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Experts see Ukraine’s membership in UN Human Rights Council as “counterweight against Russia”

Th 35th session of the Human Rights | by UN Geneva
Experts see Ukraine’s membership in UN Human Rights Council as “counterweight against Russia”
Translated by: Peter Koropey
The election of Ukraine to become a member in the United Nations Human Rights Council on 17 October 2017 allows Ukraine to carry its position in yet another forum, Stanislav Shevchuk, a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights, told the Ukrainian desk of Radio Liberty. However, Vitiliy Tytych, a lawyer for the families of the “Heavenly Hundred,” recalled that Ukraine had already been a part of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). The UN as a structure, including its committees and councils, are extremely bureaucratic, Tytych remarked.

Bohdan Kryklyvenko, the head of the Secretariat of the Verkhovna Rada’s Commissioner for Human Rights, is certain that the UN HRC will become yet another forum through which Ukraine may return the world’s attention to the violations of human rights in occupied Crimea and the occupied territories of Donbas.

“Now Ukraine has a new status, the status of a member of the UN Human Rights Council and in that capacity, we will draw attention to facts of the violation of human rights, which we consider essential,” Kryklyvenko stated on air of Radio Svoboda.

In the government official’s thoughts, the specific advantage of the UN HRC is that its regulations foresee the right of Ukraine’s Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as representatives of civil organizations, to speak publicly within the HRC. This, Kryklyvenko hopes, will allow Ukraine to utilize membership to the utmost effect, despite the unwieldiness of any international institution which defends human rights.

Kryklyvenko also points out the potential advantage of the UN HRC in counteracting Russian propaganda and its false theses about massive violations of human rights within Ukraine. He also predicts that membership may help set the record straight regarding alleged discrimination of Ukraine’s national minorities. Such condemnations echoed against Kyiv after the passage of the new law “On Education” because of the law’s language statutes.

“I believe that this will be an additional counterweight against propaganda and the spread of false information, and even if there are problems with the protection of human rights, we will have still one more chance to prove, that if there are problems, we acknowledge them and we have a plan to resolve them,” Kryklyvenko argued.

International expert Oleksandr Potiekhin remarked, that the majority of violations of human rights are observed in Ukraine’s occupied territories (i.e. Crimea and Donbas). He does not believe that Ukraine’s election to the UN HRC will fundamentally influence the human rights situation in these territories.

“Ukraine’s laws are not in force in these (occupied – ed.) territories, no laws of any sort are in force there, and Ukraine’s representative will obtain the ability to constantly remind the world of this within the framework of an approved system. We will hope that the effort Ukraine will make in the Council means that already there is some kind of balance, even partial, but that this will change to the benefit of those representatives who arrive at that committee to truly defend human rights.”
Oleksandr Potiekhin

Stanislav Shevchuk, a Justice of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine and a former Judge of the European Court on Human Rights sees in the membership of the UN HRC the key to the possibility of forming pro-Ukrainian positions in other states.

“Usually, the UN is not a field of military action, where one needs to speak of help in the form of cannons or other instruments of military influence, but the Council has a very strong influence on international opinions and governments, and in the first instance regarding the violations of human rights in Crimea, but also in the context of the annexation of Ukraine’s territory by Russia,” Shevchuk stated.

He sees connections between the entry of Ukraine into the UN HRC and Ukraine’s advance in the defense of her own interests at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), in which Kyiv has already initiated several law-suits against Russia. In each institution, the jurist argues, the focus is on human rights. The difference is only in scale, and the ECHR, in Shevchuk’s opinion, is the more important.

“The UN,” Shevchuk announced, “is a global mechanism, but the European Court of Human Rights and the structure of the Council of Europe are regional mechanisms. With respect to the answer to this question, the question of the defense of human rights, usually the regional European context is the more effective.”

Shevchuk noted that precedents already exist: for example, the judgment of the European Court pertaining to Russia and regarding the actions of the Russian army in Moldovian Transnistria or in Chechnya during the time of military campaigns in those places. However, the judge remarked, since 2015 the Constitutional Court of Russia has chosen not to enact the judgments of the ECHR which it considers contrary to the Russian Constitution.

Vitaliy Tytych, a lawyer for the families of the Heavenly Hundred, has no optimism on the subject of new capabilities which Ukraine has received as a member of the UN HRC.

“For objective reasons, I am certainly pessimistic regarding the perspective of utilizing this mechanism,” Tytych explained. “First, what everyone says: the UN as a structure, including its committees and councils, are so extremely bureaucratic that they are all ineffective. And this has been confirmed precisely by events in Ukraine.”

The lawyer recalled that Ukraine has already been a member of the UN HRC between 2006 and 2011. Furthermore, in 2012, during the Yanukovych presidency, the country was examined under the UN HRC mechanism which periodically evaluates the protection of human rights.

Remember 2012 – what happened with human rights in Ukraine, how did it end in 2013? In 2012 we were put under the inspection of the UN HRC and we received such positive grades. This does not instill me with optimism, that this [joining the HRC] will be some kind of additional improvement,” he concluded.

Translated by: Peter Koropey
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