Breach of parliamentarian rights in Ukraine

Members of Parliament in all civilized countries enjoy particular respect and a number of extra rights since they are the direct representatives of the citizens with their powers delegated by the people. That’s why their special status is linked both to the importance of their work for the state and society and to the fact that any violation of their rights automatically turns into discrimination and humiliation of the citizens who voted for them at the appropriate election.

Unfortunately, recently in Ukraine disregard for the rights of parliamentarians has become a common practice. Most clearly this can be seen in respect to the opposition MPs.

The law on opposition

First, Ukrainian parliament has not passed a law on parliamentary opposition activity yet. Such law would become a statutory guarantee of the rights of the respective MPs, and thus properly represent the interests of voters. In particular, it is necessary to settle issues related to the work of the opposition in a number of supervisory committees with control functions and the Accounting Chamber; opposition representation in bodies where Parliament has quotas for the appointment of the persons concerned; opposition shaping the agenda and so on.

These rights of the opposition are common in the European practice; but in Ukraine they are ignored. That is why the vote on the respective bill failed in spring and the new one submitted by the opposition MPs has little chances of being adopted.

The most revealing in this situation is the fact that incumbent ruling party officials, representing opposition in previous years, have repeatedly stressed the need to draft and adopt a law on opposition. In particular, back in 2010 Arseniy Yatsenyuk called on Viktor Yanukovych to recognize drafting a law on the opposition as an urgent need. He noted that

blocking the parliament and any other action that would prevent the ruling majority from making decisions without taking due account of a minority position is the only way the opposition can work. So, surely, it is necessary to adopt a law on the opposition which would dermine the rights and duties of the parliamentary minority.

According to the Coalition Agreement of 2014, representatives of the coalition pledged to build their relations with the parliamentary opposition based on the following principles:

  • to ensure strict adherence to legal procedures to enable the opposition MPs to influence decision-making by the Parliament;
  • to introduce the Opposition day once a plenary week for the opposition to establish the agenda;
  • to ensure members of the opposition the right to participate in the work of parliamentary committees on the basis of proportional representation;
  • to ensure the participation of representatives of the parliamentary opposition in inter-parliamentary delegations on the basis of proportional representation.

Today it is obvious that the abovementioned regulation of the Coalition Agreement is violated totally because the opposition has not received its own day during plenary session and has minimal influence on parliamentary decisionmaking.

Participation in control the Verkhovna Rada Committee

The opposition MPs were excluded from the presidency in parliamentary committees on discriminatory basis, although, as noted above, the common
practice in democratic countries implies that committees having control functions are usually chaired by the representatives of the opposition.

Moreover, the process of this artificial removal was purely political and its participants didn’t even try to act within the law. In particular, this process began with Radical Party blocking the parliamentary rostrum after the Verkhovna Rada meeting where Oleg Lyashko demanded the resignation of the committee chairs who voted for the laws of January, 16.

Consequently, under pressure from a number of lawmakers on 11 December 2014 264 MPs supported the draft resolution No 1291 “On electing chairpersons, first deputy chairpersons, deputy chairpersons, secretaries, and members of committees of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine of the eighth convocation“. Thus, a number of MPs were forbidden to hold senior positions in the committees.

It should be noted that then the Radical Party circulated the following commentary of events:

Despicable behavior of some parliamentarians of the seventh convocation led to the weakening of the Ukrainian state, foreign aggression, loss of territories and claimed thousands of lives . The perpetrators of this tragedy have no moral right to govern parliamentary committees, as well as to look into the eyes of their voters. The time will come, and their deeds will receive appropriate legal evaluation by law enforcement agencies.

In other words, the originators of the said resolution did not deny that the removal of a number of persons from committee presidency was not based on any legal assessment and was an issue of politics. On top of that, this commentary confirms that politiсally motivated judgments were used as a supporting argument, while the opinion of voters who supported respective politicians was simply ignored.

By a sad, but already regular tradition, the presumption of innocence was completely negated and the rights of individual MPs were limited due to political accusations, which are nothing but pressure on opponents who received a decent result in the election. The fact of political discrimination becomes even more obvious given that most of the laws of January, 16 were either adopted for a second time by the new government or used as a basis for new regulations. That seems that onlly selected MPs should bear political responsibility for voting for such laws that are overwhelmingly supported by the new coalition.

Appeal to Federica Mogherini

This absurd situation pushed the representatives of parliamentary factions People’s Will and Economic Development of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine of the Eith Convocation to appeal to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini to inform about the attempts to violate Article 6, Article 8, Article 15 Article 24, Article 36, Article 64 and Article 80 of the Constitution of Ukraine; the Law of Ukraine “On Committees of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine”; the Law of Ukraine “On the status of the people’s deputy of Ukraine” and the Law of Ukraine “On the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine”; and the situation as to representation and presidency in parliamentary committees in respect to some representatives of the coalition.

The appeal substantiated unlawful actions of the parliamentary majority which had nothing to do with democracy and European values. In particular, the appeal stated the following facts:

The essence of these violations is the fact that declaring European principles of democracy representatives of the ruling coalition preclude the rights of people’s deputies of Ukraine provided by the Constitution of Ukraine and laws of Ukraine de facto substituting the decision by the steering parliamentary group with decisions and approaches declared by the coalition which introduce additional restrictions both to selected individuals and to participation in the management and activities of a specific committee.

Such position of the ruling coalition leads to the fact that the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine precludes opposition and non-coalition MPs from holding presidency in the Commitee on Budget, Committee on Rules of Parliamentary Procedure, Committee on Freedom of speech and Information Policy; and does not adhere to any quota principle in allocation process that is a major breach of Ukrainian legislation.

According to Article 6 of the Constitution of Ukraine state power in Ukraine is exercised on the principles of its division into legislative, executive and judicial power.Bodies of legislative, executive and judicial power exercise their authority within the limits established by this Constitution and in accordance with the laws of Ukraine.

According to article 8 of the Constitution of Ukraine in Ukraine, the principle of the rule of law is recognised and effective. The Constitution of Ukraine has the highest legal force. Laws and other normative legal acts are adopted on the basis of the Constitution of Ukraine and shall conform to it.

Under paragraph 4 of Article 81 of the Law “On the Rules of Procedure of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine” the quota for the posts of Head of committee, First Deputy, Deputy, Secretary and members of committee shall be set in proportion of the size of parliamentary factions (parliamentary groups) to the actual number of People’s Deputies in the manner established by the Parliament.

According to Part 1 of Procedural guidelines on the rights and responsibilities of the opposition in a democratic parliament Resolution 1601 (2008) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe “Democracy is founded on the right of everyone to take part in the management of public affairs; it therefore requires the existence of representative institutions at all levels and, in particular, a parliament in which all components of society are represented and which has the requisite powers and means to express the will of people by legislating and overseeing government action” (Universal Declaration on Democracy, InterParliamentary Union, 1997). A politically representative parliament shall embody society in the diversity of its composition and shall work with due respect for the plurality of opinions.

Pursuant to Chapter 2.3.1. of the aforesaid PACE resolution opposition members have the right to participate in the management of parliamentary business; they shall have access to posts of vice-president and other positions of responsibility in parliament; the composition of governing bodies of parliament shall respect the principle of proportional representation and reflect the political composition of the parliament or chamber and under Chapter 2. of the Resolution the opposition shall participate in parliamentary committees’ work.

However, today the principles governing coalition’s activity in respect to the allocation of committees among parliamentary factions and groups are not
declared, transparent and comprehensible.

It is unacceptable that Ukrainian Parliament of the new convocation violates the principles of transparent and democratic formation of governing parliament bodies since the first days of its work. Artificial partition of the parliament into those who have the right to participate in decision-making and to parliamentarians of a “second class” undermines the basis of the European model of democracy.

In the rest of the civilized world the rights of parliamentary minorities are protected even stricter than those of the ruling majority. This is a basic universal principle of democracy. Therefore, an attempt to distort the election results by creating a cynical system of parliamentarians’ discrimination based on their political affiliation is an illustration of the major breach of European democratic standards.

It should be noted that the desire of MPs who are not part of the ruling coalition to hold presidency positions is aimed at receiving monitoring functions in the Commitee on Budget, Committee on Rules of Parliamentary Procedure andCommittee on Freedom of speech and Information Policy. Thus, these MPs would also receive the possibility to monitor the activities of the Government itself and exercise other functions of state bodies in order to protect the freedoms and interests of their voters – citizens of Ukraine who casted their votes at the elections hoping to reach out the authorities – which is a regular practice embeded in European democracy and US legislation.

Strict observance of the Constitution of Ukraine and the Regulations of the Verkhovna Rada should become standard practice for the parliament of Ukraine with opposition and parliamentary groups outside the ruling coalition having equal opportunities as to presidency and participation in the work of parliamentary committees.

At the meeting of the Verkhovna Rada of 4 December 2014 members of parliament Lyashko and Berezyuk as well as non-affiliated parliamentary
Parasiuk made statements insulting and discriminating non-coalition MPs. In particular, Parasyuk resorted to threating the opposition MPs and a woman among them (namely, member of parliament Nataliia Korolevskaya).

At the parliamentary session of 9 December 2014 Speaker of Parliament Groysman in violation of the parliamentary regulations and contrary to the
agenda put to the vote the proposal to include to the agenda the discriminative Resolution No 1291 at the request of Lyashko, Berezyuk and the representatives of the faction Peoples Front.

De facto, representatives of political parties Samopomich, Oleg Lyashko Radical Party and Batkivshyna are creating conditions for the usurpation of power while the largest parliamentary factions such as Petro Poroshenko Block and People’s Front remain neutral and inactive declaring the observance of constitutional norms and parliamentary regulations only on paper.

The initiatives of the opposition on the work of the Parliament

Accusations that the opposition will only block the adoption of decisions and neglect its own responsibilities if it gets extensive rights are groundless. The latest example of groundlessness of such concern is the Opposition bloc’s letter to the President of Ukraine with a proposal to designate six candidates for membership in the Central Election Commission.

In other words, the opposition MPs fully aabide by all the legal requirements, in this particular case – by the provisions of paragraph 2 of Article 6 of the Law of Ukraine “On the Central Election Commission” stipulating that the letter of the President of Ukraine on nomination of Central Election Committee members should be compiled with due account of all proposals of parliamentary factions and groups formed in the current convocation of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. The only doubt arising is whether the opinion of the opposition will be taken into account.

Violation of the electoral rights of the opposition

Nowadays there are numerous violations of the electoral rights of the opposition. For example, on September, 11 The Supreme Administrative Court of Kyiv refused the opposition bloc to settle the claim as to the actions of the Central Election Commission which unlawfully refused to include representatives of the opposition in the district election commissions during local elections in Kyiv.

Another example was the situation in Kharkiv, where the Opposition bloc had been unreasonably withold to be registered for the elections for quite a long time. Only on September, 30, – the last day to sumbit documents for participation in the local elections – the regional office of the Opposition bloc was registered in the Kharkiv region, which was a discrimination and violation of democratic principles.

An equally important problem is the persecution and harassment of opposition MPs and parliamentarians having dissenting views with the government. The vivid example of it is the situation with the arrest of Mosiychuk charged with cases that significantly exceed the facts mentioned during the session of the Verkhovna Rada. Besides, the arrest took place in violation of the Regulations.

Illustrative of this situation is the fact that the chosen procedure allegedly called by the Speaker an ad hoc procedure) is very similar to the provisions of one of the laws adopted on 16 January 2013, against which the incumbent governmental officials were fighting at that time (“The filing of consent for bringing to criminal responsibility, detention or arrest of the people’s deputies is included in the agenda of the Verkhovna Rada as a top priority without a vote, and is considered at the plenary session of the Verkhovna Rada without opinion from the parliamentary committees within the period specified by these Regulations“).

Another example is the attempt to serve opposition MPs with summons during the meeting of the Conciliation Board. It was not only a violation of procedure, but also a theatrical performance aimed at exerting political pressure: it turned out later that all opposition leaders were summoned as witnesses only. In addition, violations of the procedural rights of the detained members of the opposition were a common practise.

In particular, in November of 2015 Ukrainian government violated the law and human rights refusing to release from prison the former Minister of Justice Elena Lukash, who was already bailed out at that moment.

 

Thus, today we are witnessing selective respect for the rights of parliamentarians based on their affiliation with either the coalition or the opposition. However, this introduces the selective respect for the citizens of Ukraine, depending on the kind of political force they support. Such practice runs contrary both to Ukrainian legislation and European principles.

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