One Ukrainian “Election” with hot contenders
Over the next two weeks the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union’s panel of judges faces a truly difficult task. Before Human Rights Day on 10 December they must choose the ignominious recipients of the Thistle of the Year, awarded to the worst violators of human rights in Ukraine during 2012. The list of candidates is formidable, the competition fierce.
Fortunately there is more than one category and several anti-laureates can be anticipated. Even so, the choice will be hard, not to mention the million hryvnya question: who gets the Gold Thistle of the Year?
The candidates in brief:
President Yanukovych and Parliamentary Speaker Lytvyn for signing two highly contentious laws: the Law on the Principles of State Language Policy and the Law on Public Procurement (which removes State enterprises from tender procedure). They are accused of contempt for Ukraine’s Constitution and legislation; considerable expert advice, including from the parliamentary legal department and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, NGOs and others.
President Yanukovych is separately nominated for inaction and indifference to human rights abuse with respect to a number of infringements including politically motivated prosecutions, failure to respond to election fraud; legislation which infringes human rights and others.
These are not the only nominations over extremely dangerous legislative initiatives. Vitaly Zhuravsky, official author of the draft law criminalizing libel is certainly in there with a fighting chance. Although the draft law has been rescinded, there have been ominous noises from Zhuravsky’s Party of the Regions colleagues indicating that it’s simply a question of time before the Party of the Regions puts it forward again. Zhuravsky’s actual role in this may be in question however the law would undoubtedly be a highly retrograde step.
His party colleague, MP Vasyl Hrytsak has also been nominated over the Law on a Unified State Demographic Register. As reported, this extremely dangerous law is likely to be signed by the President after a ritual “vetoing” led to some fairly minimal changes being made (see: Cosmetic “veto” to seriously dangerous law). The Law in question gives the SSAPS consortium closely linked with Hrytsak the chance to make millions (or billions) at the expense of Ukrainian citizens forced to obtain around 13 biometric documents. It also brings in a system where the State will be holding, and sharing between different ministries and departments, huge amounts of confidential information about each Ukrainian citizen, their signature, biometric details, etc. All of this without any safeguards in place to protect the information from being sold on the black market.
Yury Miroshnychenko, Party of the Regions MP and the President’s representative in parliament has been nominated for tabling draft laws with grave consequences for State environmental policy and protection (see, for example, Legislative Slight of Hand)
The authors of a scandalous bill on banning what they term “promotion of homosexuality” have been nominated.
Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk has also been nominated twice: for discriminatory statements and for dividing young women into “intelligent” and “beautiful”.
Luhansk Regional Prosecutor’s Office over the case of Olaola Femi (See One year on, still imprisoned for defending himself)
First in August, then in November, Ukraine was in serious breach of international law over the forced return to Russia of two mandate refugees. One, an Ingushetian, had been offered asylum by an EU country when he was illicitly returned to Russia. The second, Leonid Razvozzhaev, is a leftwing activist in Russia who was abducted on 17 October while applying for asylum (see, for example, No Offence?) The nominees are the heads of the SBU [Security Service]; the Interior Ministry; Prosecutor General Pshonka and Human Rights Ombudsperson Valeria Lutkovska for failure to respond. This has, it is argued, led to a situation where in the absence of proper investigation, it is hard to know who violated the law, and this in turn will generate further impunity and danger for people in need of asylum.
Two issues have been of enormous concern in 2012: parliamentary elections which did not meet democratic standards and an ever-increasing number of bans of peaceful assembly. With regard to the latter, the Kharkiv City Council and Kharkiv Regional Court of Appeal have been nominated, though it should be said that the problem has been seen throughout the country.
The elections have prompted nominations of the Central Election Commission and the Head of the District Election Commission No. 156 Serhiy Loskutov. The CEC is in the running – or the docks, depending how you look at it – for helping the authorities to create the mechanisms for falsifying the results of the elections; its acceptance of seriously falsified vote counts from certain election commissions; failure to rectify infringements and abuse, to get criminal investigations initiated and to intervene when enforcement structures involved themselves in the vote count. By consciously not trying to reduce the confrontation in certain election districts, it is accused of having violated the electoral rights of at least 100 thousand citizens. :
Prime Minister Azarov and the Cabinet of Ministers are in the running with the nomination being over a law which begins the construction of two new reactors at the Khmelnytski Nuclear Power Station. It should be noted that the government’s moves have also outraged international NGOs who point out that Ukraine is in breach of its international commitments (see for example, the report here)
The judges of the Constitutional Court and Pension Fund have been nominated for actively participating in legitimizing measures which deprive citizens of social payments they are entitled to by law. The National Bank of Ukraine has also been nominated for violation of the property rights of the Basis Bank and Ukrzaliznytsa [Ukrainian Railways] over violations of the right of movement.
UHHRU introduced the Thistle of the Year Anti-Award back in 2006 in order to draw attention to rights abuses and stimulate public discussion.
The number of abuses has in no decreased, and the above list is anything but exhaustive. One of the problems, most acutely seen with the murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze, is determining who is behind particular crimes or abuses. With at least one of the legislative initiatives above, the author is probably a pawn carrying out instructions from his party. There are similar dilemmas with other nominations made and with those not made because the people directly involved are so clearly pawns. Examples here are the presiding judges in the trials of Lutsenko (Serhiy Vovk, in particular).
That, however, raises fundamental issues for longer discussion, and the panel of judges has enough on its plate with so many strong contenders for Thistle of the Year 2012.