Opening speech by Christos Giakoumopoulos at the Online round table on 25 years of implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights in Ukraine
Strasbourg/Kyiv, 21 July 2022
I would like to welcome at this meeting the Head of the Parliamentary Committee on Legal Affairs Mr Kostin and the President of the Supreme Court Mr Kniaziev. This online round table is a welcomed opportunity to look together at the developments in the legal system of Ukraine since its ratification of the European Convention of Human Rights by Ukraine in 1997.
Unfortunately, this event takes place in the context of the war. I would like to recall that following the 24 February events, the Council of Europe made a rapid expulsion of the Russian Federation from the Organisation. The Council of Europe stands united with our member State, Ukraine, in the face of Russia’s aggression.
This support takes notably the shape of priority adjustments to the Council of Europe Action Plan for Ukraine 2018-2022. This adjustment was defined together with Ukraine and agreed by all our 46 member States at the meeting of Council of Europe Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Turin, in May 2022. The adjustments cover many areas, including provision of advice with regard to the European Convention on Human Rights and the documentation of human rights violations, measures to support the functioning of the judiciary during the wartime, but also support to protection of displaced persons, and support to legal professionals and Ukrainian media – to cite just these examples.
And we are looking beyond that as well. As our Secretary General said earlier this month at the Lugano Recovery Conference, Ukraine’s recovery “requires good governance and European values to underpin this, it needs democratic security as the basis of lasting peace, so that stability, prosperity and progress take root. In this, the Council of Europe is helping Ukraine, not least through supporting the country’s EU aspirations.” No doubt that the latter – the support to reforms for Ukraine to become a member of the European Union – will constitute an important part of our work with Ukraine in the times to come, along with continued support to the functioning of institutions in the times of war.
With regard to today’s anniversary of Ukraine’s ratification of the Convention, we should acknowledge that Ukraine has achieved meaningful results in its implementation for the 25 years since the ratification. The progress is visible in all areas related to democracy, human rights and rule of law. Constitutional reforms, reforms of the justice system, territorial and administrative reforms, electoral reforms were undertaken since the ratification, with a firm reliance on the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and its interpretation by the European Court of Human Rights.
One of the recent achievements should be highlighted, which is the ratification by the Ukrainian Parliament of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention). As our Secretary General commented in this regard, “this is a huge step forward in protecting women and girls from all forms of violence”. Of course, further work remains to be done in this area – but we will remain at Ukraine’s side to assist.
Among other areas of importance for Ukraine, a full execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights needs to be mentioned, including, most importantly, the adoption of the general measures required to address the structural problems identified in these judgments. While acknowledging the very difficult present circumstances, the problems – such as the non-execution of national court judgments and the length of courts proceedings – cannot be put fully aside.
Concerning the functioning of the judiciary now, the difficult role that the Supreme Court is undertaking in Ukraine to support the smooth functioning of the judiciary should be noted, especially with the suspended functioning of two key self-governing judicial bodies – the High Council of Justice and the High Qualification Commission of Judges of Ukraine. In this regard, the efforts made by the Supreme Court should be recognised, as well as Parliament’s ongoing legislative work to ensure safe judicial functioning, including by strengthening possibilities of online justice.
In the current context of the military aggression, it is important to continue to pay special attention to the effective functioning of the justice system to serve the interests of victims of war properly and to strengthen the respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. Delivering justice for all victims of the war in Ukraine should be done in accordance with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This will require a strong and efficient court system, while the cases of this kind may become one of the major issues of justice in the foreseeable future in Ukraine. It will also require a very well performing prosecutorial service, as there are positive obligations deriving from Articles 2 (right to life) and 3 (prohibition of torture and other ill treatment) to investigate effectively allegations of crimes resulting into loss of life, torture, or ill-treatment. We work closely with the Prosecutor General’s Office to ensure that this is and will remain the case.
To conclude, the Council of Europe recognises the deep and comprehensive reforms that have been undertaken by Ukraine following its ratification of the Convention in 1997, which were necessary for the transition from a post-Soviet country to a well-functioning democratic state. The Council of Europe is determined to continue working with Ukraine to support those further reforms and measures required – in Ukraine– to consolidate compliance with the ECHR and most importantly, to support Ukraine in the times of war and as well as with Ukraine’s EU aspirations.