1. Ukraine calls to protect civil society from the abuse
Europe Ukraine Ex-USSR
Transparency International: Persecution of anti-corruption activists must stop in Ukraine
- Conclusion 69. The Venice Commission welcomes the recent statements made by the President of Ukraine that there is an urgent need for creating an independent and “efficient special anticorruption judicial body”, to be formed on a competitive basis from judges with impeccable reputation, in line with Council of Europe and Venice Commission standards.
The Commission furthermore notes that in the view of the international community, the only way forward in the fight against high-level corruption in Ukraine is the prompt establishment of a high specialized anti-corruption court (HACC), as foreseen in the Law “On the Judicial System and the Status of Judges” (LJSJ), whose judges are selected in a transparent procedure with international involvement. 70.
The Venice Commission acknowledges that Ukraine has launched a comprehensive reform of the judiciary which includes significant constitutional and legal amendments—i.a. with respect to judges’ appointment—, the reform of the High Council of Judges (HCJ) and the High Qualifications Commission of Judges (HQC) and an evaluation procedure for all sitting judges with regard to competence, professional ethics and integrity criteria.
This reform is clearly aimed at reconstructing the Ukrainian justice system in accordance with the standards of the Council of Europe and securing the rule of law in Ukraine. While this is a promising and commendable—but still on-going—process, the Venice Commission welcomes the current initiative to take additional, specific and rapid measures to establish a HACC competent for high-profile corruption cases—bearing in mind the urgency of the matter and the fact that such cases are particularly sensitive and complex.
- The Venice Commission is of the opinion that many of the provisions of the draft law on anti-corruption courts (draft law No. 6011) provide a good basis for the establishment of the HACC in line with Council of Europe and Venice Commission standards. That said, several recommendations should be taken into account, in particular, to reduce the risk that the law could be considered unconstitutional.
- While it will ultimately be up to the Constitutional Court, in a given case, to decide on the constitutionality of the law, the Venice Commission takes the view that the HACC has clear characteristics of a specialised court, rather than a special or extraordinary court, and that it does not jeopardise the unity of the judiciary. That said, special rules for anti-corruption courts and judges (including their appointment and status) which deviate from the general LJSJ provisions should be limited to what is necessary for them to work effectively.
Following an escalation of attacks, Transparency International and its chapter in Ukraine are calling on the authorities to protect civil society from the abuse, including physical beatings, that activists are facing. During the past few months, two anti-corruption activists from the city of Kharkiv that work on investigations with Transparency International Ukraine were beaten; they believe this was linked to their work. Similar reports were sent from activists in Poltava and Odesa as well as investigative journalists in Kyiv.
Transparency International Ukraine has also been the target of a smear campaign because of its work advocating for the recovery of assets allegedly stolen by former president Viktor Yanukovych. In addition, civil society organisations have been subjected to illegal inspections and law suits. “This continued attack on civil society is as unexpected as it is unwarranted. The citizens of Ukraine have paid a high price for the chance to rid their country of corruption. They took to the streets to protest corruption and many were killed. The authorities must take measures to protect anti-corruption activists and support their fight against corruption,” said Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International. “Ukrainian activists who were driving anti-corruption reform in Ukraine following the Revolution of Dignity have now ended up under threat,” said Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, executive director of Transparency International Ukraine .
“This is a blatant attempt to stop us from exposing top-level corrupt public officials. But it won’t work. We will fight for anti-corruption institutions that are fit for purpose, including an independent and effective anti-corruption court.” Civil society organisations are also being made to fill out cumbersome e-declarations that make it difficult to operate and increase the potential for pressure from the authorities, despite calls to end this system, and despite promises that this would be changed. “The President of Ukraine and parliament have not abolished the regulations that will expose anti-corruption activists to further abuse. This should happen immediately to show that there is good will to support citizens and civil society in the fight against corruption,” added Ferreira Rubio.