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Why Ukraine Needs an Independent Ombudsperson

24.01.2007    source:
Oleh Zadoretsky
The author demonstrates that the appointment of a politically neutral human rights activist with high moral standards will lead to the de-politicization of the institute of the Verkhovna Rada Authorized Human Rights Representative increasing the level of trust in the government as a whole

The civic campaign of putting forward a politically independent candidate for the position of the Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Commissioner has entered its final phase - right after the return of the members of parliament from the parliamentary vacations on February 6, an anonymous voting will take place in the Verkhovna Rada to determine who will be defending the rights of the Ukrainian citizens at the highest human rights defense position in the state during the next five years.

Only two rivals for this position are left - a candidate from the governmental "Party of the Regions" Nina Karpachova and a civic human rights activist from Kharkiv Yevhen Zakahrov who does not belong to any political party and whose candidacy was put forward by the oppositional parliamentary fractions of Yuliya Tymoshenko’s Bloc and "Our Ukraine". At the first glance, it might appear that it is more beneficial for the ruling coalition to give this post to "their" person, yet a more detailed analysis of the situation testifies in favor of appointing a politically neutral candidate to the position of the country’s Ombudsperson.

Traditionally, the institute of the Ombudsperson in the vast majority of European countries is headed by a passionless legal referee, who guarantees the abidance by human rights and freedoms in the relations between the state and the citizen, and also ensures the conduct of a dialog between them solely in the legal field and with the use of legal methods. Given the circumstances of the Ukrainian political establishment, which is notable for a strong conflict of power, all political forces with no exception are ought to be interested in the appointment of an independent Ombudsperson, including the pro-governmental ones, since none of them can be confident about never ending up in the opposition and being subjected to suppression on the part of the government, as it was often happening in the previous years.

Namely the today’s opposition, represented by Yuliya Tymoshenko’s Bloc and "Our Ukraine", was the first one to take into consideration the public opinion, and despite all controversies between its parliamentary fractions, realized the necessity of appointing an independent candidate to the position of the Ombudsperson. During Kuchma’s authoritarian presidency, the representatives of these political forces faced the violation of their elementary rights, guaranteed to them by the Constitution and Ukraine’s international agreements. When they came to power in 2004, the situation changed to the exact opposite - the representatives of the former pro-governmental parties started complaining loudly about the suppression of their rights and cases of persecution - mainly, SDPU(o) and "Party of the Regions", both of which suddenly found themselves in the opposition. A corresponding section titled "Suppression and persecution" appeared on the official website of "Party of the Regions", where specific examples of human rights violations of the members of this party for their political views were featured. "Party of the Regions" was accusing the "orange" government of unjustified criminal persecution of its leaders Borys Kolesnykov and the deceased Yevgeniy Kushnaryov, whose criminal cases were investigated with numerous violations of the procedure. The remarkable aspect is that the Ombudsperson of the time and a member of "Party of the Regions" Nina Karpachova proved to be unable to influence the existing situation.

The reason for Karpachova’s helplessness was a lack of trust for the office of the Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Commissioner as for an independent legal instance on the part of the society, government officials, and the international human rights community because of the Ombudsperson belonging to one of the political forces. In contrast, the appointment of a politically neutral human rights activist with high moral standards will lead to the de-politicization of the institute of the Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Commissioner, causing the increase of the citizens’ level of trust for the government as a whole, part of which he is, regardless of their political views, and correspondingly, will increase the interaction of the institute of the Ombudsperson with the other branches of power.

Both of these factors, in their turn, will increase the level of credibility for the Ukrainian Ombudsperson on the part of the European community. As a result, Ukraine will not only get rid of the shameful monitoring of the human rights situation in the country, currently conducted by PACE, but will also obtain the reputation of a lawful state, in which the law stands above politics and the mercantile interests of specific persons and financial groups. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has already expressed its wish to see a politically independent figure holding the Ombudsperson’s position in Ukraine. The negligence of this wish can lead to a significant worsening of the relations between the Ukrainian government and the democratic European governments, which, in the first place, is not beneficial for the Ukrainian large businesses, the lion’s share of the production of which is being exported to the Western countries. This primarily refers to the major heavy industry enterprises, most of which are owned by the representatives of the governmental "Party of the Regions".

The Ukrainian society is soon to find out whether its opinion is accounted for with the "people’s elects". The candidacy of the politically independent human rights activist Yevhen Zakharov has gained wide support among non-governmental organizations of the entire country, the majority of which, by the way, represents Ukraine’s eastern regions, where Zakharov is widely known for his human rights activism and which are forming the electoral field of the ruling coalition at the moment. It has already become apparent that the political independence of the institutes called to defend citizens’ rights (in particular, the institute of the Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Commissioner) is the way to uniting the country and creating a lawful society, in which certain citizens are not "more equal" before the law than others.


Author’s translation

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