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01.08.2008 | Halya Coynash

The Prosecutor General must go!

   

A law-based democracy is no utopia and we need people to protect us from those who treat the law with contempt.  For this reason, those in authority bear particular liability if they abuse the trust society must be able to place in them.

On Monday the Prosecutor General Oleksandr Medvedko ordered the extradition of a refugee, a person whom the Ukrainian authorities had granted asylum to in March this year. He did this in flagrant contempt of a court ruling from 21 July which had turned down his appeal against the granting of refugee status.

This latest outrage and violation of Ukraine’s national legislation and international commitments was learned about on Tuesday. when it was already too late to help refugee Oleg Kuznetsov.  All that remained, it seemed, was to present the facts of this treacherous act and demand Medvedko’s dismissal. 

  This does, in fact, remain the case since a Prosecutor General who shows contempt for court orders, national and international law and hands over a person to a country where he could face torture and ill-treatment and other violations, has lost any right to remain in office.

  It is regrettable that Mr Medvedko has not understood that he should resign and appears  indifferent to the serious damage the Prosecutor’s Office has done Ukraine’s reputation in the world community.  Still worse, the response of the Prosecutor General’s Press Service to the call by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union for Medvedko’s dismissal demonstrates a disturbing willingness to twist the truth and staggering disregard for the law.

  Before beginning, I would note a typical ploy used by those who wish to deflect attention from the real situation and their personal liability, this being to present arguments in detail which are not relevant in this case.

  The statement reads that Oleg Kuznetsov was detained because he was on the international wanted list on charges of fraud and attempted fraud involving large amounts.  The charges and general circumstances of the case against him clearly needed investigation.

  This is undoubtedly what the State Committee for Nationalities and Religions [the State Committee] did before granting Kuznetsov refugee status. They examined the evidence and clearly decided that there were serious grounds for believing that Mr Kuznetsov might not get a fair trial in Russia and could be subjected to ill-treatment.  It is worth noting that the story regarding the charges against Mr Kuznetsov is highly equivocal and suggests that a State enterprise may have brought the charges against him to avoid paying back a huge debt. The details are available here: http://www.khpg.org.ua/en/index.php?id=1205446040&w=Kuznetsov

  The press statement asserts that people who have committed serious crimes of a non-political nature are not eligible for refugee status in Ukraine.  Entirely reasonable and no, the person does not have to have been convicted by a court (otherwise the number of extraditions worldwide would be infinitesimal).  Who decides non-political nature?. Few repressive regimes are brazen enough to openly admit that they are planning to try a person for their political or religious convictions. In the case of Oleg Kuzbetsov, we are indeed not talking of “crimes of a political nature” (?!). There are however a number of scientists, as well, of course, as Khodorkovsky and Lebedev, who are serving sentences in Russia, having been convicted of economic or spying charges that few serious analysts believe.

  It is clear that the State Committee considered this possibility, as doubtless did the District Administrative Court in Kyiv which on 21 July rejected the Prosecutor General’s case.  It is disturbing that the latter’s press service should be churning out arguments which are generally the staple offering of repressive regimes.

  I have perhaps tediously stressed that Mr Kuznetsov was a refugee because this is quite simply fundamental and all else secondary. It would seem that the Prosecutor General’s Office does know this, and has therefore decided in craven and quite extraordinary fashion to deny the refugee status..

  It is indeed true, in accordance with Article 21 of the Law on the Prosecutor’s Office, that the force of an act being appealed is suspended. The said provision was clearly designed to avert miscarriages of justice and danger to national security while appeals were underway.

  What do we have here?  The PGU is claiming the right to extradite a person during the period between the rejection of their protest at his refugee status and their appeal against this ruling.  Thus even though the court turned them down, they are claiming the right to do what the court effectively prohibited them from doing, since a refugee cannot be extradited. In fact, it is unclear whether the GPU even lodged the appeal, in which case the court ruling of 21 July had entered into force.

  It is bitterly clear that Kuznetsov was denied his right to appeal against the extradition, and by being hurriedly removed from the country was deprived of the rights of any individual, let alone a recognized refugee.

  There are no words for the shame this act has brought upon Ukraine and on all those who wish to see the rule of law prevail. 

  There is, in fact, only one message: the Prosecutor General must resign or be dismissed.  The courts must not be ignored when their rulings are not to the Prosecutor’s liking, and the law is not a device for manipulation, but a mechanism for protecting us all.  The Prosecutor General has placed this mechanism as well as the reputation of the country in jeopardy and must go.

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