08.12.2007 | Roman Romanov:

The European Court of Human Rights trusts Ukrainian human rights defenders


From an interview given to the UNIAN Human Rights site by representative of the International Renaissance Foundation [IRF], Roman Romanov

- You’re the Head of the IRF “Rule of Law” Project. How effective are the measures connected with that project?

I view these with a certain degree of reasonable criticism, and effectiveness is far from 100 percent. On the other hand it would be unrealistic to expect that level from projects in Ukraine. We fully acknowledge both our right and that of others to make mistakes. However I feel there should a critical majority of projects which put forward goals and intentions which we try to implement in our work. That, I would say, we have been able to achieve.

- Which target group do you work with?

We work with very different organizations. Human rights are a main focus, but we’re also involved with judicial reform and the system of criminal justice. We also look at any reform from the perspective of human rights. For that reason our target audience is often less human rights organizations, then the public bodies which have impact on decision-making, for example, public councils attached to different ministries, etc.  …

- What initiative within the framework of the Rule of Law Project would you say has been the most successful? 

It’s probably not possible to use any rating system in the human rights area. I could however mention those initiatives that have brought about some change. Over the four years that I’ve worked for IRF, we’ve seen the development of a human rights milieu.  There was no network of such organizations four years ago. We have introduced initiatives which could unite a large number of organizations. I see that as a major victory, and it’s for this reason, I believe, that we can now speak of a human rights movement in Ukraine.

There are stable initiatives that are impossible to introduce without the milieu.  I would say we are implementing reasonably well a mechanism of public control, firstly in the system of law enforcement bodies (for example the Public Council attached to the Ministry of Internal Affairs).  We can say the same of regional MIA departments.  We have already developed a fairly solid pool of organizations that could act as both advisers and controllers. I can’t say that this is equally successful in all regions. Time is needed to ensure that both the police and the public get used to such relations.

We have also been able to implement systematic work in presenting an annual report on the human rights situation in Ukraine. which has been published for the last three years with our support and that of other organizations. This is especially important given the lack, unfortunately, of adequate assessment from the Human Rights Ombudsperson.  Nongovernmental organizations were able to fill this gap which shows that they have sufficiently serious analytical and intellectual resources.

I recently reread one extremely important judgment in the case of Yakovenko v. Ukraine linked with the spread of tuberculosis in penal institutions and SIZO [remand centres], where a person died before the case reached the court. The claimant’s mother continued the case. I think that the judgment was quite fair.  The European Court of Human Rights cites the Human Rights Organizations’ Report where data was given about tuberculosis in penal institutions and SIZO.  That means that the work being done by Ukrainian human rights groups is trusted.

If you look at the concluding observations of UN committees (the Committee against Torture, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), they’re virtually based on recommendations and conclusions presented by nongovernmental organizations. We have thus developed fairly systematic cooperation with different international partners.  This is a marked contrast to the situation previously.

Asked whether the fact that human rights organizations are competing for IRF grants does not lead to division, Mr Romanov said that a healthy environment needed competition and that the Foundation always endeavoured to choose according to criteria outlined in advance.  He believes that if there are conflicts, these are once-off situations, and not a systemic problem. .

Clearly the function of the prosecutor in supervising observance of human rights is a relic of the past. One body cannot simultaneously support State prosecutions in court, carry out criminal investigations, and ensure monitoring over observance of human rights. That is conflict of interests within one public body. One can’t say that the prosecutor’s office does not understand this problem, yet any attempt to restrict this overseeing role always runs up against opposition. And who should be given this function? There is no answer so we constantly put off this reform and come under fire from the Council of Europe and other international institutions.

What are the Rule of Law Project’s priorities for the next year?

Firstly to support the internal demand for human rights. I was just at a roundtable on countering xenophobia and racism and heard various addresses. However that is a project that’s ending. As an ideal for completed action in this area of countering racism and xenophobia, I would say this would be a state of affairs where no support was needed. Just like Martin Luther King, I also have a dream, to walk onto Khreschatyk Street and see a bunch of skinheads with some horrendous slogans being protected by the police from a crowd protesting against the presence of this group of skinheads, anti-Semites and xenophobes in Ukraine. For me that would be a state of completion.  No violence, the police safeguard the freedom of those demonstrations and terrible slogans which most of the population reject.

It’s very important that the ideas that we promulgate and endeavour to defend are well-received and built on the public interest. I think there has been great progress in this area over recent time. Our society has become much more receptive towards the idea of freedom. However this situation is still very unstable and needs further support. We therefore support various forms of communicating with society, for example, the documentary film festival on human rights which I see as an effective way of passing on those values which we term human rights. We also support various Internet websites, information resources which transmit such information and are means of dialogue.

Secondly, it’s also extremely important to develop human rights protection via various available mechanisms – in the Ukrainian courts, in the European Court of Human Rights, in the UN Human Rights Committee. We would like to extend the network of bar lawyers involved in such cooperation who can at any moment, beginning from a first instance court and ending in Strasbourg, ensure effective protection of an individual. Ukrainians need to see a light at the end of the tunnel when there are more and more examples showing that these rights which are violated on a wide scale in Ukraine, can be defended.

We will continue to support reforms in key institution which should be defending human rights. Here we have the issue of judicial reform and reform of the penal system which is still to a large extent closed from the public and is reminiscent of the GULAG system. We will also continue to support various monitoring and analytical projects of human rights organizations in order to present and show not only individual examples of human rights defence, but a system.

We will continue working with international partners so that information about Ukraine is adequately presented at international human rights forums.

I don’t think we have moved off course for reform  however there has been a significant slowdown over the last year and a half or two. We must not waste time, and will stimulate the process through accessible means and support our partners, both State institutions and nongovernmental organizations.

Roman Romanov was speaking with Tetyana Pechonchyk

Slightly abridged

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