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21.05.2007

The Monitoring must go on

   

20 May ended the first100 days of Nina Karpachova’s tenure as Human Rights Ombudsperson. This is not, of course, her first 100 days in that post, since she has been Human Rights Ombudsperson throughout the 9 years since the position was created.

It is however, the first 100 days that her activities have been under close public scrutiny.

On 8 February 2005, civic society marked Nina Karpachova’s election to the post by launching a monitoring campaign aimed at making the work of the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Secretariat more transparent and effective.

The need for such monitoring is explained firstly in the fact that over nine years the office of Human Rights Ombudsperson has failed to become an real mechanism for defending human rights in Ukraine. Since 2004 it has also become seriously politicized. The actions of the present Ombudsperson do not always comply with the spirit and letter of the Law on the Human Rights Ombudsperson, and indeed sometimes positively contravene it.

The Ombudsperson’s participation in the 2006 election campaign on the side on one of the political factions did irreparable damage to the reputation of the Human Rights Ombudsperson. It undermined faith in her, placing in question the lack of political motives in her work and her ability to be impartial, unbiased and independent in dealing with conflicts arising between individuals and representatives of the authorities.

During her first 100 days in office, there have been at least three occasions when Ms Karpachova violated the principle of impartiality, giving grounds for believing that her actions were politically motivated.

On 3 April 2007, for example, she addressed the dissolved Verkhovna Rada claiming that the President did not have the right to issue a Decree dissolving parliament. 

Acting more like a political figure than a civil servant, on 11 April during an extended session of the Public Constitutional Assembly (attended by such formerly active politicians as Leonid Kravchuk, Volodymyr Lytvyn, Inna Bohoslovska and others) she presented proposals for resolving the political crisis which in no way differed from those of the coalition – a zero option (going back to before the first Decree dissolving parliament) or simultaneous parliamentary and presidential elections.

While the Ombudsperson’s jurisdiction is limited to being intermediary in conflict situations between individuals and the State authorities, bodies of local self-government and their officials, Nina Karpachova on the pretext of worrying about public order, has interfered in conflict between branches of power. She has effectively taken on the rule of the Constitutional Court in giving her opinion as to the constitutionality or otherwise of the President’s actions.

Another case which suggests the Ombudsperson’s political engagement was the investigation by her Secretariat into the participation by school students from Chyhyryn in Kyiv demonstrations in support of one political faction.

In spite of established tradition that cases under investigation are not discussed, On 18 April the Ombudsperson’s site quoted the Head of the Cherkasy Regional Department of the SBU [Security Service] Ivan Prokopenko as saying that the trip had been organized only with the consent of the students’ parents. This statement was totally refuted by the Head of the Chyhyryn School Raisa Zakharchenko who said that on 4 April the parents had not known that their children were in Kyiv and believed them to be in class.  Furthermore, the Head of the Chyhyryn District Administration Petro Lytvyn told reporters during a press conference in Kyiv on 24 April that having arrived in Chyhyryn, the Ombudsperson’s representative had began demanding that the Head of the School provide a note stating that the children had not travelled to Kyiv. When the Head refused to provide a manifestly false document, the Ombudsperson’s site announced that the children had travelled to Kyiv with their parents’ consent.

The third case suggesting political motives in the Ombudsperson’s actions came with Nina Karpachova’s appeal to the Estonian Human Rights Ombudsperson on 20 April 2007. In her letter she expressed outrage at the “dismantling” of the Monument to the Soldier – Liberator [the Bronze Soldier] in the centre of Tallinn and reburial of the remains of 12 soldiers in the Armed Forces Cemetery. Her appeal proved remarkable similar to that of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A survey we carried out over this showed that 30% of the respondents considered the Ombudsperson to be cow towing to Russia, another 29% - that she had been commissioned to do this by the coalition. 27% called his action stupidity. None believed her to have been governed by concern about the Ukrainians (buried there) or about defending national interests.

Against this background of politically engaged statements, we observe total inaction on such vital issues as preventing torture and ill-treatment in Ukraine.

On 4 July 2005, Karpachova addressed an appeal to President Yushchenko “On the need for ratification by Ukraine of the Optional Protocol from 2002 to the UN Convention against Torture [OPCAT].  She then expressed well-founded concern at procrastination over ratifying it and at violations of the rights of prisoners.

According to European practice, in most European countries national preventive mechanisms against torture are created within the office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson. This is the case in France, Austria, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Poland and other countries. Yet after the Verkhovna Rada ratified OPCAT on 21 July and recommended creating national preventive mechanisms against torture within the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson, Nina Karpachova categorically refused to take these functions, envisaged by OPCAT, upon herself. As of today these national preventive mechanisms have not yet been created, despite the fact that the deadline runs out on 21 July 2007.

This is at a time when the Ministry of Justice has acknowledged systemic human rights violations in penal institutions and the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers has imposed special monitoring over Ukraine’s observance of Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms  (against torture).

In the course of our monitoring work, we have become aware of around 10 cases of flagrant violations of prisoners’ rights.  Among these was the brutal beating of convicted prisoners in Izyaslav Penal Colony No. 13 in the Khmelnytsky region; the attempt by a group of detainees in a temporary holding unit in the town of Komsomolsk (Poltava region) in protest at the bad conditions and the ban on receiving food parcels; allegations of torture applied to women detained in the Poltava region; allegations that medical aid was not provided in Dolynsky Corrective Centre No. 118; a complaint in the Mariypol educational colony about forced work by juveniles; complaints about the dangerous sanitary situation, people suffering from various infectious illness and the bad quality of food in the dining area of Berdyansk Colony No. 77.  The reluctance to answer for the worrying situation where prisoners’ rights are being violated has led to many members of staff of this colony resigning.

Given the Ombudsperson’s lack of imperative powers, a vital means of upholding human rights must be openness and circulation of information about violations of rights and liberties, primarily through the publication of annual reports. Although the Law states that the Ombudsperson must present the Verkhovna Rada with an annual report on the human rights situation in Ukraine during the first quarter of every year, over her 9 years in office, Nina Karpachova has only managed to produce 4 reports.

She not only covers up mass scale human rights abuses but, when answering formal requests for information from human rights groups, basically tells them to mind their own business. Any information about the work of her Secretariat can only be wrenched out after a struggle.  For example, civic society was only able to receive information about the structure of the Ombudsperson’s Secretariat in 2006 after Serhiy Holovaty lodged a suit with the court to be provided with copies of the Regulations on the Secretariat of the Human Rights Ombudsperson and on the Ombudsperson’s representatives.

One can now read these Regulations on the Ombudsperson’s website, yet information about the activities of the Human Rights Ombudsperson and her representatives remains as inaccessible to the public as ever.

For example, the Ministry of Justice’s press service updates their website on a daily basis.  The rate at which the Ombudsperson’s website changes varies from several days to a few weeks, with the maximum number of communications being two (against the Ministry of Justice’s ten or so).

From the Ombudsperson’s site, one can learn only that over the last 100 days Nina Karpachova has launched three investigations, has got three Ukrainian nationals released and is monitoring the situation with a Ukrainian woman serving a prison sentence in Thailand.  She is also following a case where a mother was driven to suicide and is taking part in a court suit on the elections of the Mukachevo Mayor.

One would like to believe that this is not all that her department with over 120 employees and a yearly budget of 20 million UAH are engaged in. However this is all the information which can be gleaned from the website regarding the work of the Secretariat during these first 100 days.

Thus, as of 20 May 2007, we must point to:

1  Political motives in the activities of the Human Rights Ombudsperson;

2  A low level of effectiveness

3  No transparency

4  Insufficient willingness to provide information

The monitoring continues

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