Human Rights Situation in Ukraine in 2014: Overview
In 2013, the state, all political forces and society concentrated upon the preparation of the Association Agreement of Ukraine with the European Union scheduled to be concluded at the Vilnius summit on 28-29 November. Back in February, the execution plan of the so-called requirements of Štefan Füle (European Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy) was designed; for the fulfillment of these requirements the EU agreed to sign the Agreement. The basic requirements included the cessation of selective justice (in fact, it was about the release of political prisoners Yuliya Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko), reform of the judiciary and laws on elections. Yuriy Lutsenko was pardoned by the President and released in April 2013; at the same time the President disagreed to discharge Yuliya Tymoshenko rejecting all options offered to him and fearing that she would return to politics. Several so-called European integration bills were passed; they dealt with the amendments to the law on personal data protection, anti-corruption drive; the new redactions of the Law on the Prosecution and the Judicial System and more were approved in the first reading. All of it showed the clear criteria of the ruling elite’s attitude to the requirements of the EU: it agreed to comply with all requirements which did not openly affect its political and economic interests and strongly opposed the actual implementation of those requirements that threatened its interests.
Thus, the law on judicial reform was blatantly manipulative: the provision of appointment of judges by the President rather than the Verkhovna Rada actually gave this question in charge of the Mafia. The reform of the Procuracy proved to be illusory only because its punitive functions were expected to be transferred to the State Bureau of Investigation, which would be responsible for the investigation of criminal cases against state and municipal employees, control of corruption and so on. The quality of many of European integration is rather low; they were a pro-forma efforts intended only to report on the work done on the EU requirements; the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine did not actually care how these laws met the standards of human rights and satisfied the public interest. The obvious examples include very bad law on non-discrimination, which was not reviewed despite the objections of the public and the ombudsman, openly lobbying law on the single demographic register adopted in the interests of the EDAPS Corp. The State cheerfully reported on the fulfillment of the requirements for the introduction of biometric passports, and but a few people were interested in that in addition to a passport more than 10 internal documents went biometric without any need bringing pressure to bear on the state budget and that the function of preparation and issuance of biometric documents combined with the function of registering the residents Ukraine, for which a comprehensive database was compiled.
In 2013, there was strengthening of public dissent in connection with increasing violations of social and economic rights. The promised “life quality improvement today” for the majority of the population left much to be desired. On the contrary, the socio-economic status deteriorated as a result of price increases and maintenance of the level of wages. In the consolidated budget the situation deteriorated dramatically in the payment of salaries and pensions. Both pension and health reforms failed; public access to health facilities deteriorated, especially in rural areas. Budgetary expenditures for medical, educational, scientific and cultural institutions were significantly reduced. The unemployment increased, especially the shadow one. The social and economic rights were neglected at every turn in 2013…
The effects of the new Criminal Procedure Code partially changed the state penal system. The number of prisoners in the investigatory investigation ward for the year was halved; the total number of prisoners fell down. However, the new CPC had virtually no impact on the situation with the mass distribution of maltreatment: the investigating authorities were trying to circumvent the safeguards specified in the CPC, while the prosecutors were ineffective in their investigation of the complaints of unlawful violence during the arrest and indictment of a crime. The problem of ill-treatment in the penal system, in particular, the lack of adequate medical care to prisoners also remains rather acute, while the system itself still remains inaccessible to public scrutiny.
In summer, Russia started unheard of pressure, introduced actual economic blockade combined with propaganda battle against Ukraine in the media. It was hard to watch the televised “Five-Minute Inoculation of Hatred” by Dmitriy Kiselev filled with lies and inciting hostility. The Ukrainian businessmen who exported their products to Russia were overtly told that they would lose their business. According to various estimates, the total losses of the state and business amounted to $18 or $20 bn. Forty deputies of the Verkhovna Rada, members of the Party of Regions whose business was Russia-oriented said that they could not support the European integration because they were losing their business. These processes and the lack of budget funds to pay in mid-December the interest on foreign loans ($4.5 bn) inhibited the process of preparation for the signing of the Association Agreement. The EU did not offer compensation for losses and a week before the Vilnius summit the Ukrainian government stopped preparing the signing of the Agreement. It also suspended the adoption of European integration laws and froze the issue of dismissal of Yuliya Tymoshenko. In this case, the government violated the Constitution and laws of Ukraine on the basic principles of foreign policy and European integration, as, according to the Constitution, the Verkhovna Rada and not the government was entitled to change these principles, but the former failed to do it.
On November 21, the Ukrainian society promptly responded with peaceful mass protest actions bursting out in all oblast centers and cities of our; they numbered from hundreds of thousands in Kyiv and tens of thousands in western cities to hundreds and thousands in the east and south. The peaceful rallies with slogans for European integration were called Euromaidans. The pointed and brutal beating by “Berkut” of about 300 Euromaidan ralliers, including forty journalists, on the Independence Square in Kyiv on the night 30 November and 1 December on the Bankova Street, imprisonment of people out there who did not participate in the provocation of attacking the militiamen and internal troops near the Presidential Administration led to mass protests and demands of resignation of the government, the President and the Verkhovna Rada. On December 1, about one million Kyivites and visitors from all over Ukraine joined the protest rally in Kyiv. The non-violent resistance became more widespread. However, the government and the president did not respond to the demands of protesters demonstrating their indifference to them and only intensifying repressions.
The ralliers were impressed to the quick by the almost complete lack of investigation into the illegal use of force by “Berkut” troopers on December 1. Everybody saw the stream with demonstrative and impertinent beating of demonstrators without any legitimate reason. The actions of individual soldiers of “Berkut” are qualified as torture. However, the militiamen usually torture people in secret, and those whom they believe to be criminals. But now there happened horrible and brutal public beatings of people with torture and the world could see the crime with their own eyes. As for me, during the independence there was no more serious crime committed by agents of the state. And actually it was easy to investigate this crime: the authorities just had to make an effort. But the authorities did not want to embroil in the investigation. There was no answer to the question who gave the criminal order, who would be held accountable, and why the "Berkut" troopers resorted to torture. The regime, which allowed itself to do so, was doomed as subsequent events proved.
On January 16, violating all rules of parliamentary procedure of routine legislative activities the parliamentary majority adopted a number of laws that flagrantly violated the constitutional guarantee of almost all fundamental rights and freedoms. They were called “the laws about dictatorship”. It was a kind of a set of rapid response measures to protests and actions of Ukrainians. The proponents of the adopted regulations treated as axioms the following considerations:
1. The protest against the general activity and some specific government actions are identical with the anti-state activities and extremism.
2. The mass protest rallies of the citizens are a negative phenomenon, which should be prevented and brutally quelled.
3. The mass rallies of citizens are a vivifying environment for public disorders and their participants should be considered potential offenders a priori.
4. The right to self-defense does not apply to protection against unlawful acts of employees of power structures.
5. The institutions of civil society (media, social networks, NGOs, social activists, etc.) can potentially contribute to the development of extremism in society and therefore should be subject to strict surveillance of law enforcement bodies.
The above “basic foundations” reflect totalitarian mind-set and are incompatible with modern notions of democratic constitutional state. They created a legal framework for the mass political repressions and excluded the possibility of a peaceful dialogue of the society with the state. In fact, these laws virtually rendered any form of peaceful protest and dissent impossible and actually had to destroy civil society. Moreover, the parliamentary majority issued indulgence to the law enforcers who committed crimes against the peaceful demonstrators. As a result of it the authorities finally lost their legitimacy. All this showed the people that the government did not accept any arguments except force. And such power inevitably meets with a rebuff of citizens.
The peaceful non-violent resistance of the people transformed into the uprising, which resulted in the tragic events on the Hrushevsky Street on January 19-22: five killed protesters and hundreds wounded on both sides. 139 protesters disappeared and currently there is no information on their whereabouts. At least 19 people were wounded in the eye as a result of aimed fire and at least 10 of them lost the sight of one eye. The law enforcers launched targeted attacks against journalists and deliberately beat them and destructed their equipment. Dozens of cars were burnt to ashes. Overall, more than 2,000 people were wounded.
In the west and center of the country, the protesters began seizing administrative buildings and creating parallel structures of power. However, the current government did not step down voluntarily; it increased political repressions, especially in Kyiv, in the east and south of the country. Hundreds of protesters were accused of organization and participation in riots, arrested and sent to the investigatory isolation wards.
On January 28 “the laws about dictatorship” were abolished, the government dissolved, but the release of those arrested had to take place only after the promised vacation of office buildings across the country and deblocking of the streets in the downtown Kyiv. However, the government continued political repressions and while freeing certain prisoners arrested others.
While adopting “the laws about dictatorship” on January 16, the peoples deputies amended the Law of Ukraine "On elimination of negative impacts and prevention of prosecution and punishment of persons in connection with the events that took place during peaceful gatherings” no. 731 -VII of December 19, 2013 which provided, inter alia, for exemption from liability of civil servants for certain crimes related to the mass protests that erupted on November 21, 2013 and closure of the relevant criminal proceedings. On January 28, this law was not revoked, though the modified law now apparently covered the law enforcers who illegally used force, even excessive one, and brutally beat people, particularly journalists.
On February 12 the Kyiv prosecutors office said that under this law the courts closed the cases against Olexandr Popov, Volodymyr Sivkovych and other suspects (accused) of beating on November 30, December 1, and December 11. Acting Minister of Internal Affairs Volodymyr Zaharchenko stated that these criminal cases were closed due to lack of corpus delicti. Generally 21 people were exempted from liability. The bodies of prosecution closed books on thirty-five cases when the suspects were not established.
In this way the government justified the brutal and illegal violence and legitimized further violence committed by militia officers. Impunity generates permissiveness and leads to further escalation of violence. In a few days we saw extremely brutal human rights violations that qualify as crimes against humanity: murder, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances for political reasons, and demonstrative torture of abducted people.
Direct physical violence was accompanied by mass illegal arrests and detention of people, most of whom committed no criminal offenses at all. The Law of the same title as no. 731 -VI adopted by the Verkhovna Rada on January 29 linked the release of these men and closures of criminal proceedings with the vacation of all buildings and premises of public authorities and local governments seized during protests and deblocking of transport communications. In this way the law turned the detained people into hostages and put the Ukrainian state on the same level with pirates and terrorists who used the institute of hostages as a tool to influence the situation. It meant commitment of crime under article 147 of the Criminal Code: the taking of hostages. This practice uses the principle of collective guilt and destroys the foundation upon which the legislation is built.
On February 18-21 the power face-off went on and led to the defeat of the regime. This confrontation cost more than 100 dead downtown from the bullets of snipers and “Berkut” troopers. Several dozen militia officers were killed as well. President Yanukovych and his entourage fled from Ukraine. On February 22 a new power and a new phase of history began in Ukraine.
These developments indicate that the Ukrainian people without prior arrangement realized their natural unstipulated by the Ukrainian legislation right to revolt against the political regime, which had usurped power and used it exclusively for its own enrichment subjecting all opponents to repression in flagrant violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Ukrainians once again demonstrated that for many of them freedom, justice, honor and dignity weighed more than their own lives. It was the revolution of dignity the spirit of which is perfectly conveyed by the monologue shared in social networks at the end of January.
I realized that we had already won:
- When I saw priests of different faiths and religions standing between the “Berkut” and protesters.
- When at the Maidan subway exit I ran into the huge army tent “Donetsk Mariupol Yenakiyevo” and on the wall I saw laser images of the monument to liberators and Eternal Flame.
- When in the midst of the Maidan next to the portrait of fallen Belarusian Misha Zhiznevsky there stood a small glass with bread, candle and six-liter plastic container with a cut top and inscription: “for the funeral”. The container was full of money; nobody guarded it, because everyone knew that nobody would hanker after it.
- When I saw how guys from Donetsk boys sang a song to the guitar with boys wrapped in the flag of the UIA.
- When the blind and youth with cerebral spastic infantile paralysis helped to serve tea and make sandwiches.
- When my friends from the regions were sending me money to buy warm socks to people feeling cold on the Maidan.
- When I joined the chorus and sang the hymn with several hundreds of thousands of people simultaneously.
- When I saw the ashamed drunken people taken away from the entrance to the perimeter.
- When the Afghanistan veterans came and said that the “Berkut” troopers would first have to deal with them before attacking the students.
- When during the assault the people did not run away from the unit of attacking “Berkut” troopers and ran to resist it.
- When a guy in a balaclava played piano against the background of burning tires.
- When after a month and a half of face-off on the Maidan with skylight “Globe” in the center not one section of the dome was broken.
- When during the night attempt of “Berkut” and internal troops to force people out from the Maidan tens of thousands of people came within an hour and a half; the legal and illegal taxi drivers transported passengers for free if the Maidan was the destination of the trip.
- When in almost all major cities the ultras (!) came to protect protesters from possible attacks and provocations.
- When I saw the detachment of masked fighting grandmothers--Valkyries with bowls on their heads “Will you arrest us as well?”
- When after the reciprocal assault of “Berkut” troopers I came to the drugstore to buy medications on the list, I was given the remainders only: “Everything’s been sold out,” the druggist smiled at me.
- When my apolitical and non-mobile friends on a part-time basis went patrolling the streets at night to keep order there.
- When the private Lvov hospitals announced that they would admit all injured in Kyiv free of charge.
- When my friends from Russia wrote to me that they were ready to come at any time and help with the money.
- When I felt for the first time that I loved Ukraine.
I do not know who will be in power now, what will fate decree to the country, whether there will be division, decentralization, or nothing at all will change in the politics, but I know for sure that I live among beautiful, kind, magic people; I know that on the Maidan of Independence the Donetsk guys fraternized with their Lviv counterparts, students read poems to the proletarians, ultra-right-wingers carried from the battlefield anarchists stunned with grenades, and Buddhist monks were standing next to the Orthodox believers. And it is the victory that will not be marred by any Masonic plan.
Lord, thank you for the fact that I live in a time of change, and I see it with my own eyes. Rest the souls of those who died in this war, give health to ordinary people, extremists, militiamen, “Berkut” troopers, all those who suffered from cold weather, bullets, fire, or blows. Give us all wisdom and Love and, first of all, love for those who are doomed to be considered our enemies. After all, if we love, we will win.
Thank you, Ukrainians, Russians, Belarusians, Georgians, Armenians and other wonderful people whom I see smiling and determined at minus twenty Centigrade not to back off.
I love you.
Prepared by Yevhen Zakharov, Director of KHPG.