October 11, 2011
Today (11 October 2011) Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Ukrainian Prime Minister, was convicted to 7 years of imprisonment by the District Court in Kiev. The court ordered the Prime Minister to pay 1,5 billion hrywn (approx. 140.000.000 EUR) of compensation to the company Naftohaz. The conviction concerns the alleged abuse of power during negotiations in Moscow in 2009 regarding a new gas supply agreement. The conviction was preceded by a humiliating trial that started on 24 June 2011. On 5 August 2011 Yulia Tymoshenko was arrested for the obstruction of the proceedings.
It was pointed out a number of times that Y. Tymoshenko’s trial is politically motivated. It is clear to everybody, that in European democracies there should be no place for politically driven sentencing of heads of states or government for the political choices they made when in office. (In Poland Prime Minister, for actions taken in connection with their position, may be held liable before the State Tribunal, which examines the cases of the infringement of the Constitution or laws and crimes commited by the highest officials. In some other democratic states the procedure of impeachment is applied in analogous cases).
The result of the trial is especially alarming in light of the recent Eastern Partnership summit, held in Warsaw last month. During the meeting not only EU, but also representatives from the US, Canada and Russia highlighted that the completion of association agreements may depend on the future of proceedings against Y. Tymoshenko. The glaring lack of respect for democratic standards regarding the procedural safeguards in criminal proceedings, of which Tymoshenko’s trial is a vivid example, requires firm response from the EU. It has to be clear that the association agreements will not be signed if the fundamental rights are not respected. Point (ii) chapter 2 of the EU-Ukraine Association Agenda from November 2009 focuses on the need for Ukraine to ensure the independence of the judiciary and the effectiveness of the courts.
The conviction of Tymoshenko has raised a wave of criticism across Europe and caused numerous demonstrations in Ukraine. Russia, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Sweden and France criticized the judgment. Concern was expressed both by Catherine Ashton, the head of the EU foreign policy, and Jerzy Buzek, European Parliament’s President.
Soon we will see whether, in reaction to the trial, the EU will cancel the visit of Viktor Yanukovych to Brussels scheduled for October 20. This would be a clear sign that the EU does not accept the actions of the Ukrainian authorities.
It is positive that Tymoshenko’s trial and the severe punishment she is facing, have met with wide interest and condemnation from EU member states. Paying attention to human rights issues and highlighting the instances of the “democratic regress”, which we are witnessing at the moment in some of the Eastern Partnership states, is crucial if we expect actual changes in the policies pursued by Eastern Partnership states.
At the same time it is important to ask the question who will pay the price if the signing of the association agreement fails. On one hand it is understandable that the lack of respect for democratic standards cannot be rewarded with an agreement on cooperation. On the other hand, however, punishing the Ukrainian citizens who would benefit from the association with the EU for the wrongdoings of the authorities also seems hardly fair.
Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska and Zuzanna Warso, “Europe of Human Rights”Author : Europe of Human Rights