on the occasion of the
third part of the 2011 Ordinary Session
of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly
(Strasbourg, 20-24 June 2011)
(extract of the verbatim records)
Mr YANUKOVYCH (President of Ukraine) said that it was an honour to be addressing the Parliamentary Assembly as President of Ukraine and Chairman of the Committee of Ministers. This was a significant time, the first that Ukraine had chaired the Committee of Ministers, and the occasion also marked the 16th anniversary of Ukraine’s membership of the Council of Europe. There were a number of rapidly changing political realities in the modern world which was increasingly globalised and interdependent. The Council of Europe had an important role to play at this time and its goals and tasks were crucial in facing modern challenges. Transformation was taking place within the Council of Europe, including work on the budget and structural changes, and Ukraine stood ready to facilitate those changes. The changes were not simply of an administrative nature but would be better referred to as institutional and political reform. These should establish the clear competencies of the European institutions. The priorities of the Ukrainian chairmanship were the rights of the child, support of human rights and the promotion and consolidation of local democracy. These were all aligned with the basic goals and principles of the Council of Europe and dialogue between the Ukrainian chairmanship and the Parliamentary Assembly had been important.
The United Nations Convention on Human Rights was the basis on which actions were taken at the Council of Europe. It was therefore a joint task which was being undertaken, the Court of Human Rights working within the legal system of the Convention. The accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights was a priority for Europe. This would consolidate the European system of human rights and facilitate improved interaction between the two organisations. It was easy to see the advantages: these were closer co-operation and co-ordination rather than duplication of functions. The European Union should be based on a clear set of principles including those used by the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe had an important role to play in encouraging this. The report of the Group of Eminent Persons, which would be discussed on Wednesday, was important and relevant. The conclusions of the report should be considered thoroughly at both the governmental and parliamentary levels and would be vital in addressing the challenges facing the modern world.
While the development of co-operation between the Council of Europe and non-member countries seeking support for their transition to democracy was important, the Council of Europe’s obligations within Europe should not be forgotten – in particular, developing an area free from capital punishment and the violation of human rights; and addressing issues of illegal migration, human trafficking and organised crime. It was also necessary to ensure human rights were respected in conflicts. These were all vital tasks on the agenda of the Council of Europe.
One year ago, he had shared his vision with the Council of Europe regarding reforms in Ukraine. Ambitious goals had been set to complete Ukraine’s obligations to the Council of Europe within one year. Legal reform was under way; for example, laws had been drafted on elections and criminal proceedings. These were being considered at a number of different levels. Parliament had already agreed a number of laws; for example those on access to public information, corruption, and free legal assistance. While there had been a number of positive developments within the past year on legal reform, he acknowledged that it was a complicated process which required significant efforts to complete.
While reforms had been implemented that were of great public significance – such as constitutional reform – others had also been initiated in the areas of criminal justice, specifically corruption and public system of broadcasting. These were personal priorities of his, and co-ordinated and effective work in these areas would be continued. It was necessary to break through the previous years of stagnation, which had proved to be a challenge to progress. Democratic reforms would ensure compliance with European standards and recognition of the supremacy of law. He acknowledged that this process required significant time and effort but, already, the first results could be seen – for example work on economic reforms including a new budget and tax code and a law on judicial reforms.
He supported improvements to the political system through work on the constitutional assembly. These changes would take place within the correct legal structures and in co-operation with the Venice Commission. The Ukrainian Parliament had also considered the law on the prevention of corruption. He personally was committed to routing out corruption, but some of his efforts had experienced opposition from individuals who had become rich as a result of embezzling public funds. Corruption remained a significant problem in Ukraine, but one which he had the political will to resolve, despite the fact that some important offices were held by his opponents, and some criminal cases had already been opened. There had been some misuse by the opposition of the legal system and some individuals had attempted to avoid responsibility for offences which were not of a political nature. These cases would be reviewed on the basis of objective factors.
Reforms to the judiciary were important in efforts to overcome corruption and develop civil society. Significant steps towards this had been taken in line with the Venice Commission and this should be take in to account when considering reforms in Ukraine. The Criminal Procedural Code, which would be approved later in the year, and reform of the Criminal Court would represent the next steps in the process. These would represent important guarantees against corruption, ensuring that human rights were being respected. In particular, there would be equal treatment of the prosecution and defence in court. The rights of defence advocates would be strengthened, enabling them to collect and provide evidence on the same terms as the prosecution. Courts would be prohibited from accepting evidence which had emerged as a result of violence or threats to the accused in order to ensure human dignity.
Freedom of expression was fundamental to human rights and increased freedom of the media had been an important achievement of recent years. The public information law was significant in establishing clear relationships between the government and the press and giving citizens access to important data. The work on public broadcasting had increased the amount of objective information available to the public. He stressed that the government was open to dialogue in the area of freedom of speech. Any suggestion of violations was taken seriously, including any information received from international human rights organisations. He stressed that any pressure on journalists in the course of their investigations was viewed as unacceptable.
In summary, positive steps had been taken to consolidate human rights and fundamental freedoms. This had been the result of joint efforts between the government, civic organisations and the public. In May, the Ukrainian Parliament would be considering a draft law on non-governmental organisations, ensuring that citizens have freedom of association.
He was keen to stress his country’s co-operation with the Venice Commission. European integration remained an unchanged policy goal for Ukraine: both key political parties and a majority of the population supported this and his position as president. He reiterated that when anyone from his country contacted the European Union at any level, the goal of European integration was key. He hoped that his country’s voice would be heard. Both the President of Ukraine and the leaders of the EU member states shared the commitment to free trade and they believed that it was key to European progress. He would like all European citizens to have freedom of movement across all of Europe.
His key foreign policy goal was to improve relations with Russia and to take them to a new level. A mutually beneficial relationship with Russia would be good not only for both countries but for the world as a whole. He wanted resolution to all conflicts and he knew that economic stability would follow from peace. He was convinced that new European opportunities would be good for democracy and would have many far reaching prospects. The Council of Europe was a natural leader for Europe and tolerance throughout Europe was its most important task.