Why Ukrainian civic society wants no more conflict of interests

Ukrainian civic organizations have once again raised the alarm over the possible election in the next weeks of a prominent Ukrainian politician to the post of European Court of Human Rights Judge. Given the very specific aspects of Ukraine’s political life in recent times, we feel it necessary to explain why we feel such strong concern.

Last December and January Ukrainian civic society mounted an unprecedented campaign to have an independent and politically non-partisan candidate elected to the position of Human Rights Ombudsperson. It was a campaign which would not have been needed but for the unfortunate degree to which even such a vital role had become subject to political manoeuvring. 

Human rights organizations had initially sounded the alarm in early 2006 when Nina Karpachova, serving her second term as Ombudsperson, chose to stand as second on the candidate list for one of the major parties.  We continued to express the deepest concern after she entered parliament without relinquishing her duties as Ombudsperson.  This was one of the main reasons why, when Ms Karpachova finally decided against remaining a National Deputy civic organizations throughout Ukraine took such enormous efforts to ensure that the other candidate whose moral authority and independence are unquestioned was elected Ombudsperson.

Given the degree to which this issue galvanized and united civic society, we can claim success. Given the politicization of aspects of Ukrainian life which should be entirely independent and the distressing lack of understanding among politicians of whose interests they have been elected to serve, we lost and Nina Karpachova was once again re-elected. 

In explaining why all of this makes us loath to see another politician, Serhiy Holovaty, assume an office which by definition must be removed from party political interests, we would point out the way the vote went in parliament.  While we cannot, of course, be certain who voted which way, since the vote for Ombudsperson is secret, it was plain from comments made by deputies to the press that they saw this as a party-linked vote. One of the candidates for the position of European Court Judge has since the time of that vote changed his party allegiance.  While we would like to feel confident that he would not have been influenced by the clear preference shown by his new party had he made this change six months earlier, it is hard to not feel doubts.

We have grave doubts as to whether a person so closely associated with politics and presently standing for electoral office should hold a position demanding total and visible independence. These concerns are perhaps the most pressing reason why we are calling on European Members of Parliament to understand our position.

We respect all those who have chosen a political career. We would not deny any person the right to change their party allegiance should they feel the need.  We are in fact not criticizing any specific candidate, neither Mr Holovaty, nor any other.

We can see, however, all sorts of decisions being taken by politicians for their own political purposes without any heed of public opinion. The election of a Human Rights Ombudsperson so directly linked with party politics seriously damaged Ukraine’s reputation in Europe.  It also damaged, not for the first time, our confidence that politicians in Ukraine understand that it is the public’s interests they should represent, not their own.

The role of the European Court of Human Rights is absolutely vital.  For the very many Ukrainians who have found no effective remedy in domestic courts, plagued as these are with problems and corruption, the European Court is the pinnacle of impartial and uncompromising justice.  It is also often their last hope. 

To ensure that they retain their trust and confidence in the Court, and can continue to find justice there, we would ask the honourable Members of the European Parliament to consider whether Ukraine’s interests and those of the Court would not be much better served by a person less closely connected with politics.

Halya Coynash

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

Cf. also: 

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