Constitutional players in what is no game

The Constitution being one of those immortal documents Ukrainian politicians like to change, but are loath to adhere to (or read), the topic of constitutional amendments was much, if variously, talked about during the recent election campaign.  The need for changes is one of those few subjects of late on which politicians and civic society see eye to eye. 

An initiative (or more cautiously, plans for such) announced by the Deputy Head of the President’s Secretariat Marina Staniychuk has therefore been greeted with interest and a number of specific suggestions by representatives of Ukraine’s civic society. 

Ms Staniychuk announced that President Yushchenko was planning to initiate the drawing up of a new version of the Constitution in the first half of 2008, with a National Constitutional Council being created for this purpose. She explained that the Council would be headed by the President and would consist of 75-100 people who “represent all institutions of civic society”.  As aptly pointed out by Oleksandr Severyn, legal consultant for the “Maidan” Alliance*, Ms Staniychuk’s specification of what such institutions of civic society are, including as it does, “representatives of all political factions” and “government figures” raises some eyebrows. 

As indeed should the number of members. Now, truly representative would be the somewhat unwieldy figure of 48 million. 100 is much more manageable from the point of view of catering, but not necessarily with regard to consensus.  Oleksandr Severyn speaks of the constitutional boat endeavouring to manoeuvre between the two legendary monsters Scylla and Charybdis.  He sees the dangers as being on the one hand that the whole initiative will be hijacked by bureaucrats who will squeeze it into what they consider acceptable form. An equally worrying risk is that it will remain a body which is politely listened to and ignored while the government and “representatives of all political factions” happily make what amendments they please to the Constitution.

Not surprisingly, representatives of that self-same civic society have no desire to toss a coin over these two possibilities. Both are unacceptable.

They are therefore calling for real public participation in the process of drawing up the new version of the Ukrainian Constitution, especially with regard to provisions on human rights and civil liberties, and mechanisms for their protection.

In a statement issued in September, representatives of civic society stressed the importance of the Constitution for all Ukrainians and therefore for impossibility of leaving the constitutional process to politicians. They called for the creation of a Constitutional Assembly which would draw up a document to then be extensively discussed and voted on in a national referendum*

The need is just as burning now and civic society will therefore be doing their utmost to ensure that:

  1. the President’s Decree provides for real mechanisms enabling the Council to work properly and effectively and to produce not just fine words, but an actual draft ready for public discussion;
  2. the members of the Council are not those most easily manipulated or ignored, but respected members of civic society with knowledge of constitutional law, of human rights issues and or undoubted moral stature.

All constructive efforts at ensuring that the Ukrainian Constitution becomes the Main Law of a law-based democracy in which human rights and fundamental freedoms are fully protected will receive the total and active support of Ukrainian civic society and must be warmly welcomed.

Halya Coynash

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (in Ukrainian)  (in English)

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