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Crisis deepens after Constitutional Court sabotages Ukraine’s anti-corruption reform

By Halya Coynash

 

KHPG (02.11.2020) – https://bit.ly/389Y7eO – A major crisis has erupted in Ukraine following a 27 October Constitutional Court [CCU] judgement that has seriously obstructed Ukraine’s efforts to fight corruption and placed visa liberalization and other aspects of EU relations, as well as IMF funding, in jeopardy. Some of the measures proposed, including the bill introduced by President Volodymyr Zelensky which would remove all the current CCU judges, may well only deepen the crisis, however the majority Servant of the People party has promised to support the bill.

 

As reported, the CCU judgement found unconstitutional, and therefore revoked, certain critical parts of anti-corruption legislation, namely the criminal liability for knowingly false income declarations in Article 366-1 of the Criminal Code and a number of powers of the National Agency for Corruption Prevention [NACP].  Despite serious concerns about a possible vested interest in the ruling from the President of CCU, Oleksandr Tupytsky and at least one other judge, the Court’s rulings are final and not subject to appeal. The ruling has already led to suspension of electronic declarations, and stripped NACP of important powers for monitoring and checking for corruption.  Such anti-corruption legislation was a critical part of Ukraine’s moves towards visa liberalization with the EU and EU officials have informally warned Ukraine’s Ambassador to the EU, Mykola Tochytsky that the cancellation of the legislation would be grounds enough to suspend the visa-free regime.

 

On 30 October President Zelensky tabled Draft bill No. 4288 ‘On restoring public confidence in constitutional court proceedings’.  This proposes to terminate the powers of CCU judges; declare their 27 October ruling to be null and void, as having “been adopted in conditions of a real conflict of interest”, and to cancel the changes made as a result of the ruling to the Law on Prevention of Corruption and Criminal Code.

 

Although the bill speaks of proceeding to choose new judges in accordance with the Constitution and the Law on the Constitutional Court, there is nothing at all in the Constitution that would allow removal of judges in this largely political manner.  Nor, according to Mykhailo Zhernakov, Director of the DEJURE Foundation, is there any clearly articulated procedure in the Law on the Constitutional Court that would prevent new judges being chosen for reasons that have nothing to do with the required moral qualities; professional competence and independence.

 

Zhernakov is certainly convinced that a proper competitive system for selecting CCU judges is needed.  He notes that two judges from the six whom the President is allowed to choose were, under President Petro Poroshenko, selected by a panel including an international expert and representatives of civic society. Both judges, he adds, refused to vote for the 27 October judgement.  As well as the six judges appointed by the President, there are (or should be, since at the moment 3 posts are vacant) six judges appointed by the Verkhovna Rada and another six by the Congress of Judges.  Up till now, he says, you have ended up with almost exclusively politically engaged individuals, willing to come up with any ruling at the command of their political patrons. The situation is no better with those appointed by the Congress of Judges, he believes, as here people were appointed solely to suit corporate judges’ interests, often corruption-linked.

 

Volodymyr Yavorsky, from the Zmina Human Rights Centre, is under no doubt that the CCU ruling is a huge setback for fighting corruption in Ukraine, however he considers that Zelensky’s bill will generate even more problems.

 

The Constitution does not give either the President or parliament the power to dismiss judges, and this would be a very dangerous precedent.  He believes that the bill is effectively abolishing the separation of powers (into the legislative; the executive and the judiciary).

 

The crisis, he says, has been brewing for a very long time, however he points in particular to the removal, “in illegal fashion”, in May 2019 of  the former CCU President, Stanislav Shevchuk, with the CCU even stripping him of his status as CCU judge.  Shevchuk appealed against this decision and an administrative court found his dismissal unlawful.  Over a year later, he has still not been reinstated.

 

Yavorsky adds that, since then, “the Constitutional Court has passed a fairly large number of extremely contradictory and, one might say, legally curious rulings.”

 

There is, undoubtedly, a problem that needs to be resolved but the essentially political solution which Zelensky is proposing has the problem that it can later be revoked, with this meaning that a real solution is simply being delayed.

 

Yavorsky cites Zelensky’s bill which calls the actions of CCU “an attempt to overturn the constitutional order and seize state power in Ukraine” and notes that the judges are effectively being accused of several crimes, although he is not aware of any criminal proceedings having been initiated.

 

In fact, that is not entirely the case.  The State Bureau of Investigations has summoned Tupytsky for questioning on 2 November with the criminal investigation initiated over possible state treason and illegal purchase of land in Crimea under Russian law.

 

As reported, the day after the disastrous CCU ruling, the Skhemy investigative journalist program published proof that Tupytsky had not stated on his income declaration, either in 2018 or 2019, that he had purchased land in occupied Crimea in 2018, and that the purchase had been carried out according to Russian law.  He has since suggested only that he “made a mistake” although failure to admit to this purchase made his involvement in the CCU ruling revoking criminal liability for such concealment at very least a conflict of interest, although also concealment of a crime.

 

On 30 October, Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, MP (from the ‘Holos’ party and former head of Transparency International Ukraine) reported that he had, as an MP, ensured that criminal proceedings under Article 109 of the Criminal Code (an attempt to seize power) were officially initiated (or at least recorded in the Single Register of Pre-Trial Investigations).

 

The chances of the latter investigation moving beyond inclusion in the Single Register, seem much lower, not least because this is the same accusation levelled against Pavlo Vovk, President of the District Administrative Court in Kyiv, and his colleagues. Despite seemingly very incriminating intercepted conversations, there has been very little real action even over the second wave of such revelations about Vovk & Co.  This, it should be said, is especially galling in the present situation since in one of the conversations, a voice that appears to be Vovk’s boasts: “two courts belong to us, the Constitutional Court and the District Administrative Court.”

 

One of the legal ways that Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada could try to restore some degree of public confidence in the Constitutional Court, Yavorsky suggests, would be to introduce amendments to the Law on the Constitutional Court allowing judges under criminal investigation over crimes against national security to be suspended, pending the outcome of the investigation.  Parliament could also suspend implementation of the 27 October ruling in the same way. If judges who passed that court ruling were found to have acted in their own interests, that should be grounds for declaring the ruling to be mull and void, however this is something that CCU judges have the power to do, not the President or Ukrainian legislators.

Photo: Oleksandr Tupytsky at a press conference on 30 October 2020.





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MH17 witness reports Russian military personnel were at Buk missile launch site

By Halya Coynash

 

KHPG (13.03.2020) – http://khpg.org/en/index.php?id=1583900495 – The first two days in the trial of three Russians and a Ukrainian over the downing of Malaysian airliner MH17 over Ukraine on 17 July 2014 have demonstrated just how incriminating the proceedings will be for Russia.  The latter’s track record of state-organized killings in Qatar; the UK; Germany; Turkey and Bulgaria was cited as one of the reasons why certain witnesses’ identity must be kept secret, with the need for such protection having been recognized by the examining magistrate.  Such witnesses include the person identified as M58 who “has stated that Russian military personnel, whom the DPR fighters said were from the FSB, were with the Buk TELAR at the launch site”.  Witness S24 was said to have expressed fear of reprisals by the Russian Federation, of being killed “so as to prevent the truth from coming out”.

 

The Joint Investigation Team [JIT] notes that they found evidence that the same Russian FSB and GRU [military intelligence] involved in state-sponsored killings abroad “are also closely involved in the armed conflict in Ukraine.”

 

Such evidence is not just confined to witnesses, but found in intercepted phone calls which, the prosecutor explains, were subjected to rigorous verification procedure. Such phone conversations reveal “various forms of involvement on the part of the GRU and FSB in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine”.  There are also some in July 2014 where members of the armed groups discuss having received ‘the green light from Moscow to execute somebody’ and ‘an order from Moscow to shoot someone’.

 

This is constantly denied by Moscow which claims that the Russians whose presence cannot be denied are there as ‘volunteers’.

 

The prosecution names other “clear indications that Russian security services are actively attempting to disrupt efforts to establish the truth behind the shooting down of flight MH17”, including the involvement of Russian GRU agents in hacking attacks against both the Dutch Safety Board during its investigation of the MH17 crash and of the Malaysian investigative and prosecution authorities.  Nor are the Russian security services seen as acting independently, with the prosecutor stating that there “are strong indications that the Russian government is very keen to thwart this investigation, and that it is not averse to deploying the Russian security services to do so.”

 

Four men are accused of involvement in the downing by a Russian Buk missile of MH17, and the killing of 298 passengers and crew members.  The Dutch Public Prosecutor asked the Russian authorities to interview the three Russian defendants: Igor Girkin, former FSB colonel; Sergey Dubinsky (former GRU) and Oleg Pulatov (former GRU spetsnaz).  A response was only forthcoming in early March, with Pulatov alone having turned up.  The latter, however, invoked his right to remain silent, saying that this was on the advice of his lawyers.  The only Ukrainian, Leonid Kharchenko is in the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’, and it is unclear whether he was able to be directly contacted.  Certainly the only person who is reacting – to some extent – is Pulatov, who “has hired” two Dutch lawyers and a Russian legal consultant. The Dutch lawyers have acknowledged that they do not know who is paying them, and it frankly seems highly unlikely that it is Pulatov himself who is funding his defence.   The public prosecutor points out that they have no idea at present of Pulatov’s position, except that  he denies involvement in the downing of MH17 and that the defence have appealed against the magistrate judge’s agreement to allow threatened witness status for several witnesses.  Given the hard-hitting words about Russia’s efforts to prevent the truth from being revealed in this case and the lengths to which it seems willing to go, it is hard to imagine that a court of appeal would reject the need to protect witnesses.

 

The public prosecutor points out that, although Girkin is not present and has made his unwillingness to participate in the trial clear, he is evidently following proceedings.  They therefore ask for an answer to one question.  It seems that in February 2015 Girkin made a witness statement to the Russian authorities in which he reported being informed that “the air defence” had hit a Ukrainian aircraft.  This complies with the original reports from the militants immediately broadcast on Russian television, but not with the facts, since only one aircraft was hit that afternoon – not the Ukrainian military plane reported, but the MH17 passenger airliner.  They invite Girkin to provide an explanation.

 

Girkin is also believed to have been responsible for extrajudicial executions and other war crimes in Donbas, yet remains perfectly free in Russia.  During numerous interviews, he has repeatedly denied that the militants downed MH17, with many speculating as to whether he was not in fact only denying militant culpability and therefore openly holding back from denying that others, probably the Russian military, might have launched the missile.  Such speculation would seem to have backing in the testimony of Witness M58 who spoke of Russian military personnel, identified by the ‘DPR’ fighters as FSB, being with the Buk TELAR at the launch site.

 

During the second day of hearings on 10 March, the Public Prosecution Service spoke of various allegations from the Russian Federation of supposed manipulation of material, many of which contradicted each other.  It also mentioned a new accusation of manipulation included in the Russian Federation’s written statement of 31 December 2019 in proceedings before the European Court of Human Rights brought by relatives of MH17 victims.  Russia challenged the authenticity of a video recording of the BUK Telar, made on 17 July 2014, near the presumed launch site at Snizhne. This is one of the pieces of evidence showing the movement of the Buk TELAR convoy from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile brigade in Kursk, western Russia.  Russia argues that the video cannot be authentic since the metadata of the video shows its creation date to be 16 July 2014, i.e. the day before the plane was downed.

 

The Dutch Public Prosecutor answered only that they had other evidence also of the convoy moving through Snizhne specifically on 17 July 2014.  They state that they wonder why a video which the Russian Federation is claiming was created by the Joint Investigation Team for propaganda should have been made on a day that contradicted this alleged propaganda aim, but that “expert knowledge is needed to respond to the substance of this point concerning the encoded date”.

 

Within hours, Bellingcat had issued a report into why there was a discrepancy in the metadata which the Russian Federation has tried to use as ‘proof’ of manipulation. Their statement that this was “a glitch in an open-source video format conversion algorithm used by Google” is easily confirmed or refuted.  If confirmed, then Bellingcat is surely justified in asking why Russia should have submitted “a formal defence statement to the European Court of Human Rights without the most basic of due diligence into its validity and into the probity of its arguments”.

 

These first two days of hearings were essentially about explaining the case, procedure, etc.  Appropriately enough, given the extensive efforts to obstruct their search for the truth, the Public Prosecution Service ends with a discussion about the disinformation campaign around MH17 which, it says, began as soon as it became clear that a passenger airliner had been downed, not the Ukrainian military plane initially reported on the Russian LifeNews and other propaganda channels.

 

The Russian narrative is aimed solely at sowing doubt about the evidence pointing to a Russian Buk missile and at disqualifying the JIT’s investigation. ….

 

The fate of flight MH17 has become known as a textbook example of a disinformation campaign by the Russian government. It is clear we have not yet seen the end of it.”

 

A letter from the Dutch government to parliament in 2019 had stated that “we must be prepared for disinformation aimed at adversely affecting the criminal proceedings and undermining trust in the independent judiciary.’  The Public Prosecutor notes that the warning proved to be justified and gives a detailed account of new attempts to discredit the investigation, based on leaks which they believe may be linked to the earlier attempts by the Russian GRU to hack the Malaysian police and attorney general’s office.

 

“The cynical disinformation campaign regarding the fate of flight MH17, which has gone on for more than five years now, places a heavy strain on many of the next of kin. As we already stressed in our opening statement, the next of kin of victims of serious offences deserve to receive clarity about what happened and who is responsible, at the earliest possible moment. Especially if government authorities are involved.”

 

The next hearing is scheduled for 24 March.





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UKRAINE / RUSSIA: CRIMEA: Six Tatar Muslims sentenced to 76 years in prison on fabricated charges

 

12.11.2019 from left Refat Alimov, Arsen Dzhepparov, Vadim Siruk, Emir-Usein Kuku, Muslim Aliev, Inver Bekirov Photo Crimean Solidarity

By Halya Coynash

KHPG (13.11.2019) – https://bit.ly/2pj1Jr1 –  “Does it not strike you as strange that in the 23 years Crimea was under Ukrainian rule, there were no ‘extremists’ nor ‘terrorists’, and no ‘acts of terrorism’, but as soon as Russia arrived with its FSB, there was suddenly all of that?”  The question was asked in his final address to a Russian court by Crimean Tatar human rights activist Emir-Usein Kuku, one of six Ukrainian political prisoners from occupied Crimea sentenced to horrific terms of imprisonment on 12 November on ‘terrorism’ charges without any crime.

 

There was nothing in this case that could remotely warrant criminal charges in a law-based democracy, and all six men – Muslim Aliev; Inver Bekirov; Refat Alimov; Arsen Dzhepparov; Emir-Usein Kuku and Vadim Siruk –  had long been recognized as political prisoners by the Memorial Human Rights Centre and as prisoners of conscience by Amnesty International.  The charges all hinged on unproven allegations that the men were ‘involved’ in the peaceful pan-Islamist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir which is legal in Ukraine and most other countries. Russia’s Supreme Court ruling declaring it a ‘terrorist’ organization was handed down in secret and probably as a method of enabling Russia to send Uzbek asylum-seekers back to face religious persecution in Uzbekistan.  No explanation has ever been provided as to why Russia alone has labelled a movement which is not known to have committed any act of terrorism anywhere in the world as ‘terrorist’.  In occupied Crimea it has been increasingly using such cynical ‘trials’ and monstrously long sentences as a weapon against Crimean Tatar civic activists and journalists in particular, and against Crimean Tatars in general.

 

All the men, who have been imprisoned since February or April 2018, were charged either with ‘organizing’ a Hizb ut-Tahrir group (under Article 205.5 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code) or with (the lesser charge of) ‘involvement’ in this group (Article 205.5 § 2).  Then in January 2017, the FSB suddenly added another charge of ‘attempting violent seizure of power in Russia’ (Article 278). The Memorial Human Rights Centre has noted on many occasions that this extra charge is often used against men who refuse to ‘cooperate’ with the FSB.  All the Ukrainian Muslims arrested in occupied Crimea have rejected any such ‘cooperation’.  It should be stressed that, as well as the preposterous nature of the charges against the men, Russia is in breach of international law since it is applying its legislation on occupied territory.

 

Although this was the second time Russia used its flawed ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ charges in occupied Crimea, the first had received far too little attention from international NGOs. The gratuitous violence during the arrests on 11 February 2016 (of Aliev; Bekirov; Kuku and Siruk) and the fact that Kuku was a well-known human rights activist made the international community finally take notice.

 

Although Kuku’s previous persecution under Russian occupation is best known, there are reasons for seeing the arrests of all six men and the sentences passed by ‘judges’ Roman Viktorovich Saprunov; Dmitry Viktorovich Merkulov and Roman Vladimirovich Podolsky (from the Southern District Military Court in Rostov) as extremely cynical.

 

Muslim Aliev  was the informal leader of the independent ‘Alushta’ Muslim Community which had on many occasions had come into conflict with the Muftiate of Crimea.  The Mufti, Emirali Ablaev chose to collaborate with the Russian occupation regime and has been rewarded with semi-official status.  Aliev’s family is convinced that it was his religious ‘dissidence’ that prompted his arrest.

 

The 48-year-old father of four was charged with ‘organizing’ a Hizb ut-Tahrir group, and sentenced to 19 years in a maximum security prison.

 

55-year-old Inver Bekirov is the oldest of the men.  He was initially accused with the lesser charge of ‘involvement’.  Then, on 21 August 2018, the ‘court’ in Rostov suddenly announced that it was proposing that the prosecutor change the changes against Bekirov to the more serious charge of ‘organizing’ a Hizb ut-Tahrir.  Judges are not supposed to act as prosecutors, and Russian judges in such cases never act independently so it is quite possible that this was done merely in order to abort a trial at a point when the FSB torture methods used to obtain ‘evidence’ had just been exposed. It is also known that the FSB officer (and former Ukrainian turncoat) Alexander Kompaneitsev, who has played a malignant role in all these prosecutions and in the torture of supposed ‘witnesses’, had threatened to arrest Bekirov’s nephew, Refat Alimov, unless he gave false testimony, which he was unable to do.

 

He was sentenced to 18 years’ in a maximum security prison. 

 

Emir-Usein Kuku  had very clearly been persecuted for his human rights activities, with this earlier involving a sinister attempt to abduct him. On that occasion, on 20 April 2015, it is likely that the crowd who gathered in response to his cries for help saved his life.

 

He was sentenced to 12 years’ in a maximum security prison. 

 

Vadim Siruk (30) is an ethnic Ukrainian convert to Islam, and his family are not alone in believing that he was arrested as a warning to other converts, and as an attempt to claim that Russia was not targeting Crimean Tatars.

 

He was sentenced to 12 years’ in a maximum security prison. 

 

Arsen Dzhepparov (29) was probably arrested in April 2016 because he had refused to act as an FSB informer, providing false testimony against the men who had already been arrested.  Dzepparov was then only 26, however he and his wife, Zarina, already had a small daughter.  How could he ever explain to little Evelina what conscience and honour mean, he asked, if he denounced other men who also have families and children?

 

He was sentenced to 8 years’ in a maximum security prison. 

 

Refat Alimov, at 28, is the youngest and the only man who does not have his own family. It seems extremely likely that he was arrested as Bekirov’s nephew.

 

He was sentenced to 7 years’ in a maximum security prison. 

 

The indictment in each of the cases had essentially accused the men only of practising their faith, and the defence demonstrated time and time again that the ‘evidence’ had been falsified and the ‘secret witnesses’’ testimony could not be trusted. The ‘judges’ should have certainly acquitted all of the men, and were clearly aware of this since all of the sentences were lower than those demanded by the prosecutor, substantially so in the case of the four men accused of ‘involvement’.

 

These sentences will, of course, be challenged.  Until the appeal hearing, the men will probably remain imprisoned in Rostov.

 

Footnote: The title is from HRWF. The original title of KHPG is The terrorist threat Russia brought to Crimea: six victims receive huge sentences.

 

Recommended reading

 

EU Observer : https://euobserver.com/tickers/146595
The Moscow Times: https://bit.ly/379azJ5





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Russia’s destruction of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Crimea hits unexpected hurdle

By Halya Coynash

 

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (10.09.2019) – https://bit.ly/2m1sSfU – With Russia on the verge of destroying virtually the last remaining Ukrainian Orthodox Church place of worship in occupied Crimea, the UN Human Rights Committee has stepped in.  The Committee has applied its Rule 94 as an interim measures, and thus halted the eviction of the congregation from the Cathedral of Vladimir and Olga in the centre of Simferopol.   This is, of course, if Russia does not simply flout the order, however Serhiy Zayets, who is representing 50 members of the congregation, notes that Russia is shortly due to report to UN bodies on its human rights record in a broader context.  Flagrant refusal to obey such a ruling is fraught with “serious reputational losses”, Zayets believes.

Zayets applied to the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of over fifty parishioners who complain of persecution by the Russian occupation authorities. In the letter dated 6 September, which he has made public, the Committee informs that the case has been accepted, and that Russia “has been requested” to not evict the congregation from the Cathedral until the case has been considered.  Russia has also been invited to provide comments on the substance of the complaints made.

This was categorically not what Russia was expecting.  Zayets reports that the Russian-controlled court of appeal had, at the end of August, upheld the ruling of the de facto ‘Crimean Arbitration Court’ from 28 June.  This had ordered the dissolution of the lease agreement for the Cathedral of Vladimir and Olga signed in 2002 between the Ukrainian authorities (the Crimean Property Fund) and the Crimean Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Kyiv Patriarchate, and the eviction of the Church congregation from the Cathedral.  Klyment had reported on 8 February this year that he had received a writ ordering that he vacate the Cathedral within 30 days.  The Archbishop then warned that this was likely to lead to eight parishes in rural areas also being forced to close. On 27 March, the Church received another letter from this ‘ministry’, which terminated the lease agreement. The letter claimed that this was because the Church is in debt, however the sum, as Zayets mentioned, was nominal, and in fact the Archbishop denies that anything at all is owed.

 

All such court procedure was, like the Russian-controlled appeal court ruling, a formal pretext.  As Zayets noted, the occupation regime had not even waited for the final stage and had already begun destroying Church property under the guise of ‘renovations’ and had set up a fence around the building. The dismantling of the roof resulted in a significant part of the Cathedral being flooded.  Then in late July 2019, Archbishop Klyment made photos public of the devastation inside the premises of the Cathedral and the Eparchiate.  He reported that the effective plundering of the Cathedral had taken place while he was away.  A large wooden Cross, which they had obviously decided was not worth stealing, could be seen dumped, together with workmen’s equipment.  The Archbishop stressed that this attack on the Church was a blow to Ukrainians for whom the Church, since 2014, has provided the only hearth for their Ukrainian identity since annexation.

 

The battle to seize control of the Cathedral of Vladimir and Olga began soon after Russia’s invasion and has continued, with Klyment even attacked during a raid on the Cathedral in which crosses and icons were seized. This is partly a move aimed at seizing a major site in Simferopol, which Klyment has said he was almost immediately after annexation offered 200 thousand USD to vacate.  Since he, obviously, refused, the occupation regime used trumped-up pretexts for its plunder.

 

This move is also part of the aggressive offensive and repressive measures against the Ukrainian Church in Crimea since annexation and against Klyment himself.  He was detained on 3 March, when he was already seated on a coach to Rostov in Russia for the latest hearing in the ‘trial’ of Ukrainian political prisoner Pavlo Hryb.   Two pretexts were found, both insultingly implausible, for holding Klyment in detention until late evening.  It is possible that the occupation authorities were planning administrative arrest, but were deterred by the publicity the move received.

 

All faiths, except the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate, have come under fire in occupied Crimea, but the Orthodox Church under the Kyiv Patriarchate was the first to be attacked, probably because of its openly pro-Ukrainian position and its public statement on 11 March 2014 condemning Russian occupation of Crimea.

In just the first year, 38 out of 46 parishes ceased to exist, and in at very least three cases, churches were seized by the occupation regime:  in Sevastopol; Simferopol and in the village of Perevalne.  Of 25 priests in 2014, by October 2018 there were only four.  There had been nine until the summer of 2018, however five had left for mainland Ukraine after a number of searches of the homes of members of the Ukrainian Cultural Centre and after it became clear that the lack of a Russian passport was likely to be used against them.

Lack of such registration has given Russia weapons to use in depriving the Church and believers of their places of worship and of other rights. Other methods have also been used, including the threat of physical reprisals by the armed paramilitaries, especially in 2014, vulnerability over the  lack of Russian citizenship and also economic intimidation.  There have been threats, for example, against those businesspeople who provided premises for the Church to use, with this a reason why many religious communities have lost their places of worship.





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Post-election Ukraine. More of the same or a new human rights agenda?

13 steps to a human rights and reform agenda

 

In an article by Halya Coynash published on the website of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, the author lists a number of priority steps to be taken towards a real human rights and reform agenda. The full article also addresses other issues.

 

KHPG (22.07.2019) – https://bit.ly/2SBd2oH – Over recent weeks, the Human Rights Agenda Platform, a coalition of several prominent human rights groups invited all political parties taking part in the elections to give answers to questions regarding 13 vital steps towards real reforms. They met with five political parties: Servant of the People; European Solidarity; Holos; Syla I Chest and Samopomych, with four of these (not including Zelensky’s Servant of the People) providing answers to the questions on reforms put.

 

Assuming that the exit polls are borne out by the results, meetings were held with representatives of three parties that will be in the new parliament: Servant of the People; European Solidarity and Holos.

 

Some of the 13 steps require only political will, while other reforms have not really begun yet.

 

  1. Pass amendments, drawn up by the Constitutional Commission, to Section II of the Ukrainian Constitution on protecting human rights and civil liberties.

 

  1. Revoke the Moratorium on buying and selling agricultural land and adopt a law on sale of land.

 

This may sound small, but it is not. For the past 18 years, owners of plots of agricultural land have been prevented from selling their own property due to a ‘temporary’ moratorium that keeps being extended. The moratorium was purportedly aimed at protecting those who received plots of agricultural land after the Soviet kolkhozes (collective farms) were dissolved. The owners certainly do not feel protected. Around 60% of them are 50 or older, and in very many cases, where the owners do not have heirs or cannot work the land themselves, the ability to sell or obtain fair rent for the land would significantly improve their standard of living

 

  1. Demonstrate that Ukraine is willing to fight impunity by ratifying the Rome Statute  of the International Criminal Court; the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence and by adopting Draft Law No. 9438 on war crimes.  The latter was finally passed in its first reading in June this year, but over five years after the beginning of Russia’s undeclared war against Ukraine, this is much too slow (see: How many victims needed for Ukraine to finally prosecute for war crimes?)

 

  1. Continue judicial reform and adopt amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code on trial by jury.

 

  1. Begin reform of the SBU [Security Service of Ukraine] and deprive the SBU of functions it should not have and bring its activities into line with international standards, including by developing a mechanism for parliamentary oversight.

 

  1. Make amendments to the administrative and criminal codes on mechanisms for ensuring liability for discrimination and hate crimes.

 

  1. Prepare and adopt a law envisaging that the law enforcement bodies report to parliament once a year on the scale and results of the use of investigative operations.

 

  1. Legislative support for penitentiary reforms on protecting the rights of prisoners.

This would presumably include measures to ensure the removal of Article 391 of the Criminal Code.  This appalling relict from Soviet times makes it possible for Ukrainian prisoners to have up to three years added to their prison sentence for the most trivial of misdemeanours and gives dangerous scope for abuse. Draft Bill No. 9228, drawn up on the initiative of the Reanimation Program of Reforms and the Kharkiv Human Rights Group was tabled in the Verkhovna Rada on 19 October 2018.  2018, yet has still to be considered.

 

  1.  Introduce amendments simplifying the current system for registering place of residence.

 

  1.  Adopt a national model for transitional justice and support the draft bill On the Principles of State Policy on Human Rights in Conditions Linked with the Consequences of the Armed Conflict.  This was drawn up by human rights groups in cooperation with the Human Rights Ombudsperson.

 

  1. Regulate at legislative level the legal status and social guarantees for people illegally imprisoned in Russia and occupied Crimea, as well as those who are held captive in occupied Donbas.

 

  1. Made changes to the Law on the Human Rights Ombudsperson to improve the procedure for electing such an Ombudsperson as well as on guaranteeing their independence. Also introduce independent specialised Ombudspersons, for example, on information.

 

  1. Create institutional mechanisms for permanent cooperation, regardless of the political situation and begin quarterly meetings between parliamentary factions and the Human Rights Agenda

 

Members of the Human Rights Agenda earlier presented an analysis of all the parties’ programs from the point of view of human rights.

 


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