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Monitoring and protection of the freedom of the press and other human rights and freedoms in Ukraine

The review of the intermediate results of the USA Embassy project "Human rights and the freedom of the press" for March-August 2003 (the report at the conference on 18 September)

The review of the intermediate results of the USA Embassy project “Human rights and the freedom of the press” for March-August 2003 (the report at the conference on 18 September)

Yevgeniy Zakharov, the Kharkov group for human rights protection

On 8 November 2002 Steven Pifer, the second deputy of the USA State Secretary in charge of the questions of Europe and Eurasia, announced the competition of the projects of the Ukrainian NGOs and mass media, which would promote the freedom of the press and the observance of human rights. The goals of the competition: a) increasing the ability of regional NGOs to realize the monitoring and to inform about the violations of human rights; b) informing the public about the international standards on human rights and the freedom of the press; c) strengthening the juridical base of the protection of human rights and the freedom of mass media. The priority of the topics: a) monitoring and informing about the violations of human rights; b) creation of the reference service for rendering the juridical aid to the victims of the violations of human rights or the freedom of speech; c) inspection of prisons and other establishments closed for public, distribution of the information about the upkeep conditions in these establishments; d) informing the public about human rights and the freedom of speech by means of TV and radio features, special columns in newspapers and magazines, consultations and conduction of round tables.

The organizers of the competition received 234 applications. 42 organizations became the winners: they got the grants (6-8 thousand USD each, the total sum was more than 300,000 USD) for the realization of the project “Human rights and the freedom of the press” during the period April-December 2003. The Embassy gave 20 grants for the work in the sphere of the freedom of mass media and 22 grants for the work in other spheres of human rights and freedoms. The grants were distributed after the regional principle: each oblast of Ukraine got 1-2 grants, and I believe that that was an undoubtedly positive feature of the project.

Kharkiv Human Raghts Protection Group (the KhG, in what follows) fulfills the following functions in this project: coordination, collection and distribution of the information, consultations, preparation and conduction of joint actions (the training at the beginning of the project and the conference with the demonstration of intermediate results in September) and the generalization of the results of the work of all partners in the form of intermediate and final reports. In March 2004 the KhG must prepare, print and spread the final report among the governmental and non-governmental organizations.

The draft began from the 5-day training for the participants of the project and other organizations. During March the KhG prepared and printed the book “The freedom of expression in Ukraine-2002” in Ukrainian and English (1000 and 500 copies, 320 and 160 pages, respectively). The training was carried on 29 March-2 April in Kharkov, 89 activists of non-governmental human rights protecting organizations and 10 experts-trainers took part in the training. Representatives of international human rights protecting organizations, such as “Article 19” (the Great Britain) and Helsinki foundation of human rights (Poland), as well as the well-known Ukrainian specialists, were engaged in the training. On 29-30 March the participants of the training attended the lectures “Introduction to the conception of human rights”, “What human rights are?” and “Public reception offices of human rights protecting organizations”. They also discussed the technical and organizational aspects of the project: joint activities and duties of the partners, spreading the information, consultations, reporting and the plans of all organizations taking part in the project. After this the participants divided into four groups and considered the examples of the successful monitoring projects and the plans for further work in the following spheres: the freedom of speech and the press, access to information, access to justice, freedom from torture and cruel treatment. On 31 March-2 April four specialists from the Helsinki foundation of human rights conducted the school on the methods of the monitoring of human rights.

Each participant of the training got the following books and informational materials:

1. “Freedom of expression in Ukraine-2001” (328 pp.)

2. “Freedom of expression in Ukraine-2002” (320 pp.)

3. “Freedom and practices of mass media in Ukraine” (128 n.)

4. The bulletin “Freedom of expression and privacy”, Nos. 3,4 (2000), 1-4(2001), 1-4 (2002), 1 (2003).

5. “Against torture. The UNO international mechanisms” (152 pp.)

6. “Against torture. The Council of Europe international mechanisms” (200 pp.)

7. “Against torture. The review of messages, 1997-2001” (200 pp.)

8. “Freedom of peaceful assemblies and the freedom of associations in Ukraine” (200 pp.)

9. “Observance of human rights in Ukraine-2001” (64 pp.)

10. “Monitoring of human rights. Informational materials”

11. “Fulfillment of the projects on the basis of the USA Embassy grants. Informational materials”

Besides, every participant received the books needed for the work on the project, which had been bought by the KhG: the Russian-English and Ukrainian-English dictionaries of juridical terms, popular juridical encyclopedia, Civil Code of Ukraine that would come into effect on 1 January 2004, reference book with the samples of court claims and other editions.

The monitoring of the freedom of the press was realized on the national (the Institute of mass information (IMI) and the KhG) and regional (16 organizations-partners) levels. The IMI and the KhG used the similar methods in their work. They obtained the data about the informational conflicts from their regional partners, sent their representatives to the places of the conflicts for the ascertainment of details and rendering the juridical consultations, represented the rights of journalists and mass media in court, informed the public about the events through their sites and electronic delivery, generalized the collected information in the monthly electronic editions “Barometer of freedom” (the IMI) and “Freedom of expression in Ukraine” (the KhG) in Ukrainian and English. The IMI cooperated mainly with its own regional correspondents, and the KhG used the materials given by the organizations, who took part in the project, and other organizations: the IMI, Association of professional journalists and admen of the Zhytomir oblast, Kirovograd association “Public initiatives”, Public committee for the protection of the constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens (Lugansk), Kherson, Transcarpathian, Lugansk and Chernivtsy oblast organizations of the Voters’ Committee of Ukraine, newspaper “Vikna” (Kalush), Poltava media club and so on. As a result, the cases were disclosed of direct or indirect censorship on the side of various organs of state power, as well as the attacks on journalists; several cases on defamation were won. It is noteworthy that the IMI and the KhG supplemented each other: the IMI was mainly occupied with the legal aid, and the KhG – with the analysis and interpretation of the law drafts concerning the freedom of expression.

One of the successful ideas of the project was the organization of the consultations for the participants of the project in the places of their work and in Kharkov. In April-August Oleg Tseluyko, a member of the KhG, visited the organizations-partners in Cherkassy, Poltava, Kremenchug, Sumy, Zaporozhye, Kirovograd, Znamenka, Chernivtsy, Kalush, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, Lutsk, Novovolynsk, Khmilnyk, Khmilnytsky, Ternopil, Uzhgorod, Chernigiv and Zhytomir. There he met, besides the partners, with the representatives of the oblast committees in charge of information (regional branches of the State committee in charge of TV and radio broadcasting), appeal courts, oblast prosecutor’s offices. In that way he tried to learn the opinion of the second party in the regional informational conflicts in order to establish the reasons of such conflicts. These visits were very useful both for the collection of information and for the increase of the effectiveness of juridical consultations. For instance, the quick collection and distribution of the information about the criminal case after Article 344 of the Criminal Code against seven local newspapers, meetings with the editors of these newspapers and with the representatives of prosecutor’s office, who fulfilled the order of the General Prosecutor’s office about the seizure of the newspapers and interrogations of the editors-in-chief, as well as the debates on the prospects of this criminal case drew the public attention to the case, the circumstances of the case were actively discussed in the press, and the violations of criminal procedure were sharply criticized. As a result, in May the case was closed.

The members of the Association of professional journalists and admen of the Zhytomir oblast successfully conducted the regional monitoring of the freedom of speech in all directions: they considered the informational conflicts in the region, rendered the free juridical consultations to journalists and mass media, in particular to those, against whom the claims had been handed to court, and sometimes realized the defense in court processes. Besides, the Association elucidated the generalized results of the monitoring in its own weekly “Media Advocate” (two double issues were published: Nos. 1-2 and 3-4), one of the positive features of which was the publication of court decisions. The Association conducted the monitoring of 13 newspapers of the Zhytomir oblast and got very important results. As a result, they uncovered the cases of meddling into the activities of the editorial boards of local editions on the side of the local power organs, in particular the oblast state administration, that passed some materials to the editorial boards, which materials the newspapers were obliged to print. By the conclusions of the researchers, the local press has the tendency to elucidate the socially important topics (for, example the discussion of the constitutional reform) from one point of view. The alternative opinions are absolutely absent in state mass media and are presented insufficiently in the independent editions. Opposition political figures have no opportunity to publish their views: they can express their opinions only in the party editions, which are subordinated to them. The non-governmental editions publish the materials of the opposition party leaders only as advertisements (and not during election campaigns). In this way the editions justify the publication of such materials in the eyes of the state organs.

The detailed description of the regional informational conflicts was presented by the Kherson organization of the Voters’ Committee of Ukraine as a result of the monitoring of 10 local newspapers. The same sources, i.e. the local newspapers, were used by the magazine “I” for the analysis of the state of the freedom of speech in the Lviv and Volyn oblasts. All materials on this topic published by three most popular newspapers of the Lviv oblast and three newspapers of the Volyn oblast were analyzed. The results are the following: the Lviv oblast is noticeably more active and open for the press than the Volyn oblast, that Lviv newspapers are richer, which fact influences the quality of the materials, although, all in all, the total level of the materials, in the opinion of the researchers, is very low.

The Sumy oblast committee of youth organizations conducted the sociological poll of the inhabitants of Sumy and several towns of the Sumy oblast: Glukhiv, Lebedin, Okhtyrka and Romny. The poll concerned the transparency of the work of local power organs and the confidence in the press. The results of the poll were distressing: the majority of the respondents did not believe that the Presidential election would be honest, transparent and democratic, and the proportion of positive answers to the question about the possibility of exerting influence on the power through public organizations varied from 51.7% in Okhtyrka to 31% in Lebedin. So, much work should be done to reach the real impact of public organizations on the situation and to change the public attitude to such activities.

Along with the monitoring of the freedom of the press, the participants of the project carried out the monitoring of other rights and freedoms. So, the Kharkov oblast union of soldiers’ mothers prepared the analytic report on the basis of the results of the monitoring of human rights in the army. The authors of the report gave the classification of the violations of human rights and proposed the ways of liquidation of these violations. Kharkiv Human Raghts Protection Group collected the information about the cases of torture and cruel treatment in militia, penitentiaries and army, analyzed the legislation in order to find the legal norms vulnerable from the standpoint of the possibility of applying torture. The charity fund “Povernennia do zhyttia” analyzed the normative legal acts that concern the AIDS-infected people. The Kherson oblast organization of the VCU conducted the monitoring of the violations of the wide sphere of human rights after the publications in 10 local editions and prepared the systematic register of such violations. The similar work was fulfilled by the Transcarpathian branch of the VCU.

Some partners, in particular the KhG, attended both to the adopted law drafts and the law drafts that were still considered by the Supreme Rada. The comments were prepared to a number of laws and law drafts connected with the topic of the project: “On the introduction of changes to the Constitution of Ukraine”, “On the freedom of consciousness and religious organizations”, “On the struggle with terrorism”, “On the introduction of changes to some laws of Ukraine (in the connection with the introduction of the Law “On the struggle with terrorism”)”, “On the protection of personal data”, “On the freedom of movement”, “On the State register of physical persons”, “On the introduction of changes to some legal acts of Ukraine (concerning the protection of state secrets)” and the draft of the Criminal-Procedural Code. These propositions and remarks were sent to the corresponding Parliamentary committees, placed on several sites, published in the press, in particular, in the newspapers “Dzerkalo tyzhnia”, “Yuridychny visnyk Ukrainy”, “Lvivska gazeta” and the magazine “Korrespondent”. For instance, the analysis of the Law “On the introduction of changes to some legal acts of Ukraine (concerning the protection of state secrets)”, which had been adopted by the Supreme Rada on 9 July, was printed in a number of well-known electronic editions (sites “Maydan”, “Obkom”, “Telekritika”, IMI, KhG), in the newspapers “Dzerkalo tyzhnia” and “Yuridychny visnyk Ukrainy”. Earlier the journalists’ community and the experts in the sphere of the freedom of expression, including the IMI and KhG, turned to the President with the proposition to veto this law. As a result, the President used this right and the existing version of the Law will not come into effect. The Parliament also took into account some propositions by the KhG on the law draft “On the introduction of changes to some laws of Ukraine (in the connection with the introduction of the Law “On the struggle with terrorism”)”: the legislators removed the most odious norms, which permitted, in some cases, the wiretapping without court warrant and the conduction of the ODA without the institution of a criminal case.

The participants of the project also rendered the direct aid to the victims of the violations of human rights, combining this aid with the enlightenment work (mainly through the publications in the local press) in order to teach the people to protect their rights by themselves. So, during the period under report, 375 persons turned to the public reception office of the KhG, among them 102 persons turned by the electronic mail through the KhG site. Everybody, who tuned to us, got the consultations, and some of them got the legal aid (in the cases, where, in our opinion, the law-enforcing organs violated the human rights). The majority of the complainers are poor people, who cannot afford to pay for advocate’s services. The complaints concerned the unjust, in the opinion of the complainers, court verdicts or the decisions on civil cases; pay arrears; actions of local power organs connected with the debts for communal services; actions of law-enforcing organs, in particular, the complaints about the application of torture; repressive actions of power organs against the opposition editions and groups, etc. Two cases on pay arrears were successfully completed owing to the claims to the European Court (the claims were prepared by the KhG) connected with the violation of Article 6 of the European Convention of human rights: non-execution of the court decision about the payment of the arrears of wages. The arrears were paid at once after the Secretariat of the Court was informed about the beginning of the communication on these cases. After that the claimants recalled their writ from the Court register. The communication on another claim to the European Court, which was prepared by the KhG after the fact of applying torture in the Kyivskiy district militia precinct of Kharkov, has been started, and there are many chances that this claim will be accepted. Besides, a defamation case against Poltava journalist Druzhinina, which was controlled by the KhG, has been also completed happily in a court: the claim was rejected. There were some other good results: for example, an illegally instituted criminal case was closed after the interference of the KhG. Lawyers of the Podilsk center of human rights went to the towns of the oblast and rendered 285 legal consultations in the consultation centers. The public reception office of the Kirovograd Association “Public initiatives” received 50 clients per moths, which was twice more than it had been planned. The greater part of the people, who turned to the reception office, represented the socially unprotected layers of the population: pensioners, invalids and unemployed. The same situation was observed in the reception offices of other participants of the project: Zaporozhye oblast public organization “Youth Rukh”, “Podilsk human rights foundation”, Congress of businessmen of the Ivano-Frankivsk oblast, etc. The limited time of my speech does not permit to tell about the effective work of other partners of the project: the Cherkassy union of soldiers’ mothers, newspaper “Yug” (Odessa), etc.

Not all participants of the project presented the information about their activities and prepared the intermediate reports in the proper time (although we see from the reports that the work of, for instance, the all-Ukrainian independent association of judges and the Donetsk fund “Dobrota” was fruitful), so the final conclusions can be done only after the completion of the project. However, one can see even now that the project is rather successful, and many important and useful results were obtained during the work after the project.

Now I want to say several words about the preparation of the generalized intermediate report. The KhG got the intermediate reports about the fulfillment of the project from 24 organizations out of 42, 7 of these reports were, in fact, not reports, but the materials prepared in the course of the fulfillment. Thus, the KhG had the opportunity to generalize only some part of the information. This information is contained in five brochures of A4 format, which were printed in 200 copies and spread among the participants of the conference. One of the brochures includes 17 intermediate reports (“Intermediate reports of the participants of the project”, 56 pp.). The results of the monitoring of the freedom of expression are presented in the brochure “Freedom of expression in Ukraine-2003, January-August” (172 pp.). The booklet “Regional monitoring of the freedom of the press” (40 pp.) holds the materials about Zhytomir, Sumy, Lviv and Lugansk. The brochure “Legal comments” (96 pp.) contains the analyses of law drafts and the comments to them (all materials were prepared by the KhG, except one text by the fund “Povernennia do zhyttia”). The booklet “Monitoring of human rights in Ukraine. Some aspects” (148 pp.) includes the review of the facts of torture and cruel treatment collected by the KhG and its partners during the reporting period, the results of the monitoring of human rights in the army and two regional monitorings of human rights prepared by the Kherson and Transcarpathian oblast branches of the Voters’ Committee of Ukraine. Besides the KhG prepared the booklet “Freedom of Expression in Ukraine-2003, January-August” (58 pp., this is a partial translation into English of the corresponding Ukrainian booklet) and published the brochure “Observance of human rights in Ukraine-2002” (the translation of the report of the USA State Department). The conferees also have the opportunity to survey the exhibition of other KhG editions and to place an order for the literature they need for their work: we will send this literature by post gratis.

The USA Embassy hopes to widen the Ukrainian network of NGOs that will conduct the monitoring of the violations of human rights and the freedom of the press in the regions. Perhaps, in future this network will be endorsed by such international donor organizations as the UNO Program of development, coalition “Partnership for transparent society”, Foundation “Eurasia”, International Foundation “Vidrodjennia”, National Democratic Republican Institute, European Commission and the Institute “Open Society”.

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