Ministry of Internal Gloss
In a recent article, Vladimir Batchaev responds to an assertion by the Editor of the journal “In the Name of the Law”, Alexander Ivashchenko that an information war is being waged against the leadership of the Ministry of the Interior. Ivashchenko bemoans the appearance of what he calls “anti-police journalism” and calls it “overtly dirty, dishonest and obviously commissioned”. The title of Batchaev’s article reflects the main thrust of his response: the initials in Russian for the Ministry of Internal Affairs are translated as the Ministry of Internal Gloss.
“In his article Alexander Ivashchenko berates journalists for not understanding police problems and points out their incompetence regarding the issues they decide to cover.
Yet he is, as usual, modestly silent as to the reasons for this. This is despite their being so transparently obvious. Civil society quite simply does not know what is going on in police departments since, having taken on their powers, the current MIA leadership immediately fenced itself off behind an “iron curtain”, while draping it caressingly with correct slogans about openness, the importance of public opinion, the need for public control and evaluation of the work of the police solely on the basis of citizens’ trust. The police position is daunting: first they remove the possibility of finding out, then they accuse you of not knowing. This, however, is a feature of the present regime as a whole which cannot understand that it is precisely the information vacuum which generates disgruntlement in society and frequently serves to bury even the best efforts of officialdom. And since Alexander Ivashchenko views any opinion deviating from that of the MIA as lies, … I will try to be clear and give examples.
It was the new MIA leadership that first shook and then effectively destroyed the previous mechanism for public control over the work of the people and for informing the public of their results.
Inspection of police stations and police places of confinement by mobile groups including members of human rights organizations has been virtually stopped.
Whereas in 2009 the public carried out 424 checks of police stations, in 2010 there were only 25, and most of those were under the former MIA management. The results of the work of the mobile groups, which were always extremely active, were never kept secret. Reports by human rights activists were posted on the websites of the regional police departments so that all those wanting to could read them or repost them in the media. To forestall claims that I’m lying, here is one such link as an example: http://vechirka.ck.ua/novini/izolyaciya-izolyatoriv/. Then the police, while still modestly reluctant, did speak of their failings and enter into timid dialogue with the people they protect. At the present time such information as the conditions in which detainees are held in temporary holding facilities and how legal it is for them to be held in rooms for bringing people in, is kept a closely guarded secret. Inevitably you start suspecting the worst.
The public councils attached to the regional police departments were dissolved. These were essentially the single instrument making it possible for the public to have influence on the police. With muddled explanation from police leaders, the human rights councils were dissolved solely, it was claimed, to improve organization of their future work. It was claimed by those in high positions that they would “create such Councils attached to each police station”. There are neither the new and improved nor the old councils. With MIA blessing, the human rights councils under the regional police departments vanished together with the public’s right to receive complaints of unlawful actions of the police and take part in official investigations into cases of ill-treatment of detainees. They have vanished, together with the open web pages on police sites, briefings and press conferences.
Another step behind the “iron curtain” can be the “re-structuring”, or more bluntly, the dissolution of the institution of “police ombudsperson”, the Department for Monitoring Human Rights in the Work of the Police. Half of the staff were people who had worked before in the human rights sphere. It was they who could – and were indeed obliged to – tell the truth about the problems which each person encounters at the police. It is indicative that after being dismissed, some of them have faced overt attacks from police officials specifically for having openly informed the public about the failings of the law enforcement system. Yury Chumak, for example, who had monitored police observance of human rights in the Kharkiv region, has been taken to court. Two police officers, one of whom is now the deputy head of the regional police, have lodged a compensation claim from the human rights activist of a total of 500 thousand UAH. The claim relates to reports Yury made to the media in 2009, in his then official capacity, regarding two women who asserted that they had been tortured in the Ordzhonikidze District Police Station in Kharkiv by police trying to get them to confess to a crime.
(More information about the case can be found here The Pomilyaiko case – the litmus test for Ukraine’s commitment to fighting torture and in the links below - translator)
The position of the claimants would seem to be to publicly demonstrate that they not only forced the victims of violence to be silent, but also those who dared protest and speak of such violence in the MIA system.
I would be so bold as to assert that at the present the MIA is one of the most undemocratic and least transparent State bodies, which stubbornly rejects any positive side to cooperation with the public and not recognizing the public’s right to control police activities. They view this right as being aimed against them, as an encroachment of their official interests. Such a position by the MIA is understandable since public control and the openness to it of the law enforcement system makes it possible for us all to judge whether the police are acting within the law and in the interest of the public, or whether they are instruments of political aspirations, misuse of power and a machine for stamping achievement figures”.
The author returns to his play on words and says that the Ministry could at present be better called the Ministry of Internal Gloss, trying to mask their actions in reducing openness and accountability and compensate for rising unpopularity through meaningless slogans about the police and public being one.
An example is the creation of an Information Council under the MIA which is pushed so enthusiastically as an example of openness and accessibility of the law enforcement bodies. This Council, which replaces the human rights councils under regional departments sounds great, but is there anything behind the words? “Nobody knows of the results of the work of the Information Council since the agenda for its meetings and decisions adopted is for some reason not placed on the MIA official website. The MIA Order from 28.05.2010 states that the Information Council should contain, as well as journalists, scholars and writers, “outstanding politicians” (it’s interesting: are there any such in Ukraine?), National Deputies and human rights activists”. The author notes that he has had no success in finding out which human rights activists, journalists, scholars and writers are on the Council, what they have been doing and what specifically they have achieved. Without such information, he is forced to conclude that the Council is yet more decoration.
He points out that he would be delighted to be proven wrong (and not he alone – translator).
One of the few achievements of the MIA management in human rights observance could be deemed the Order No. 382 from 13.08.2010 about doing up rooms for those detained and brought into police stations. This, however, is also problematical, the author notes, since it is unclear without public mobile groups, who will monitor whether the Order is implemented, whether detainees are provided with food, whether the time periods for such detention are adhered to.
He is sceptical of the position taken by the current MIA leadership that the police are able to exercise objective and unbiased control over their activities, and this prompts him to suspect that the above-mentioned Order may be yet another smokescreen.
He stresses that “in the present conditions it is simply incorrect to criticize journalists for declaring an information war – they didn’t start it. And you don’t need to treat as war simple criticism, an active civic position and unwillingness to close ones eyes to obvious injustice and lawlessness”. Or, he asks, does the MIA need to think in terms of war as justification for its present gunboat approach to its own people?
Journalists, he says, are not at all unmoved by the deaths in recent years of police officers killed when carrying out their duty. This, however, is unlike the absolute indifference evidenced by the MIA to the frighteningly high number of deaths of people in police custody.
The police need to stop hiding behind hypocritical assurances, excuses and promises which help nobody. The public want to know about the results of police work. Instead of bluff and triumphant reports of achievements, they need open dialogue about the problems and reforms which Alexander Ivashchenko mentions in his article. He mentions the fact that a new version of the Law on the Police is being drawn up in secret and behind our backs. He applauds the statement made by Alexander Ivashchenko that each of us, whatever our profession, serves either the Law or lawlessness, there is no third option. Fine, he says, now tell that to your staff. He suggests beginning with the Head of CID for the Ternopil Regional MIA who on 5 February officially ordered the heads of all police stations in the region to break the law by carrying out unwarranted fingerprint taking and receiving confidential information about them purely on the basis of their affiliation with certain political parties. (http://bilozerska.livejournal.com/392830.html).
Abridged from the original, published on 19.02.2010 at http://umdpl.info/index.php?id=1298110418