01.03.2008 | Halya Coynash

Legal spasms


A surreal court ruling in Kyiv on Friday 29 February could, if not revoked at appeal stage, send many people’s faith in the rule of law into fast fall.  The ruling is a squalid continuation of a thoroughly unseemly tale of political manoeuvring. It involves the judiciary, however, and whatever the judges may say, it concerns every one of us.

In 2006 Human Rights Ombudsperson Nina Karpachova chose to stand for parliament.  She did not step down during the election campaign, although being in second place on the Party of the Regions candidate list her success was hardly in question. She then failed to resign although the Law on the Human Rights Ombudsperson states clearly that any such conflict of interests must be resolved within 10 days. 7 months later, parliament terminated her powers as Ombudsperson. It was never clearly stated, but Ms Karpachova probably did not get the position in parliament she had hoped for, and decided after all that being a Human Rights Ombudsperson was not such a bad thing. All of this meant that the Speaker put forward Karpachova’s candidacy yet again, but also delayed the vote in parliament.  Despite an unprecedented campaign by Ukrainian civic society to have a politically independent candidate elected, the vote proved entirely faction-based and by 8 February 2007, Ms Karpachova was once again in the office she had held, in breach of the law, for seven months until November 2006.

The story is long, the number of infringements quite overwhelming.  They can be found in the references below, however it is something else which is disturbing now.  The civil suit lodged by two “Maidan” Alliance activists was not rejected because the Ombudsperson, the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada and that illustrious body itself did not break the law, as alleged, through their decisions, actions and omissions.

No, the judges turned down the claim on the grounds that Mr Garbar and Mr Severyn’s interests had not been directly impinged.

At this point a film director would say it all with a moment’s silence. Tempting as it is, I can’t simply fall speechless.  Although I’m blessed if I know what to say!   There is a law on the Human Rights Ombudsperson, a good law, regarding an important and valuable institution for protecting human rights.  The law was infringed by the person then and now holding that undoubtedly important office. It was further breached by the said person’s colleagues in parliament where she had no place to be without resigning. The parliamentarians are also much more than simply honour bound to respect the rule of law.

One can hypothesise situations to “prove” that the claimants’ rights and interests were or could have been seriously infringed.  Proof, however, is entirely redundant and quite inappropriate.

As citizens, the two claimants have every right to demand that the laws of their country are observed.  Any suggestion to the contrary makes a farce of the rule of law. It would be well to consider whether this is a good message to be delivering to the Ukrainian people and to Europe.

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