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European-style Police Force: Strategy for Reform

Oleh Martynenko, Yevhen Zakharov
For the first time in 18 years the government has adopted a package of proposals for reforming the Interior Ministry, and most importantly a Police Reform Development Strategy written by human rights activists

At the end of October a fairly exceptional event passed unnoticed in Ukraine – for the first time in the last 18 years the government adopted a package of proposals for reforming the Interior Ministry. However the most significant in this situation was the adoption of a Police Reform Development Strategy written by human rights activists as a basic programme document.

Yet a month passed before the document became available to the public.  The reason for this was the virtually instantaneous reaction of the old-regime police lobby multiplied by the conservatism of the bureaucratic government mechanism.

During this period Cabinet of Ministers officials have several times tried, under the guise of ‘editorial corrections’, to remove the most decisive and progressive measures from the text of the Strategy.  These jeopardize the archaic forms of work of the police, the repressive mechanisms for interaction with the public, the corruption-linked well-being of a huge army of colonels and generals.

Fortunately, thanks to the joint work of a reform team made up of the Minister and human rights consultants, and the personal support of Arsen Avakov [the Interior Minister], the Strategy in slightly mangled form, but still alive, appeared on the government’s website, albeit hidden from the official page and from the public eye.

Can we say that this document is capable of launching long-awaited reform in the police force?  As the authors, we can not only assert, but also prove that this is the case since it was from the outset constructed in such a way that it is in no way linked to the number and names of the units which are usually so favoured by reforms of ‘the police wave’.

Instead it concentrates all its reformist activity on observance of fundamental principles of a contemporary European police force.

Among these are the principles of depoliticization; rule of law and decentralization; demilitarization; transparency and accountability to the public.  Everything planned and drawn up with respect to reform of the police must comply with these principles.

This ideology proved qualitatively new and inconvenient for the majority of its predecessors who had seen the sense of reform solely in the quantitative expansion of the Interior Ministry without any significant changes in the qualitative serving of the needs of the public with respect to safety and protection from crime.

There are a number of fundamentally new ideas in the Strategy.  First and foremost, this is the building of the Interior Ministry as a civilian and open ‘Home Office’ which coordinates the work of its services which have the status of central executive bodies.

The services are seen as so independent that they have their own budget and independent staffing policy.  The Minister, as a civilian, will not have the right to directly run any of these services or interfere in their activities, except in exceptional circumstances.

The national police according to this model will not take a leading or dominant position. The autonomy of law enforcement units also envisages a qualitatively new formation – the municipal police, as well as the introduction of some alternative models depending on the specific features of a given region.

The civilian nature of the ministry will be accompanied by a rejection of military attributes, the system of pseudo-military ranks such as ‘police general-colonel’ and removal of all military units from the makeup of the Interior Ministry.

The National Guard and border service will not be an exception – they will also be stripped of their military status, having turned into militarized formations.

Ukrainians may also be interested in new innovations of the Strategy which directly guarantee the inviolability of their rights in dealing with the police, as well as effective control over the lawfulness of police action.

We see it as entirely natural that the public should always be involved in investigations, for example, of ill-treatment by the police.

It is no less natural that losses incurred through the unprofessional or wrongful actions of law enforcement officials must be compensated not only by the culprits, but at the expense of the public funding for the body where the offending police officers did their service.

This is how such natural points are set out in the Strategy with that having aroused unconcealed indignation not only from the ‘old guard’ in the Interior Ministry, but also among the prosecutor corps. The latter, incidentally, are very frightened that analogous reforms will reach prosecutor’s offices which are the least transparent, and most secretive of any forms of control.

The idea of public control as equal to the State’s control is in general a constant theme of the Strategy. It is seen everywhere – in public participation in the selection commissions for the leading posts in the Interior Ministry; in the presence of members of the public when candidates are taking exams for the service; as a separate direction of Interior Ministry policy called ‘community policing’ – activities aimed at the needs of members of the public as a mechanism for assessing the activities of the Interior Ministry as a whole.

Of course the rights of Interior Ministry personnel are not left out of the picture. The Strategy envisages a system of change in the social and financial provisions for law enforcement bodies; transparency of staffing procedure; gender equality during the course of a person’s career; and making it impossible for unscrupulous bosses to manipulate the behaviour of their subordinates.

Even in the case of staff reductions the right will be given to receive another profession at the state’s expense.

However most publicity has perhaps been elicited by the plans for radical restructuring of the Interior Ministry and future police since this envisages the disappearance of a whole range of services: the traffic police; the transport and veterinary police; units for fighting organized and economic crime; unlawful trafficking in drugs and the security guard.

It is envisaged that the majority of functions and the personnel of those services will be moved under the jurisdiction of other ministries. This will make it possible to optimise the structure of the police and gradually achieve a situation where up to 70% of the police are in the two most immediately relevant services for the public: patrol and local police officers.

The many sceptics do not fail to notice the provisions on introducing a system of video surveillance on the roads; new information platforms and electronic work with documentation; qualitatively new procedure for selecting members of staff.

We can understand this scepticism since any changes require material resources. However we are confident that these resources will definitely appear in Ukraine when donors see a clear and realistic plan for reform.

The process of implementing reform is, indeed, fairly controversial however this is not only or not mainly because of a lack of finance. Perhaps central to all problematic areas is the question of whether the state and society are ready to implement real reform.

After all it is clear that reform of the Interior Ministry can be successful not in itself but as a component part of changes to the entire criminal justice system.

For example, the Interior Ministry’s work in organizing a new system of functioning at the present time seems exceptionally difficult. Yet in comparison with such tasks as arise in the building of a new system of relations between the Interior Ministry and the prosecutor’s office and judiciary, the issues around internal functioning already seem a completely day-to-day matter.

In order to create a single platform for preparing and discussing all legal decisions regarding reform, and not only with respect to criminal justice.  We believe it necessary to reinstate the National Commission on the Strengthening of Democracy and Affirmation of Rule of Law under the President,   with this headed by the Justice Minister.

The experience of the commission’s work in 2005-2015 was undoubtedly positive.

Do we have public willingness to work for a long period on reform despite all the problems? This question is no less burning than recognition of the lack of resources since we are observing the uncontrolled wish by a part of society to gain everything and right away.

Yet those who demand immediate results do not pay any heed to such minor issues and continue to demand swift change while at the same time avoiding systemic and difficult work in this sphere.

At the present time we have at least three milieu active in the sphere of police reform. That is first and foremost national NGOs; then secondly, international and donor organizations, among whom a leading role is played by the EU’s Consultative Mission.  In the third case a leading role was played by the EU Consultative Mission, and, finally, the public sector with the National Reform Council; the profile committees of the Verkhovna Rada and scientific institutions.

All of these milieu unfortunately cooperate with each other in a fragmentary fashion and with varying degrees of activity which as a result provides only isolated examples of successful interaction.

The expert potential of the Expert Council and Interior Ministry united, for example, with the public receiving a package of Interior Ministry reforms. Specialists from the EU Consultative Mission offered their experience to law enforcement officers – the Interior Ministry received quite well-formulated proposals for grant organizations.

Obviously both creative and fairly routine activities lie ahead – creating and carrying out a working plan on implementation of the Strategy; the formation and functioning of working groups on the main thematic directions of reform; organizing effective cooperation between expert milieu, introduction of effective procedure for internal management.

However we not only do not fear this work, but would invite all those wishing to join it in order to be able to say with pride after a certain amount of time that “we really did it!”.

Yevhen Zakharov, Director of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group and chair of the Expert Council under the Interior Ministry on reform of the Interior Ministry and human rights.

Oleg Martynenko, is the Director of the Centre of Law Enforcement Activities Research (CLEAR) and a Doctor of Law

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