Image by Vladimir Yaitskiy
We’ve written extensively about the struggle for the rule of law in Ukraine.
We’ve reported on abuse of power situations and corruption within the prosecutorial ranks.
It is becoming more and more clear that Western governments and embassies are getting increasingly concerned about the consequences, but not the reasons, of the failure of the rule of law in Ukraine. Examples are numerous, including recent violence against civic and LGBT activists in Kiev, which make headlines in international media.
The dysfunctional and biased courts, corrupt and unprofessional law enforcement system, and prosecution of political opposition are part of today’s grim picture in Ukraine. However, one area that frequently is overlooked in international circles when discussing Ukrainian judicial reform is the treatment of attorneys who are at odds with the government’s position, whatever the circumstance.
It seems obvious that for the rule of law to be respected and upheld in a judicial system, equal protections must be provided to the counsel of the accused. This is not always the case in Ukraine. In fact, recently there have been instances of a defendant’s counsel being forcibly removed from the courtroom, documents seized and attorney-client privilege shredded.
All accused deserve the presumption of innocence, due process and a fair trial. Law firms working for certain clients have seen their bank accounts frozen, their reputations maligned, their clients harassed and their documents seized.
This is not justice. It is a kangaroo court, worthy of any banana republic, not a developed, European country, such as Ukraine claims to be.
There have even been cases of intentional criminal prosecution of certain attorneys for handling high-profile clients in which the Ukrainian government has prejudged the outcome of the trial.
Taking it a step further, assassination attempts on defendants’ counsel also seem to have been normalized, with car bombs, stray bullets and other measures being employed.
All of this has been happening while the European Union and the International Monetary Fund turn a blind eye and continue to find ways to fund the government in Kiev.
To make the West happy, the Ukrainian parliament has enacted laws to preordain the outcomes of certain high-profile trials, allowing the abuse of defendants by senior prosecutors toward defendants and the bribing of witnesses.
Ukraine will never fully join the community of Western nations while corruption in its government is as pervasive as it is today. The West enabling the destruction of the rule of law does nothing to make this reformation happen any quicker. In fact, Western silence only inculcates corruption and abuse of power further into the Ukrainian experience, making it that much harder to eradicate in the long run.
Victoria Nuland, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, famously stated that $5 billion had been invested Ukraine’s democracy and reforming Ukraine’s judicial system.
If that is the case, then why are those in power in Ukraine allowed to persecute those who oppose government opinion? Why do Ukrainians who speak out against corruption continue to die in horrific ways? Acid attacks, car bombs and slit throats seem to be all too common.
And why do Western politicians, who claim to care deeply about Ukrainian democracy, continue to turn a blind eye to these attacks and abuse of due process?
If the U.S. wants Ukraine to be successful, it should not resort to double standards and “selective” expression of concern. It should demand that due process is observed and that political prosecutions are immediately shut down.
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“The rule of law should universal for everyone — for civic activists, who are protected by the US and Western embassies, and as well for the opposition figures and lawyers who defend them, like me and my colleagues, who are denied basic rights of due process and are prosecuted without any proof at all,” declared Ukrainian attorney Vitali Serdyuk.
Ukraine’s prosperous future starts with re-establishing the rule of law and ensuring proper independence of courts now. There is no other way. Western governments need to get on board, all the way, not just in certain cases.
Originally posted at The Washington Times