21.05.2000 | Larisa Bogoraz, the Head of the programme ’Legislation Culture’of the Moscow Helsinki Group



This report evaluates the activities of the Kharkiv Group for Human Rights Protection (the Group, in what follows) and assesses the work in 1998.

It should be noted that I have been connected with the Group members Irina Rapp, Sophia Karasik and Eugeniy Zakharov through human rights protection activities in the USSR since late sixties. Since 1988 we have worked together in the ’Memorial’ society; with Eugeniy Zakharov we have also collaborated in the Moscow Helsinki Group, whose member he became in 1989. The Group invited me to be an independent expert evaluating their work in 1995, 1997 and 1998. I am well acquainted with all publications prepared by the Group and am a subscriber of the bulletin ’Prava ludyny’ published by the Group. In previous years the Group was created as a well-balanced organisation consisting fifty-fifty of full-time members and volunteers; some jobs are done on a contract basis. In 1998 the composition of the Group has not changed; only some probationers from students of law have appeared, which may be only greeted. The Group’s work takes on rather diverse forms; nonetheless the Group members specialize and improve their professional skills. This occurs because of the sensible structure of the Group and because of permanent education of the Group members. The teachers are professionals: lawyers, sociologists, historians, data processing specialists, etc. The Group members participate in international conferences and seminars. The Group maintains permanent relations with similar groups from other regions of Ukraine and other countries, mainly with Russia and Poland. With them the Group maintains exchange of experience and information; with some of them the Group works at joint projects.

Thanks to these activities the Group, beside solving local problems, preserves the status of an equal and active member of the international human rights protection movement, ’the movement without frontiers’, taking part in the development and solution of theoretical, philosophical and methodological problems. The main direction of the Group’s activity is the monitoring of human rights, i.e. collection, analysis and distribution of information on the state of human rights in Ukraine; enlightenment activity; juridical and sometimes material aid to citizens and groups of citizens. These three directions of the activity correspond to the statute of the Group.

In order to realize each of the indicated directions the Group uses certain methods that were developed mainly as a result of accumulating the Group’s experience. To grant juridical help to claimants, there is an experienced lawyer who processes the complaints and claims of citizens after a preliminary sifting by some Group members. They receive the complaints in writing or through telephone. A special blank is filled in the process. The blank contains the needed data on the complainer and on the abuse of human rights. If need arises, Group members provide auxiliary information, communicating with the claimant in writing, through telephone or in personal contact. The final results are input to the computer data bank. This is an ideal scheme, it requires much labour and it is not always realised. Especially this year many claims were not input to the computer. It is explained by the fact that almost half of the time in 1998 the Group was devoid of office.

Nonetheless, this aspect of the work must be evaluated positively, since the system works in principle, it may serve as a base for further development of this direction and, last but not least, many claimants got real aid.

The primary information processed in this manner is the input for further monitoring: it enables one to conclude which human rights are violated most often, where, by whom and why (due to the inperfection of law, incompetence or ill will of executive power, because of the legal ignorance of citizens, because of the passivity of human rights protection and other public organisations, etc.).

The Group publishes the results of the monitoring and information from activists throughout Ukraine in the analytical bulletin ’Prava ludyny’ which is published three times a month. Once a month the English review of the three monthly issues is published. I have read all the bulletins for the reporting period and I would like to notice that the presentation of the material in the English version is very expressive and well-balanced. I do not know any other human rights protection organisation in any of the CIS countries that would regularly and for a long time inform the public in the West on the situation with human rights in this country. Perhaps, this feature of the publication assisted the Group to get the premium of the EC/USA ’Democracy and Civil Society Award’ in 1998.

36 issues of the bulletin were published during 1998. Beside three issues and one English survey, the Group publishes one special issue per month. The special issues contain diverse materials that can be of help to an activist in human rights protection: reviews of corresponding materials from Ukrainian mass media, documents, analytical materials. For instance, materials on the alternative service, penitentiary and court systems, children’s rights and so on.

Especially valuable are materials which compare international legislation and law-applying practice with those in Ukraine or other countries, not only Western democracies, but the countries which are neighbours: Russia, Poland, Belorus. All these publications may be of interest for groups and activists of human rights protection of Ukrainian neighbours.

I want to point out that ’Prava Ludyny’ describe events of human rights abuses not only in Ukraine, but in neighbouring countries too. Certainly the materials on Ukraine are rather full and systematic, whereas those about other countries are sketchy. Nonetheless they are reliable.

Thus, the Group is building - and has built to a considerable degree - a workable system of collecting, processing, formulating and using human rights protecting information that promotes uniting various groups (acting in various regions and having their own specific features). This improves the efficiency of concrete aid to those who suffered from the abuse of human rights. The closer ties between organisations also improves the efficiency of enlightenment. The analysis of the operating laws becomes interrelated with that of the current situation and with theoretical problems of human rights protection.

Certainly, any of the above-listed aspects has its own specifics. The most useful work for the population enlightenment is the publication of special literature carried out by the Group and devoted to separate problems of human rights protection. The Group, jointly with a private publishing house ’Folio’, printed six brochures, I would rather say compact books. One is devoted to the problem of the death penalty, another - against torture. The topics of the rest are not less actual. The authors of these books are top professionals, and they use the materials of ’Prava Ludyny’. Each of these books is written on a good scientific level, each can serve as a text-book in teaching human rights to activists, teachers, higher and high school students. I assess this work very highly, since both in Ukraine and in Russia, and in other CIS countries such literature is very scarce. The books are written in Ukrainian. I would like to see them translated into Russian and may be to some other languages of the CIS states. All this literature is distributed by the Group free of charge, according to the Group’s Statute.

The Group also collected a sizeable library on human rights protection and related topics. The tasks of the library are two fold: to provide needed information to Kharkiv specialists and to send hard copies of books, articles and documents on request of sisterly organisations. I think that the library must be properly arranged and catalogued, and the usual procedure of accounting materials and copies handed out must be introduced. I understand that performing these works will require a librarian or two with a proper financing.

Along with the publication of books, the Group initiated optional courses in human rights protection at several high schools in Kharkiv.

I highly assess the enlightenment initiative of the Group, but it lacks a systematic approach: not a single member of the Group goes in exclusively for it. This lowers the efficiency of the work. On initiating the teaching of human rights at school, one must visualize all the chain, including such top priority tasks as teaching teachers and students of pedagogical institutes. I think that a special structure must be organized, either inside, or outside the Group.

In my opinion, the Kharkiv Group has carried out huge and creative work in accordance with the projects under evaluation and achieved all the planned results. I want to add that as a result of the work the Kharkiv Group is becoming an actual nucleus of the human rights protection network in Ukraine. In order to play this role the Group has the will and necessary experience. I was struck by enthusiasm of the Group members. The Group has plenty of contacts with similar groups from other regions of Ukraine and with the authorities, it is respected by citizens.

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