When the obvious needs to be explained

Introductions are always difficult, but this one makes its author squirm with embarrassment.  First because she is publicly stating the mortifyingly obvious, this being that a Human Rights Ombudsperson, whom each of us has the right to turn to for protection of our rights, cannot be a State Deputy (MP).  Secondly, because it is necessary to tell people in democratic countries that there are members of Ukraine’s Parliament, including its Speaker who appear unable – or unwilling – to understand what in fact requires no explanation.

I see no other choice, however, but with words of not too many syllables to explain why civic society in Ukraine is emphatically calling on one candidate for the post of Human Rights Ombudsperson to withdraw her candidacy, and wishes to remind State Deputies that they were elected to defend the rights of all their voters.

On 12 December 2006 Speaker Oleksandr Moroz put forward Nina Karpachova as candidate for the position of Human Rights Ombudsperson. A feeling of déjà vu on this occasion would not be deceptive.  A month earlier the same Mr Moroz warned the Party of the Regions that they must decide what “to do” with their State Deputy and  the same Nina Karpachova, in her former (same) capacity as Human Rights Ombudsperson.  (cf, “Once upon a time there was a Human Rights Ombudsperson

One might decide that the Verkhovna Rada is some kind of slapstick comedy show, which would only veer from the truth in there being very little humour in the situation. 

One could also conclude that the Party of the Regions had not entirely decided what to do with the said Human Rights Ombudsperson cum State Deputy, which is probably closer to the sordid truth judging by the rumours circulating in the last weeks regarding “deals” over the posts of vice-speaker of parliament. 

Presumably Nina Karpachova’s sudden wish to return to her old pastures is linked with a decision not to offer her a new, more abundant, field of clover.  It is also possible that her party colleagues have decided that this is where she can, as before, be of most use.

Now here, however, the views of those State Deputies and that of civic society differ most radically, firstly as to whether it is even conceivable that Nina Karpachova return to her previous post, and secondly where she can best serve society.

So, can Nina Karpachova become Human Rights Ombudsperson yet again?

I am not a lawyer and the talent of the present Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada to use the law as a weapon for personal gain and against those it is aimed to protect, leads me to assume that his assurances that the step taken on 12 December is in accordance with the letter of the law cannot be faulted.

Presumably the idea is that Karpachova would declare her resignation within the requisite ten days. This begs the issue of her behaviour over the last year or more, since her inclusion on the candidate list for the Party of the Regions dated from autumn 2005.  Despite appeals from human rights organizations, she made no attempt to eliminate the conflict of interests until some time after being actually elected to office, and even then the situation remained entirely unclear until 17 November this year, when the Verkhovna Rada voted to dismiss her.

A second question which I will pretend is not rhetorical is whether there is in fact a conflict of interests. 

It should be mentioned that Karpachova’s decision to throw in her hat with the Party of the Regions clarified some confusion after a few curious judgments as to where human rights were being violated expressed in the year after the Orange Revolution (my words are easily verified, the number of cases defended by Nina Karpachova was never overwhelmingly large).

Since the Law on the Human Rights Ombudsperson clearly prohibits the Ombudsperson from holding office as Deputy, this does not need to be argued.  However I would mention one telling detail.

A recent law on recognizing Holodomor [the Famine of 1932-1933] to have been an act of genocide was voted for by two members of the Party of the Regions Faction, not incidentally Nina Kappachova, who obediently followed the party line.  A week later one of the Party of the Regions leaders in Parliament, when asked about the “behaviour” or the two Deputies, said that they would not be punished, but that they hoped it would not happen again,

Inclusion on the candidate list for this parliamentary faction can therefore be understood to involve certain commitments. The Ombudsperson’s oath is that s/he will be guided by justice and her / his conscience … and will be impartial and independent in acting in the interests of the individual and citizen”.

How can a person who has, over the last 7 months acted in the interests of a faction in the Verkhovna Rada seriously be put forward as a candidate for Human Rights Ombudsperson again?

One has the feeling that in all the carving up of positions in parliament, there are some who have inadvertently (we hope) forgotten that the position of Human Rights Ombudsperson is not part of any faction’s “quota”.  It is clear from the Law, for example, the fact that the voting is by secret ballot and that the tenure is not linked to a specific term of the Verkhovna Rada, that this is not a “political post” and that it must be unmarred by political interests or preferences. 

The candidate whom a large number of civic organizations have supported from the outset, Yevhen Zakharov, does, I believe, meet the requirements of both the letter and the spirit of the Law and would be a most worthy Human Rights Ombudsperson. 

This, however, is not the point of the present article, which is rather to state the absolute unacceptability of Nina Karpachova once again occupying this office. This would entirely discredit the post both in Ukraine and abroad, and would mean that a crucial person for all those in Ukraine whose rights are being violated would effectively be removed. I certainly find it hard to imagine how anybody could now approach the ex-State Deputy and seriously feel confident of her impartiality and independence.

I therefore call upon Nina Karpachova to withdraw her candidacy in order to protect this very important institution.

I would respectfully suggest that Mr Moroz consider whether his behaviour in putting forward this candidate is that which the Ukrainian people have the right to expect from the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada.

I very much hope that the State Deputies will remember the purpose of the Human Rights Ombudsperson, and the need for a person who will endeavour to assist all those whose constitutional rights have been violated, regardless of their views or of political expediency, and will vote for a candidate whose moral authority and impartiality are unquestioned.

Most importantly, I cannot but hope that Nina Karpachova will understand how seriously she will compromise both herself and the cause of human rights if she does not withdraw her candidacy.

Should this not happen, I see no alternative but to suggest that civic society effectively boycotts the  Human Rights Ombudsperson as having become a tool for political interests. In this most regrettable situation, we would be forced to inform people both here and in the international community that it was no longer possible to have any confidence in the independence and apolitical nature of this office. 

I would also recommend, should this happen, that serious consideration be given to creating the office of Civic Ombudsperson in order to ensure that the vital role of such a spokesperson for those in need of human rights defence is maintained.

I would reiterate that such a declaration of no confidence in the present office of Human Rights Ombudsperson is not something that anybody would wish, but the discrediting of the post cannot be allowed. Nina Karpachova’s candidacy has already been greeted with incomprehension and regret by the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner and in a number of democratic countries. Her appointment would demonstrate a total lack of concern by those in the Verkhovna Rada for the wishes and legitimate interests of people in Ukraine.

It can and must be avoided. 

Halya Coynash

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