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Ukraine: Council Of Europe Criticizes Executions

  • Roland Eggleston

Strasbourg, 28 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly today agreed that Ukraine should continue to participate in the debates of its current session despite anger over the Kyiv Government's violation of a moratorium on the execution of criminals.

The vote in favor was by no means a foregone conclusion. Everybody who spoke in today's debate had read a highly critical report by the Assembly's Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights which stated bluntly that Ukraine had continued to execute criminals after pledging not to do so. Ukraine was told a year ago (Jan. 1997) that it could face sanctions if it continued executions. The report said that despite this at least 13 people had been executed up to March of last year.

Ukraine pledged to implement a moratorium on executions when it joined the Council of Europe in 1995. Despite that promise, the Parliamentary Assembly has received persistent reports of executions being carried out in secret with relatives not being told of the date of execution nor where the body was buried. Some unconfirmed reports claim the number of executions may exceed 300.

What turned the debate in favor of the Ukraine delegation was a report by an Assembly monitoring committee which studied all the pros and cons of the argument last night. It found that a de facto moratorium on executions did now seem to be in place, and that laws were being drafted which would end executions. The monitoring committee recommended that the six members of the Ukrainian delegation should continue to participate in the Parliamentary Assembly.

That did not end the debate, which continued for another two hours. Several speakers argued that the Ukrainian authorities could not be trusted and others said the Assembly would suffer a loss of prestige if it allowed Ukraine to flout its decisions without punishment.

But what finally won the day was the view taken by many members that the Ukraine parliamentary delegation was the wrong target. They argued that the decision to go ahead with executions had been taken at government level, where the parliamentary delegation had little influence. It was the Government which was at fault, they said, not the delegation which includes some members opposed to capital punishment. Several speakers said the matter should be taken up by the foreign ministers of Council of Europe member states who could exert leverage on the Kyiv Government.

Ukrainian delegates told the assembly that it was difficult to argue in favor of abolishing capital punishment in a country where crime was rising. Anatoli Rakhansky, representing the "Independent" group, said there had been 40 murders in his constituency, including children and pensioners. He had personally visited the relatives of some of the dead, and it had been difficult to convince them that the killers should not be executed.

Rakhansky was one of several Ukrainian speakers who warned that excluding the delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly could have a negative effect on public opinion in Ukraine during the coming elections. Another Ukrainian, Boris Oliynik, who represents the country's Communist Party, argued that a de facto moratorium on executions was now in place and the parliamentary delegation should not be penalized. But he agreed that Ukraine must abide by all the commitments it made when joining the Council of Europe.

Volodymyr Yavorivsky, of the Democratic Party, told the Assembly that the blame for the violation of the moratorium rested with the Government and it was wrong to penalize the parliamentary delegation. But he also declared that some of the information in the Legal Affairs Committee's report was incorrect, without going into details. Yavorivsky, too, warned that punishing the delegation could have negative consequences for democracy in the coming elections.

A representative of the Finnish Left Alliance, Jaako Laakso, was among those who argued for continuing Ukraine's representation. He said it was clear that Ukraine's delegation was in no position to force its Government to honor the moratorium. On the other hand, President Leonid Kuchma could have enforced it with a presidential decree, he said. Gheorghe Frunda, a member of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania's parliament, argued that it was essential that the Council of Europe establish a single standard for all its members if it is to maintain its credibility. He said the Assembly should not change its standards because of concern for the outcome of elections in Ukraine or any other country.

Russia's Vladimir Lukin, of "Yabloko", argued that Ukraine's present delegation should not be held responsible for the situation. He said that after the upcoming elections, Ukraine would have a new delegation. It should be made clear that unless Ukraine resolved the problem, this new delegation would not be allowed to participate in the Parliamentary Assembly.

Toward the end of the debate the Assembly's President, Leni Fischer of Germany, intervened to say that late last night she had received a list of people executed in the Ukraine last year and the dates on which they had been executed. She said she had also received a list of all the names of those who had been executed since Ukraine joined the Council three years ago. She said she could give no other details because the information was in Russian but would become available later.

Many of the West European delegates who spoke today sharply criticized Ukraine for the secrecy which surrounds executions in the country. Several mentioned the fact that relatives of those executed were not told when an individual was executed or where he was buried.