Public concern ignored together with the public’s interests
Following much speculation and concern, it was finally announced on 25 March that the new Minister of Internal Affairs had, back on 18 March, signed Order No. 79 reducing to five the number of positions in the section on monitoring human rights. The entire Department for Monitoring Human Rights in the Work of the Police has been dissolved, and all Human Rights Advisors in the regions to the Minister have been dismissed.
If the decision was taken last week, it is unclear why the Ministry misled staff of the Department and the Co-Chair of the MIA Public Council on Human Rights during a meeting at which the latter explained the importance of continuing the Department’s work.
It is a worrying indication of the attitude of the new ministry to both the concerns of civic society and to the vital task of ensuring observance of human rights in the work of Ukraine’s law enforcement bodies. Over thirty civic organizations last week addressed an open appeal to the Minister, expressing their conviction that “such actions by the new leadership are unwarranted, weaken national mechanisms for protecting human rights and demonstrate his priorities which do not include ensuring that the police respect human rights”.
The line to be taken by the new MIA leadership was articulated on 23 March by the Chief Aide to the Minister, Kostyantin Stohniy, who stated that “if people monitor observance of human rights and freedoms, they should not receive money from the police for this”. After stating that the management of the MIA understand the need for public monitoring over the work of the police and that there will be such people, just not paid for by the MIA, Mr Stohniy went on to make the worrying statement: “At present the police monitor themselves. Within the MIA there is an inspectorate for personnel, there is the service for internal security - they deal with this. Anatoly Mohylev [the new Minister] does not consider it expedient to double up the same functions, especially given the high status of heads of a Ministerial apparatus,
In the light of the recent formation of a government with a record-breaking number of ministers and other staff, arguments regarding cost-cutting seem somewhat ingenuous.
They are certainly unconvincing given the vital role the Department for the Monitoring of Human Rights in the Work of the Police had already played, and the problems they had to deal with on a day to day basis. Many of these problems give the lie to the statement that the police are monitoring themselves. The European Court of Human Rights has on a number of occasions found Ukraine guilty of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights due to misconduct by police officers, including torture and ill-treatment (“beating out confessions”), and subsequent failure to carry out an independent and thorough investigation. It should be noted that the amounts which the government is ordered to pay in such cases are far in excess of most Departmental workers’ yearly salaries.
One of the most vital parts of the Department’s work was in managing the mobile groups carrying out spot checks of police custody facilities. Independence and impartiality are fundamental to any effective monitoring and for this it is vital that members of civic organizations work together with Internal Affairs staff.
It should be noted that the mobile groups have been praised by international monitoring bodies and are seen as the prototype for a national preventive mechanism against torture and ill-treatment.
Clearly any department formed less than 18 months ago will have room for improvement however the achievements over this first period were considerable, not in small measure because of the commitment of its staff and excellent working relations with major human rights organizations. This is in marked contrast to many other ministries and departments, such as the Department for the Execution of Sentences, which remain resistant to cooperation with civic organizations and monitoring.
The days where departments can retreat behind a wall of stony silence and denial while using malleable civic organizations to create a veneer of consultation with the public have passed. This move by the new management of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is highly retrograde. It can only lead to further human rights violations and increased criticism, including from international human rights bodies monitoring Ukraine’s fulfillment of its international obligations.
We can only hope that European and international bodies will also find the actions of the new management of the Ministry of Internal Affairs bemusing and will succeed in reminding the government that commitment to human rights and European standards are not a luxury but Ukraine’s duty to its citizens and to the world community.