Maidan activists: Prove that Ukraine has changed through choice of Prosecutor General!
Relatives of Nebesna Sotnya, those killed during Euromaidan and civic activists have publicly demanded an end to behind-the-scenes bargaining and an open competition for the post of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General. Political parties have demonstrated that they are not up to the task. Since those same parties are in power now thanks to Maidan, it is time they listened to civil society, they say.
As Oleksandra Matviychuk, Coordinator of Euromaidan SOS, pointed out, the three prosecutor generals so far (Oleh Makhnitsky; Vitaly Yarema; Viktor Shokin) may have varied in how unsuccessful they were, but none carried out the tasks they promised on taking office. All claimed that they would return the assets plundered by Viktor Yanukovych and his people; that they would carry out a proper investigation into Euromaidan crimes and bring those responsible to answer; and that there would be real reform of the prosecutor’s office.
If they leave political parties to engage in bargaining, there will be a fourth unsuccessful prosecutor general, and patience has run out. The activists are therefore demanding that all candidates are announced publicly and that each puts forward their action plan so that the public can assess what they can bring to the job.
They specifically ask that the candidacy of Serhiy Horbatyuk be considered, since any progress made in investigating Maidan crimes is thanks to him and the Special Investigation Department which he has headed since late 2014.
For those who lost members of their family on Maidan, that investigation is understandably of paramount importance. Volodymyr Bondarchuk, whose father Serhiy Bondarchuk was gunned down on Feb 20 2014, says that the prosecutions into those crimes are an indicator of whether anything has changed in Ukraine. He is in no doubt that they have Horbatyuk to thank for the progress that has been made.
This theme was reiterated by others. Pavlo Sydorenko, the Coordinator of the Maidan Victims Initiative Group called the department Horbatyuk is in charge of an island in the rancid sea represented by the Prosecutor General’s Office. He believes that it is specifically Horbatyuk who has prevented the department from being submerged in a bog of corruption.
It should be stressed that the same activists have long indicated their confidence in Horbatyuk’s ability and commitment. Criticism of the failures in the investigation have often been linked with politicians or the leaders of the Prosecutor General’s Office going against the advice of this special investigative unit, or reducing the number of its investigators. to achieving full investigation and prosecution where appropriate. At a press conference on Nov 4 last year, lawyers representing the families of victims condemned political leaders’ pressure on the investigators. They noted that under huge pressure from the Prosecutor General’s Office, and against the judgement of the investigators themselves, one case over the gunning down of protesters on Feb 20, 2014 had been passed to the court prematurely.
Worth noting that the 2 May Group, a civic initiative investigating the tragic disturbances and fire in Odesa on May 2, 2014 publicly called for the authorities’ failed investigation to be handed to the Special Investigations Department. They have frustratingly been ignored and the second anniversary of effectively no progress is rapidly approaching.
Patience has worn thin both in Ukraine and abroad. There had long been calls for President Petro Poroshenko to get rid of Shokin who was openly accused of protecting corrupt prosecutors and of sabotaging vital reform. It took Poroshenko far too long to react, and one of the most reform-minded Deputy Prosecutor Generals Vitaly Kasko had by then resigned in disgust. Back in November last year, Kasko had said that “while the Prosecutor General spends so much time in the President’s Administration, we will not create either a European prosecutor’s office or a European state.”
Kasko had been one of the first people to expose the manner in which Shokin had rendered meaningless a meticulously designed process for bringing in the best people for top local prosecutor jobs. Instead the old people, many of whom had held posts under Yanukovych, were simply reshuffled to other places.
Oleksandr Banchuk from the Centre for Legal and Political Reform also blasted Shokin over this sabotage. He believes that without amendments to the law on the prosecutor’s office to allow for selection on a competitive basis, the President will continue choosing a politically loyal candidate for the post, and “a collective Shokin will be reincarnated in each consecutive prosecutor general”.
A new Prosecutor General is needed now, however, and there is no such selective procedure in place. Ukraine’s leaders would nonetheless be well-advised to heed the calls for open competition from civil society. Neither they nor Ukraine can afford another bad choice.