Yesterday, Valeryia Lutskova, the Ukrainian Ombudsman for human rights raised the issue of European Court of Human Rights (ECfHR) fines levied at Ukraine thus far in 2013.
Thus far, those fines have reached UAH 60,000,000 – or about $7.400,000. Perhaps small beans in the scheme of annual national budgets – until you consider that since 2001, Ukraine has paid more than $200,000,000 in ECfHR fines – no longer small beans.
Unsurprisingly most fines relate to Article 6 – right to a fair trial, Article 5 – right to liberty and security, Article 3 – prohibition of torture, Article 13 – right to an effective remedy Protection of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and Article 1 of the First Protocol to the Convention (protection of property) – and always have done.
It is a trend set to continue for some years to come – even if the current situation radically improved overnight – as there are still 13,850 (ish) ECfHR claims against Ukraine pending. Thus there will be unfavourable judgements against Ukraine for years to come – regardless of any substantial and immediate improvement.
The biggest single award against Ukraine comes from an incident in 2007, where 17 prisoners went on hunger strike over exceptionally poor detention facilities to then be subsequently beaten quite brutally. They were awarded Euro 435,000 each – a combined cost probably greater than improving the conditions they were held in sufficiently to prevent their hunger strike in the first place.
As can be clearly seen, and to reiterate before going any further, the UAH 60,000,000 fines imposed this year are not all relating to incidents this year. In fact most don’t, such is the delay due to backlogs at the ECfHR. Some fines relate to incidents predating the current government. As such, when pointing fingers at a failure to get a grip of the state institutions and the unnecessary costs to annual budgets through ECfHR fines, those fingers should be rightly pointed at the entire political class – past and present.
This of course, is the measurable financial cost. The cost in public trust in institutions – and thus legitimacy – must truly dwarf the financial costs.
So what to do? The improvement of detention facilities is a matter of political priorities and finance. It is probably the easiest fix.
Far more difficult is dealing with unlawful, and often unrecorded, detention and any subsequent assaults that may occur. Furthermore, whatever system maybe created to reduce such incidents, would it have the faith of the public?
With trust so very low in local government, central government, the judiciary and the police, who would the public trust to police the police and who would the police allow to simply walk into a police station and demand to see all those detained, the conditions they are in and their custody records?
Is it perhaps a good time for somebody within the diplomatic community to approach Ms Lutskova and suggest a system similar to that of a Lay Visitor as a very low cost option that may well receive public momentum and a sustained legitimacy?
Would lots of volunteer ombudsmen acting randomly nationwide, submitting reports directly to the Ombudsman’s Office, make a tangible difference to this problem? Would it hurt to try?