Thistle of the Year anti-awards for worst human rights offenders announced


The “laureates” of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union Thistle of the Year Anti-Award for most flagrant violators of human rights in Ukraine have been announced. On Human Rights Day, 10 December, UHHRU awarded this most questionable honour to, among others, the Prosecutor General Oleksandr Medvedko, the President together with the parliamentary faction BYuT (Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc).

The results of Thistle of the Year – 2008 were announced at a press conference in Kyiv by members of the judging committee.

The laureate of the first nomination “for the most flagrant violation of human rights” was Prosecutor General Oleksandr Medvedko for his decision at the end of July this year to extradite recognized refugee Oleg Kuznetsov to Russia.  In so doing, he not only violated domestic and international law on refugees, but also flagrantly ignored a court ruling which had turned down his appeal against Mr Kuznetsov’s refugee status. 

The anti-award for “political interference in the work of the justice system” went to President Yushchenko together with the BYuT parliamentary faction.  Pressure on the judiciary included the President’s liquidation of the Kyiv District Administrative Court and his dismissal of the judge who issued a ruling suspending his Presidential Decree dissolving parliament. In their turn the BYuT faction used various means to block the work of the Kyiv Administrative Court of Appeal, in order to stop the President’s appeal against the ruling from being heard. (More detail can be found here.)  According to one of the committee members, Anna Tiutiunnyk, “Such activity seriously undermines public confidence in the objectivity and independence of the courts as a mechanism for protecting human rights.”

The “least open public authority” in 2008 was deemed to be the Ministry of Health. According to the head of the committee, Viacheslav Yakubenko, “this is due to the systematic failure to provide responses to information requests, and persistent unwarranted refusals to provide information, as well as for the unlawful classifying of the list of items of information which the Ministry considers confidential”.  He added that according to the results of a study, out of 84 public bodies, the Ministry of Health had been the worst at answering information requests.

In the fourth nomination, “for the most dangerous legislative initiative in the area of human rights and calls to violate the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, and inciting enmity”, the Thistle of the Year went to National Deputy Hennady Moskal (Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defence Faction).  Mr Yakubenko stresses that “the National Deputy attempted to considerably restrict freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of expression and personal privacy at the legislative level”. While there could have been other contenders in the last year for stirring up enmity, Mr Moskal’s claim to such fame, or more accurately, notoriety is detailed here.

In the category “least open body of local self-government”, the anti-award went to the Luhansk City Council. This was due to the fact that almost all deputies of the City Council ignore information requests, as well as the lack of access to plans for decisions or decisions by the Council already passed but not placed on their website.

UHHRU Executive Director Volodymyr Yavorsky explains that the Thistle of the Year anti-award was begun in 2006 in order to draw public attention to flagrant abuses of human rights committed by the State during the particular year and to stimulate public discussion regarding dangerous trends with regard to human rights in the country.  He stresses the need to watch over such trends which like weeds spread and must be controlled.

Each of the laureates of today’s anti-award will receive their prize in the form of a dried thistle and certificate.  They are also warmly invited to speak to human rights defenders about ways of improving their human rights record.

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