Serhiy Kurykin, a deputy of the Verkhovna Rada.
Mr Kurykin, could you please explain in easy-to-understand terms what
actually the Council of Europe is?
|It is a prestigious
international organization with more than forty countries in its membership.
From the very start the Council of Europe was called upon to promote cooperation
among the European nations, and improve and strengthen in every possible
way relations among them, strengthen peace and mutual understanding, all
of it on the basis of common values.
WU: It sounds good but let me be frank, a bit too general and pompous. Are there any instruments for achieving these goals? Kurykin: Ahead of anything else, the Council of Europe aims at protecting human rights, at insuring implementation of the unified high European human rights standards. It is what the activity of the Council of Europe has always been based on. Human rights are not a national category, it’s a general notion, and that is why human rights must be protected all over the world since everybody is entitled to human rights. The Council of Europe is engaged in protecting human rights in Europe.
But though it is a very wide field of activity, the work of the Council
of Europe is not limited only to that?
Kurykin: Of course not. Practically all the aspects of European life are in the focus of the Council of Europe’s interest. Officially the only exceptions are the issues of national defense and security. But to draw definite lines in these matters is a very difficult thing to do.
WU: As far as I know, decisions of the Parliamentary Assembly are of an advisory character, in other words, no matter what its decision is one can follow it or ignore it.
Theoretically yes, one can ignore it. But let’s consider the specific structure
of the Council of Europe. It is a two-chamber body. One chamber is the Parliamentary
Assembly and the other one is the Committee of Ministers. The former is
made up of representatives of legislative bodies of member-countries and
the latter is made up of representatives of executive bodies, ministers
for foreign affairs. If need be, special sessions are held which, on invitation,
can be attended by ministers of internal affairs and other ministers. As
far as Ukraine is concerned, the Council of Europe is a sort of stimulating
mechanism for it, which is helpful in promoting legal reforms in Ukraine.
In fact, we, in Ukraine, should ourselves be interested in fulfilling our
own pledges if we want to reorganize our life in accordance with the all-European
precepts. When the Assembly adopts recommendations they are passed on to
the Committee of Ministers which, in its turn, can take then some absolutely
WU: In other words, protection of human rights and establishment of an all-European standard in this respect, provisions for democratic principles of court trials are the main aims of the Council of Europe. But is there a sufficient legal basis for it, something that has been agreed upon by all the member-countries?
The new Human Rights Building, Strasbourg.
Yes, there is. Ahead of anything else, it’s the European conventions which
are worked out by none other than the European Council itself, and after
they are approved they are forwarded to the member-countries for signing.
The most important of these documents remains the European Convention on
Human Rights which sets very strict legal provisions for maintaining human
rights. If to compare this Convention with the Declaration of Human Rights
one can say that many things in the Convention are presented in a clearer
way and more forcefully. The Convention, adopted way back in 1950, very
early after the establishment of the Council, is a document of great importance.
Ukraine joined this convention in 1995.
Does it mean the convention has not changed in the past fifty years?
Kurykin: No, it does not. It is being developed, augmented and added to. There are ten of additional protocols, aimed at improving and widening the original Convention. The Sixth Protocol calls for the abolition of capital punishment in all the European countries.
WU: It seems that this particular problem is a painful and controversial issue in Ukraine. Ukraine has not yet abolished capital punishment and the Council of Europe has already reprimanded us for that.
Kurykin: Yes, the fact that Ukraine has not yet ratified the Sixth Protocol makes it a target of criticism. The Council of Europe wants Ukraine to abolish capital punishment. But it is not the only issue that invites criticism from the Council of Europe. Take, for example, our Civil Code.
WU: Hasn’t it come down to us from the Soviet times?
Kurykin: It has. There have been a number of changes introduced to it but its spirit has remained, to a great extent that of a Soviet document which was to serve quite different social and economic conditions. Now we have a radically different set-up of business activities, private ownership and many other issues. Incidentally, it concerns tourism, too, but I’d like to speak about it a bit later and in more detail.
WU: Has Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, been doing anything about it?
A draft of a totally new, “European” Civil Code was prepared but fifteen
hundred corrections and amendments have been made in it and it will take
time before the Verkhovna Rada finally analyzes all of them and takes its
WU: Anything else that the Council of Europe may frown upon?
Kurykin: Yes, there is. Our Criminal Code is also quite of a Soviet kind. There is a draft of a new Criminal Code which does not have a provision for capital punishment. But some parliamentarians insist not only on retaining capital punishment but on increasing the lengths of imprisonment.
WU: Sounds strange, to say the least.
Kurykin: The new version of the Criminal Code which is prepared for the second reading in the Verkhovna Rada falls below the high European standards in many respects, even in the treatment of such a notion as punishment for criminal acts.
Judges of the European Court of Human Rights, Strasbourg.
I’m quite convinced
that if a criminal spends in prison more years he will not come out of
prison any better than he was, or ready for normal life.