce such amendments and the relevant documents were withdrawn from the Cabinet of Ministers.

The working group on preventing domestic violence, ill-treatment of children, human trafficking and on sexual equality within the MIA drew up and submitted proposals for amendments to the Law on preventing domestic violence. This draft law suggests introducing corrective programmes for people who have committed such acts of violence, forced treatment for alcoholism in cases where this is a factor in domestic violence.

A roundtable was held on 23 November 2006 by the working group,  together with the Verkhovna Rada on issues of legislative backup for law enforcement work,  on legal means of countering the exploitation of children.

The working group in cooperation with the police department for juvenile offenders and its branches in the Donetsk and Kherson regions, as well as the civic organizations the Donetsk Youth Debating Centre and Successful Woman (Kherson), have introduced a system for monitoring child labour in the Donetsk and Kherson regions. In 2006 they carried out 178 monitoring checks in places where children might be employed.

Experts from the working group on human rights education prepared a programme for a course on “The Police and Human rights” for institutes within the MIA. This involves a manual for lecturers and for students. The course is to be included in higher education programmes.  Two week-long seminars on teaching about human rights were prepared for these experts, as well as a secondment to Poland run by the Polish Helsinki Foundation.

Other projects initiated by the Public Council include protecting the rights of police officers; specific aspects of offences caused by racial and ethnic discrimination, and the reaction to these by the law enforcement agencies, etc.

Clearly one Council under the MIA is unable to carry out public control over the observance of human rights within the MIA throughout the whole country. At the very outset, therefore, a decision was taken to create regional public councils. The first was created in Kharkiv in April 2006, and by the end of 2006 councils had been created in almost all 27 regions of Ukraine. Some of these regional councils are already working well, while others are still at the initial stages. Unfortunately the Zaporizhya, Volyn and Dnipropetrovsk Public Councils have virtually ceased functioned.

The first year’s work of the Council highlighted a large number of problems in the work of MIA bodies which have direct impact on human rights. The year was not easy in conditions of political instability, the election campaign, changes in management within the Ministry. It required movement closer and coordination between the police and human rights organizations, and an understanding of the need for joint work. The main achievement can be considered the fact that the Public Council has come into being and proved its beneficial value for the MIA.

New problems and tests await us. Will the new leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs continue to prioritize issues of human rights observance? Will there be sufficient will to continue cooperation with public human rights organizations? Will civic organizations themselves show initiative and readiness to resolve practical problems? Could the work of regional councils stop?  Political will to cooperate and make an effort will be needed by both the MIA and civic organizations to ensure future fruitful work.

I would like to sincerely thank those colleagues from the Council who helped in preparing this report: Yury Belousov, Olha Kalashnyk, Kateryna Levchenko, Oleh Martynenko, Andriy Tolopilo and Volodymyr Chemerys.

6 March 2007

PS  On 7 March at a meeting with the Minister of Internal Affairs, Vasyl Tsushko, he assured me that he was interested in developing the Public Councils and would promote this in every way possible. We must hope for constructive cooperation.

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