Appeal of the Central Committee of the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine to the OSCE/ODIHR; European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission)
February 14, 2018—The open letter below was sent by the Central Committee of the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine from its meeting on February 9, 2018, in advance of a court hearing scheduled for February 20. The context of the hearing, and this appeal, is the following:
On July 6, 2017 the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine (PSPU) went to court, seeking a judgment that the decisions of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine with respect to the PSPU are in violation of the law. The decisions in question are a refusal to make formal acknowledgment of the Charter, Program, and composition of the governing bodies of the party, adopted at its XXXI Extraordinary Congress (March 18, 2017). Prior to that decision, two earlier congresses of the PSPU (in 2015 and 2016) were likewise ignored by the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine. As a consequence, full-fledged activity on the part of the PSPU has effectively been halted since 2015. Consideration of this matter by the court has been postponed twice. The next session in the District Administrative Court of the City of Kyiv is scheduled for February 20, 2018.
The Central Committee of the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine appeals to you, the members of an authoritative international organization, which regulates and affirms the fundamental values of European democracy, and European values, to review and evaluate the actions of the Ukrainian authorities in regard to the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, a Ukrainian political party.
The Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine (PSPU) was established in 1996, and is one of the few Ukrainian parties to have won seats in Parliamentary elections. The PSPU twice nominated its leader, Natalia Vitrenko, as a candidate for President of Ukraine. The party also won seats in local elections and had its representatives in the self-government bodies of many regions of Ukraine.
Since its founding, the PSPU has acted in full compliance with the Constitution and laws of Ukraine, the norms and principles of international law, and in accordance with the PSPU Charter, voted up by a congress of the party. During the entire period in which the party has been active, government supervisory agencies have made no complaints against us, neither against the party’s activity under its charter, nor against the activity of its regional organizations. Throughout these years, our party’s activity has been monitored, as required by law, by the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine and the Central Electoral Commission of Ukraine. The PSPU’s report-and-election campaigns, regular and extraordinary congresses, and procedure for the election of the party’s governing bodies have always been acknowledged as legitimate. The party’s candidates for deputies of the Supreme Rada of Ukraine, local self-government agencies, and the Presidency of Ukraine have always been acknowledged as legitimate and lawful, and have taken part in electoral campaigns, exercising their rights to run for office.
Unfortunately, at the present time the Ukrainian authorities, in the person of law enforcement agencies and the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, are conducting a policy of discrimination against our opposition party, which is unacceptable in a democratic society; it extends to informational and political harassment, and physical terror, directed against the party’s leaders and activists. The party’s activity has effectively been halted. It is kept out of the broadcast media, and its peaceful public actions are impeded by the dispatch of neo-Nazi bands against our supporters, with acts of physical violence against them as members of the PSPU.
We believe that a policy of discrimination, forbidden by both Ukrainian laws and the norms and principles of international law, is being conducted against our party. This discrimination hinders members of our party from exercising their political rights and freedoms in Ukraine, guaranteed under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (articles 10, 11, 14), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (articles 19, 22, 26), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights articles 19, 20), the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights (articles 12, 21), the 1990 Document of the Copenhagen Conference on the Human Dimension (point 7), the Guiding Principles for the Legal Regulation of the Activity of Political Parties, documents of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and documents of the OSCE/ODIHR and the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission).
We believe that the Ukrainian government is failing to fulfill its obligations to the citizens of Ukraine who have associated within the PSPU, with respect to the guarantees, under the Constitution and conventions, of freedom of association in a political party, the right to freedom of speech, and the right to participate in democratic elections. As a consequence of the actions of government agencies, the activity of the PSPU has now been effectively shut down for three years, and the rights of the party’s members are being grossly violated. This is confirmed by the following.
1. On Oct. 28, 2016, the central office of the PSPU and the editorial office of the party newspaper, Predrassvetnyye ogni, were illegally seized by force. For more than 10 years, both the PSPU and the editorial board of the newspaper had rented, on an entirely legal basis, non-residential premises from Siver Ukraina LLC, where their offices were located and they conducted their lawful political activity there. Without any court order or notification to the party or the newspaper’s editorial staff, after the forcible seizure of the offices the Security Service of Ukraine conducted a search of the premises, and confiscated archival material, computer equipment (including hard disks from desktop computers), party documents containing the personal data of PSPU activists, party letterheads, documents on financial operations and bookkeeping reports, party symbols, and the personal property of PSPU leaders Natalia Vitrenko and Vladimir Marchenko, including their personal libraries and laptops.
The illegal, forcible seizure of the premises and property of the party and the editorial offices of the newspaper Predrassvetnyye ogni led to the opening of criminal cases under articles 170 and 171 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (Impeding the Lawful Activity of Political Parties, Impeding the Lawful Professional Activity of Journalists). Investigations related to these cases have been ongoing for more than a year. Thus, the lawful renters and owners have not been permitted access to the party and editorial offices, or to their party and personal property.
2. The Ministry of Justice of Ukraine refuses to acknowledge or register the amendments to the Charter and Program of the PSPU and changes in the party’s governing bodies, adopted by legitimate and competent congresses of the party, which amendments and changes the party was required to make, in accordance with new versions of the Law of Ukraine “On Political Parties in Ukraine” and the Law of Ukraine “On the Condemnation of Communist and National-Socialist (Nazi) Totalitarian Regimes and Prohibition of Propaganda of Their Symbols.”
Three times, on September 8, 2015, June 25, 2016, and March 18, 2017, the PSPU, in complete accordance with the party’s Charter, held the XXIX Extraordinary Congress, the XXX Regular Report-and-Election Congress, and XXXI Extraordinary Congress of the party. Three times, we submitted a complete package of required documents from these congresses to the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, and three times the authorized officials of the Ministry, in violation of the aforementioned norms and principles of international law, refused to acknowledge and register the decisions adopted by the PSPU’s congresses.
They are thereby interfering in internal party relations, insofar as, by interpreting the norms of the party’s Charter as they wish, they are giving illegal, tendentious evaluations of the legitimacy of the party’s congresses, and are failing to carry out the responsibilities they bear by law, to conduct an expert legal evaluation of the PSPU documents, submitted for purposes of registration.
There have been no instructions on holding congresses or on correct implementation of the legislative norms. It has been impossible to obtain advice from Ministry of Justice of Ukraine staff, concerning their demands with respect to holding congresses and to what, in their view, is the correct application of the norms of the Charter. The PSPU leadership’s numerous requests for clarification of these demands have been met with only one answer from the Ministry: “Find a good lawyer and he’ll write everything for you.”
As a result of this attitude toward the PSPU on the part of the Ministry of Justice, the party has twice been unable to take part in elections to local self-government bodies. The ability of the PSPU to take part in the upcoming Parliamentary and Presidential elections is threatened.
3. Central TV channels have aired direct threats to the PSPU by leaders of government law enforcement agencies (head of the Security Service of Ukraine V. Hrytsak).
4. On March 17 and May 9, 2017, Nazi groups under control of Ukrainian law enforcement physically impeded demonstrations and beat up members of our party who were taking part in legal, peaceful PSPU actions. Criminal cases have not been opened on the basis of these blatant violations of the law, and the guilty parties have not been called to account.
5. Harassment and physical violence continues against the leaders of the PSPU—Doctor of Economics, Academician, People’s Deputy of Ukraine in the II and III convocations, candidate for the Presidency of Ukraine in 1999 and 2004 Natalia Vitrenko and People’s Deputy of Ukraine in the I, II and III convocations, leader of the PSPU caucus in the Supreme Rada of Ukraine, III convocation, Vladimir Marchenko.
On May 9, 2017, a group of neo-Nazis blockaded the apartments where N. Vitrenko and V. Marchenko live, smashed their doors, threatened physical assault, and defaced the hallways with offensive graffiti and threats. The police, although called repeatedly, took no action to protect the rights and freedoms of Ukrainian political and state figures N. Vitrenko and V. Marchenko. The police found no provocations in these acts by the Nazis. Court decisions requiring the authorized personnel of the National Police of Ukraine to open criminal cases on the basis of these facts have, in effect, not been implemented by the police. A proper investigation is not being done, and the guilty parties are not being called to account.
Thus the government encourages violence by neo-Nazis against its political opponents.
Analyzing what is happening in Ukraine with regard to our party and the above-described actions of law enforcement agencies and the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, we believe that they are carrying out a general plan of reprisals and political repression against their ideological and political opponents—members of the PSPU.
We ask you to analyze the facts outlined above and to evaluate them from the standpoint of European values and the norms and principles of international law.
Chairman of the PSPU Natalia Vitrenko