Opening speech by Mr Christos Giakoumopoulos
Official launching conference project "Continued support to the criminal justice reform in Ukraine"
25 November 2015
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted and honoured to greet you on behalf of the Council of Europe on the occasion of the official launch of the project “Continued support to the criminal justice reform in Ukraine”.
The project is part of the continuous endeavours of the Council of Europe to support Ukraine in the fulfilment of its obligations as a member state of the Organisation. It is a good example of the fruitful cooperation both with the Ukrainian authorities and our long-standing partnership with the Danish Government, which is funding this project. In the current context, where resources are scarce and human rights often neglected, the support granted by one member state to the enhancement of democratic processes in another one is particularly valuable.
Fostering the respect for human rights and the rule of law is a constant and long-term process. Although it is primarily the responsibility of the national authorities to “bring human rights home”, the Council of Europe supports its member states in doing so through its standard-setting, monitoring and cooperation work.
Over the last years, Ukraine has made considerable efforts on the way towards fulfilling its commitments before the Council of Europe. We commend the endeavours of Ukraine and welcome the steps taken with regard to the comprehensive justice sector reform.
This is particularly relevant given that this year, Ukraine celebrates the 20th anniversary of its accession to the Council of Europe. I take this opportunity to congratulate the people of Ukraine on the occasion of this anniversary.
Let me highlight several major strategic policy developments which show that Ukraine is on the right path. These relate to the adoption of the Strategy of Reforms 2020, the Justice Sector Reform Strategy and Action Plan, the Anti-Corruption and Human Rights Strategies and progress in the constitution reform process. The draft constitutional amendments along with the mentioned strategic documents can be considered as a good road map for building an accessible, independent, efficient, transparent and accountable justice system.
Let me further mention that Ukraine has succeeded in setting up a solid foundation for meaningful reforms in the criminal justice area. A number of important legislative and institutional measures have been launched and are in the process of implementation. Today’s event is an opportunity to have an in-depth discussion on these achievements and identify plans for the future.
I will touch upon these aspects briefly from the Council of Europe’s perspective.
Firstly, the adoption and implementation of the Criminal Procedure Code of Ukraine since 2012, embodies modern principles of criminal proceedings and safeguards for the protection of human rights.
Secondly, the establishment of the free legal aid system in Ukraine, in parallel with the entry into force of the Criminal Procedure Code, is yet another important step forward. Effective access to legal aid is one of the preconditions for the enjoyment of the right to a fair trial in line with Council of Europe standards. During the relatively short period since its institutionalisation, the free legal aid system has proved to be clearly oriented towards a sustainable institutional development and continued improvement of its operation.
Thirdly, the much-needed and long-awaited reform of the public prosecution service is another commitment which Ukraine undertook when it joined the Council of Europe. The adoption of the new Law on the Public Prosecution Service was an important breakthrough. The law incorporates most of the recommendations of the Council of Europe. It provides a good basis for the transformation of the soviet-type procuratura into a modern public prosecution service compliant with Council of Europe standards and best practices. The implementation of the Law, while yet to be accomplished, has gradually started and I would like to commend the General Prosecutor’s Office on that.
However, its full-fledged implementation requires further continued targeted efforts to achieve real progress in this area. It is crucial that effective practical measures are taken with regard to the reorganisation of the public prosecutor’s offices at all levels. It is critical that a fair, objective and transparent recruitment process is ensured. This is equally relevant for the selection of prosecutors for managerial positions, and the further recruitment of prosecutors under the new procedures, provided by the new Law. In this regard, the process of establishing the prosecutorial self-governance bodies should be launched and carried out in a transparent and impartial manner. All necessary measures, including budgetary support, should be provided to these bodies to become operational in line with the law and without further delay. We also trust that the selection of the anti-corruption prosecutor will be accomplished by the appointment meeting high standards of professionalism and credibility and enjoying the trust of the society. Moreover, draft Constitutional amendments, positively assessed by the Venice Commission, once adopted, will be a key step in the far-reaching reform of the prosecution service, to be fully in line with European standards.
The recent adoption of the Law on the State Bureau of Investigations should be highlighted as another important achievement. The lack of effective investigation into serious human rights violations has been repeatedly referred to by the European Court of Human Rights in its judgments against Ukraine. Problems of the same nature were reiterated in the International Advisory Panel’s reports on the Maidan investigations, and the tragic events in Odesa in May 2014. The urgent necessity of establishing an independent investigative mechanism to consider serious human rights violations was underlined. We trust that the findings of the International Advisory Panel will be taken on board to address the shortcomings of these specific human rights investigations. Ultimately, we trust that the Panel’s reports will serve as a road map for the creation of a specialised agency, which will enable the application of standards that ensure effective investigation of serious human rights violations.
I am proud to emphasise the role played by the Council of Europe in all of these positive developments. We have been working intensively with the authorities through the provision of extensive expert advice and recommendations with a view to developing and adopting the mentioned legal framework. Our cooperation has proved to be very successful: it has resulted in the establishment of a solid legal framework which, we can firmly say, is largely in line with Council of Europe standards and best practices. We have also been actively providing assistance in the implementation of the new Criminal Procedure Code by helping Ukrainian institutions to monitor its application. An extensive capacity building support has been rendered to enhance knowledge and skills of legal professionals to apply the new rules in practice. This cooperation has been undertaken under the framework of the previous Council of Europe’s Project “Support to Criminal Justice Reform in Ukraine”, also funded by the Danish Government.
A good legal framework is indeed an important step forward. However, the real success of the reforms depends on the effectiveness of their implementation, which remains a major challenge for Ukraine.
It is crucial that the Ukrainian authorities continue to demonstrate their firm political will and take effective practical measures in terms of the pace and coherence of the reforms’ implementation. The transparency of the reform process and the active involvement of civil society are vital for fostering the democratic processes. A precondition for achieving the ultimate goal is that all stakeholders at all levels are committed to fully and genuinely undertake the required work.
I am glad to take this opportunity to confirm the Council of Europe’s commitment to support Ukraine in these complex efforts. Our gathering today and the launching of a new Project, which will build upon the results already achieved and contribute to their sustainability, is clear proof of this commitment.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
To conclude, let me express my gratitude to all national stakeholders, non-governmental and international counterparts for their cooperation, synergies and firm commitment to our continuous joint initiatives aimed at improving the human rights situation and strengthening the rule of law in Ukraine.
Last but not least, I wish to thank again the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs for our long-track record of successful cooperation in supporting democratic development and human rights protection in Ukraine.
* * *