Human Rights in Ukraine – 2011: More and more violations
As we know, during the vote on the UN Resolution adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the USSR and its satellites abstained. The Ukrainian State is continuing to abstain to this day.
If between 2005 and 2009 we reported that government policy on human rights was ineffective, unsystematic and chaotic, today we are forced to state that during the last two years there has been no such government policy at all, and human rights are not a priority for the leaders of the country.
We see virtually no positive actions by the authorities and administration aimed at enabling citizens to exercise their rights, while there are more and more infringements of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
As of the present day of greatest concern is the tough position taken by the government on stopping or reducing social payments to former Chernobyl clean-up workers, veterans of the Afghanistan War, children, etc. Despite a Constitutional Court Judgement which stated that rights may not be suspended, as opposed to privileges, the government has demonstratively suspended honouring social and economic rights in the law on the Budget, and has ordered that pensions be paid without compliance with court rulings. This has led to mass protests by former Chernobyl clean-up workers and other groups of the population throughout the country and is likely to intensify confrontation between protest groups and the law enforcement bodies. There has already been one death – that of 74-year-old former miner Gennady Konoplyov in Donetsk – as a result of this confrontation.
The government says that there is no money in the budget to cover social payments at such a level. Yet such actions by the government look particularly indecent given the incredible amounts spent on maintaining the President, parliament, Cabinet of Ministers, as well as other parts of the State apparatus which overall exceeds the budget allocations for social payments by 3 billion UAH. Procurement of expensive cars, pearl baths, gold toilets, travel around the country on chartered flights, etc – all of this strengthens public opinion that those in power are corrupt, that there is money in the public coffers, only it won’t be given, but will be channelled to meet the needs of high-ranking officials, not citizens.
A strong, independent and just judiciary is the main prerequisite for human rights. Yet who is not laying siege to the justice system’s authority! The actions of the Cabinet of Ministers in banning the Pension Fund form allocating money in enforcement of court rulings on social payments clearly demonstrate the lack of respect for the justice system and supercilious attitude by the executive branch of power to the judiciary. The Prosecutor General’s Office has applied to the High Council of Justice alleging breach by specific judges of their oath for passing rulings which were not to the Prosecutor’s liking. The court trials of former government officials are a parody of justice. For example, the restraint measure against Yulia Tymoshenko and Yury Lutsenko were changed to from a signed undertaking not to leave the place to remand in custody without any lawful grounds. The holding of a court hearing to determine restraint measures against Yulia Tymoshenko in the medical unit of the SIZO [remand prison] is a mockery of judicial procedure, and of the accused who is confined to her bed.
2011 saw an intensification of political persecution not only against members of the political opposition, but also against members of civic movements. According to our estimates 55 civic activists, journalists and human rights activists have been subjected to such harassment. The following criminal investigations are politically motivated: those initiated against members of the Tax Code protests on Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square]; members of the party VO Svoboda; the nationalist organization Tryzub who daubed paint over a monument to Felix Dzerzhynsky and beheaded the bust of Joseph Stalin. Political repression is a very serious human rights violation and has a significant impact on political freedom which vanishes rapidly, with the repression aimed at intimidating the public. However they have the opposite effect since they arouse even more protest.
The situation with torture and ill-treatment became more acute in 2011. Despite a number of large-scale protests, brutal treatment of detainees is continuing, regardless of the MIA’s declared zero tolerance position with regard to violations of the law by police officers. According to sociological research at national level (including a survey of 3000 respondents in Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv, Poltava and the Crimea, carried out as part of a Kharkiv Human Rights Group project with the support of the European Commission, the estimated number of victims of unlawful violence at the hands of the police came to more than 790 thousand in 2010 (this means that there was an act of unlawful violence by the police every 40 seconds) there was an act of unlawful violence by the police. In 2011 the figure had reached 980 thousand. In 2010 51 people died in police institutions (against 23 in 2009), while by the end of June 2011 news had become public of 27 deaths.
Even the Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka at an extended meeting on 21 June on the results of Prosecutor Office work during the first 6 months of 2011 stated: “The problem of human rights in criminal proceedings is particularly acute for Ukraine. There are not isolated cases of torture at the detective inquiry and criminal investigation stages”.
2011 saw the adoption of a number of laws which violate human rights, for example discriminatory pension reforms resulting in a reduction in current pensions; changes to the Law on Access to Court Rulings which makes it possible to decide which court rulings to make public. From now on, in accordance with Article 3 § 3: “The list of court rulings of general jurisdiction courts which are to be added to the Register is approved by the Council of Judges, after agreement with the State Judicial Administration”; the Law on the Legal Status of Foreigners and Stateless Persons and others.
In the last of these laws, all changes without exception are concentrated on broadening the powers of state bodies in exercising control over foreign nationals and functions of coercion and punishment.
At the same time as amendments to legislation aimed at strengthening legal pressure on foreign nationals, in 2011 an additional State body was finally formed for carrying out such immigration policy – the State Migration Service. Unfortunately, instead of a civilian and transparent body independent of the MIA, another gendarme-like body for supervision of foreign nationals has been created, as a kind of daughter firm of the MIA.
The human rights situation will improve only when there are radical changes in attitude of those in power to their main constitutional duty, that being the affirmation and protection of human rights. At the present time Article 3 of Ukraine’s Constitution seems pure mockery.