Human rights in Ukraine after the presidential elections: problem issues
After the elections, the new President and government inherited systemic problems in the human rights sphere, the lack of a strong and independent judiciary and respect for the justice system; the lack of openness in providing information, transparency and accountability of the authorities to the public; widespread and flagrant violations of the right to a fair trial, to protection from torture and other forms of unlawful force, from unwarranted detentions; to protection of the right to information, the right to be elected, as well as the poverty of a significant percentage of the population. With only a few exceptions, there was no holistic and systematic policy on improving the human rights situation.
Attempts by human rights organizations, some sections and individual officials within the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA], the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Education and Science to improve the situation resulted in certain progress, however the political crisis, the overall attitude of the political forces to human rights as to something secondary and of little significance when weighed against political expediency made it impossible to achieve systemic improvements.
We are forced to state that the actions of the new administration over its first month of work do not indicate any intention to improve the situation, but on the contrary, are aimed at putting an end even to those positive trends which had emerged.
For example, the Head of the Security Service [SBU] has announced the termination of the process of establishing the truth about Ukraine’s history in the twentieth century and opening up the archives: ““a great deal of material has been declassified: the truth that needed to be made available to the Ukrainian people, that truth has been made available”; “the concern of the Security Service is primarily in protecting its secrets, protecting the laws which created these secrets”.
The calls to radically reassess the direction and content of educational reform made by Deputy Prime Minister on Humanitarian Issues V. Semynozhenko spell the effective cancellation of independent external assessment and the loss of equal access to higher education.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs is planning to dissolve the Department for Monitoring Human Rights in the Work of the Police which in just two years has achieved a massive amount of work aimed at safeguarding human rights in police activities and the reform of the MIA. Hundreds of people who complained of unlawful actions by the police have received assistance from the staff of the Department. With their help significant abuses by the police have been uncovered.
Staff of the Department enabled the systematic work of mobile groups on monitoring observance of human rights in places of detention under the MIA, with this resulting in significant improvements in the conditions in temporary holding facilities. They are also the executive secretaries on public councils on human rights attached to the MIA and its central and regional divisions.
Repressions have begun against trade union activists. The administration of the joint stock company “Krasnodonvuhillya” is destroying the Independent Miners’ Trade Union because it did not consent to a worsening of pay conditions for miners in breach of current legislation. The Director of the Barakov Mine owned by this company on 9 March applied for the dismissal of four members of the Barakov Mine’s trade union committee of the Independent Miners’ Trade Union because they did not give their consent to infringements of the Codes of Laws on Labour, and the Law on Increasing the Prestige of Miners’ Work, or to worsened conditions of pay. The wording of the dismissal is “for unwillingness to continue work in connection with changes in conditions of work.” The miners have filed a civil suit against the administration of the company.
Of concern are also constant violations of the Constitution, this creating a serious threat to human rights.
We urge President Yanukovych, members of the government, National Deputies to observe Article 3 of the Constitution which proclaims that affirmation of the rights and freedoms of the individual are the main duty of the State”.
We protest against the folding of the process of opening up SBU archives, changes in the rules for entering higher educational institutes a mere three months before the beginning of the assessment!
We are categorically against the liquidation of the Department for Monitoring Human Rights in the Work of the Police!
On the contrary, such institutions need to be created within the structure of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Health, Ministry for the Family, Youth and Sport and other executive bodies in order to implement the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture which was ratified in 2006. Nothing has yet been done to implement this.
In order to make systematic improvements in the human rights sphere, constitutional safeguards of human rights and fundamental freedoms need to be strengthed;
A new Criminal Procedure Code should be adopted;
Reform is needed of the judicial system, criminal justice and the system of legal aid in accordance with concept strategies passed via Presidential decrees;
Priorities in information policy need to be changed, with laws adopted on access to public information, on information, on public broadcasting, on civic organizations, as well as a review of legislation on the protection of public morality;
It is also necessary to rework draft laws on legal aid; on the procedure for holding peaceful gatherings; the draft Labour Code which contain significant infringements of human rights.
There is also an urgent need to introduce the positions of specialized ombudsperson on countering torture and ill-treatment, discrimination, on issues regarding freedom of information and personal data protection, and on the rights of the child, as well as creating regional representative offices of the Human Rights Ombudsperson.
Yevhen Zakharov 057 714 3558
Volodymyr Yavorsky 044 417 4118