A Brief Introduction to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
The Group has been registered as a legal entity since November 1992, although it had existed as the human rights protection wing of the Kharkiv office of ‘Memorial’ from 1988, and some members of the group had been active in the human rights movement from the 1960s through to the 1980s. The Group is active in three main areas:
– providing assistance to individuals whose rights have been infringed, and carrying out investigations into cases of human rights violation;
– developing human rights education and promoting legal awareness through public actions and publications;
– providing analysis of the human rights situation in Ukraine (particular with regard to political rights and civil liberties.)
The Group has developed a human rights network which connects local human rights organizations throughout Ukraine. It fulfils a vital function as resource and information center. The Group bulletin weekly ‘Prava Ludyny’ [‘Human Rights’] (in Ukrainian and English) concentrates on reports and analyses related to the first area listed above. Monthly ‘Civic Education’ and various special issues focus on the second and third areas of activity.
Results of studies into freedom of belief, expression and of information in Ukraine are published on a quarterly basis in ‘Freedom of Expression and Privacy’, and historical studies of the human rights movement in Ukraine have been published in numeral books.
In 1998 the Group received the EU/USA ‘Award for Democracy and Civil Society’. At the present time the organization has more than fifty members – journalists, historians, linguists, lawyers, mathematicians, physicists, programmers, teachers, engineers, students. Thirty people are employed at the center, while others work for us part– time or on a voluntary basis.
Some details about the results of projects undertaken by the Group:
1. Defense of individuals whose rights have been violated by state bodies and their officials.
From 1988 – 1990, in large part as a result of efforts by members of the Group, persecution of individuals for using national symbols and distributing democratic press publications was stopped. The Group gave moral, legal and financial assistance to people convicted for political reasons. From 1993, work on complaints about human rights abuses became an organized part of our role. An office was created to provide assistance to victims of such violations. With the help of the mass media, including foreign media, a contact address for the Group was publicized. Between 1993 and 1996, the Group received around 160 written complaints and a huge number of verbal complaints about rights violations per year. In 1997, we received 248 written complaints, from 1998-1999 – approximately 300, in 2000 – 360, in 2001 – 430, in 2002 – 760, in 2003 – 927, in 2004 – 989, in 2005 – more than 1000, in 2006 – 1345, in 2007 – 1642, in 2008- 2010 – about 2000. In each case, the Group approaches local and central executive bodies, visits prisons and detention centers, and involves highly-qualified legal specialists and lawyers. The Group publishes an annual report on its reception work. In 2003, a Center for Protection against Torture, with its own Fund, was established. More than 100 appeals to the European Court, prepared by lawyers of the Fund, have been accepted. We won 43 cases and 25 cases are in communication now. At the present time, lawyers of the Fund are working on more than 120 cases.
2. Support for citizens’ advice centers and open-access libraries have been a part of our role (since 1995). At the end of 1995, a public library was established, where individuals have the opportunity to find information about ways of protecting human rights, to familiarize themselves with relevant documents and to gain legal advice. In this library there are a considerable number of rare books which are used by historians, political scientists, lawyers and others. Consultations are also provided for non-governmental organizations and specialists.
3. The development of an information network of human rights organizations (since 1992).
In 1992, we began creating a system for collecting and distributing information about human rights abuses in Ukraine, a network for mutual assistance, exchange of information and experience. The Group information bulletin ‘Human Rights’, which comes out three times a month (from 1999 one for specialists), is distributed among regional human rights groups and state bodies and is widely used by the mass media. A monthly review is also published in English. Literature with a human rights focus, published by the Group and other organizations, is distributed using the same channels. A system has been established to enable joint actions in cases of flagrant violation of human rights. The Group has organized and run many seminars for regional human rights groups. Between 2001 and 2009 nine human rights schools were organized, each with 50 participants. In 2004-2008 the Group organized Forums of HR NGOs together with the UHROU.
4. Developing human rights awareness, disseminating information and understanding of human rights issues among state executive bodies and bodies of local self-government, non-governmental organizations and interested individuals (from 1993)
Since 1993 the Group has been involved in human rights education: it has founded a center for preparing publications about human rights, and established contact with the UN Institute of Human Rights (Geneva, Switzerland). Thirty parts of the series Fact Sheets, issued by this Institute, have been translated into Ukrainian and twice published. In addition, 25 International agreements on human rights, indexed by the UN and conventions of the Council of Europe, have been translated into Ukrainian and prepared for distribution. This material is sent by post on request to teachers, students at institutes and schools, to members of grassroots organizations, and also distributed at seminars. Between 1995 and 1996, the Group played an active role in organizing and running 28 educational seminars on human rights issues in seven Ukrainian cities, as part of the project ‘Developing a civic society in the CIS’. All participants in the seminar, including military officers, police officers, employees of the courts, procurator’s offices, journalists and members of grassroots organizations, received a pack with seminar information. Members of the Group have participated and given lectures at several seminars organized by the Council of Europe. The Group has also organized and run 12 international human rights conferences (in 1993, 1994, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008 and in 2010).
5. An annual national competition for school and higher education students for the best essays on human rights themes (in conjunction with the International Society for Human Rights, since 1996) Seven competitions have been held (with 217, 679, 907, 1002, 1818, 1365 and 1256 entries, respectively, received).
6. The creation and upkeep of an information resource ‘Human Rights in Ukraine’ (since 2000) A website khpg.org, and service for sending information about changes on the site with short annotations. Since 2010 the site is visited by more than 1500 people each day.
7. Analysis of the human rights situation in Ukraine (since 1995)
In 1995, the Group began monitoring key human rights. Several analytical reports have been prepared and published: an analysis of how Ukrainian legislation and law-implementation practice compare with norms of the first section of the European Convention on Human Rights; observance of the UN Convention against Torture in Ukraine; a draft of the Law of Ukraine ‘On the Ombudsman’; a draft of the Law of Ukraine ‘On civic organizations’; Procedure for making appeals to the European Commission for Human Rights; Freedom of access to official information in Ukraine; A study of specific psychological traits of human rights activists, and others. All such information is distributed by the Group in the form of special issues of the bulletin ‘Human Rights’. In total, 65 special issues have so far been published, of these 24 in book form: ‘Against torture’, ‘Is the death penalty needed in Ukraine?’, ‘European norms for the detention of prisoners’, ‘Freedom and the State’, ‘Essays about politics’, ‘Constitutionalism. The Ukrainian experience’, ‘A more humane procedure for the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders in Ukraine’, ‘Human rights: my personal view’ (a compilation of essays by school students participating in the first, second and fifth National Competitions for the best essay about human rights), ‘Prison reform: explorations and achievements’, various reports ‘On Observance of human rights in Ukraine’ in 1998, 1999 and 2000, ‘Wire-tapping in International law and the legislation of eleven European countries’, ‘Studying Human Rights. A bibliographical review’, ‘Appeals to the European Court of Human Rights’, ‘International Mechanisms for protecting human rights’, ‘Against torture. A review of claims made of inhumane treatment and the use of torture’, ‘Freedom of expression and opinion in Ukraine in 2001’, ‘Against torture. International Mechanisms against torture and cruel treatment’, ‘Against torture. European Mechanisms against torture and inhumane treatment’, ‘Right to privacy’, ‘Freedom of information. Theory and Practice’, and others.
8. Human rights education for various social and professional groups (since 1993)
In 1993 an international conference on human rights education was held, and since then members of the Group have run optional human rights courses in schools. The brochure ABC ‘Teaching Human rights’, issued by the UN, has been translated from English and distributed among teachers. Since February 1999, one of the three issues of the bulletin ‘Prava Ludyny’ has become specialized, with a specific slant for specialists working in the field of civic and human rights education. This new publication is titled: ‘Human Rights. Civic Education’. It contains method plans for teaching human rights in schools, discusses issues of civic education and civic awareness. Several manuals on human rights education, created by the Center for Civic Education in Calabasasis, CA, USA, have been translated from English and two of these have been published. Other works, including a bibliographical review of publications on human rights education, have also been published. Three national conferences for teachers on human rights issues have been held (1999, 2000, 2001), with each participant receiving a pack with information and publications on teaching human rights. There were more than 40 educational events for law-enforcing officers, judges, prosecutors, personal of the penal system during 2002-2010 on prevention of torture.
9. Monitoring and defense of freedom of expression and of the right to privacy (since 1996) Cases involving the infringement of the rights to freedom of expression, to information and to privacy are monitored, and civil investigations undertaken (a number of which have had considerable success). Relevant legislation is also scrutinized. We publish a quarterly journal ‘Freedom of Expression and Privacy’. Two conferences on issues of privacy and access to information have been held. Several suggestions from the Group with regard to amendments to normative legislation have been accepted. We translated from English into Ukrainian and published many materials as well as prepared several drafts law in question.
10. Monitoring and defense of the right to freedom from torture and ill-treatment (since 1996) Cases involving the use of torture are monitored and publicized through various publications and the Internet. Two independent reports to the UN Committee against torture regarding Ukraine’s adherence to the UN Convention against torture have been issued, and the majority of recommendations of the Committee, based on our report, have already been followed up by state bodies. A book titled ‘Against torture’ has been published, and an international conference in conjunction with the Council of Europe held. The latter significantly raised public awareness of the existence of the problem. Between 1998 and 2001 14 seminars were run in regional centers to make officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), the State Security Service (SSU) and the Procurator aware of international standards for avoiding torture and cruel treatment. In July 2003 a 3-year project – ‘Campaign against torture and inhumane treatment in Ukraine’ – was undertaken with the support of the European Commission, OSI, NED and other donors. A Fund was also established to defend victims of torture. We prepared and published many books devoted to prevention of torture. In particular, we prepared three shadow reports to the CAT in 1996, 2001 and 2007. Since 2005, members of KHPG, and members of its several regional partners, have been participating in mobile groups organized by the MIA. The groups carry out spot inspections of district police stations to check the observation of human rights of detainees.
11. Security Services in a constitutional democracy (since 1996).
Members of the Group are involved in analyzing legislation on the State Security Service and implementation of these laws. Six analytical reports have thus far been prepared, as well as one book and two bulletins. Two international conferences have been held. Amendments to normative legislation have been made on recommendations from the Group.
12. Studies of the history of the dissident movement in Ukraine. A ‘Who’s Who’ of Dissidents has been created as well as a list of individuals repressed for political reasons between 1953 and 1988 (begun in 1989). The Group was responsible for the Ukrainian section of the biographical reference work, with 120 brief biographical texts with photographs, a description and chronological account of the dissident movement, as well as a bibliography. Members of the Group compile archive material about the history of the dissident movement, interview ex-dissidents (202 people were interviewed filling 608 cassettes). A database is being created of members of the dissident movement in Ukraine, and a huge photo archive has been established. The first draft of a list of Ukrainian political prisoners (1954 – 1988), with around 3000 names, has been prepared.
13. Preparation and publication of a historical memory series devoted to resistance to the totalitarian regime of the USSR (begun in 1992). From 1992 to 1996 the Group helped to prepare a series ‘The History of Dissidence in the USSR’ (in conjunction with Moscow ‘Memorial’ and the publishing house ‘Vest’. Seven books were published. Since 1998, we have been preparing our own series, of which 25 volumes have been published. To mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, we published ‘The Ukrainian Helsinki Group – Documents and Materials’ in four volumes. This was awarded third prize in the category ‘Encyclopedia’ in the nationwide ‘2001 Book of the Year’ competition. A conference to mark the anniversary was also held in Kiev under the banner ‘Human Rights in Ukraine: now and then’. the Group had previously also published Mikhail Heifets’ works in three volumes, and the reminiscences of Dina Kaminska. A series of memoirs dedicated to the history of political repression under the heading ‘Memories’ has been created and six books have already been published. In 2003 the Group published Boris Zakharov’s ‘A Brief History of the dissident movement in Ukraine (1956-1987)’, which covers all trends and movements among Ukrainian dissidents of that time, and is aimed at teachers of history and law. Lectures and seminars are held for school teachers, with one topic focusing on the history of the dissident movement in Ukraine.
14. A study into problems of discrimination and inequality on the basis of race, skin color, ethnic origin, religion and language in Ukraine (since 2002).
The Group is taking part in the Council of Europe project to protect the rights of ethnic, language, religious and other minorities. A ‘Non-discrimination review’ was prepared for the year 2003.
27 Ivanova St., Apt. 4, 61002, Kharkiv, Ukraine
for letters: P.O.B. 10430, 61002, Kharkiv, Ukraine
Tel.: (+380-57) 714 35 58
Tel./Fax (+380-57) 700 67 71
WEB-sites: khpg.org, archive.khpg.org, library.khpg.org