As it was expected, Ukraine has ignominiously lost 211 cases at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). What caused the biggest stir is the ruling over a complaint from Iziaslav prisoners who accused the Ukrainian authorities of tortures and other human rights violations while they were held in custody. Under this lawsuit, the ECtHR ruled that the Ukrainian side pay 25,000 euros to each prisoner as compensation and 10,000 euros to one of them to make up for legal expenses.
So Ukraine has again emerged as a country in which human rights are flouted. But this time it is not about reports of national and foreign human rights watchdogs but about the ruling of a well-respected and prestigious judicial institution. Incidentally, under the Ukrainian law, ECtHR rulings are binding. As European Court Judge Stanislav Shevchuk said in a TVi channel program, the fact that Ukraine has failed to comply with 95 percent of this court’s rulings provokes a negative attitude and further decisions to the detriment of this country. “Just look at the statistics of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers… This body watches and monitors the compliance with European Court’s case rulings and judgments. The Committee of Ministers closely watches the way Ukraine is doing this. As long as judgments are being monitored, they are considered unfulfilled. Here are the statistics: 900 case rulings are still being monitored, and 736 of them are under ‘close monitoring,’” the judge said.
On the whole, Ukraine is to pay about 1 million euros from its budget in connection with the abovementioned 211 cases. With due account of the earlier ECtHR judgments which this country failed to execute, the amount in fact doubles at a most conservative estimate. Even the Minister of Justice, Oleksandr Lavrynovych, does not know a more exact figure because, in his words, it constantly varies – upwards, judging by what is going on.
This number of successful lawsuits provokes some rather special comments of topmost governmental officials. For example, Verkhovna Rada Speaker Volodymyr Rybak spoke about the Tymoshenko case in an interview with the newspaper Izvestiya v Ukraine. The ECtHR is also handling this case, and Ukraine may have to execute the judgment the court will pass. “Besides, in Europe itself, seven or eight prime ministers have been imprisoned. So why do you, Europeans, not think that they were convicted for political reasons? Why is Europe not saying a single word about Georgia, where one official or another goes down every day? Ukraine has submitted to Europe all the Tymoshenko case documents. Please, hand down a ruling! Or take the US, for example, where a compatriot of ours has served a prison term. Let him come here – we will give him medical treatment in Truskavets,” the speaker said.
The parliament speaker must be hinting at Pavlo Lazarenko. Twisting facts is a well-known feature of Party of Regions politicians. Lazarenko was not convicted by a US court again – he was accused of illegal entry in the US and is now in custody pending a Department of Justice decision.
But what causes special surprise is the statement of Minister Lavrynovych. He claims that Ukrainians apply to the ECtHR so often because “we work very well in the sense that Ukrainians are legally educated and quite knowledgeable about the European Court of Human Rights.”
He says this even though almost everybody complains about legal incompetence of the vast majority of our citizens. It is impossible to understand the minister’s logic. For Europeans are far better educated from the legal angle. The life over there forces everybody to do things in compliance with the law and, hence, often apply to courts. So, by Lavrynovych’s logic, the largest number of lawsuits to the ECtHR should be coming from the Old World. But what we see is just the reverse. There are, of course, quite a few suits from European countries, but not so many from one country as from Ukraine.
Our citizens apply to the ECtHR for reasons that are interconnected. Firstly, they cannot have their rights protected by Ukrainian courts because our judicial system is totally corrupt and needs to be totally changed rather than reformed. This also applies to the prosecution service. Secondly, even if the court has handed down a positive ruling, it is often not fulfilled – not only due to the ill will of bureaucrats, but also due to the overall policy of the state. Here is a typical example. Under the law “On Social Security of Wartime Children,” the individuals whom this law concerns are eligible for special benefits. Judicial institutions, including courts of appeal, have ruled that payments be maid obligatorily. So what? Nothing! All the Pension Fund can say is that it has no money because the budget does not provide for any. So people have a sufficient legal background to understand a simple truth: as the state is not going to fulfill its commitments, the only way to force it to do so is to file a suit to the ECtHR.
Thirdly, and most importantly, human rights violations are rampant in Ukraine. The system of law is aimed in principle at suppressing, not protecting, human rights and freedoms. This is the main problem. The authorities do not know how and, moreover, do not want to solve it because this harbors the main danger for them.
What is more, the authorities are creating difficulties for themselves and are hardly capable of overcoming them successfully. First Vice-Prime Minister Serhii Arbuzov and Minister of Finance Yurii Kolobov went to the US in search of investments. In all probability, they failed to bring back anything essential. Otherwise, there would have been an at least force 9 informational wave. And it is natural rather than accidental. Who will, in sound mind and memory, invest their hard-earned money in a country that is not exactly rushing to fulfill even ECtHR rulings? There is a suspicion that our government is not going to do this on a full scale. Naturally, there are no thrill seekers of this kind among Western businesspeople. And how can one possibly believe the words of these top officials if there are daily reports about not only illegal seizures of kiosks or small factories, but also about bullying the oligarchs? As long as there are no courts independent of the government and, moreover, ECtHR judgments are being ignored, investments will remain a pipe dream.
One more thing. Why is nobody held responsible for the blatant human rights violations that caused the ECtHR to pass judgments? I mean, above all, embezzlement of budgetary funds and infliction of sky-high financial losses on the state. Why are the prosecution service and other competent bodies turning a blind eye to this? Or, maybe, they don’t have the time to deal with such “trifles”?
But these are economic, financial, and legal consequences. What should be more important for the authorities in the current conditions are ECtHR political rulings.
The European Court of Human Rights ordered Ukraine on January 9 to reinstate Oleksandr Volkov as Ukraine’s Supreme Court judge. The ECtHR ruled, among other things, that Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to a fair trial) was violated because some Verkhovna Rada members voted for those absent in the session room.
This is not so much a retarded-action mine as a powerful high-explosive bomb. For we know only too well that our parliament flouts this requirement when it passes the vast majority of laws and resolutions. Therefore, their legitimacy can be called into question. This can in turn make the government face very unpredictable political consequences. The opposition has already begun to file lawsuits – to national courts so far. But Strasbourg is not so far away.
Of course, the “Regionnaires” immediately demanded introducing a Constitutional provision that will allow our MPs to vote from their offices, as US Congressmen can do. In our conditions, this means legalization of button-pushing. It is not fair to draw comparisons with the US Congress. Any US Representative or senator, accused by the press of voting for somebody else, will not just dare go out on the street. In this country, conversely, Volodymyr Oliinyk, a Party of Regions MP, confesses and is not much ashamed of breaking the law in front of a 1+1 TV channel camera.
Volodymyr Yavorsky, member of the board of the Ukrainian Human Rights Helsinki League, believes it is a deliberate attempt to ignore ECtHR rulings. “This is a state-organized financial pyramid. For example, a law on benefits for mothers has been passed, but they are in fact paid less. Very few of them will take legal action. And only a part of those who have won the case but are not paid will apply to the ECtHR. So the state thinks it is easier to pay to just a few and later than to everybody and immediately,” he says.
Practice shows that financial pyramids are a very unstable thing. After all, they are inclined to tumble down and may, more often than not, bury their creators under the debris. Yet there is a precedent.
Den has its own experience of seeking justice in European courts. In 2005 the European Court of Human Rights handed down a ruling over a claim from the JSC Ukrainian Press Group, the Den publisher, in which it found the state of Ukraine guilty of infringing the right to the freedom of speech. It was about appealing the decisions of Ukrainian courts which had found our newspapers guilty of insulting the honor and dignity of Natalia Vitrenko and Petro Symonenko, presidential candidates in the 1999 elections. By its decision, the European Court in fact confirmed again a common European practice: value judgments must not be regarded as facts, and any politician should be prepared to take scathing criticism. But what was an axiom for European judges became a discovery for the national media and politicians. As we can see, the national judicial system is in fact forcing our citizens to seek justice in the European Court. The defeat of the state of Ukraine or, to be more exact, of the current leadership in a record number of 211 cases means that no conclusions have been drawn. Incidentally, we turned for comment to Verkhovna Rada Ombudsperson Valeria Lutkovska. The ombudsperson’s press service told us that Ms. Lutkovska deals with human rights on the territory of Ukraine. But they added: “We always have only one comment on this situation: all rulings of the European Court must be fulfilled.”