Ukraine monitors call for swift creation of the High Anti-Corruption Court

Following recent events in the Sea of Azov, the co-rapporteurs for the monitoring of Ukraine by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Dzhema Grozdanova (Bulgaria, EPP/CD) and Alfred Heer (Switzerland, ALDE), have reiterated their strong support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, which includes the freedom to navigate freely and unhindered in its own territorial waters. They called on all sides to refrain from any actions that could further escalate tension. They also took note of the declaration of a state of emergency in certain parts of Ukraine’s territory, the implementation and effects of which they will closely follow. The rapporteurs also expressed their concern about the implementation of Council of Europe human rights standards in illegally-annexed Crimea, as well as in the areas of eastern Ukraine which are affected by the Russian Federation’s ongoing military aggression.

Speaking after a recent visit to Kyiv (19 to 21 November 2018), the rapporteurs also called on the Ukrainian authorities to swiftly establish the High Anti-Corruption Court, following the adoption of the required legislation on 7 and 14 July 2018. “We welcome the adoption of the legislation on the High Anti-Corruption Court in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission. This is a very positive development. It is now important that this court is established and starts work without any further delay. The selection process of the judges of this court has been started. The role of the Public Council of International Experts in this selection process is essential to ensure public trust in the effectiveness of the Court. It is important that the Public Council is provided with all the access and information it needs to do its work properly and promptly,” said the co-rapporteurs.

They also welcomed the initiation of the first phase of the electronic verification system for so-called “e-declarations”, which partially addresses some of the serious concerns expressed in this regard following the previous visit of the co-rapporteurs. “It is now important that the second phase of the electronic verification system, which will allow the cross-checking of the e-declarations with other government registers and databases, is implemented without further delay. Without it, any verification process will be mostly ineffective given the sheer number of declarations that are filed and in need of verification,” said the co-rapporteurs.

Still on the topic of Ukraine’s efforts to combat corruption, the co-rapporteurs expressed their serious concern at the fact that tensions between the main bodies set up to fight endemic corruption in the country had not subsided or been resolved. In the co-rapporteurs’ view, tensions between the leaderships of NABU, SAPO and the NACCP, which sometimes turns to open hostility and even the sabotaging of each other’s work, is undermining the effectiveness of the fight against corruption and should be resolved at once. They called upon the authorities and all other stakeholders to show the commensurate political will to allow these institutions to work as intended and to fight the menace of corruption in the country. “Corruption cannot be tackled by legislation alone, this needs also a change of behaviour and a genuine political will to implement the adopted legislation,” the co-rapporteurs underlined.

In the context of their discussions on the on-going reform of the judiciary, the rapporteurs took note of the large number of vacancies for first-instance judge positions, also as a result of the on-going vetting process for judges. While fully understanding the importance of this re-evaluation of members of the judiciary, the rapporteurs expressed their hope that the vacancies would soon be filled in order to minimise the impact on the efficient administration of justice.

The rapporteurs strongly condemned and expressed their concerns about the increase in attacks on civil society activists and journalists that are active in the field of the fight against corruption. “The tragic death of Kateryna Handziuk following an acid attack in July this year was maybe the most shocking and visible incident, but we learned that this was far from being the only attack on anti-corruption activists,” said the co-rapporteurs. “These attacks on civil society activists and journalists, and the lack of results from the investigations into these crimes, is unacceptable. There cannot be any impunity for such acts and we urge the authorities to promptly, fully and transparently investigate all attacks on anti-corruption activists and journalists,” added the rapporteurs.

They also urged the Ukrainian authorities to implement the recommendations contained in the Venice Commission opinion on the Ukrainian Education Law, adopted on 5 September 2017, with regard to use of the state language and minority languages in education. In their view this would address public concern about the law and strengthen cohesion between the different ethnic and linguistic communities in Ukrainian society.

During the visit the two co-rapporteurs also discussed the organisation of the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukraine which are scheduled for 2019. They expressed their hope that all political forces would work towards an inclusive and genuinely democratic election process that would have the trust of all stakeholders. For that reason ,they also urged all parliamentary factions represented in the Central Election Commission to propose their candidates and participate in its work in good faith. Given that it was unlikely the Unified Election Code currently under consideration in the Verkhovna Rada would be adopted in time to be implemented before the next presidential elections, the co-rapporteurs called on the Verkhovna Rada to promptly adopt the necessary technical legal acts proposed by the Central Election Commission, to address shortcomings in the current legislation. This is especially important for those provisions that will allow IDPs to participate fully in the forthcoming Presidential and parliamentary elections.