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UHHRU Appeal on behalf of prisoners

06.02.2009    source: www.helsinki.org.ua

The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union has addressed an appeal to President Yushchenko, Prime Minister Tymoshenko and the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Volodymyr Lytvyn. It calls on them to use their legislative initiative to prepare and submit a draft law to protect the rights of prisoners to receive parcels without restriction.

It states that the organization has recently begun receiving numerous appeals from prisoners and their families expressing well-founded concern over significant restrictions to prisoners’ right to receive parcels.

“The applicants note with justification that the said restrictions have coincided with a severe economic crisis which will undoubtedly worsen the material and food situation for those deprived of their liberty, when this was already by no means always satisfactory.

Furthermore such restrictions have been reinstated against still unresolved epidemiological problems in penal institutions linked with tuberculosis, AIDS and other infectious diseases. According to our information, there are not just isolated cases of dystrophy among prisoners”.

UHHRU points out that not only is there public awareness of the problem and the need to resolve it, but that the situation had begun to improve. The Law on the Budget for 2007 had, for example, suspended Article 112 § 1 of the Penal Code restricting parcels for prisoners. Later in the Law on the Budget for 2008, and on amendments to some legislative acts from 28 December 2007, it seemed that the issue had been laid to rest, with the relevant articles of the Penal Code being changed.  Following this change, prisoners were receiving parcels without restrictions.

However a judgment of the Constitutional Court from 22 May 2008 stated that the Law on the Budget could not make amendments to other laws, suspend their force or revoke them since for objective reasons this created discrepancies in legislation and as a result cancellation and restriction of human rights and civil liberties.

Thus in a judgment which is not entirely unequivocal from the legal point of view (there were three separate opinions issued), the above-mentioned amendments to the Penal Code were declared unconstitutional  and the problem of material and food provisions for prisoners has re-emerged in a new crisis form. Once again there are restrictions incomprehensible from a criminological, not to speak of from an ethical point of view. Even for minimum security penal colonies, a limit has been placed of seven parcels and four parcels with printed matter during the year. Surely one does not need to provide any particular arguments to understand that with the present state of affairs (one parcel at best for 50 days) thousands, without any exaggeration, of Ukrainian citizens will be doomed to gradual starvation for lack of proper sustenance. And any denial, through for example an increase in financing for the material needs of prisoners in the current budget year cannot be taken seriously.

“Bearing in mind the above, we are turning to you and asking that you submit to the Verkhovna Rada as a matter of urgency the necessary draft law and that it is considered without waiting in the queue.

One could like to believe that despite political differences, such a draft law will be passed by an overwhelming majority of votes and will not encounter any significant objections. Particularly since the said amendments to the Penal Code had already been signed by all parties to the legislative process and the reason for its cancellation is based on considerations of a purely formal nature. As stated in the above-cited Judgment of the Constitutional Court, “where there is the need to suspend the force of laws, introduce amendments and additions or declare them null and void, separate laws shall be used”.

 

The letter is signed by Volodymyr Yavorsky, UHHR Executive Director

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