Draft Law on the Police: Trojan Horse for the Public?

The public have recently learned that the Ministry of the Interior has completed one of the stages in preparing a new draft Law on the Police. This work took place virtually without announcements or reports with not even all leading specialists with an interest in reform of the police having been informed of even the very fact that the draft law was being drawn up. 

The public also remained on the sidelines although it would be impossible to deny the relevance of this draft law to the rights and freedoms of each individual living in Ukraine, regardless of citizenship. The Information Council attached to the MoI was in no way involved in discussing and drawing up the document and it s not known who made up the working group.

The Association of Ukrainian Monitors on Human Rights in the Work of the Police is therefore addressing a civic note of protest to the Minister of the MoI, Anatoly Mohylyov, condemning actions which make it impossible for the public to participate in taking decisions which concern the legitimate rights and freedoms of Ukrainian citizens.

We demand that the MoI, make public the draft law which was drawn up in secret from the Ukrainian people, create a working group for its revision with the mandatory inclusion of experts from civic institutions and invite open discussion of all interested parties via the media.

The Association of Ukrainian Monitors on Human Rights in the Work of the Police offers comments on particular points in this secret document.

If in Article 2, among the main tasks of the police, is included "ensuring the personal safety of citizens, protection of their rights and freedoms, and legitimate interests", in Article 15 on the Duties of the Police, protection of citizens’ rights is for some reason not mentioned. Can the duties not take the main tasks into account?

It is also unclear what foreign nationals and stateless persons are to hope for since, according to Articles 2 and 15, their safety and human rights and freedoms are not guaranteed by the police.

According to Article 4, in order to safeguard public order on objects and locations of particular significance or those that have suffered a national disaster, environmental pollution, or catastrophe, the MoI,, with the permission of the Cabinet of Ministers , may create special police divisions. However what is special about such police units is not mentioned any further in the text, nor is there any mention as to what specific objects and locations may be classified as being of particular significance, nor by whom. And the question is of interest – special police units are as a rule a dangerous thing for society due to the special procedure for how they carry out the law. Is this a special contingent of specialists armed with special weapons and given special powers regarding how to use them?

The principles of openness and transparency in the work of the police, set out in Article 9, are fairly unclear and not always comprehensible. For example, it is not stated whether citizens have the right to not only receive information from the police regarding its work, but also to gather it themselves. For example, by photographing and videoing in traffic police [DAI] premises. Of interest to taxpayers are the provisions on the rights of the police "in accordance with Ukrainian legislation to found media outlets in order to circulate information about their activities".  At whose expense? If from public funding, that is, with taxpayers’ money, then what for? After all there are State and private media outlets – they will cover the activities of the police, and moreover more professionally and objectively. . And the latter – allow them access according to established procedure to information which arouses public interest, for example, incidentally, members of public councils and mobile groups. If such ministerial media outlets are created from money collected from the voluntary contributions of the police officers themselves, forced as is always the case, to buy their publications, there is also no problem. However this needs to be clearly set down in the law, like everything which the police are entitled to spend public funding on.

And then we have Article 12 "The inadmissibility of interfering in the activities of the police" – this needs to be rewritten, since with such excessively general wording, all initiatives and measures of human rights activists, journalists or even ordinary citizens, can be banned as "interference in the work of the police".

The draft law also contains overtly incomprehensible provisions. For example, Article 15 "Duties of the police" states that the police "identify people who are planning crimes, carry out individual work in order to deter them from carrying out the crime" (Item 6). How is one to envisage this in real life?

Or the right of the police (Article 16) ".. to detain and hold in premises specially set aside for that purpose persons who were in public places in a state of inebriation in a state offending human decency and public morality, or those who have lost the ability to independently move or may harm others or themselves".  Yet everybody knows that there are no such special places in police premises. So what is the point of writing this?

You won’t find in the draft law legal conditions for the activities of public officials vital for the police. for example, Article 16 (the Rights of the Police) for example, already fails to guarantee that offenders will be searched in observance of current legislation, including by people of the same sex, in the presence of witnesses, etc (Items 6 and 7). A separate paragraph of Item 23 of this same Article 16 envisages the possibility of "inspection of vehicles, check of drivers’ documents confirming the right to use and drive them, transport papers and the correspondence of the loads being carried to the goods transportation documents". They have for some reason forgotten to mention the grounds for carrying out such measures. It turns out that the above-listed actions by police officers can be carried out at their discretion which will lead to further abuses and them illegally taking bribes and other boons.

There is plenty for experts to confer on regarding the content of Article 19 "Forced entry into housing and other premises, land plots" or Article 21 "Creation and keeping of databases on citizens and other individuals".

The latter, for example, envisages the gathering of information regarding "persons who have committed an administrative offence". In practice (given the will and a "creative" approach), it will be possible to make a huge number of people liable, for example, for smoking in prohibited places and without any obstruction gather the information about them which the police require. The law after all will allow this….

The provisions in Article 33 "The ethics of behaviour of rank and file and management personnel of Interior Ministry bodies" are fairly mild with these counting no total prohibition, but only wording like "refrain from forms of corruption", "refrain from divulging confidential information".

And finally, Section VIII "Control and supervision of police activities" does not mention the possibility and need for civil control over the activities of police officers and the MoI, at all. At the same time the relations between the MoI, and civil institutions are not set down in the draft law (cooperation and assistance within the framework of their competence, protection of their legitimate rights and interests, etc).

This is only an incomplete list of the most obvious gaps and failings in the new draft law, however they already indicate that the draft bill needs improvement and revision. Such important documents must not be prepared behind the public’s back by a narrow circle of people, albeit specialists in law. Only involvement in such work of a wide range of scholars, specialists from human rights organizations and public discussion of controversial provisions of the draft will make the new Law on the Police a proper instrument for protecting the rights of citizens and not a potential means of reprisals against them.

The Association of Ukrainian Monitors on Human Rights in the Work of the Police

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