Thursday, October 13, 2011

Injustice in Ukraine


Photos: Julia Tymoshenko at her trial in Kyiv, Ukraine (Wikipedia photo), and Vera Flyat at a "Know Your Rights" meeting in a rural village outside of Starobelsk, with an educational booklet created with funding from a Peace Corps Small Project Assistance (SPA) grant and later a democracy grant from the US Embassy to continue the project and expand outreach.

I am usually hesitant to address hot political issues in Ukraine, but the trial and sentencing of former prime minister Julia Tymoshenko is so blatantly politically motivated that it’s hard not to speak out.

Amnesty International proclaims that the charges against Tymoshenko are not "internationally recognizable offences" and that she must be released. The charges include “abuse of office” for making some gas deal with the Russians in 2009 when Ukraine was facing a gas crisis. It may or may not have been a good political decision, Amnesty Internatlonal argues, but that’s for the people, not the courts, to decide. "Criminalizing" political decisions is a sure recipe for injustice. "The trial highlights systemic problems within the justice system in Ukraine, and the conduct of this trial casts doubt over the independence of the judiciary,” said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Programme Deputy Director (see Amnesty International website news and reports). The European Union has expressed outrage, as has the US and other countries.
Tymoshenko plans to take her case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Closer to the heart of Ukraine, my former counterpart in Starobelsk, Vera Flyat, director of the human rights NGO Victoria, shared her disappointment with me but says it was not an unexpected decision given the rotten political climate in the country now. Another election is around the corner, she said, and the current president, Victor Yanukovitch, wants Tymoshenko out of the way. “This recent action shows there is no justice
in our government. It shows the people are electing leaders who are not for the rights of all the people,” she says. Many media outlets in Ukraine seem to agree.

This is why Vera works so hard, so tirelessly, to educate Ukrainians about their human and legal rights, about the nature of government injustice and oppression, about police criminality, about the endemic corruption of the legal system. The project we worked on together, “Know Your Rights” (знай свои права) was precisely about these issues.

Vera's heroic efforts continue. She says she will not give up the fight. There are many others throughout Ukraine who, like NGO Victoria, are fighting injustice from the bottom up. Vladymir (Vovo) Scherbechenko's Eastern Ukraine Center in Lugansk is another example of the vital grassroots work taking place beneath the veneer of politics as usual. My PCV friends can offer many more such examples from around the country.

I have such faith in the goodness and fairness of the Ukrainian people that I know change for the better is on the horizon. Vera’s work will not be in vain. Meanwhile, the corruption and injustice are sapping the energy and hope of the people. “You’re just an optimistic American,” my friend Natalia D used to tease me. But Vera and Vovo keep on going, keep on fighting. That's where hope for the future of Ukraine lies. It will take warriors like Vera and Vovo to inform and arouse the electorate and to turn the government around so that it truly serves the people. It's just a matter of time.

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