KHPG appeals to government over new Penal Department appointment
The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group has addressed an open appeal to the Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and members of the Cabinet of Ministers with regard to the appointment of a new Head of the Department for the Execution of Sentences [the Department].
“Human rights organizations in Ukraine have on many occasions drawn the attention of the government and public to the fact that the penal system in Ukraine is a relict of the Soviet past and urgently needs radical reform. There needs to be a change in the thinking behind punishment, the main principles for the functioning of the State Penal Service, penal legislation and practice. The Penal Service should be demilitarized, and transformed into a civil service under the Ministry of Justice (this voluntary commitment was made by Ukraine on joining the Council of Europe back in 1995), with retention and enhancement of social protection for penal staff. Observance of human rights needs to become the priority both with respect to remand and convicted prisoners, and to staff. The Penal System needs to become open to effective supervision over human rights adherence and mechanisms and procedure for public and international control need to be created. Adequate funding for reforms must be provided, and the reform undertaken by a team of young professionals from both within the system and without.
When in 2005 new people, including Vasyl Koshchynets and Natalya Kalashnyk, were appointed to top positions in the Department, we hoped that this would herald reform and improvements both for prisoners and staff. Our hopes proved in vain and on the contrary, the situation has only worsened. Specialists who criticized or disagreed with the dilettante actions of the new management have been dismissed. The gap has widened between the salaries of those in management and ordinary members of staff. There are more and more reports of violations of the rights of remand and convicted prisoners, of unlawful use of force, and the number of suicides has risen.
All attempts by human rights groups to make the system more open in order to protect the rights of prisoners and staff and to enable public control have been fruitless. Natalya Kalashnyk in a letter has openly stated that the Department will only cooperate with civic organizations which give positive assessments of its activities.
Yet under such conditions it is difficult to provide a positive assessment of the Department’s activities. The results of its work in all areas which Natalya Kalashnyk answers for as Deputy Head of the Department have proved extremely unsuccessful. One can name the staffing policy, inadequate medical and sanitary provisions for prisoners resulting in them not receiving medical care, the high mortality rate in places of confinement, unsatisfactory social and educational work with prisoners, and other areas.
The appointment of Natalya Kalashnyk to the post of Head of the Department will, in our view, have serious consequences. Her confidence that she is always right and inability to listen to opponents and accept facts which do not coincide with her plans, in combination with her energy and drive, could lead to further wide-scale dismissals of those professions who have remained in the penal system and the further degeneration of a system which would seem to have no further to fall.
We believe it vital to carry out a public contest for the appointment of head of such a complex and specific department.
The letter is signed by Yevhen Zakharov, KHPG Co-Chair