war crimes in Ukraine

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Politics and human rights

“A New Constitution –Civic Society’s Position”

As participants in Ukraine’s Second Civic Assembly we are forced to acknowledge that the critical reservations which the First Civic Assembly made a year ago have come true. The government and opposition have not heeded the demands and suggestions of Ukraine’s civic organizations. The political crisis has not only deepened, but has turned into constant political instability.

The early elections proved to be a temporary compromise and did not act as the spur for systematic political and socio-economic changes. The process of constitutional reform talked about so much by politicians from different camps has turned into a subject of political manipulation to serve the private corporate objectives of particular politicians and factions. Disregard for legal norms has taken on dangerous proportions and has become an everyday thing. This is leading to the degradation of the legal system of the country, threatening citizens’ freedom, safety and ability to function, and could therefore undermine Ukraine’s statehood.

These features of crisis have taken on the clear and system signs of a direct threat for the future development of society and existence of the State.

The participants in Ukraine’s Second Civic Assembly therefore, aware of our responsibility before all the citizens of Ukraine state:

The Constitution is the basis for the development of society and the building of the State, and the existence of each citizen is dependent on it. The Constitution should be a true public contract, and not a temporary compromise between politicians and clans. Nobody has the right to appropriate the exclusive right of the people in the republic, namely the right of constituent power. No politician has the right to use the political crisis and instability in order to push for their clan-based variants of constitutional reform.

We demand that the President, higher government bodies, leading politicians and public officials:

  • put an end to manipulative attempts to make changes to the Constitution in a hasty fashion, without broad public discussion and the introduction of an institution of constituent power until the political crisis is resolved;
  • return to recognition and implementation of the current Constitution and laws of Ukraine, first and foremost through the creation of an honest, just and transparent judiciary as the guarantee of citizens’ rights and freedoms;
  • adopt amendments to the Constitution or a special law which will allow for the calling of a Constitutional Assembly to draw up and pass a new Constitution., the delegates of which will be elected directly and will not have the right over the next 10 years to stand for office or be appointed to the highest government bodies;
  • as a matter of urgency pass new electoral legislation, legislation on a referendum and legislation on political parties which will pave the way for radical improvement of the quality of the political process in Ukraine. This would involve the introduction of a system of open candidate lists at all levels; a partial return to the majority system at local elections, as well as detailing the norms of internal party democracy and strengthening answerability of deputies to their voters;

We are convinced that the new Constitution should guarantee:

  • real inviolability of rights and freedoms in accordance with the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms;
  • implementation of the principle of the rule of law
  • the real possibility for the effective self-development of Ukrainian society, the formation of a healthy, intellectually and culturally mature nation;
  • a European model of governance together with effective mechanisms of answerability of the authorities and public officials to members of the public;
  • effective administrative and territorial system based on democratic decentralization of public authorities;
  • a reformed and uncorrupted judiciary;
  • institutionalized mechanisms for public control over the authorities.

We will seek the fulfilment of these demands through all legal means and will carry out active civic activities, including:

  • monitoring of all branches of power to ensure effective dialogue between the authorities and the public on issues related to the constitutional reforms and overcoming political instability;
  • active involvement of civic organizations of all regions in the process of constitutional reform;
  • carry out awareness-raising measures and civic influence campaigns;
  • actively seeking to influence positive changes in regional policy, as well as upholding the interests of local communities when taking political decisions at central level;
  • ensuring public control over the work of the authorities and political forces;
  • defending human rights and civil liberties;

People, let’s create a new Constitution and reform the country together!

Civic organizations call for a Constitutional Assembly

Changes to the Ukrainian Constitution should be drawn up and adopted by a Constitutional Assembly. This was the message on Saturday from the Second Civic Assembly of Ukraine “A New Constitution –Civic Society’s Position”

Participants in the Civic Assembly call on President Yushchenko and government bodies, as well as prominent politicians and public officials to pass a law to call together a special body - a Constitutional Assembly to draw up and pass a new Constitution.

The delegates of the Constitutional Assembly should be elected directly and not have the right to stand for any electoral office for the next 10 years

Volodymyr Khanas, member of the organizing committee stresses that “politicians convinced us through their actions that there is no other way”.

His colleague on the committee, representative of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, Anatoly Boiko says that members of the public have ceased being mere observers and want to take part in moving the country forward. He stresses that civic society is gaining momentum and that civic organizations are beginning to have an impact on society and move Ukraine forward.

Based on material at

Against torture and ill-treatment

How widespread is the use of torture and ill-treatment in Ukraine?

The first problem is finding out. The State Department for the Execution of Sentences [the Department] is extremely secretive and normally denies reports of torture and ill-treatment.

Its use of a special “anti-terrorist” unit in penal colonies should have been stopped at New Year when the Ministry of Justice withdrew the registration of the Order creating this special unit however there have been a number of reports of its deployment since. The most evidence has been received regarding the Izyaslav colony in January 2007 where, after the prisoners called a protest hunger strike, and the Deputy Head of the Department became involved, around 40 prisoners, those who took part in the protest, were beaten by a special unit, and then moved to other institutions.

The UN Committee against Torture which reviewed Ukraine’s Fifth Periodic Report in May 2007 expressed concern about the use of anti-terrorist units in penal institutions. 

In general, the increasing number of incidents in penal institutions, such as the cases of self-mutilation in Kharkiv and Lviv last year, as well as reports which do reach human rights groups, suggest that there are a large number of cases of ill-treatment in penal institutions. 

Another major problem is the lack of realistic ways for prisoners to register complaints

Human rights defenders have organized pickets outside prosecutor’s offices for good reason. The latter seldom carry out proper and unbiased investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment from prisoners.  The Human Rights Ombudsperson’s Secretariat incredibly has sent such complaints received to the Department itself. Without proper mechanisms for ensuring that prisoners can safely make complaints with no fear of reprisals and with a chance of being heard, the scope for abuse is huge.

Torture and ill-treatment in police custody

Problems still remain here thought the Ministry of Internal Affairs is more open about the problem than the Department, and efforts are being made.

Abuse most often takes place before a person is formally detained with a protocol being drawn up.  At this stage the person is especially vulnerable. In many cases which human rights groups are aware of people thus detained were either threatened with reprisals if they said anything or forced to sign a piece of paper saying that they have no grievances against the police (the same also happens in penal institutions).

Two positive steps can be reported

MIA mobile groups are already working on monitoring the observance of human rights in MIA places of imprisonment, mainly in police temporary holding centres [ITT].  The most important aspect here is the use of spot checks with trained members of the groups.

A national network of people trained in this way is a prerequisite for the creation of a national preventive mechanism against torture and ill-treatment in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture (OPCAT). The work of the mobile groups has been assessed highly by OSCE and Council of Europe experts.

It should be mentioned that Ukraine is behind in developing the national preventive mechanisms demanded by OPCAT.

A major problem in Ukraine is the parlous state of the system of legal aid.  This, and failure by the police and investigators to ensure that those detained or accused of a crime are properly represented. A major initiative underway involves the provision of a 24-hour Public Defence Office providing such free legal aid from the real moment a person is detained.  Pilot offices are already functioning in Bila Tserkva (Kyiv region), Kharkiv and Khmelnytsky.

Against torture

26 June 2006 is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture and events are taking place throughout the day in Ukraine to highlight the problem of torture by law enforcement officers and in penal institutions. 

Press conferences will be held by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union in Kyiv and by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group in Kharkiv,

They will look at how Ukraine is (or is not) complying with its international commitments with respect to combating the use of torture and ill-treatment and will also provide information about recent cases where people were victims of such treatment.

Throughout the country protest pickets will be held outside prosecutor’s offices demanding that they carry out swift and effective investigations into reports or complaints alleging torture and ill-treatment.  The protesters will hand over information which human rights groups have received and checked.

UHHRU have invited all civic organizations to run their own events without the framework of this action.  

Freedom of expression

Crimean journalists complain of obstruction

Crimean journalist organizations speak of no let up in the number of cases where journalists are obstructed in their work.  Head of the Committee for Monitoring Press Freedom in the Crimea Volodymyr Prytula reported this when presenting the annual “White Book of Crimean Journalism”, which presents material on press freedom and journalists’ rights during 2007.

Prytula identifies two main problems which Crimean journalists encounter in their work.  There are, firstly, many attacks or threats against journalists carrying out their work. “Yet none of these has been investigated fully by the city law enforcement bodies, and none of those guilty punished, with this giving them a free hand”, he warns.

He also thinks that despite the openness of the authorities declared in Ukraine, another obstacle to the work of journalists lies in the restricted opportunities for receiving information without any delay from the Crimean authorities.

The Head of the Crimean Association of Free Journalists Lilya Budzhurova stresses the need to create a commission on journalist ethics which could swiftly respond to material in the Crimean media which incites ethnic and religious enmity. She comments that the number of such publications in the Crimean media has in recent times risen.

Access to information

Not just bad to lie

With children we make the distinction so clear:  it’s either “just a story” or real, either the truth or lies. .  While they don’t read the newspapers and listen to politicians, all is well. Then the lies start coming in torrents, and from everywhere.  And yet new generations will tell their own children not to lie.  No hypocrisy: we clearly recognize the worth of a lover or friend whose words mean nothing. 

So why do we tolerate untruth in the media? After all the most marvellous journalist initiatives against paid news items and all discussion around information wars are meaningless without one vital component -  outrage at being conned and treated like idiots.

We are finally able to turn the page on the scandal over a frightful monstrosity. The British newspaper “Daily Telegraph” has published an apology for its article on the Hitler doll, in which it states that “this doll was not widely available, no Ukrainian toy manufacturer was involved and the doll was manufactured in Taiwan. There are no plans for further sales” (

We are extremely grateful to the Press Complaints Commission for their help since the paper insisted on not understanding, among other things, what we had to do with the matter. The PCC understood and probably made it all entirely clear: they had published false information, had been caught doing so and must now apologize.

The incident demonstrated to all of us that disinformation can cross any borders and language barriers.

It did not, however, break down other stereotypes. Put most primitively, we were appalled only by “western” lies, while we virtually didn’t react to those from Russian media outlets. On the one hand this is natural enough – you notice what stands out, and here the smell was sickeningly familiar.

Yet on the other, the Soviet Union collapsed a long time ago, and why we accept effectively Soviet propaganda from Russian journalists is a question worth putting. We probably won’t get an answer yet the question is not rhetorical.  A lot of other reports from the Russian media contain absurd criticism which can very easily be refuted. Unfortunately against a tsunami of offensive rhetoric, journalists in Ukraine all too often respond more or less in like manner. As a result the original nonsense gets forgotten and victory goes to the most eloquent. Yet stubborn refusal to brook inaccuracies (or much worse) and the habit of indicating point by point where the mistakes are work wonders on stemming the wildest verbal torrents (and give considerable satisfaction to boot!).

The problem lies in more than just verbal battles. Most tenets of Soviet ideology have long been discarded however one seems to have taken root. It was convenient for the communist regime to brush off criticism of its arrant brainwashing with the argument that everybody lies and that there is no such thing as objective facts. When the lies penetrate all aspects of life, it’s not so easy to refute that, and the claim is not entirely wrong anyway. I would however question how seeped we are in misinformation. There are 5 serious daily newspapers in the UK. You basically know what their politics are, and many people make their choice accordingly, however any attempts to twist, reinterpret or conceal main events will spell death regardless of their views.  Death will come, incidentally, not by Presidential decree or by court ruling. People will simply stop reading them. Maybe it won’t be after the first dodgy article, or even the second, but soon enough. Confidence imposes strict demands.

Unfortunately we increasingly often hear another myth about journalists, politicians, judges, etc that “they’re all for sale, they all have their price”.  Monitoring carried out by the journalist initiative “We’re not for sale!” showed that during the Kyiv Mayor and City Council elections in May all parties, without exception, bought “jeansa” or paid-for “news” features. Some bought more, some less, but the number here does not change the essence which is well worth spelling out. All Ukrainian political parties tried to distort the decision of voters through dishonest advertising. A lot of media outlets and journalists took substantial amounts of money for misleading their audience. Members of the public were victims of deception with advertising being presented as news, and were therefore unable to fully exercise their democratic rights.

And we watched the entire process and continued to be proud that unlike some neighbouring countries we have freedom of speech. Too often, incidentally, not that bothered as long as it was “the right party” benefiting from dishonest reporting. Children are supposed to understand that a lie of any shade or form remains a lie and we don’t have to?

The laws in Ukraine against those who spread lies are quite clearly inadequate.  It is just as obvious that they won’t get better by themselves.  There needs to be a press commission which anybody can turn to with complaints, and a recognized code of conduct.  Yet none of this is in itself enough.

  I believe we should also be publicly lobbying to have “jeansa” or paid-for “news” made illegal, with liability for both those who buy news items and those who sell them. If I knowingly sell food products which may be off, I should be liable. If you buy them to pass on to others, so should you.  This is also longer-term however the very campaign would help to raise awareness of the danger of such behaviour.

  It is the public who can play a vital role in this. Going to court is expensive, and even complaining to a press complaints commission is at very least time-consuming. Yet if enough people show outrage over imbalanced reporting, misleading information or over being fed commissioned material, this damages the reputation of a newspaper and hits profits. 

We succeeded in shaming some western media outlets recently over the Hitler doll scam not through calls to conscience, and if there is a difference between various countries, it is about how well developed the mechanisms are for protecting our right to truthful information. Misleading their audience simply does not fall within a journalist’s job description in any country.

The rule of public opinion can sometimes reach absurdities. Some of the politically correct terms elicit only bemusement as to how the old terms could possibly have offended.  On the other hand, many terms used in the Ukrainian media in reference to a person’s ethnic origin, gender or sexual orientation or in reporting a person’s arrest on suspicion (only!) of having committed a crime are inconceivable in England or America. Somebody would immediately raise a huge uproar.

There is a motivating force in indignation which has nothing to do with naivety.  I do not believe that all journalists are committed to telling the truth.  I have even less illusions about politicians. I expect them to be answerable.  This will not happen overnight, but it is fully attainable if we learn to demand it. If freedom of speech is important – and it is – then there is also precious little choice. 

I frankly question the motives of at least some of those who assure us that this is all unattainable nonsense: “they all lie”, “they’re all for sale”.

Who are they? 

Head of the Penal Service not above the law

The District Administrative Court in the Donetsk region on 10 June issued an important ruling in the ongoing struggle to force the State Department for the Execution of Sentences to stop concealing information of public importance. It found that the Head of the Department, Vasyl Koshchynets had behaved wrongfully by failing to provide information in the legally stipulated period on the mortality figures in the penal system. The information had been requested by the civic organization Donetsk Memorial in November 2007. The Department had at first failed to react at all, and then informed that these figures are determined «according to methodology studied in institutes». After the Head of Donetsk Memorial turned both to the Prosecutor General and to the court, the Department provided the information, hastily began an official check in March and found those «guilty» of not answering in timely manner. The Donetsk Court nonetheless found that the Head of the Department bore personal responsibility for not providing the information in the legally established time frame. The court hearing is due on 17 June into another suit lodged against Koshchynets by the Head of Donetsk Memorial. This is over the failure to inform about the transfer of prisoners from the Izyaslav Penal Colony after the events in January 2007. As reported, following a hunger strike by prisoners, a special «anti-terrorist» unit was deployed in the colony and a number of prisoners beaten. Around forty prisoners were taken in the clothes they were wearing and badly beaten to two different SIZO [remand centres] in Rivne and Khmelnytsky where they are also believed to have been beaten. The Department did not wish to provide information requested regarding this transfer. Slightly adapted from a report by Oleksandr Bukalov 12.06.2008

Recycling a bad taste

With newspapers fighting to be first in breaking a news story, the decision by Canada’s most authoritative paper the Globe and Mail, May 31 (
) to publish an article almost two months old must raise eyebrows – and some hard-hitting questions.  We’ll mention some of those questions – and who to put them to – later.  First a bit about the article deemed worthy of recycling.

On 2 April Alexander Solzhenitsyn published a short text in the near-to-the Kremlin Russian newspaper “Izvestiya”, with the title “Creating division between kindred peoples??”  The former dissident, who for many was once the voice of conscience in the Soviet Union, had already expressed somewhat chauvinist views about Ukraine and Belarus and their relationship – a la Solzhenitsyn – to Russia.  This latest outburst nonetheless came as a shock to many because of its tone, content and – yet again – timing. 

The author’s theme was Holodomor, though he avoids the very term and is scathing about the view that Holodomor was an act of genocide against the Ukrainian people. In his words: “The provocative outcry about "genocide" only began to take shape decades later - at first quietly, inside spiteful, anti-Russian, chauvinistic minds - and now it has spun off into the government circles of modern-day Ukraine, who have thus outdone even the wild inventions of Bolshevik agitprop.”

  This vitriolic attack, even repeated two months on, remains staggering.  Alexander Isaevich may disagree with the many scholars, Ukrainian and others, who consider the evidence to be compelling that Stalin closed the borders out of Ukraine and out of predominantly Ukrainian Kuban in order to crush Ukrainians. That is his prerogative. However he goes much further, and suggesting that Ukrainians are somehow outdoing the lies of Bolshevik propaganda. Given the decades of lies and concealment about the Famine of 1932-1933, it is profoundly offensive. 

After a couple of months it can be difficult to place texts within their historical, or more to the point, political context.  The State Duma was about to vote on an assessment of Holodomor and the US President had just laid a wreath at a monument to the victims of this terrible crime.  Solzhenitsyn’s angry words seemed to conveniently echo the views of the Kremlin in a way that was deeply disturbing.

There was outcry at the time, statements issued by former dissidents, mostly in Ukraine, although there were voices of reproach from Russians also.  Some of the criticism was very harsh. Alexander Isaevich is a Russian nationalist and while we may find his conclusions at the present time regarding who and what best serves his country’s interests baffling, his age and undoubted courage in the past made many loath to articulate their worst suspicions.

Why now?

  Perhaps Solzhenitsyn can answer that question.  These are the last lines of his text (in the translation published today): “To the parliaments of the world: This vicious defamation is easy to insinuate into Western minds. They have never understood our history: You can sell them any old fairy tale, even one as mindless as this”

The Canadian parliament effectively recognized Holodomor as an act of genocide last week.  There is also a drive on at present in Canada to have Holodomor included in a high school course on genocide. 

In short, like two months ago, there were reasons which certain parties appear to find cogent for fighting against recognition of Holodomor as genocide.

All very well but …

It is a major “but”.  There is, or should be, a huge difference between an article albeit by Solzhenitsyn in the Russian Izvestiya, and a privately-owned and important Canadian newspaper. So why did the latter decide to publish so late in the day an article reviously published in a western newspaper (
)?  Now if it knew (and the translation is the same) about the Boston article, it must have known about the excellent response from Serhii Plokhii, Lecturer in Ukrainian History at Harvard University  (
  We can understand that recycling not only another newspaper’s article, but one of their reader’s responses might seem a little bit much, but surely it should have made them aware that such a contentious article could do with some balance, at very least one countering point of view?

Since we would not wish to answer these baffling questions for the Globe and Mail, we can only reiterate the call made by Ukrainians in Canada to approach the newspaper directly at [email protected] , asking:

why they chose to publish a two-month-old article now;

why, given the contentious nature of the views expressed, no effort was made to offer an alternative view.  In connection with this, you might like to ask why the Globe and Mail refused to publish a piece by Professor  Lubomyr Luciuk on Holodomor, which he submitted for publication during this week’s visit to Canada of President Yushchenko and to coincide with Canadian parliament’s unanimous vote on Holodomor. 

Nobody is suggesting that newspapers should not publish texts which annoy some of their readers.  However we surely have the right to balance and objectivity and where timing and choice of recycled material seem baffling, we could also do with some answers.

Prohibition of discrimination

Racism and xenophobia in Ukraine: new challenges in human rights protection

Racism and xenophobic crimes were for a long time not typical for Ukrainian society. One of the first prominent cases involving xenophobia in Ukraine dates from July 2001 when a Rwandan refugee was beaten to death near his home in Vinnytsa, this eliciting an official statement of concern from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This case coincided with a general increase in crimes of racial or religious enmity which became a noticeable problem in post-industrial Europe due to unresolved issues involving migration and ethnic-cultural policy.

The level of isolationism and xenophobia In Ukraine rise from the middle of 2002, accompanied by an increase in the number of publications with xenophobic overtones. Sociological research also shows a reduction since independence of more than 3.5 times in the percentage of people who are open-minded and tolerant of ethnic diversity. Some studies suggest that in 2003 virtually half the population had isolationist views and the number of people with xenophobic attitudes had more than quadrupled[1]  At the same time the US State Department assessed the level of xenophobia in Ukraine as no higher than in other post-totalitarian countries. Although cases of xenophobia with respect to Russians, Jews, Crimean Tatars, Roma and immigrants from the Caucuses, Asia and Africa were reasonably common, US observers considered the situation in Ukraine to be less dangerous than in Russia, Romania, Poland, Hungary or Slovakia. This was possibly due to the fact that the majority of cases did not involve violation, being confined to verbal insults, anti-Semitic graffiti and fairly rarely, acts of vandalism at cemeteries.

A more dangerous escalation in xenophobic attitudes in Ukraine became noticeable after 2005 when groups of skinheads separated into a different movement from the general mass of football fans.

The first skinheads who appeared at the end of the 1960s in Britain were made up of working class youth, including some black youths, were joined under the banner “Fight for your class, not for your race!”  Skinheads soon adopted Nazi symbols and ideology and spread to Europe, America and Australia. In neighbouring Russia skinheads appeared at the end of the 1990s, swiftly organizing themselves with the financial support of far-right political forces into an organized neo-Nazi movement. In Ukraine the most active and aggressive are considered to be the far-right groups from the so-called “White Power – Skinhead Spectrum”, the Ukrainian branch of the worldwide extremist network “Blood and Honour”, and the militarized neo-Nazi sect “World Church of the Creator Ruthenia”, WCOTC). They are united by an ideology of racism and nationalism based on establishing their superiority over other races and nationalities. The most numerous groups of skinheads were seen in Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhya, Lviv, Sevastopol, Chernihiv and the Crimea.  Whereas in Russia there are tens of thousands within the skinhead movement, according to preliminary figures from the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), in Ukraine there are presently no less than 500 skinheads aged from 14 to 27, in groups of between 20 and 50 people without clear structure or organization.

It was in 2005 that closed festivals of neo-Nazi groups from Ukraine and Russia became regular events in Lviv and Kharkiv. .They are organized unofficially by the Ukrainian National Labour Party with overtly racist songs. The organization “Patriot of Ukraine” which in 2007 held a series of torch marches in Kyiv and Kharkiv, using xenophobic and racist slogans, regularly organizes so-called military “training” for its activists at abandoned industrial sites, in forest camps and tourist bases.  There are no less than 30 permanent websites of a neo-Nazi or nationalist nature (Radical Ukrainian Nationalism, the real patriots’ site, Nachtigal, Blood & Honour Ukraine and others

In the media there is an increasingly fixed tendency to use such terms as “Caucasian Mafia”, “crimes by gypsies”, “Asian criminal gangs”. Such terms are not only incorrect and unacceptable, but are used for speculative ends by radical neo-Nazi and nationalists.

At the same time MIA data indicates a clear trend towards an increase in the number of crimes against foreigners. During the last five years the number of unlawful acts from which foreign nationals have suffered has doubled, from 694 in 2002 to 1178 in 2007.  The large majority of crimes were committed against citizens of CIS countries (63.5%), with the number against nationals of other countries therefore 36.4%. The greatest friction is seen in the Crimea, Kyiv and the Odessa, Donetsk, Lviv and Kharkiv regions.

However these figures do not, unfortunately, reflect the percentage of crimes committed exclusive on racial or religious grounds. Although the rate of solving crimes against foreign nationals is 84% as opposed to 59.1% on average in the country, from 2005-2007 only 7 criminal investigations under Article 161 of the Criminal Code (infringements of equal rights on the basis of racial or ethnic origin or religion) were initiated.  This figure clearly does not reflect the real picture since according to independent experts, the number of crimes based on racism and xenophobia is not less than 190 per year. These are usually acts of violence committed by organized groups of young people belonging to skinhead or neo-fascist groups and aimed firstly against foreign students, asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants, business people, diplomats members of the families of UN personnel who are often from Africa, Asia, or the Middle East, people from the Caucuses or from members of noticeable minority groups in countries of the West.[2]

It is therefore extremely pertinent to ask how many racially-motivated crimes are committed, and what the real scale is of this new criminal threat.

The answer to these questions lies first and foremost in reducing the high natural latency of the crimes since most foreigners who have suffered attacks by skinheads do not turn to the police. It is not known what the real number of crimes committed against illegal migrants is.  Approaches in western democracies – immigration amnesties, community policing, restorative justice make it possible to resolve the problem however for various reasons these are for the moment unacceptable for Ukraine’s system of work with immigrants.

It is considered vital to improve domestic legislation in order to introduce a broader range of grounds for bringing criminal or administrative charges against people inciting national, racial or religious enmity. Experience in European countries give grounds for thinking that an extended system of legal regulations decreases the risk of an increase in such crimes however fundamental work is needed by the Ukrainian legislators to adapt this experience.[3]

The need for governments to draw up preventive measures to counter modern forms of racism was affirmed by Decision No. 4/03 of the Maastricht Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of 55 countries in December 2003 which speaks of the need for OSCE countries to promote tolerance and fight discrimination, including all forms of aggressive nationalism, racism, chauvinism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and extremism.]. However in Ukraine as most specialists confirm too little is being done in this direction.

It is fairly symptomatic that up till 2007 no law enforcement body, with the exception of the MIA, believed it necessary to acknowledge the existence of extreme right-wing gangs in Ukraine. In May last year, the MIA was not only the first to speak of the threat of the spread of racism and xenophobia, but first to draw up the first plan of measures to counter this phenomenon. The MIA also turned for support and cooperation with nongovernmental organizations and public authorities, and initiated the creation of an inter-departmental working group to counter xenophobia and racism.

The MIA also proposed such joint measures as: providing legal aid to victims of xenophobia and racism; carrying out expert analyses of legislation in this area and drawing up proposals for improving the normative legal base in order to counter racially-motivated crimes; improving mechanisms for reacting to the use by the media of xenophobic stamps and expressions; drawing up the appropriate study programmes.

The results of work in this area confirm that racism and xenophobia, while they have not begun a social phenomenon, do have a clear criminogenic potential due to such factors as continuing political instability, a low level of income among the population, and illegal migration. At the same time, bearing in mind the complex nature of this new criminal threat, it must be noted that bodies of the MIA can fulfil the function of countering racism in a fairly restricted form as follows from the possibilities of a militarized and enforcing body of state management. In view of this there is an urgent need for coordinated preventive action by all State authorities and civic society.

Oleh Martynenko,

Doctor of Law, Head of the Department for Monitoring Human Rights in the Police, assistant to the Minister of Internal Affairs.


[1]  N. Panina : Insurmountable distance. Krytykra, №7-8, 2003. – pp.17-20.


[2]  European Commission against Racism and Intolerance. Third Report on Ukraine. Strasbourg. CRI(2008)4, 2008.

[3]  Fight against Hate crimes in the OSCE region. ODIHR OSCE, 2006.

Document of the Ministerial Council, Maastricht 2003: Decision No.4/03 on Tolerance and Non-discrimination, MC.DEC/4/03, 2 December 2003.

Environmental rights

Repeat Performance

I suspect the value of repetition in learning is overrated. Yes, willy-nilly after the thousandth time you remember something, but whether you believe it is another matter. And when it’s only the questions that are repeated over and over again and when any phrases are empty or for foreign consumption only, then the lessons learned are hardly constructive. Where the subject is the environment and the country – Ukraine, then it all takes on a desperately poignant urgency.

It is 22 years since the Chernobyl Disaster. Despite upbeat words from the International Atomic Energy Agency, some scars will never heal. . For Ukrainians the disaster had an added thrust, crystallizing the moral bankruptcy of the Soviet regime which lied and lied again. Party functionaries evacuated their own children yet sent other young boys and girls, those most at risk, onto the streets of Kyiv for May Day celebrations. That memory stays.

Small wonder that from then on environmental groups had a marked human rights focus, and were in the forefront of resistance to a totally dishonest regime.

The Soviet Union collapsed, and Ukraine as independent and sovereign state began taking on international commitments. One of these commitments was under the Aarhus Convention (UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters).

The Convention, ten years old this month, reads like a response to Chernobyl. It is after all about the right to know and to have a say in what immediately concerns us. That its provisions must be observed is at once staggeringly obvious and a point the Ukrainian authorities seem gallingly reluctant to understand.

Access to information – where is it?

For the last three years there has been no National Report on the State of the Environment in Ukraine.  It is a legal requirement for parliament to review these reports submitted on an annual basis. It is hardly necessary to explain that the lack of report is not for want of subject matter.  The number of environmental accidents, contentious environmental plans and disturbing demographic trends make the need for such reports urgent. 

Nor is there any other reliable source of official information.  The Ministry for Environmental Protection website suggests that the staff of this illustrious body have other more important tasks. In the absence of any information, we can only guess what these may be.

You’d think it was clear that formal requests for information must be answered, yet the civil servants are in no hurry to obey the law here either. Their attempts to avoid providing information are sometimes almost comical and arouse the suspicion that they either have no idea what they’re doing at work, or seriously underestimate the mental faculties of the people they are there to serve.

  Almost comical, since there is little humour in a situation where citizens are asking for information about environmentally dangerous enterprises in their area and about the impact of environmental accidents, for environmental impact assessments or explanations as to why these have been ignored.  They want to know whether their water is fit to drink and why the food safety norms which were already outmoded in Soviet times have not been updated.

  Not unreasonable requests for information …

Do the authorities understand who the public are?

  The Ministry for Environmental Protection [MEP] has produced one report with a wonderfully impressive title – the Combined National Report for 2007 on Implementation of the Aarhus Convention in Ukraine.  Nothing else is at all impressive however one or two details should be noted.  Firstly, this is a report prepared, not for the Ukrainian public, but for the Third Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention which took place last week in Riga.  The draft of the report was fleetingly on the Ministry’s website, but has now disappeared again.

No less important are questions of transparency, not to mention public participation. MEP claims that a letter was sent by email in August 2007 inviting civic organizations with an environmental focus to put forward proposals. The leading environmental organizations did not receive such emails, nor have “Zeleny svit” [“Green World”] received proper responses to two information requests asking, among other things, who was sent the invitation. An “answer” was received to their first letter which informed that according to some departmental Order, only three questions are allowed on a particular environmental issue, and they had asked all of six!  Needless to say, not even the “allowed” three questions were answered. A response is still awaited from the repeat information request, which spelled out the lack of such restrictions on numbers of questions in any current legislation.  Now here they underestimate more than just mental faculties. They also fail to allow for the tenacity which comes when questions are simply too important to be fobbed off or ignored.

The long overdue preparation of a Strategy Plan for implementation of the Aarhus Convention finally moved off the ground, yet once again with a curious interpretation of public participation. MEP informed in February this year that a draft Strategy had been drawn up by an organization called “Ekologiya lyudyny” [“Ecology of Man”] which had supposedly won a tender to prepare a draft and organize consultations via an Internet conference. Why hold consultations on the Internet is not clear, but still less is how they ran a tender which none of the main environmental and human rights organizations in Ukraine were informed of, nor whether there were any other bids.

We could mention “public hearings” which those likely to ask hard-hitting questions learn about post fact, and more.

Hardly positive, or maybe ..

I had stopped at this point, painfully aware of the need to move from criticism to constructive suggestions. Various options came to mind, but so did sceptical mutterings. Action is indeed needed and we need to move forward, but how do you convince people?

I was saved by brutal lack of choice. The Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee reviewed the so called “Strategy Plan” last week in Riga. It would appear that MEP underestimated the powers of critical thinking not only of its own citizens. The draft decision from the Meeting of Parties issues a caution to Ukraine. The first detailed information on compliance needs to be provided in November this year.

Information appeared on the MEP website about the Meeting. Or more accurately about a “number of meetings the Minister held with colleagues from other countries”, and so forth. Not a word about the caution.  No time to waste on such trivia?

It’s hardly trivial, but there is indeed no time to waste. We can move forward though if from now on we don’t tolerate any fob-offs, any secretive “tenders” and public hearings that the public didn’t hear about. And if everything is open. Not a shadow of naivety in this. No expectations that somebody “up there” will understand the importance of the issue, but we do and will be following every step.

We invite people to send us information concerning environmental issues linked with the Aarhus Convention – about information requests and lack of reply or fob-offs, about public participation etc. We will endeavour to inform the public and the international community in Ukrainian and English about anything that could impact upon the implementation of this vital Convention. Nobody wishes to sully Ukraine’s image. Quite the contrary and we hope that the authorities soon understand what really is damaging, however we cannot wait. We have the right to environmental democracy and a safe environment – the right and duty to achieve it.

We have a chance now, and will have precisely what we are able, or unable, to change.

Open appeal from the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union on Ukraine’s failure to comply with the Aarhus Convention

To the Third Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention

“On access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters (Aarhus Convention)

Dear Representatives of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention and leaders of nongovernmental organizations of countries of Europe, the Caucuses and Central Asia

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union [UHHRU] which combines 24 human rights organizations from all regions of Ukraine sends its greetings to the Third Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention in Riga and best wishes for fruitful cooperation for the sake of implementing environmental policy by all Parties based on the principles of openness, public participation and responsibility upon which the Convention is based.

We are profoundly aware how closely intertwined are environmental rights with fundamental human rights, including the right to life.

We understand how vital it is to draw up practical mechanisms for implementing the standards of the Aarhus Convention and ensuring liability where these are not adhered to. This is crucial for protection of the natural environment, ensuring sustainable development, development of civic society, observance of human rights and the rights of future generations.

We hope that the development of awareness of environmental rights will make the theory of human rights and international legislation more effective and capable in the conditions of the XXI century.

However our appeal to the Third Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention is dictated in the first instance by our concern over the state of implementation of the Aarhus Convention in Ukraine.

Monitoring of adherence to the provisions of the Aarhus Convention has been carried out over several years by Ukrainian and international nongovernmental organizations. Its results give grounds for concluding that the authorities in Ukraine are failing to properly fulfil the commitments they made with regard to access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters.

We are concerned that violations of the environmental rights of people in Ukraine are of a constant and systemic nature. The main reasons for this are the low priority given to environmental policy; the lack of political will; corruption and crisis in the system of State management; the lack of compliance of many normative legal acts with international standards, including the standards of the Aarhus Convention, and the unsatisfactory application of the law.

In the process of implementation of the Convention within domestic legislation, amendments have not been made to a number of laws as clearly required by the Convention, for example, to the Law “On information”. The interpretation of the concept “environmental information” in this law differs from that in the Aarhus Convention.  It excludes important areas such as information about the state of health and safety; people’s living conditions; the condition of objects of culture and buildings and the extent to which these are or could be affected by the state of the environment.

However current legislation is also not implemented properly. For example, there were no National Reports on the State of the Environment for 2005 - 2007, despite review of such reports by the Verkhovna Rada on an annual basis and their publication on the Internet being a requirement of the Law “On protection of the natural environment”

Virtually nothing has been done to create a nationwide computerized system for ensuring access to environmental information which according to Article 10 of the Law “On protection of the natural environment” and the Law “On local self-government in Ukraine” should have been functional as far back as 2005.

In 2007 the public learned of the existence of some normative legal acts from the Ministry for Environmental Protection [MEP] and other authorities which classify large areas of environmental information as confidential, namely:

-  information about regulation of environmental issues on the trans-border rivers of Ukraine;

-  regulation of environmental issues concerning biologically active (poisonous, infectious) substances, genetically modified organisms which can be used as biological weapons

-  separate conclusions from State environmental impact assessments;

-  information about the technical characteristics of hydro-technical structures;

-  information concerning the functioning of the Russian Federation Black Sea Fleet on Ukrainian territory;

We are convinced that that the content of these MEP Orders are in breach of the Ukrainian Constitution; the Aarhus Convention, the laws “On the protection of the natural environment” and “On information” which guarantee each person the right to free access to information on environmental matters. The restriction of this right may only be imposed by law. In view of this, the above-mentioned MEP Orders and orders of other authorities which restrict the right of access must be revoked.

We can testify to a large number of cases where the right of civic environmental organizations to take part in decision-making on prominent design proposals and strategic programmes which will have significant impact on the environment.

The Cabinet of Ministers and other authorities have flagrantly ignored public protest in taking decisions regarding the canal through the Danube Biosphere Reserve; construction of containers for used nuclear waste at nuclear power plants; the Tashlyk and Dniester Hydro-Accumulating Power Stations; unlawful reduction of the boundaries of many reserve areas; the passing of an Energy strategy envisaging the construction in post-Chernobyl Ukraine of 22 new nuclear power plants. Considerable problems remain also with access to justice and application of the law. Numerous precedents of intrusion by financial and political groups in the work of the court undermine confidence in the justice system generally.

We are aware that the Second Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention found that Ukraine was failing to adhere to the Convention. Yet the critical conclusions of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).and the Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention have been consistently concealed from the Ukrainian public and they have not been published in any official publication. We must with regret state that over the last three years the Government has still not implemented the recommendations from the Second Meeting that Ukraine:

-  bring its legislation and practice into line with the provisions of the Convention;

­  no later than the end of 2005 present the UNECE Committee on Observance of the Convention with a Strategy Plan for integrating its provisions in domestic legislation, together with the relevant schedules, practical mechanisms and procedure for enforcing implementing legislation..

In Ukraine the relevant steps have not yet been taken to draw up a Strategy policy for implementing the Aarhus Convention. The so-called “Strategy” and “Plan for strategic decisions of the Ministry for Environmental Protection” which are to be presented by the Ministry to the Third Meeting of the Parties cannot be considered a strategy in its structure, content or in the procedure for drawing it up.

The Ministry for Environmental Protection as executive body with regard to environmental policy cannot pass its own regulatory acts until documents of a conceptual nature are approved in the higher bodies of power. The official submission of the “Plan for strategic decisions” to the UNECE Committee on Observance of the Convention  without prior discussion with interested members of the public demonstrates the over lack of respect of the present management of the MEP for the citizens of their country. We are convinced that the draft Strategy Plan must pass through a full procedure of public consultation. We believe it necessary to pass the Strategy Plan and National Action Plan on implementing the Aarhus Convention in Ukraine at the highest state level though a parliamentary Resolution.

In view of this we would ask the members of the Third Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention and the Committee on Observance of the Convention to find unacceptable the draft Strategy and Plan for strategic decisions proposed by the MEP.

In our view the National Report of Ukraine on implementation of the Aarhus Convention in 2007 is overloaded with redundant and miscellaneous information. It is intended to create the illusion that things are generally well as concerns implementation of the Convention. The Report has not however given any attention to problems not overcome by Ukraine in this.

We do not consider that in the process of drawing up the National Report, the Ministry for Environmental Protection ensured an acceptable degree of openness and participation of the interested public.   We are critical of a situation where the process for preparing the National Report is concentrated solely on the Ministry for Environmental Protection with there being only illusory participation by other higher bodies of power.

We consider unworthy the position taken by the higher state bodies which are effectively avoiding fulfilling their commitments and resorting to an inept imitation of the process of implementation of the Aarhus Convention by placing all responsibility for its implementation on the institutionally weaker Ministry for Environmental Protection. 

It is clear to us that long procrastination in implementing the Aarhus Convention is unacceptable in view of the Euro-integration plans of the political leaders. If the question is not raised now of the responsibility of the higher state bodies of power for the years of non-implementation of the provisions of the Aarhus Convention, Ukraine will soon have to forget about political declarations regarding the establishment of a law-based and democratic state and its European choice.

We are however convinced that Ukraine’s adherence to the principles of “environmental democracy” declared by the Aarhus Convention are a vital factor in defending people’s environmental rights and observance of environmental safety in Ukraine, Central and Eastern Europe in general.

In view of this we consider that the Third Meeting of the Parties to the Aarhus Convention has all grounds to conclude:

that Ukraine has totally failed to fulfil the recommendations of the UNECE Committee on Observance of the Convention and the Second Third Meeting of the Parties in Almati;

that the “Strategy Plan for the Implementation of the Aarhus Convention in Ukraine” and the “Plan For Strategic Decisions of the Ministry for Environmental Protection” in their present form and without ensuring procedures for public participation in their preparation are unacceptable;

that the general situation with adherence by Ukraine to the Aarhus Convention is unacceptable.

  We call on the members of the Council and UNECE Committee on Observance of the Aarhus Convention to apply the most effective measures of influence at their disposal to force the state authorities to fully honour their commitments.

  In our opinion, the Parties to the Convention should toughen procedure for ensuring adherence. In this sense we would support the aims and proposals declared in the Vienna Declaration of the European Eco-Forum.

  We believe that the problem issues in adherence to the Aarhus Convention could be set aside for special consideration in other international structures, for example, by the OSCE, the European Parliament and higher UN structures.

  We are convinced that strengthening the role of the Aarhus Convention will be our next joint step towards a humane and just world order, based on an understanding of humanity’s bond with the Earth.

This appeal was passed by discussion through the electronic mail network of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union from 9-10 June 2008.

On refugees

Human rights prevail in Lema Susarov case

The Kyiv District Administrative Court has declared wrongful the decision of the Prosecutor General allowing the extradition of Lema Susarov to the Russian Federation.

The Prosecutor General’s office has already revoked its decision and released Mr Susarov from custody.

The court ruling was yesterday, however in any case involving a person in custody it is wise to hold fire before reporting to avoid any harmful consequences.

A HUGE congratulations to Lema Susarov, of course, and to his lawyer, Oleh Levytsky, who has been involved since the start in making sure that a terrible miscarriage of justice did not take place.  Oleh works for the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union’s Fund for the Defence of Victims of Human Rights Abuse.

It should be mentioned that a number of human rights organizations in Ukraine came out in defence of Lema Susarov, as did the Human Rights Ombudsperson Nina Karpachova whose representative argued together with Oleh Levytsky on Mr Susarov’s behalf against three representatives of the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Lema Susarov’s case was defended by the UNHCR, the Ukrainian Diaspora, Amnesty International, lots and lots of concerned people  - to whom a big thank you.

Court decision over Lema Susarov adjourned

The court hearing into the appeal lodged by Oleh Levytsky, lawyer representing Lema Susarov, was adjourned on Tuesday until 23 June. The appeal is against the decision by the Prosecutor General to extradite Susarov, an ethnic Chechen, to Russia.  That decision dates back to July last year, however Susarov applied for refugee status, and his application was turned down in January 2008.

As already reported, Susarov has been recognized as a mandate refugee by the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees first in Azerbaijan, then in Kyiv.  Finland has offered to give him asylum.

It is not clear why the Ukrainian authorities are so slow to understand the importance of this case not just for one man, but for Ukraine’s reputation.

Un-sign international conventions or start observing them

The civic project “Without borders” is calling on the Ukrainian authorities to either withdraw their signatures from a number of international conventions or start fulfilling their commitments.

Together with other civic organizations they held a demonstration outside the Prosecutor General’s Office on Monday in support of Chechen Lema Susarov.  The young man is under threat of extradition to Russia where many are convinced he could face torture.

As already reported here, Lemma Susarov fled from the Chechen Republic to Azerbaijan at the end of 2005. In 2006 the UNHCR office in Baku declared him a prima facie refugee, issuing him with registration number 6030. Number 6032 was given to Ruslan Yeliyev from the same village. According to Lemma Susarov, the two men lived in the same flat. In the evening of 9 November 2006 Ruslan Yeliyev was abducted. Fearing for his life, Lemma Susarov fled to Ukraine.

At the end of March this year, a Chechen website “Kavkaz Centre” posted a report saying that the mutilated body of Ruslan Yeliyev had been dropped in a sack from what was believed to have been a Russian helicopter near the village he was from. The Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Republic of Ingushetia declared Lemma Susarov wanted. He was accused of an armed robbery of a shop allegedly carried out on 5 February 2004.

The 24-year-old has spent a year already in the Lukyanivsk SIZO [remand centre]. After the Kyiv office of the UNHCR also declared him a mandate refugee, Finland declared its willingness to accept him.  Since then the Ukrainian authorities have turned down his application for asylum and the Prosecutor General has claimed that the extradition is warranted since he is supposedly wanted on criminal charges.

Susarov’s lawyer is appealing and the next hearing on his potential extradition is scheduled for 10 June. 

Human rights groups are convinced that the Susarov case could become a precedent and its result vital for all those seeking asylum in Ukraine. This however is only if the extradition does not take place.

Readmission agreement with Russia in question

A draft law on ratification of a Ukrainian-Russian agreement on readmission has been drafted in parliament. Some experts predict that even if it is passed, the provisions of the agreement may not be implemented in full.

The agreement regarding the return of detained illegal migrants between Ukraine and Russia was signed back in winter the year before last at a meeting of an inter-governmental commission. According to the Creative Director of the Ukrainian-Russian Information Centre Oleh Pokalchuk, after this agreement comes into effect, Moscow will be faced with the prospect of readmitting illegal migrants who entered Ukraine from its territory in conditions where Russia is unable to ensure physical guard over its own borders. “This is a good idea which is a bit late but will confront a huge number of local problems with its implementation”.  According to the agreement on readmission signed last year with the EU, illegal migrants who entered European countries from Ukraine are subject to return.  This is while a large number of illegal migrants come to Ukraine specifically from the Russian Federation.

Penal institutions

No sign of mass beating of prisoners in Colony No. 100

Representatives of human rights organizations have found no sign of mass beatings of prisoners in the Temnivska Penal Colony No. 100 which is in the Kharkiv region.

Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and KHPG legal expert Arkady Bushchenko and bar lawyer Iryna Yakovets visited the colony on 10 June, following a press statement from the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group and some other reports which the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group received.  The penal staff initially refused to let them speak to the prisoners, despite the appropriate appeal from KHPG, however after a phone call to the Head of the Head of the Kharkiv region division of the State Department for the Execution of Sentences, permission was given.

On 9 June the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group reported that they had learned of torture applied to five named prisoners at the Colony.

According to Arkady Bushchenko, they were able to speak with four of these prisoners alone. None of them said anything about events on 7 June, or about having their arms and legs bound in wet towels causing acute pain when the towels dried (this being one of the forms of torture mentioned in the VHG report). All of the complaints they heard were of an individual nature and there was no mention of mass beatings or mass use of torture.

Not all of the prisoners wanted to speak to them. Arkady Bushchenko says that they looked frightened which suggests that they didn’t want any unpleasantness from the colony administration, but stresses that one cannot make any absolute conclusions as to why they refused.

Point of view

Moral responsibility

The scope of human song seems unlimited: we sing of love and hatred, about grief and joy, revenge, crime. We don’t, admittedly, sing about the Holocaust, about Holodomor, or Chernobyl. This list, if you think about it, is also long. The reason surely needs no articulating.

We don’t sing about them, yet we increasingly compare or use them as metaphor.

The author of an article entitled “Moral Holodomor. When will we stop it?” ( ) blames the President and Ukrainian politicians for what she calls the Moral Holodomor of the Ukrainian people, more terrible she suggests than Holodomor itself.  That the criticisms are warranted I wouldn’t dispute for a second, and indeed could add quite a number. Doubts about using such a metaphor I would have kept to myself, only the parallel, as well as certain conclusions, seem disturbingly misleading

75 years ago millions of adults and children were the victims of a murderous regime which sentenced them to a slow and terrible death by starvation. They had nowhere to run and could do nothing to save themselves and their families.

The accusations in the article are against politicians who have not lived up to our expectations. .The problem is that they never do.  Are Ukrainian politicians worse than others?  The shameful cavorting over recent years might lead some to think that they are a particular mutant form and that abroad all is well. I would suggest remembering how children (in any country!) behave after being spoiled rotten and encouraged to believe that they can do what they like. Perhaps we should give this some thought before attempting stringent measures against mutants?

Difficult not to recall the classic Anderson tale  the  Emperor’s Fine Clothes . The Emperor proved naked, and oh horrors, his entire entourage as well.  The image is not only grotesque, but disturbing, however another parallel requires adjustment. We are not dealing with kings and queens, nor with a good (or bad) tsar-batyushka, but with democratically-elected leaders. 

Yes, the system is flawed and needs changing. However, Maidan convinced the world of Ukraine’s unequivocal choice - democracy. It is worth remembering that none of the elections since have changed that assessment.

What nobody is convinced about is that Ukraine’s politicians have learned their lessons.

Perhaps it’s time we teach them?

Appealing to conscience is undoubtedly correct however this should not preclude looking for other forms of leverage. Politicians want to stay in power and are all too often prepared to do just about anything to achieve this.

Except keeping their promises, however this is true the world over. What stands out in Ukraine is the degree to which they break their word with impunity. In an ideal world, children understand themselves that they shouldn’t be horrible to others, and politicians realize that they are not there to serve only their own interests. This being a less than ideal world, they need to be reminded – and often.

At the last elections the socialists had a head-on encounter with a fundamental principle of democracy, or more accurately, with the danger of ignoring it. I imagine they’re still smarting now, yet judging from the rumours about negotiations in parliament, there are still those wishing to step into the same potholes. Some marriages, regardless of the degree of convenience, were and remain unacceptable to many voters. It is incredible that any politician should even be discussing such variants.

If politicians are convinced that they can get away with anything, then we are doing something wrong.

At present politicians make assurances that x or y will be done, and when they’re not, people abuse them a bit and then fall silent.  After the tenth such occasion (and only politicians really slow on the uptake need so many), it all becomes as convincing as the declarations of love on a soapbox opera.

The charge against politicians of being unable to unite is valid however surely it applies also to voters.  Perhaps there would be less lost votes (for marginal parties, or against all candidates) if we could put aside disillusionment and frustration, and agree certain demands which must be kept.

Open candidate lists are vital, and unwillingness to agree to them looks seriously suspicious for any political faction.  Such reluctance should look just as dodgy every day, every week until they buckle under. There are plenty of issues which will inevitably lead to fierce discussion. Yet surely there could be agreement on those fundamental points which are placing the very nature of democratic choice in jeopardy? I have in mind lack of transparency with candidate lists, excessive levels of deputy immunity and no guarantees that the party you vote for will not radically change its affiliation.

So what do you do if they’re all equally reluctant to learn?  Well, firstly, Darwin can’t have been that seriously off track and they’re probably not all devoid of at least the instinct for surivival. Secondly, there are plenty of other levers. Some changes we almost take for granted.  In 2004, Kuchma visited Putin for a mere few hours before one of the rounds of voting (whether to get advice or to report to “Big Brother”, we don’t know). In 2006 and 2007, all political parties vied for the attention of European politicians whom they unfailingly assured of their commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

If politicians take so much trouble over democratic gloss, then it’s safe to assume that the child’s question about why the king is naked would be less than welcome.  During the Human Rights Ombudsperson’s frequent trips abroad, it wouldn’t hurt to ask how she finds the time and (considerable) funds for such trips when, in violation of the law, she has not provided reports for years on her work. A public question during a meeting abroad about why her Secretariat sends letters from prisoners seeking her protection to the penal department most interested in concealing allegations of wrongdoing, would do her reputation no good. It will do anything but harm to the cause of human rights in Ukraine.

The President appears to have abandoned vitally needed plans for judicial reform the concept for which he himself approved two years ago.  If he now considers such reform inadvisable, let him explain why, both to his own citizens and to Europe.

This is an area where the media have a vital role to play.  Yes, easier to repeat fine-sounding words about plans for the future from public officials or politicians. Sometimes news headlines give the impression that all problems are solved. One ministry is apparently about to deal with the rise in xenophobia, another with unemployment. All without fail know who’s responsible for the dire state of the mines and will definitely make changes … until the news becomes stale and the media fall silent.

And yet huge amounts of homework are not required, after all. A mere perusal of some of the current reports on human rights websites will provide ample material and a clear indicator of where another opinion might be less than glowing. 

If Darwin wasn’t wrong, then politicians will themselves cotton on to the fact that unwillingness to answer for your actions leads not only to moral catastrophe, but to undesirable political consequences. We can help the understanding process.

News from the CIS countries

Russian court closes the website

A Moscow court has ordered the closure of the website IngushetiaRU “for spreading extremist material”.  The prosecutor’s office had sought the closure of the site in connection with the publication of an interview with the leader of the Ingush opposition Mysa Keligov which had previously been found extremist by the court.

The court read out only the resolution so their motives are as yet unknown. The site’s lawyer has already stated that the defence does not agree and will be appearing against the ruling.

The editor of the site has expressed bemusement over the ruling. The site reports that during the court hearing on 5 June the prosecutor’s representative unexpectedly presented a previously unknown court ruling from 10 April 2008 finding material on the site extremist. 

The court claims that representatives of the website were notified but did not attend.  IngushetiaRU is adamant that it was not informed and knew nothing of such a ruling until this Thursday.

The prosecutor states that the site published a call to residents of Ingushetia to take part in an unauthorized rally this January. At this event leaflets were handed out calling for a violent overthrow of the regime.

The owner of the site Magomed Yevloev, argues that his site had nothing to do with the disturbances in January and did not publish the material calling for a violent overthrowing of the regime. He acknowledges that material found to be extremist had been posted on the site, but they had appeared on a forum where anybody can express their views, and they had been removed.

Based on material from and

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2008, #06