Despite the country’s progress in freedom of speech since the Orange Revolution, human rights abuses remain a thorny issue that the country has not yet fully dealt with.
The 2006 report by the US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor blames Ukraine’s police and penal system for “some of the most serious human-rights concerns.”
The report also notes widespread corruption in the government and military, racism and anti-Semitism in society, and violence against women and children in the home as problem areas.
Released on March 6, the report accuses Ukraine of violating international laws meant to protect the rights of migrants and refugees by sending them back to their home countries, where they face persecution.
The bureau used data and facts obtained from Ukrainian government agencies and NGOs working on the ground.
Citing a Human Rights Watch report from October 2006, it said that Ukraine “falls substantially short of its international obligations towards migrants and refugees.”
Women and children are not only the victims of domestic violence but exploited in the workplace and by sex traffickers, too.
While the Constitution and other laws are in place to protect human rights, corruption at all levels of government, inefficiency and budgetary considerations seriously hinder the government’s ability to implement them, according to the report.
The result has been the resurgence of several high-profile killings of politicians and businessmen over the course of the year.
“…Business, government and criminal activities were intertwined to such an extent that it was often difficult to determine the motives,” reads the report, while deputy impunity remained a serious hindrance to persecution of criminals and corruption.
Volodymyr Yavorivsky, executive director at the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, blames the government under President Viktor Yushchenko for not carrying out the necessary judicial reforms.
“We consider all of these very serious problems,” he said, adding that Ukraine’s law-enforcement agencies have been functioning practically unchanged since Soviet times.
According to the US report, police were reported to frequently employ severe violence against those taken into custody, as well as conduct arbitrary arrests and detentions.
The Interior Ministry reported 385 cases of police violations of detainees’ rights, 23 torture cases, 152 cases of violence and bodily injury, and 57 cases of unlawful detention during the first 10 months of 2006.
The conditions of detention and prison facilities are also part of the problem, with poor sanitary conditions and overcrowding remaining major problems, as well as an insufficient response to the widespread cases of tuberculosis in prisoners, the report said.
Lengthy pretrial detention remains an issue, due in part to an “overburdened court system.” As a result, “the investigation process took four to five months on average,” even though “Ukrainian law provides that pretrial detention may not last more than two months.”
In addition to inefficiency and corruption, the judiciary also remained subject to various forms of pressure from the executive and legislative branches,” the report said.
Yavorivsky said that there has been discussion about adopting ideas for criminal justice reform that would pave the way to developing and adopting a new penal code, penal process code and central law-enforcement reform.
There has also been discussion of law projects about peaceful assembly, social organizations, personal information and religious organizations.
“Without these reforms, nothing will ever guarantee the protection of Ukraine’s citizenry or their property rights from the tyranny of the country’s government employees.”
“Most importantly, what needs to be done is to introduce judicial reforms … and to finish working on and implement them in law-enforcement agencies,” Yavorivsky said.
In a chilling reminder of the not-so-distant Soviet past, the US report said that Ukrainians are still wrongfully confined in psychiatric hospitals, while confiscated religious property is slow in being returned.
On the brighter side were stepped-up efforts by the authorities to expose police abuses, as well as more coverage of corruption by the media.
Media “continue to consolidate post-Orange Revolution gains in freedom of speech and expression,” the report states, adding that the authorities generally respected laws regarding freedom of speech and the press, while individuals and media publications freely criticized the government.
And the March 26 parliamentary elections were “the freest in the country’s 15 years of independence.”
“Pressure from state power has lessened, so there has been more freedom, more freedom of speech, for example. But the government has not carried out a single reform in the sphere of human rights, therefore the situation has stayed in pretty much the exact same place,” Yavorivsky said.
“It is impossible to say that the fundamental situation regarding human rights has gotten better here,” he added.
Source: Kyiv Post