Intermediate results of the program of public consultation

Oleksiy Svetikov, Severodonetsk
The Voters’ Committee of Ukraine is realizing in five oblasts of Ukraine, including the Lugansk oblast, the pilot program of public consultation directed at rendering free legal aid to voters, first of all, in courts. The term of the fulfillment of the program is June-December 2003. The program is financially supported by the Mott foundation. The intermediate results of the fulfillment of the program were presented on 31 October at the press conference in Lugansk. Press release about this conference was sent to the Lugansk oblast mass media.

The VCU became aware of the necessity of such program in 2002, after the previous election, when, because of the absence of the juridical bureaus in oblast departments, the organization could not carry to the logical conclusion the numerous violations of the election laws. The main direction of the new program is the election conflicts, and the Lugansk branch of the VCU is ready to take part in these conflicts in any place of the Lugansk oblast.

One more priority task of the program is the protection of political rights, first of all, the rights stated by Articles 10 and 11 of the International Convention on human rights. The potential of our organization gives us the opportunity to help citizens at all stages of court procedure, from defense in courts of the first instance to compilation of the appeals to the European Court of human rights.

Since the beginning of the work after the program, our lawyers took part in the consideration of 3 cases, which might be classified as election conflicts, 5 claims against mass media and the authors of publications in mass media, and 4 cases on the protection of citizens’ right for peaceful assemblies. All these cases were completed.

In what follows we present the brief review of these cases:

Election conflicts:

1. Case of A. Matvienko, a deputy of the Severodonetsk town council. The executive committee of the Severodonetsk town council handed the claim against A. Matvienko about the protection of business reputation. The claim was connected with the fact that on 26 December 2002, at the session of the town council, the deputy proposed to disband the executive committee. Matvienko substantiated his proposition with the facts of violation of human rights by the executive committee. The CVU lawyer, who represented the deputy’s interests, adduced the following arguments: the Severodonetsk executive committee was not a juridical person, so it could not be a plaintiff; according to part 4 Article 30 of the Law “On the status of deputies of local councils”, a deputy could not be responsible for the contents of his speeches at the sessions, except the cases of libel and insulting; the facts of violation of human rights, to which the deputy had referred, were confirmed by court decisions. On 2 September the court stopped the consideration of the claim of the executive committee because of the repeated default of the plaintiff.

2. Case of S. Gulenko, a deputy of the Severodonetsk town council. A CVU lawyer supported in court a claim handed by the deputy against the illegal decision of the territorial election commission, which approved the protocol of voters’ meeting concerning the recall of the deputy. In this case the CVU protected the interests of the voters, who (for the third time) elected S. Gulenko to the town council, and the reason for his recall was, in our opinion, purely political. Our lawyer tried to prove the validity of the complaint with, for example, the fact that the reason for the recall was not stated in the protocol of the sitting of the territorial commission and was not announced at the meeting. Moreover, the initiative group of the meeting was not elected, the members of the initiative group did not hand the protocol to the territorial commission (the court could not establish, how the commission got the protocol), and the commission, when taking the decision, refused to consider the appeal of the deputy about the violations, which took place during the meeting. It is strange, but the latter fact directly follows from the protocol of the sitting of the territorial commission: the first question of the agenda concerned the approval of the protocol of the meeting, and the third question dealt with the complaint against this protocol. On 3 October the Severodonetsk town court Satisfied S. Gulenko’s claim: the decision of the territorial commission was declared invalid and was cancelled.

Claims against mass media and the authors of publications in mass media:

1. Claim of N. Protopopova, the head of the Severodonetsk executive committee department of the reception of citizens, against the newspaper “Tretiy sektor”. The claim was connected with the publication of the material “Referendumofobia”, in which it was described how, on 19 November 2002, four town dwellers tried to hand to the executive committee the notification about a public meeting. The notification was accepted neither by the department of citizens’ appeals, nor in the general department, nor in the organizational department. The claimant believed that the newspaper had spread the untrue information thus inflicting to her the moral damage equal to 3000 hryvnas. According to Protopopova’s claim, on 19 November some people really brought a notification about public meeting to her, but she did not know how to accept it. While she tried to learn how to do that, the woman, who brought the notification, allegedly went away.

During the trial the citizens, who brought the notification, and the workers of the executive committee were interrogated. The court established that on 19 November these citizens attempted to hand the notification to N. Protopopova three times during 40 minutes, but she refused to accept the document saying that she had to familiarize with the corresponding normative documents. On 30 June 2003 the Severodonetsk court decided that the information spread by the newspaper was true and refused to satisfy the claim. The plaintiff did not appeal against the decision.

2. Case of O. Zarvovskiy. The claim against O. Zarvovskiy, the superintendent of Severodonetsk school No. 11, was handed by the town education department and the head of this department. The claimants believed that the defendant had offended their honor and dignity by publication “How the Ukrainian people is robbed” in one of local newspapers. The moral sufferings were valued at 5000 hryvnas. In our opinion, the information, which the plaintiffs demanded to refute, was, in fact, the evaluative judgment of the author concerning the problem of collecting money for school needs from pupils’ parents. As to the negative facts described in the article (for example, on the thriftless attitude to school property), they were not denied at all. On 22 October 2003, during the trial, the plaintiffs recalled their claim.

Cases on the protection of citizens’ right for peaceful assemblies:

The claim against a decision of the Severodonetsk executive comittee. On 5 November 2002 the executive committee of the Severodonetsk town council issued decision No. 1836 “On the approval of the places for the conduction of gatherings, meetings and other actions”. Item 1 of this decision prohibits the conduction by public organizations and political parties of gatherings, meetings and other actions at the squares near administrative buildings, shopping centers and big streets because it is difficult to guarantee the public order in the places overcrowded with people and transport. According to the decision, the meetings may be conducted at three areas assigned by the executive committee. The voters’ committee complained against this decision, since they regarded it as illegal and violating Article 11 of the International Convention on human rights. Yet, the Severodonetsk town court did not satisfy the claim. In the beginning of June 2003 the Lugansk appeal court satisfied the claim of the head of the oblast branch of the VCU. The court resolution point out: “Article 39 of the Constitution of Ukraine does not envisage the permanent character of the restrictions of citizens’ rights and of the action of some recommendations. Thus, decision of the executive committee of the Severodonetsk town council of 5 November 2002 “On the approval of the places for the conduction of gatherings, meetings and other actions in Severodonetsk” and decision No. 1836 of 10 December 2002 “On introduction of changes into decision No. 1836 of 5 November 2002” abuses the constitutional right of citizens to gather peacefully, without weapons, and to conduct meetings, rallies, street marches and demonstrations”.

In our opinion, a court precedent has been created, which may be used in future as the basis for the appeals against similar decisions of local power.
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