war crimes in Ukraine

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Visa perks not penalties for repression?


The EU-Ukraine visa liberalization moves include 5 year Schengen visas for Prosecutors and their deputies, some of whom have taken a very active role in prosecutions condemned by the EU

Deutsche Welle writes that the European Parliament was due on 17 April to ratify supplements to the EU-Ukraine Visa Liberalization Agreement.  The document was ratified by the Verkhovna Rada (in one of its few working moments!) at the end of March. 

The visa liberalization moves will make life easier for journalists, businesspeople, as well as the relatives of people living in EU countries.  They will get 5-year Schengen visas.  Members of NGOs will also benefit, though they will only get one-year visas, and with certain pre-conditions.

More controversially, visa liberalization will also make travel simpler for Ukrainian officials.  High-ranking officials, this including those in top positions in the President’s Administration; the Cabinet of Ministers and other central authorities will be able to travel to EU countries without visas at all, as long as they have biometric official passports. These, however, will be held in the Foreign Ministry and only handed out for the period of work-related travel. MPs and deputies of local councils will receive 5-year Schengen visas in their passports and travel can be for any purpose.

However the most controversial of all is the provision which will give prosecutors at all levels and their deputies 5-year Schengen visas. Ukraine will be the first country to introduce such perks for prosecutors.

Yevhen Zakharov, KHPG Director told Deutsche Welle that he can’t understand this move and said that the Prosecutor’s Office was the worst human rights offender among State bodies. 

“The Prosecutor’s support of the prosecution in courts is of a noticeably repressive nature with the Prosecutor always appealing to higher courts against sentences which it views as too lenient. This is one of the reasons for the almost total lack of acquittals in criminal prosecutions – in 2012 the percentage was only 0.17%).”

He points out also that the Prosecutor has been used as an instrument of persecution of opposition politicians, businesspeople supporting the opposition and civic activists.

He believes that the EU should ban entry to people responsible for violations found by the European Court of Human Rights.  If the detention of Yury Lutsenko was found to have served other purposes than those allowed in legislation, then the prosecutors and judges who organized the initial arrest and extensions of the detention should face sanctions.

Although the opposition has repeatedly called for sanctions against those implicated in the imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko, Yury Lutsenko and other opponents of the regime, the ratification was supported in parliament by opposition MPs. Iryna Herashchenko explains that the document allowed for only acceptance or rejection.

Since the visa liberalization moves will make the lives of many ordinary Ukrainians much easier, they did not want to oppose the bill.  On the other hand, Mr Herashchenko says, they are calling on EU countries to introduce personal sanctions against those in power, judges and prosecutors implicated in selective justice and human rights infringements.

Elmar Brok , Chair of the EP Foreign Affairs Committee said that he too would vote for the visa liberation since Ukrainian citizens must not be hostages of the regime. He admits that the inclusion of the special perks for prosecutors was an unpleasant surprise, but stresses that ratification of the document will not get in the way of individual sanctions against Ukrainian officials in the future.  These, he says, have been used with respect to Belarusian officials. He notes also that First Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin’s US visa has already been revoked.  Brok promises that he will initiate an appeal to the EU Council asking for the suspension of certain provisions of the agreement if the situation with selective justice in Ukraine is not resolved, and if the Prosecutor’s Office is not reformed.

Yevhen Zakharov is also adamant that the Prosecutor’s Office must be reformed and points out that the Prosecutor lobby is clinging to its power and doesn’t want to comply with European standards, as was Ukraine’s commitment on joining the Council of Europe back in 1995.

Adapted from the report here

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