war crimes in Ukraine

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More high-level warnings against persecution of the opposition

09.06.2011    source:


The NATO Parliamentary Assembly and several deputy groups within the European Parliament have come out with strong criticism of facts which they believe prove that opposition politicians are facing persecution in Ukraine. 

NATO has made public a report which expresses concern over the development of events in Ukraine, while a debate is scheduled in the European Parliament on 9 June over the criminal prosecutions of Ukrainian opposition figures.

In the Party of the Regions they talk of “political intrigue”. Deputy from the Party of the Regions, Vadim Kolisnychenko called the accusations political intrigue and said that in the case of Yulia Tymoshenko and other opposition figures, it was for the investigator to get to the bottom of it, not the European Parliament. He also apparently gave examples of members of the ruling majority who are being prosecuted.

The BBC Ukrainian Service writes that a number of analysts are convinced that the present actions of the West are no accident, but a warning, at official level now, to the Ukrainian regime.

The Director of the Lenta Applied Political Research Centre, Volodymyr Fesenko said that the official warnings are tat a certain Rubicon must not be crossed in treatment of the opposition. Conflict with the opposition must not be brought into the sphere of criminal prosecution, he says, since this will lead to a crisis in relations with the West.

He believes that there could be a form of mild diplomatic isolation if Tymoshenko is arrested or if there is a harsh sentence with respect to Lutsenko. He says that the Belarusian version could arise if the regime uses brute force against the opposition and mass protests.  If they do what Lukashenko did after the elections, he warns, they can expect tough sanctions.

Another “red line” which they must not cross, he adds, would be rigging of the next parliamentary elections.

From a report at the BBC Ukrainian Service

The NATO Parliamentary Assembly Report mentioned is posted on the Assembly’s website.  Bearing in mind the warning at the beginning, the following seems too important not to quote.


Draft Report by Lucio MALAN (Italy), Rapporteur

Until this document has been approved by the Committee on the Civil Dimension of Security, it represents only the views of the Rapporteur

III.          Internal challenges

     A.            Presidential election and the post-election political environment

38.         As noted above, a peaceful transfer of power in 2010 showed the health of Ukrainian democracy. NATO PA observers who monitored the presidential election in January‑February 2010 assessed the election as largely free and fair, although regretted the fact that the Parliament – the Verkhovna Rada – tampered with election legislation during the election campaign. Mrs Tymoshenko’s side did not take the loss easily and filed a number of complaints, but the legitimacy of the new President was not seriously disputed.

39.         That said, the electoral and post-electoral processes also showed some deficiencies and fragility inUkraine ’s democracy. First and foremost, it became evident that the political process was overly personified and the Parliament failed to play an independent role. The victory of Mr Yanukovych alone did not automatically imply that the “Orange ” period was over. According to the Constitution of Ukraine, the composition of the government must reflect the majority in the Parliament, which was elected in 2007 giving the “Orange ” forces a fragile majority.[18]An unlikely pairing of President Yanukovych and Prime Minister Tymoshenko seemed inevitable to some observers.

40.         Yet, almost overnight the new President was able to forge a new majority in the Verkhovna Rada. In early 2010, observers believed early parliamentary elections might be called. Instead, Yanukovych was able to oust, Tymoshenko by forming a coalition between his Party of Regions, the Communists, the Lytvyn Bloc, and individual deputies who defected from Tymoshenko and Yushchenko’s blocs – something which had been against the rules but was later approved by a compliant Constitutional Court. Yanukovych’s close ally Mykola Azarov became Prime Minister. Yanukovych consolidated his power with little regard for the rules and Western opinion. It did not take long before Yanukovych was being called authoritarian and before his Ukraine was earning comparisons to that of Leonid Kuchma, president from 1994 to January 2005.

41.         The dependence of the judicial system on the political landscape is yet another major deficiency of the Ukrainian political system. While President Yushchenko was also accused by his adversaries for influencing the Constitutional Court (appointing or firing judges in a manner that was legally questionable), the situation did not improve under President Yanukovych. In addition to the above-mentioned decision on the principles of forming a parliamentary majority, the Constitutional Court further empowered Yanukovych in October 2010 to reverse a reform which had moved some power from the President to the Parliament.[19] The decision returned the Constitution to its 1996 version, which would bring the next parliamentary election forward to 2011 as parliamentary terms had been set at four years then. However, the Verkhovna Rada subsequently restored the five-year term, setting the election for October 2012, when politicians could benefit from having hosted the Euro 2012 football tournament in the summer. Such juggling with the rules of political game for temporary political benefits would not be appreciated in mature democracies. In addition to the Constitutional Court, the opposition suspects that the prosecution of the daughter and son-in-law of Vasyl Onopenko, head of Ukraine ’s Supreme Court, represent an attempt by the authorities to force him to step down.

42.         Thirdly, the developments in 2010 further deepened the polarisation of the society. The Ukrainian nation did not unite around its new President, and the perfect 50-50 split between the two opposing camps remains. The strength of the Tymoshenko camp is reflected in the fact that she lost the election by only a 3% margin, despite the bitter division with another “Orange ” leader Victor Yushchenko and a formidable economic recession on her watch as the Prime Minister.

43.         An alarming trend that does not bode well for Ukrainian democracy are the results of the local elections held in autumn 2010. Firstly, they were judged to be less fair than prior ones. Electoral blocs were not allowed to run, a rule clearly aimed at Tymoshenko. The Batkivshchyna (“Fatherland”) party, the largest group within Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko, did run candidates. And secondly, in this environment, Oleh Tiahnybok’s far-right nationalist party Svoboda (“Freedom”) performed well in the Western oblasts of Lviv, Ternopil, and Ivano‑Frankivsk, capturing local governments in the areas most hostile to Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. Svoboda is anti-Western, anti-liberal, anti-EU and anti-Semitic but above all anti-Russian. Tiahnybok won 1.43% of the vote in the 2010 presidential election, which represents the eighth place, but a rise in his party’s support (and the visibility they would get from clearing the threshold for representation in the Verkhovna Rada in the next parliamentary election) could discredit the nationalist cause in Ukraine, which is naturally built against Russia, given the latter’s historic dominance over Ukraine.[20]While EU countries from the Netherlands toHungary and Sweden have the far-right represented in their national Parliaments, it is most dangerous in a politically unstable country like Ukraine.

      B.           Prosecution of the opposition figures

44.         Perhaps the most disquieting development on “post-Orange” Ukraine ’s political agenda is the opening of criminal cases against a number of opposition figures, including against Tymoshenko, the leader of the opposition, and several members of her government. They are being prosecuted for abuse of office (in Tymoshenko’s case, for allegedly misusing environmental ministry funds to pay pensions), despite warnings by the EU over what clearly looks like selective administration of justice or abuse of office by the current administration itself. She was prevented from leaving Kyiv, including to attend a European Union meeting inBrussels, as a possible flight risk.[21]Bohdan Danylyshyn, the Economics Minister in her government, has been granted political asylum by the Czech Republic after being charged with abuse of office.

45.         The argument that the legal actions against a number of politicians are merely a result of the intensification of the fight against corruption is negated by the fact these actions are exclusively limited to the members of the opposition.

46.         The criminal case is still open against the leader of the Ukrainian delegation to the NATO PA Andryi Shkil, who was detained in 2001 for participating in the event “Ukraine without Kuchma”. Mr Shkil is currently protected by parliamentary immunity, but the charges have not been dropped.

47.         Rather unexpectedly, a criminal investigation of former President Leonid Kuchma was also opened over the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze in 2000. Kuchma was taped telling the security service to “get rid of” the critical reporter and the case represented a pivotal moment in Ukraine ’s relationship with the West.[22]The new investigation was widely welcomed by international organisations in the field of media freedom. However, observers speculate whether this represents a genuine desire of the authorities to get to the bottom of this notorious case, or is simply the result of a rift between former allies Yanukovych and Kuchma.

     C.           Deteriorating media and NGO situation

48.         Ukraine ’s achievements in the field of media freedom stand out in the context of the post-Soviet space. Of the non-Baltic countries of the former Soviet Union, Ukraine was the only one named “free” in Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World survey, during the “Orange” period between 2006 and 2010. This achievement was preceded by more than a decade of being in the category of “party free” or even “not free” under Presidents Kravchuk and Kuchma.

49.         Unfortunately, despite the assurances and strong statements by the President Yanukovych, the media freedom environment in the country declined in 2010. Freedom House downgraded Ukraine from a “free” country to a “partly free” one in the Freedom in the World report released in January 2011.[23]Particularly alarming trends are taking place in television, the major source of information for most Ukrainians. The pro-Yanukovych Head of the Security Services, Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, owns a television empire and has increased his power. According to the Council of Europe report, managers from Khoroshkovsky’s TV Inter channel are reportedly being appointed to run the state-owned TV channels. In addition, legal actions were taken to limit the broadcasting abilities of two independent TV channels, TVi and 5 Kanal. According to the Telekritika media watchdog, TVi and 5 Kanal were the only remaining channels considered as unbiased.[24]

50.         Another disquieting trend is a growing number of physical attacks against journalists. Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, said this have a chilling effect on the media climate inUkraine. The most prominent case is the disappearance of reporter Vasyl Klymentyev who vanished in August 2010, a case which recalls the 2000 murder of Gongadze.

51.         The media legislation needs to be further improved. While on the positive side a comprehensive access-to-information law was adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament in January 2011, more needs to be done to increase transparency of ownership and privatisation of state print media. According to Mijatovic, "lack of transparency of media ownership raises questions about affiliation of media with political or business groups. State-owned media are [an] inheritance of the past and should be privatised or liquidated."[25]An increasing concern is that pro-government oligarchs subject some media outlets such as Kyiv Post to a complex and expensive series of court proceedings on the basis of the protection of reputation against “libel”.

52.         The opposition also fears that the government does nothing to curb the increased interest of Russia inUkraine ’s media sector. Member of the Ukrainian delegation to NATO PA, Mr Zayets stated at the Assembly meeting in Kyiv in July 2010 that the increasing influence of Russia on Ukraine ’s culture and public opinion is a result of concerted Russian policy to gradually take over Ukrainian media and information infrastructure and thereby impose “informational occupation” of Ukraine.

53.         In terms of civil society, NGOs remain a vibrant and noticeable sector that grew considerably in recent years, doubling in numbers between 2004 and 2009. However, Freedom House notes that respective legislation remains outdated, particularly since an ambiguous concept of “non-profit activity” effectively prohibits NGOs from generating necessary income for legitimate aims. As a result, NGOs disproportionately depend on foreign funding. Also, to be able to act nation‑wide, NGOs must be registered in every region ofUkraine. Furthermore, despite the administration’s democratic rhetoric, an increasing number of NGO activists are being harassed by the authorities, and police force is used disproportionately against peaceful protest actions on some occasions, such as in the case of the felling of trees in a city park in Kharkiv in May 2010.[26]

54.         A symptomatic event that needs to be recalled here is the case of Nico Lange, a Ukrainian analyst for the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a think tank affiliated with Germany ’s Christian Democratic Union. Lange was detained for 10 hours at the airport in Kyiv in June 2010 while trying to re-enter the country soon, after the publication of a report detailing Yanukovych’s swift consolidation of power.[27]

D.           Administrative reforms and fight against corruption

55.         One of the key elements of President Yanukovych’s electoral agenda was the fight against corruption. Indeed, the pervasive corruption is one of the principal problems in Ukraine, which severely undermines the reputation of democracy and increases frustration and disappointment among the public.

56.         Two useful but different measures of the business climate show Ukraine’s disappointing record (although Yanukovych has probably not been in power long enough to make a serious impact on the rankings, indications are the corruption and business situation is not changing much). The World Bank’s Doing Business index tracks ease of doing business in a country. In 2011 Ukraine ranked 145th out of 183 economies. This was a slight improvement from 2010, when it ranked 147th. It scored worse in several categories: 164th in registering property, 179th in dealing with construction permits, and 181st in paying taxes. For the sake of comparison, on overall ease of doing business, the Russian Federation ranks 123rd,  Moldova is 90th,  Poland is 70th,  Belarus is 68th,  Romania is 56th and Georgia is 12th.

57.         Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index tracked 178 economies in 2010 and Ukraine came in 134th with a score of 2.4 on a 10 point scale (a higher score meaning less of a corruption problem), tied with Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Honduras, Nigeria, the Philippines, Sierra Leone, Togo and Zimbabwe. This was an improvement from 2009, when Ukraine scored 2.2 and was in a tie with Russia, now considered more corrupt. For comparison, in 2010, the Russian Federation was 154th,  Belarus 127th,  Moldova 105th,  Romania69th,  Georgia is 68th and Poland 41st.

58.         The new administration is attempting to streamline the governance system of Ukraine and the Parliament adopted a package of anti-corruption laws, but the result of these efforts is yet to be seen.

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