Changes in Penal Department management should be a step towards reform of the system
The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union has on a number of occasions over many years drawn attention to systematic wide-scale human rights violations in places of confinement under the management of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences [the Department[.
In the annual reports Human Rights in Ukraine for 2004 through to 2008, which is jointly compiled by over 30 human rights organizations, UHHRU has consistently highlighted the main problems in the penal system, analyzing violations of human rights. UHHRU arguments have also been reflected in alternative reports from civil society to various international organizations, and have later been supported in the concluding recommendations of the UN Committee against Torture, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the UN Human Rights Council, the UN Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights, and others.
We have constantly pointed out that the Department remains a fossilized Soviet model as compared with other State bodies in the total reluctance of the management to carry out reforms, observe human rights and work together with the public. Due to the lack of prospects for change, UHHRU has on several occasions approached the highest echelons of power demanding that the Departments management be dismissed. The Department management has twice received the annually awarded anti-prize “Thistle of the Year” for its flagrant violations of human rights.
We are therefore convinced that the appointment of new management should open the way to changes in the system and create the foundation for carrying out systematic reform based on respect for human rights and contemporary approaches to ensuring public safety.
In view of this, we consider that in appointing the Head of the Department for the Execution of Sentences the views of the public which on a daily basis carry out monitoring of human rights violations in this system should be taken into account and the appointment should promote an improvement in the situation.
Wider public consultations are therefore needed in choosing candidates who would command public support.
In our view there needs to be a new management. The appointment of one of the present Deputy Heads in this situation will not fundamentally change anything since it is the entire management which is responsible for the present catastrophic situation, this including the Head, his deputies and key figures in management. In view of this we were surprised to learn of Natalya Kalashnyks candidacy for the post of Head of the Department since in her letter she directly stressed that the Department would cooperate only with those civic organizations which gave a positive assessment of its work. There is virtually total unanimity among human rights organizations that there can only be a negative assessment of the work on management of staff, medical provisions, social and educational work and cooperation with the public. The appointment therefore of Natalya Kalashnykas Head of the Department would in our view have grave consequences both for the Department, and for the prisoners.
UHHRU calls on the Cabinet of Ministers to pay heed to the numerous statements from human rights organizations regarding the appointment of the Head of the Department for the Execution of Sentences and to hold consultations with members of the public regarding other possible candidates for this post. We would stress that it is vital to ensure a total overhaul of management bearing in mind the professional qualities of candidates, respect for human rights and an understanding of the need for reform of the penal system.
This appeal, in the form of a letter addressed to the Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the Cabinet of Ministers, is signed by Volodymyr Yavorsky, UHHRU Executive Director.