“The central government only causes or passes down problems, while the local authorities at least do something for us.” This is how people in Kharkiv perceive reforms, according to local NGOs. These NGOs argue that the city’s authorities systematically create this impression to keep their political and economic hold on the city. This was their key message during a series of public events that Democracy Reporting International (DRI) held from 31 October to 2 November in Ukraine’s second largest city.
NGOs in Kharkiv are concerned that communication with the city’s authorities is poor and that the authorities monopolise local media, making it difficult for NGOs to make their concerns heard by the public. Furthermore, apart from this restrictive political environment, hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDP) from the nearby conflict zones in the Donbas arrived in Kharkiv, creating additional humanitarian, social and political strains. During their meeting with DRI, the local activists identified the following as priorities to build the capacity of Kharkiv’s NGOs: better knowledge of fundraising, advocacy and public information techniques. They also emphasised the need to enhance work with the IDPs and help them better represent their interests. The local population needs a more honest picture of reforms both on the local and national level and what needs to be and can be done.
During the Khariv Days DRI organised various workshops:
Oleksandr Vodyannikov, National Legal Advisor to the OSCE Coordinator in Ukraine, informed the Kharkiv audience about the constitutional complaint as a new instrument to protect the rights of citizens and their possibility to influence decisions already approved. He explained the review procedure of the constitutional claim, how it differs from the constitutional appeal, the submission procedure, and the admissibility conditions (lecture part 1 and part 2). “The constitutional complaint is a new instrument of democracy allowing citizens to submit a claim for a law (or its separate provisions) to the Constitutional Court of Ukraine to be checked for compliance with the Constitution, if all other national legal remedies have been exhausted,” said Mr. Vodyannikov.
Andriy Kozlov, DRI Senior Legal Analyst, and observer at the Constitutional Commission of Ukraine, described the changes stemming from the constitutional reform of the judiciary. He elaborated on the key selection criteria for the judges, particularly the social and personal competences to be taken into account, in addition to professional skills. According to Andriy Kozlov, the next important stage of reform is the approval of the Law on High Council of Justice and holding a transparent qualification assessment of judges.
What do journalists need to know about the reform?
Volodymyr Zemlyanyy, media expert, First Deputy General Manager of the UTR channel, told journalists about the most widespread stereotypes in the judicial reform coverage in Ukraine. He provided useful tips on how to write about the judicial reform in an engaging way. He also explained what rights journalists have in the monitoring of court proceedings and what to do if they get sued or if a judge arbitrarily orders them out of the courtroom. Mr. Zemlyanyy advised journalists to file complaints (claims) against such conduct by the judges and emphasised that there was an option to complain to the High Qualification Commission of Judges of Ukraine (HQCJU). “The media have the right and duty to highlight problematic issues in the judiciary; moreover, they may criticize the actions of judges, but such criticism should be based on checked facts. On the other hand, judges and court staff should be protected from unfounded allegations” added Mr. Zemlyanyy.
Constitutional reform from the perspective of the younger generation
Does Ukraine need a new Constitution to be adopted radically in one go, or step-by step amendments to the existing one? This was the theme of the debate organised by DRI between students from Kharkiv’s two main universities as part of its national student date competition ‘Constitution: the road to change’. The two teams represented the National Yaroslav Mudryy Law University and the Kharkiv National Karazin University. They were fist given tips on public speaking and familiarized with the political and legal context. Their debate was assessed by a panel consisting of a professor from the Institute of International Relations of Kyiv National Shevchenko University and two experts from DRI. It selected the team from the Yaroslav Mudryy Law University as the winner, and Roman Kolinka, from the Karazin University team, as the best speaker.