Archive for October, 2013

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Putting a cost on human rights violations – Ukraine

October 31, 2013

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?

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“Ukraine was the top improver” – You don’t read that very often!

October 30, 2013

“Ukraine was the top improver in 2012/13, implementing reforms in 8 of the 10 areas measured by Doing Business.”

Blimey!

It’s not often you read anything that states Ukraine was the most improved at anything – and yet it is there in black and white, front and centre, on Page 9 of the World Bank/IFC “Doing Business 2014” Report.

Tempted as I am to belittle this achievement by pointing out it still remains ranked at a lowly 112th place and thus a move from “truly awful” to simply “awful” is far easier to achieve than a move from “very good” to “exemplary” by comparison, I should perhaps concentrate on the positive.

Any improvement, no matter how slight, should be welcomed – It could have moved in the other direction and gone from “truly awful” to “complete and utter nightmare” – but it didn’t.

The question is now, if the Association Agreement is signed, whether Ukraine will retain the title of “top improver” in the next few annual reports with the EU dragging it along the path of reform on occasion.

Time will tell.

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The Russian bellwether now pointing toward reality?

October 29, 2013

There are several bellwethers worthy of watching when it comes to Ukraine’s possible meeting of EU conditions for the signing of the Association Agreement in exactly a month.

Naturally the first, and naturally the least clear, are the actions of the Ukrainian leadership, particularly in respect to the circumstances around Ms Tymoshenko.

That said, those of us who live in Ukraine – rather than those watch from outside and currently seem in some form of semi-controlled panic – are well aware that Ukraine is a nation that does things “just in time”.

When shopping centres are due to open, painters are still in the night before.  When football tournaments are hosted, stadiums are still having toilets fitted the night before.  We have become used to things getting done “just in time”.

A solution to Ms Tymoshenko is therefore unlikely to occur much before mid-November – “just in time”.

Another bellwether is the EU and its composite parts – the Member States and EU institutions.  Thus far, a controlled concern relating to the usual “just in time” Ukrainian way seems to be holding up rather well – publicly at least.

The third, and perhaps the most interesting – at least today – is Russia and its acceptance – or not – that it can no longer prevent any Association Agreement/DCFTA signature, and thus that it recognises that Ukraine will meet all the EU conditions – “just in time”.

Now whether you like or loath Russian Foreign Minister Sergie Lavrov, there is no denying he does the job his nation expects of him – and does it well more often than not.

It is therefore worthy of note that he stated today, “We respect Ukraine’s status of refraining from membership in any blocs. We expect our partners to continue following their non-aligned priorities.  

There will be no severing of these ties. They will be exercised on the basis of the principle of most favored nation as it is implied, but additional privileges stemming from the CIS free trade zone treaty will hardly be applied if the Ukrainian market is overburdened with competing commodities from the European Union .”

A clear indication that Ukrainian interlocutors have told Russia in no uncertain terms, Ukraine will meet the EU conditions “just in time” regardless of any additional pressure Russia may want to exert – but assurances given that  embarrassing memberships of non-Russian blocs will not occur any time soon.  A fact Mr Lavrov seemed to need to reiterate.

The “reassuring” no Ukrainian move toward EU Membership or NATO statement (any more than that of a move toward the CSO) ultimately for Russian domestic consumption.

One can expect deep sighs of relief within the EU too I suspect when it comes to bloc alignment.

After all the EaP and the AA/DCFTA is not the 31 chapters of the  Aquis Communautaire required for EU Membership – and given what appear to be Ukrainian assurances to Russia no bloc alignment application will be made soon – no premature EU Membership application this decade would seem likely.

That is probably just as well considering the 7 year EU budgetary cycle makes no provisions for Ukrainian membership this decade, making 2030 – 2035 the earliest realistic date anyway.  That on the presumption that Ukraine – one day – does apply to join the EU.

Avoiding another 50 year accession debacle similar to that of Turkey would seem a good idea.

Whatever – it would seem that the Russian bellwether is now pointing firmly toward Ukraine meeting the EU conditions and facilitating the signing of the AA/DCFTA – even if “just in time”, and to the ire of the western external Ukraine watchers.

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President Komorowski statement – What of proportionality?

October 28, 2013

In amongst what has become standard statements from EU leaders to the Ukrainian political class, this recent statement made by Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski has an interesting little addition which many don’t contain.

“Poland does not question the decision of the Ukrainian courts, but noted that “human rights are and will always be the foundation of the EU.””

Hmmm.  I’m not sure I would agree with that entirely.

I will accept the reality that the ex-Soviet law that Ms Tymoshenko was found guilty under was – and currently remains – the law.  Ergo I accept that if she did break it – and I would not be surprised – that she be held accountable.  Albeit there should be a very long line of other politicians in that queue that were notable by their absence.

I also fully agree that the way in which she was tried,  by international standards was very poor – even though Ukrainian judicial standards often fall below the international normative, and have ever since I arrived here many years ago.  Thus her human rights, like a vast number of other Ukrainians – daily – were not properly adhered to during the judicial process.

Thus far however, I can accept the construct of President Komorowski’s statement and that of the position of Poland.  I certainly understand why it was made, the way it was made and its timing.

But even if I can understand the Polish position as orated by President Komorowski,  I cannot fully accept the decision of the Ukrainian Courts as he states both he and Poland do – I do question the decision of the Ukrainian Court when it comes to the sentencing.  I question the proportionality of the sentence itself against the “crime” committed.

Even if the trial had been conducted to international standards, and even if a large percentage of the political class also guilty of abusing their office had also gone on trial and latterly been found guilty – in fact if everything would have been done as transparently, cleanly and free from passions as is possible, surpassing the highest international standards in judicial process – I would still question the Ukrainian Courts sentence with regard to its proportionality.

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Nobbling Klitschko – A who dunnit!

October 26, 2013

Back on 1st July this year, I wrote this regarding the pending Constitutional difficulty Vitali Klitschko’s presidential bid would certainly face – Article 103 to be precise.

In short, a matter of residency in Ukraine for the past 10 years as per constitutional requirement to run for the office of President – an issue I expected to haunt him going forwards.

At the time I wrote –  “I would also not assume that it would necessarily be Party of Regions who would raise the question either.  Should Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna Party not be the single opposition nominated candidate, I would not discount “somebody” within the Batkivshchyna Party trying to disable the Klitschko candidacy so a Tymoshenko puppet will run as the opposition candidate.”

It should therefore come as no surprise that yesterday a bill was introduced in the RADA that makes things almost impossible for Klitschko to run – as if things were not already constitutionally difficult enough.

It relates to Amendment 76 to The Tax Code and states “if a person has the right to permanent residence in a foreign country, such a person is considered to be one that does not live in Ukraine.”

As has been reported in the Ukrainian media, Klitschko holds permanent residency in Germany.  By his own public admission he pays taxes to Germany.

So which dastardly Party of Regions MP has sought to introduce this amendment and make it almost impossible for Klitschko to run?

The answer is none of them – possibly.

This amendment was allegedly introduced by Ihor Brychenko of the Batkivshchyna Party – subordinate of Ms Tymoshenko and Arseniy Yatseniuk, one or the other of which will benefit greatly from Klitschko’s disqualification from the Presidential campaign.

Needless to say, immediately this Amendment was entered into the RADA, Vitali Klitschko announced his official candidacy for the 2015 presidential elections – he had no choice – the timing of any such announcement taken out of his hands.  It is one thing to erect barriers to a potential run that may or may not happen, but another to erect them once a candidate directly effected by any legal manipulations is already, officially, in the race.

In circumstances such as these, those who frame the debate first – and robustly – normally win the public debate.  Any further legal manipulation Klitschko will certainly frame as direct interference with his now official presidency bid.

Unfortunately that public debate may now be about supposed political allies, where one opposition party is trying to nobble the candidacy of the leader of another – or shenanigans by  Party of Regions trying to create as much damage as is possible, publicly inflicted, by supposedly allied “democratic” parties on each other for as long as that lasts.

But as always, things may not be as it seem – Arsneiy Yatseniuk claims the amendment to the Tax Code was falsely submitted by Party of Regions under the name of  Ihor Brychenko, and not by his hand as claimed – though that will not undo Klitschko’s statement in the RADA officially declaring his run for the Presidency.

His announcement to run undoubtedly removes any chance of a single opposition candidate – unless he remains constitutionally barred by reasons of residency and Article 103.  It is probable that Tymoshenko will not be able to run due to conditions of any partial pardon and subsequent release, which Mr Yatseniuk states she accepts –  leaving Yanukovych verses Yatseniuk.  Yatseniuk being by far the weakest opposition candidate.

Depending upon whom the public choose to believe, some could be forgiven for getting that “Orange” deja vu feeling already.  At least the last time they fell into dysfunctional, poisonous politics amongst themselves it was after being elected, rather than before.

If they believe Yatseniuk, then the usual Party of Regions electoral manipulations are already underway.

I forget just how many times I have written about the current opposition parties joint and individual ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, but let us hope this is not the beginning of yet another attempt to do the same and it is indeed a Regions conspiracy.

Opposition unity remains a necessity – even if by Klitschko’s announcement that means multiple opposition presidential candidates who must then somehow separate themselves politically and ideologically in a presidential campaign without damaging the opposition alliances.

If Batkivshchyna are behind this turn of events, eyes must be rolling, and brows wearily furrowing within the European People’s Party in the EU parliament – with both UDAR and Batkivshchyna being members –  as they begin to watch their Ukrainian members, claiming the label of “democratic forces” in Ukraine, try to disable candidacies through legal manipulations rather than democratic means.

This entire sorry tale comes down to nothing more than whom any individual chooses to believe – and I long ago stopped believing any of the two major parties prima facie.  Whichever side any reader chooses to believe, to me, matters not.

What matters is that is happened at all.

Nevertheless, I did warn of forthcoming underhand tricks to nobble Klitschko back in July.  Seemingly, they have now started to arrive – and when the PoR and Batkivshchyna knives eventually combine, in concert or individually – whomever you believe in this current farce, a Klitschko run for the presidency looks to be set with traps and hurdles from all sides – over and above those already existing in the Constitution.

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Lest we forget – Anniversary of the Odessa Massacres

October 25, 2013

Living in Odessa , it is perhaps necessary for me to take a pause and ignore the current politics of the day, for a fleeting moment and look to local history.

This week marked the 72 anniversary of the 1941 Odessa massacres.

These massacres carried out predominantly  by the Romanian army on the orders of Lieutenant-Colonel Nicolae Deleanu and Lieutenant-Colonel C. D. Nicolescu – resulting in the deaths of approximately 99,000 Jews between 22 and 28 October 1941, with a further 35000 Jews moved to the ghetto of Slobodka where most died from exposure.

A somber moment for reflection that dictates suspending commentary on the current political shenanigans for 24 hours.

Odessa-2-269-Dec41Monument.

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Seemingly more selective prosecution in Ukraine despite EU eyes looking on

October 24, 2013

Whilst Ms Tymoshenko is centre stage as the temporary symbol  of political persecution in Ukraine – with all international eyes looking in – you would think that, at least temporarily, the dullards within the Party of Regions would put a moratorium on the practice – at least until or if, the Association Agreement is signed next month.

Unfortunately, they seem to be particularly retarded.

Regular readers will know, I do know Mr Markov personally – though we have very different ideas about the direction Ukraine should take – disclosure made.

Igor Markov, leader of Odessa’s pro Russian “Rodina” party was recently deprived of his MPs mandate, apparently for voting against EU integration and thus bucking the Party of Regions whipped vote in favour.  The official reason being election fraud, which would be a reason for removing half the current RADA.

The message, do not breach party discipline even if you were elected on a pro-Russia ticket by your constituents as we can find irregularities in a great many election results.

Needless to say, Mr Markov did not leave quietly – telling lots of tales of $5000 payments for voting along party lines, yet further $5000 payments for pro-governmental speeches from Party of Regions sponsors – over and above MPs salaries.  Naughty, naughty!

So it has come to pass that yesterday Igor Markov was arrested for an offence of hooliganism that occurred in 2007.  Yes I kid you not, 2007.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs stating – “Criminal proceedings being investigated under the Penal Code, which provides for liability for the bullying.  Recall that we are talking about the events of 2007, when the near Odessa regional administration was picketed against the installation of a monument to Catherine II.  Igor Markov suspect of beating protesters as well as directly in the beating of citizens.  Today in Odessa Markov was handed a message on suspicion of having committed an offense under Part 4 of Art. 296 of the Criminal Code – hooliganism.  He is currently detained . The suspect will be brought to court for a preventive measure.”

The fact he has sat on Odessa City Council for years, until RADA election in 2012, and has never been questioned over this alleged hooliganism offence until now, despite being daily in Odessa city centre, screams selective prosecution once more.

To be strictly accurate, for those like me who remember, in 2009 when Yuri Lutsenko was Interior Minister, there was a very brief attempt at dealing with this particular incident – which was very, very quickly dropped – for reasons that may become apparent as you read on.

According to Yuri Lutsenko’s Facebook summary of events, it seems Markov’s arrest was prohibited by others – and thus Mr Lutsenko and the Ministry of Interior either passively or actively colluded – as Mr Markov was not arrested – and that raises the ethical question of whether selective prosecution is any better or worse than selective non-prosecution.

It should also be noted, that one of the few outspoken voices in support of Igor Markov was Yulia Tymoshenko who condemned the RADA removal of  “a new young, energetic, charismatic, ideological leader of the pro-Russian citizens of Ukraine.” – A statement that is unsurprising if you know of the seemingly genuine friendship between the Tymoshenko family and Markov that goes back many years – but surprising if you are not otherwise aware, given their prima facie differing political positions.  Particularly, so in view of the Lutsenko version of events above of which Ms Tymosehnko will have undoubtedly been aware at the time..

Perhaps Party of Regions will think that the EU will have no interest in protesting action against a pro-Russian political advocate.

Maybe in some retarded and warped way, Party of Regions think the EU will be quietly pleased a pro-Russian MP has been stripped of his mandate and now faces charges – even if the best charge they can currently come up with is so old it would be statute barred in many EU nations.

Could it be they expect willful blindness from the EU due to Mr Markov’s political views?

Maybe they will be right and nobody within the EU machinery will raise the issue or take it on as loudly as they did for Ms Tymoshenko or Mr Lutsenko for example.  After all, he was only an MP and not a senior minister or nationally known politician.

It maybe they think EU values will only stretch “so far” as to whom they apply to – particularly with regard to those who view a move toward the EU as the wrong direction for Ukraine.

However, if EU “values” have any depth and meaning, the EU will be taking note of the events currently unfolding around Igor Markov with a slightly concerned and no doubt weary eye.  I would be very surprised if Ms Tymoshenko is not making them aware of the situation personally, considering the long term friendly association between the Tymoshenko family and Mr Markov.

Should the EU publicly raise the issue, a very blunt lesson in democracy and the equal application of the rule of law – despite differing and competing views between Mr Markov and the EU – would be a very good lesson for the dullards within the Party of Regions who seem to think that with all EU eyes looking at Ms Tymoshenko, lesser mortals can still be subjected to what is yet more seemingly blatant political persecution.

I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody suggests banning his political party due to its pro-Russian views next.  After all, democracy in Ukraine for most politicians means more than one party and thus electoral plurality – but nothing more.  In the minds of many MPs and party leaders, that seems not necessarily to equate to the idea of competing ideas within a legal framework.

Whatever happens at the Vilnius Summit – Ms Tymoshenko released or otherwise – it seems the retards within Party of Regions are still incapable of putting “values” before “interests”.

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