Human rights concerns expressed on President’s 50th day in office
The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and Kharkiv Human Rights Group have published an open letter to President Yanukovych expressing their concern over a worsening in the human rights situation during the 50 days since he was elected President.
In their letter they acknowledge that the new regime inherited systemic problems in this area, the lack of a strong independent judiciary and flagrant violations of the right to a fair trial, etc. With only a few exceptions there was no systematic policy on improving the human rights situation.
“Efforts by human rights organizations, some departments and civil servants from the Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA], Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Education resulted in a certain amount of progress however the political crisis and the sacrificing of human rights to political expediency precluded systemic improvements.
We are compelled to state that the actions of the authorities over the first 50 days of the new Presidency do not demonstrate any intention to make changes for the better. They are instead aimed at reducing those positive trends that had emerged. We have been seeing numerous violations and demonstrations of contempt for human rights during this period. We are concerned by dramatic incursions on freedom of expression, violations of the right to equal access to higher education and the postponement of the local elections.
We are outraged by the dissolution of the Department for the Monitoring of Human Rights in the Work of the Police and statements about the creation of a new human rights public council under the MIA against the views of civic society. We have also seen flagrant violations of the right to peaceful assembly and other infringements by the MIA.
We must also note discrimination against women, both the lack of a single woman in either the new government, or among Heads of State Administrations, as well as public assertions that women may not carry out reforms.
We have learned of dismissals of trade union activists for standing up for miners’ rights.
Access to archival documents on political repression has also been reduced, and there has been interference by the Security Service [SBU] in the work of the National Television and Radio Broadcasting Council, and a statement claiming the need to simply mechanisms for receiving warrants for intercepting communications.
We also view the intention by the Communist Party to erect a bust to Stalin in Zaporizhya as an affront to human values.
These infringements in more detail
Encroachments on freedom of speech
The vast majority of media and political experts consider that the actions of the new regime are aimed at curbing freedom of speech.
The news on television and radio stations have again become bland and vapid, and talk more about natural and other cataclysms abroad than events in Ukraine. Hard-hitting political talk shows are disappearing. The number of attacks on journalists has increased, as well as pressure from the authorities.
Loss of equal access to higher education
Calls for a radical overhaul of the direction and content of educational reform by the Deputy Prime Minister on Humanitarian Issues, V. Semynozhenko; the opening of preparatory courses and the possibility of entrance exams on the old basis means the effective cancellation of ZNO [independent external assessment] and loss of equal access to higher education, and the return to the old scale of corruption in higher education.
Changes reducing human rights protection in the MIA
By an Order from 18 March, the Department for the Monitoring of Human Rights in the Work of the Police was dissolved, while 26 regional representatives were only informed of their dismissal on 7 April. Furthermore, their salary (for the 2 month period of notice) was from 4 April halved, although they only learned of this on 14 April.
This is despite the fact that you would have had to have been blind or seriously biased to not see the enormous work which the Department had achieved over 2 years in the police force aimed at ensuring respect for human rights and reforms within the MIA. Hundreds of ordinary citizens who complained of unlawful actions by the police received assistance from the staff of the Department. With their help significant abuses by the police were uncovered. It was thanks to the Department that the mobile groups on monitoring observance of human rights in places of detention under the MIA began working systematically resulting in significant improvements in the conditions of ITT [temporary holding facilities].
It was suggested that the dismissed members of staff of the Department do the same work on a voluntary basis. Yet if their work is blocked as it is now, and they are deprived of information about what is happening in the central and regional MIA divisions, and this is when they are still officially employed for two more months, what can one expect later?”
The letter reminds the President that [according to the official website – translator] at a meeting on 29 March he criticized the Minister of Internal Affairs, Anatoly Mohylev , called the decision regarding the Department ill-considered and said that he would not recommend economizing on human rights.
This was ignored, yet the Minister then claimed that to implement the instructions MIA Public Council on Human Rights would be created, chaired by “well-known human rights activists”. The letter points out that such Public Councils have been functioning for four years, with their co-chairs being elected by members of the public and not appointed by the MIA leadership. And that these Public Councils already include well-known human rights activists.
One can already observe significant rights infringements in the work of the MIA under the new Minister, for example, the reintroduction of named railway tickets. With this the police demonstrate their attitude to all passengers as potential criminals, and show the role they see human rights as playing. The MIA had previously rejected this initiative on the recommendation of the Human Rights Public Council attached to the MIA which had pointed out the potential abuses of human rights.
There have been a number of infringements by the police of freedom of peaceful assembly during this period, with the police using force against peaceful demonstrators. In Kyiv alone such actions were observed on 14, 25, 27 March and 8, 9, and 13 April. On 25 March the Cabinet of Ministers addressed Instruction No. 14678/1/1-10 to the Kyiv City State Administration “on using comprehensive measures on organizing work with citizens and their organizations, including on preventing and stopping in future the holding of protests near the premises of the President’s Administration and the Cabinet of Ministers”. Such an “instruction” is a flagrant violation of freedom of peaceful assembly and a number of Articles of the Constitution.
Significant infringements of the Constitution by the new regime have been seen in the postponement of the local elections, the lack of mayoral elections in Kharkiv where the former Mayor was appointed the Head of the Regional State Administration, the highly dubious manner by which the coalition was formed and others, indicating a general reduction in political freedom in the country. Constant violations of the Constitution seriously jeopardize human rights.
Violations of human rights by the SBU
The Head of the SBU V. Khoroshkovsky has announced a suspension of the process of establishing the true facts about Ukraine’s history during the twentieth century and the opening of 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”
Material on the history of political repression has been removed from the President’s site and the sites of regional state administrations. In Sevastopol since the middle of February there have been billboards with Stalin, together with Churchill and Roosevelt, while in Zaporizhya the Communist Party is planning to erect a monument to Stalin [on private property – translator]. Only 141 National Deputies supported a resolution condemning this.
While declaring the wish to unite the country, the Party of the Regions, together with their coalition partner – the Lytvyn Bloc and the Communist Party – are effectively dividing it, with nothing further splitting the country than the reanimating of Stalinism.
The legislative activities of the Verkhovna Rada are aimed at restricting human rights. Parliament is considering a number of draft laws which would serious violate human rights and is rejecting draft laws aimed at their defence. The fate is as yet unclear of the progressive draft Criminal Procedure Code over which consensus had been reached between the legal community, as well as other draft laws. The mechanism for ensuring that draft laws are agreed with the Ministry of Justice to see that they comply with European Court of Human Rights case law is virtually not working.
Repression against trade union activists
There have already been repressive measures against trade union activists. The Krasnodonvuhyllya company [coal mining – translator] is destroying the Independent Miners’ Union because it refused to give its consent to a worsening in pay conditions in breach of legislation.
The Director of the Barakov Mine on 9 March applied to dismiss members of the trade union committee because they refused to give consent to a violation of the Code of Labour Laws and a worsening in pay conditions. The wording was “for not agreeing to continue working in connection with a change in conditions of work”. The miners have filed a law suit against the company.
The authors demand that the President complies with Article 3 of the Constitution which declares that the main duties of the State are to affirm human rights and freedoms.
They express their categorical opposition to the encroachments on freedom of speech, information and assembly outlined above, to the suspending of work on opening up the archives; to measures changing the rules to ZNO less than three months before the beginning of the application process to higher institutes.
They protest against the interference of the MIA in the work of the Public Councils, against the liquidation of the Department for the Monitoring of Human Rights in the Work of the Police
Such institutions, on the contrary, need to be created within the Ministries of Justice, of Health, for the Family, Youth and Sport and other executive bodies in implementation of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture which Ukraine ratified in 2006 but has since done nothing to implement.
The authors express their willingness to cooperate in improving the human rights situation, and recommend:
- strengthening constitutional human rights guarantees;
- reforms to the judicial system, criminal justice and the system of legal aid in accordance with concepts passed previously by Presidential Decree;
- passing a new Criminal Procedure Code;
- changing the priorities of information policy by passing laws on access to public information, on information, on public broadcasting; on civic organizations; and reviewing legislation on the protection of public morality and its application;
- reworking draft laws on legal aid; on peaceful assembly; the draft Labour Code which significantly violate human rights;
- establishing the office of specialized Ombudspersons on fighting torture and ill-treatment; discrimination; on freedom of information and data protection ; and on the rights of the child; as well as appointing regional representatives of the Human Rights Ombudsperson.
Arkady Bushchenko, Head of the Board, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
Volodymyr Yavorsky, Executive Director, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
Yevhen Zakharov, Co-Chair, Kharkiv Human Rights Group
Iryna Rapp, Co-Chair, Kharkiv Human Rights Group
22 April 2010