The Human Rights Ombudspersons work in January 2008
Monitoring the work of the present Ombudsperson and her Secretariat is no easy matter: they remain extraordinarily secretive.
There is no information, for example, about the structure and staffing of the Secretariat. Nor do they provide generalized accounts of their work, decisions, conclusions, proposals, recommendations or reports.
Their financial expenditure remains a tightly-held secret.
All attempts have failed to find out about the number of applications made to the Ombudsperson from different parts of society; about the number of proceedings initiated into cases involving infringements of rights; the number of submissions made by the Ombudsperson to the Constitutional Court or to the State authorities, bodies of local self-government or civic associations, etc. Nor are there any summarized accounts of such proceedings.
According to Article 14.2 of the Law on the Human Rights Ombudsperson, the latter must protect confidential information. It would appear that the Secretariat considers its own activities to fall into this category.
Formal information requests to the Ombudsperson remain unanswered giving grounds for civil suits.
The fragmentary snippets from the Ombudspersons press service seem less about information than about self-advertising, and yet they remain virtually the sole source of official information about the Ombudspersons activities.
There were seven items in January on the official website. This, by the way, is a record: for the same period in 2003 there were 2; in 2004 – 3; 2005 – none; 2006 – 1 and in 2007, the month preceding her re-election, there were 5).
It is cheering that the reports for January 2008 are less offensive than those last year. Their content gives some hope for positive qualitative changes in the work of the Ombudsperson in defending peoples rights. There is a chance that this year already representative offices of the Ombudsperson will be set up and begin working in the regions. At the end of January, President Yushchenko responded to an appeal from the Ombudsperson and sent a letter to the Speaker of the Crimean Parliament, and the heads of the regional administrations for the Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk, Zhytomyr, Transcarpathian, Zaporizhya, Ivano-Frankivsk, Luhansk, Lviv, Odessa and Kharkiv regions asking them to provide all assistance in setting up premises for the Ombudspersons representatives.
It is to be hoped that the formation of national preventive mechanisms for the prevention of torture will finally be set up. After lobbying for the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT), the Ombudsperson refused to implement the recommendations of the Verkhovna Rada and create such a mechanism within the structure of the Ombudspersons office.
In January this year the Ombudsperson took part in the Paris Forum on positive moves in prevention of torture in places of imprisonment in Europe where the creation of such national preventive mechanisms was discussed.
From unofficial sources we have learned that Ms Karpachova is no longer objecting to these mechanisms being created within the structure of the Ombudspersons office. It is a shame that two full years have been wasted during which Ms Karpachova ignore the Verkhovna Rada roundtables on preparing a strategy for the mechanisms. Better late than never, as they say, and we will hope for movement in this area from now on.
Before her departure for the Paris Forum, Ms Karpachova submitted proposals and additions to the draft Cabinet of Ministers action plan. In the document submitted she proposes the creation of a national preventive mechanism in accordance with OPCAT.
On 21 January there was a meeting initiated by the Ombudsperson between her and the President. They discussed improving cooperation between their secretariats and issues linked with constitutional reforms. The Ombudsperson submitted proposals regarding the makeup of the National Constitutional Council. They also discussed prisoners rights and President Yushchenko supported the idea of a joint project aimed at decreasing the number of underage prisoners, including via pardoning.
At the present time there are 1902 underage prisoners in 10 special penal colonies. One in two has been sentenced to between 3 and 5 years. One in three is serving a sentence for thefts. Two thirds of the prisoners are between the ages of 14 and 17.
We believe that the joint project will be more effective if after the young people are released, the Ombudsperson oversees their resocialization.
The Ombudsperson has stated that she plans to initiate the signing and ratification by Ukraine of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Disabled. She also intends to oversee the creation of a State Migration Service and lobby for the ratification of the International Convention on Migrant Workers and their Families and a number of other documents protecting the rights of migrant workers.
The intentions have been declared. Lets hope for their implementation.
Slightly adapted from www.maidan.org.ua