The Human Rights Ombudsperson’s “political component”


Ukraine’s new Human Rights Ombudsperson Valeria Lutkovska was asked during the first vote in parliament to give her assessment of the prosecutions of former Prime Minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, ex-Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko and others. She refused to make any statement until parliament had made their choice.  She was elected on 24 April 2012, and remained reticent on the subject.

            On 2 June she gave an interview to TV Channel 5 in which she stated that Yulia Tymoshenko is not a political prisoner since in the understanding of this term since Soviet times, this is a person imprisoned for their political convictions.  She spoke only of the present charges against Ms Tymoshenko (charges laid after the former Prime Minister was sentenced to 7 years over the 2009 gas accords). Asked if there was a political component in the Tymoshenko case, she answered that there was undoubtedly a political component since Ms Tymoshenko is a politician and former Prime Minister. However, she asserted, it is a criminal matter

            The Ombudsperson’s definition of political prisoner is open to debate, however the main point lies elsewhere. All democratic countries, the EU, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, human rights organizations and a large part of the Ukrainian public consider the prosecution of Yulia Tymoshenko and other former ministers in her government to be selective justice, politically motivated prosecution and flagrant violations of the right to a fair trial.

            They perceive a political component since it is near impossible not to notice it. You need a very strong desire to miss it. It is regrettable that Ukraine’s new Human Rights Ombudsperson feels such an urge and resorts to the same tactics as many of those now in power.  The issue is not that Tymoshenko is a politician and ex-Prime Minister. High-ranking officials are prosecuted, sometimes imprisoned, in democratic countries  –  when they have committed a crime.

            Tymoshenko was sentenced to 7 years for a political decision ending the 2009 gas crisis.  It is hard to even explain the 4-year sentence passed on former Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko when even witnesses for the prosecution stated in court that there had been nothing unusual or unlawful in the indicted actions.

            The new charges against Yulia Tymoshenko were suddenly brought to the public’s attention by law enforcement bodies, the present Prime Minister, and television channels loyal to the government within a day or two of the sentencing of Yulia Tymoshenko in October 2011.  Even the most sycophantic television channels could not totally ignore the storm of international protest and accusations of politically motivated prosecution aimed at removing a dangerous political opponent and of a travesty of justice.

            Why Ms Lutkovska should be speaking only of the charges presently facing Ms Tymoshenko is unclear.  Or simply disturbing given the obvious difficulty in believing in the new “criminal” charges against an opposition leader already serving a long sentence for a political decision and following a manifestly flawed trial.

            The Human Rights Ombudsperson has a duty to defend the rights of all citizens. It is clearly not possible to stand up for each individual victim of lawlessness. Nonetheless any denial of flagrant violations of fundamental rights places her in the same camp as those who are making a mockery of rule of law and democracy in Ukraine. 

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