Statistics, pre-election campaigns and ministerial websites

There are moments where somebody says something so phenomenally stupid that you reel. You’re hardly going to nod your head on the other hand wiping their nose in their mistakes is nasty.

When, however, the illiterate nonsense stems from the Ministry of Justice and is posted on their official site, some bemusement is entirely justified. When it is the second time over a short period, the said period coinciding with the length of the pre-election campaign, then embarrassing or not, there is no looking away.

We have already reported the first Ministry “gem”, where the Minister suggested that the number of poorer families in Ukraine had fallen, basing his startling conclusions on the number of lawyers putting in claims for providing free legal aid.

The human mind can follow unexpected paths, and although this one clearly headed straight into a bog, it seemed unwarranted to assume anything sinister.  On Friday, however, another feat in statistical reporting and interpretation from the Ministry of Justice would willingly leave us speechless if the need for clarification were not quite so strong.

The report begins with the statement that “European Court of Human Rights case-law shows that the number of violations of human rights in Ukraine make up only a little more than 1 percent of the overall number of human rights violations recorded by the Court in other European countries.”

Some of the figures given are wrong, nor is it clear what timescale is involved, however perhaps more important would be to question what the Ministry is suggesting these figures mean and whether the implied cause for Ukraine to pat itself on the back is warranted.

The site states that out of 8.5 thousand judgments issued by the Court last year, “only 120 found violations of human rights by Ukraine” (in fact the figure was 165).  There is no mention of how many of the 8.5 thousand were found to not have constituted violations at all. One would also respectfully suggest that given that the law on the ECHR only came into force in 1997, as well as the huge backlog in Strasbourg (the first judgment was in 2001), the dire system with legal aid in Ukraine, exacerbating the already major difficulties for Ukrainians in applying to the Court, the word “only” in this sentence would seem entirely misplaced.

It is worth mentioning, incidentally, given such woolly statistics, that despite being a relative newcomer to the European Court, at the beginning of 2007, Ukraine stood in fourth place in terms of the number of applications submitted to the Court in Strasbourg, outdone only by Russia, Turkey and Romania.

The Minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych also stated that “claims against Ukraine are very rarely allowed by the Court in full, and quite often not in the part of the claim which was deemed definitive.”

Such statements use too many vague terms to be easy to refute. We have mentioned the difficulties with getting legal aid. This added to a generally low level of legal awareness and the difficulty for a layperson in applying to the European Court would surely explain why many cases are found inadmissible. The Ministry may also be referring to the fact that people generally seek larger figures in compensation than they generally receive, and that sometimes they claim violations under several Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.  The links below are just a few of the articles from last year on judgments against Ukraine which make it difficult to find the Ministry’s interpretation satisfying.

Furthermore, the Minister states, “the situation seen over recent years, with a swift increase in the number of claims to the European Court, as well as the constant rise in judgments against Ukraine, stabilized in 2007. …. From the beginning of the year the number of claims sent by Ukrainians to the Court was a third lower. And the number of judgments against Ukraine from January – July 2007 came to 63”.

The mistakes in the figures cited are strange given the source, however less disturbing than the quite misleading “conclusion” drawn from the figures.  The “sharp increase” in judgments for 2005 – 2006 was over cases dating back to 2001 – 2003.  It is inconceivable that the Ministry of Justice is unaware of this which raises the question of why such a distortion of the real picture has been permitted.

“This, according to the Ministry of Justice, undoubtedly indicates the efforts of the government to safeguard the rights of its citizens. It also shows the efforts of the government to systematically eradicate the shortcomings which lead to violations of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which the European Court of Human Rights is guided by in its judgments, and which Ukraine became a signatory to in 1997 after it joined the Council of Europe”. 

Well now, if we have inadvertently missed such concentrated efforts by the government to eradicate shortcomings and introduce legal mechanisms to effectively protect those detained or imprisoned, to ensure the timely enforcement of court rulings, and so on and so forth, we would apologise.  We would, however, ask for more information – for ourselves and for all members of the public, and this time with details and without factual mistakes.

If we do not receive this, we will be forced to conclude that such texts were placed on the Ministry of Justice website not, as is demanded by the Constitution, the Law “On Information” and other legislation, to inform, but rather to mislead the public and to use an official  governmental site for propaganda purposes in the run-up to the elections. In this case we will be compelled to take further action.

Halya Coynash

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

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