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10.12.2012 | Yevhen Zakharov

State Policy on Human Rights in Ukraine in 2012

   

From 2005 to 2009 we reported the State’s positive intentions with respect to human rights however State policy in this field was ineffective, unsystematic and chaotic.

In 2010 – 2011 we were forced to the conclusion that there was no policy at all, that human rights were not a priority for the country’s leaders and that there were every more violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In 2012 the State policy in this sphere changed somewhat and the human rights situation became more diverse and tapestry-like. One saw positive, sometimes successful, actions by the authorities in certain spheres, aimed at enabling Ukrainians to exercise their rights, however in other spheres there were either no changes or in fact the results of efforts led to even more violations.

Specific elements

The reasons for the change in policy lay in the fear of sanctions from international bodies and total international isolation, as well as the need to demonstrate the regime’s successes before the parliamentary elections. However 2012 fully exposed the main feature of this policy, that being to try to implement all recommendations from international bodies which don’t encroach on the power of the Ukrainian leadership and ignore those which threaten that power.

On 26 January the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe [PACE] adopted its Resolution on the Functioning of Democratic Institutions in Ukraine. In it PACE expressed its concern over the trials of former government officials, criticized the principles for the functioning of the court and law enforcement systems; commented on the new electoral law; and spoke of the possibility of imposing sanctions against Ukraine if the latter did not fulfil the demands set out. The Resolution demanded that imprisoned opposition politicians be released and allowed to take part in the coming parliamentary elections without any impediment. It demanded reform of the court and law enforcement system, for example, the adoption at the Criminal Procedure Code [CPC]

Clearly the EU – Ukraine Association Agreement which the Ukrainian regime wants so much is impossible without implementation of the PACE requirements and recommendations. As early as 1 February the President created a working group for implementation of the PACE Resolution. Some recommendations were in fact implemented. However the country’s leaders cannot understand that regardless of any successes, the West will not forgive them politically motivated criminal prosecution of political opponents who, in the view of numerous international and national experts, have not committed any criminally punishable offences. While Yulia Tymoshenko and Yury Lutsenko remain imprisoned, one can forget about Ukraine’s European integration. More likely sanctions.

Sugar coating

So what achievements with respect to human rights has the regime had this year? An indisputably positive element was the adoption of a new CPC which, despite numerous failings, proved to be much better than could have been expected, as well as some other laws – on bar lawyers; on civic associations. There were attempts to fulfil the PACE recommendations regarding freedom of peaceful assembly which was violated on a large scale in Ukraine in 2012 through the preparation, with the participation of civic specialists, of a good draft law. There has not yet been any success in getting it adopted. The system of legal aid is developing, with regional centres created which will begin working from 1 January 2013.  Admittedly, though, money has only been allocated for 4 months. What then?

The Prosecutor General spoke repeatedly in 2012 of the need to fight torture, and this year more law enforcement officers were prosecuted for those crimes than in 2010-2011.

The election of a young, energetic and progressive Human Rights Ombudsperson who speaks the same language as western people can also be considered a positive move for human rights. In her cooperation with the public, Valeria Lutkovska has successful begun creating national preventive mechanisms for prevention of torture and ill-treatment, mechanisms of parliamentary supervision over access to information and protection of personal data; and submission to parliament of recommendations regarding draft bills concerning human rights, some of which have been taken into account.

The bitter taste

Wherever the country’s leadership saw a threat to its power or economic interests, it was brutal in its treatment of those whom it saw as encroaching on this power. In 2012 the use of the Prosecutor’s Office, the Interior Ministry; SBU [State Security Service]; and tax bodies as instruments of repression against the opposition and civic movements continued, or even increased.  The judicial system remained entirely dependent, with control over the courts being a key condition for maintaining power. There was no point in even talking about respect for the justice system. No PACE recommendation regarding judicial reform was implemented.  Every time there was a clash between the economic interests of the elite in power and human rights, the interests of those in power won out. All “reforms” – tax, pension, medical, administrative, etc - as well as many ongoing actions by public authorities (reduction in the network of medical; educational; and cultural institutions; bus routes; local and fast trains, etc) were aimed at reducing the public deficit at the expensive of the population and with disregard for human rights.  This has resulted in an increase in poverty and social inequality which seems particularly disgusting against the incredible increase in political corruption and corruption of high-ranking State figures; the squandering or use for the wrong purposes of public funding. This is coupled by the imitation of a fight against corruption via selective criminal prosecutions with this in fact only increasing corruption.

The stifling of business, establishment of a criminal system of relations between business and those in power, according to the law of the fist, kill the market, competition, freedom of business enterprise and turn property rights into a pipe dream. This has forced people to move businesses to other countries or simply close up. All of this, together with the tax reforms, has, according to sociologists led to a halving of the number of Ukrainians who can be deemed part of the middle class.

The pension reform has not increased, but reduced pensions, while not reducing, but increasing the Pension Fund’s deficit which in 2012 came to 7 billion UAH, and, finally, it has still remained unfair. Special pensions, for example, have not in fact been removed.

The system of social security is also unfair with the size of various types which is determined by the Cabinet of Ministers being based on the money in the budget. This means that the size of social payments to former Chornobyl clean-up workers; veterans of the Afghanistan War; Veterans of       WWII; the disabled; solo mothers and other groups in society totally dependent on the will of the Cabinet of Ministers. This is despite the fact that the norms of the relevant laws on social guarantees have not been revoked, and remain in force.

Medical reform is effectively aimed against patients and doctors. In rural areas in the oblasts where the experiment was carried out, people, especially the elderly, can often simply not get to the hospitals which are now sometimes more than 100 kilometres away. Specialist doctors who are losing their jobs in large numbers due to the closure of their medical establishments are supposed to retrain in 6 months (where in the world is 6 months enough to gain a paediatrician’s qualification?!) and find a job in general practice – family medicine. They moreover begin again from the lowest category.

The idea of saving on the public deficit at the expense of self-insurance of public sector workers has reached its logical conclusion in the concept of reform of the penal system. This envisages that penal institutions will look after themselves and earn what they need to exist.  This is despite the fact that 50% of prisoners don’t work since the State is unable to provide them with employment.

Legislation against human rights

Administrative reform is being implemented through six draft laws submitted by the President’s representative in parliament, Yury Miroshnychenko which have been passed in the first reading. This reform worsens the position of people with disabilities; believers; other groups of the population; seriously threatens environmental rights since it dissolves territorial departments of environmental protection of the Environment Ministry which at least to some extent prevented pollution of the environment.

A flagrant example of laws which violate human rights were laws passed in one day and signed by the President despite mass protest from various groups of the public – the Law on the Principles of Language Policy and the Law on Public Procurement which removes State-owned enterprises from mandatory tender procedure.

Another flagrant example of legislation which violates human rights was the Law on the construction of two nuclear reactors at the Khmelnytsky Nuclear Power Station. This was submitted by the Cabinet of Ministers and passed by parliament despite decisions and reservations from dozens of public hearings in places within the 30-kilometre zone around the station. Nor were there State environmental assessments (TEO or technical and economic justification) of the construction projects or the consultative referendum regarding the location of a nuclear institution which are mandatory by law. In accordance with the law there must be a trans-border environmental impact assessments with respect to all countries involved. A number of countries (Austria; Belarus; Hungary; Moldova; Poland; Romania and Slovakia) have said that the construction plans could adversely affect their territory and proposed to commence bilateral consultations with Ukraine.  Yet they did not receive any answer to their information requests regarding this plan. The procedure for participation by the public of these countries and consultations with these countries was thus not completed. Moreover the nuclear plant plan with these reactors was drawn up in the 1970s and does not comply with modern safety requirements. Yet all this could be ignored with the prospect of almost 37 billion UAH from Russia for the construction!

Yet another telling example was the Law on a Unified State Demographic Register which envisages the creation of a huge database containing personal data on people living in the country (the list of data is not exhaustive) and used for the issue of biometric documents (their list is also not exhaustive). As well as passports, the internal “passport” or ID document; driving licence will also become biometric and will need to be replaced every 10 years.
This law flagrantly violates the Constitution, the Personal Data Protection Act; the right to privacy; and adds the burden of extremely expensive technologies to the State budget. Nevertheless all arguments regarding its unacceptability remained unheard and the entire system will function, against commonsense and the interests of Ukrainians who will be forced to regularly pay large amounts for biometric documents; and in the interests of the private SSAPS Corporation.

One has the impression that all legislative initiatives are aimed at satisfying the political and economic interests of the political and business elite (which are effectively merged) and against the rights and interests of ordinary Ukrainians whom Ukrainian politicians swear commitment to.

Lost future?

It is not surprising that despite the dirty election campaign; the use of administrative resources; bribery of voters; other considerable infringements of the electoral law; and the rigging of the results in some election districts; planning to gain more than 300 assured votes in parliament [a constitutional majority – translator], those in power cannot even form a majority without resorting to pressure and political corruption. All international institutions found these elections to have been non-transparent and unfair.

The leaders of the country should, finally, understand that Ukraine’s European integration; the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement are incompatible with the existing domestic policy of the state which is flagrantly violating human rights and fundamental freedoms. Those circles in power see no other path but that of European integration. Are they capable of radically changing domestic policy?

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