Human Rights, Timoshenko Present Growing Impediments to Ukraine’s EU Aspirations

January 29, 2013
European Parliament Committee Chairman calls for sanctions
U.S. Congressional Action Pending
James George Jatras
Deputy Director, AIU

As noted previously by AIU, a key obstacle to the willingness of the European Union (EU) to make a firm commitment to Ukraine on finalizing an Association Agreement with the EU, and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) linked to it, is the accusation that Kiev fails to meet European standards regarding human rights and the rule of law.   This obstacle reflects elite opinion in both Europe and the United States and appears to becoming greater in light of recent developments.


This month the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered Ukraine to pay a record amount of compensation in 211 cases worth more than half a billion Euros, including 206 cases of “prolonged failure of national court decisions.”   In relation to one Ukrainian case, the Court recommended that Ukraine “urgently reform its system of judicial discipline.”  These cases did not include that of Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, on which a decision is expected soon, according to the ECHR’s President, Dean Spielmann.


Aside from the future action of the ECHR, Timoshenko’s imprisonment (as well as that of former internal affairs minister Yuriy Lutsenko) remains the biggest aggravating factor between Brussels and Kiev, not only blocking progress toward a DCFTA and an Association Agreement but perhaps even in the form of sanctions against Ukraine.   In a recent interview, the EU’s new ambassador for Kiev, Jan Tombinski, sidestepped a specific question on possible EU sanctions, saying that “all member states are very closely following the judiciary proceedings against Yulia Timoshenko as by European institutions, but I will not enter in speculations what happens ‘if.’ We know where we are now, so we try to adapt our strategy to what is now, and there was clearly stated in all our meetings that a lack of solution to the question of Yulia Timoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko is one of the biggest burdens on the way to sign the Association Agreement, but the solution is not in our hands.”


European Parliament Committee Chairman calls for sanctions


While Tombinski treads lightly on the Timoshenko question, Elmar Brok, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament (EP), has bluntly called for sanctions against Ukrainian officials, singling out by name First Deputy Prosecutor General Rinat Kuzmin, whose American visa already has been revoked.   Brok did not directly tie Timoshenko to prospects for a DCFTA, but he did say that Ukraine would make “no progress” towards an Association Agreement with the EU (which officials in Kiev hope to sign in November) until judicial reforms are implemented.


While the European Parliament often is seen as having little direct legal authority, its views can be taken as indicative of those of other elites in Brussels and in EU capitals.   It is also noteworthy that Brok dismissed out of hand the basis of charges against Timoshenko in relation to 1996 murder of Rada deputy Yevhen Shcherban, together with his wife and an another person: “We have a case of selective justice,” said Brok.  “Kuzmin, if he wanted to, could prove that Timoshenko is responsible for the spots on the moon.”


U.S. Congressional actions also bear watching


While U.S. government actions and legislation in the American Congress have no direct impact on what the EU may be prepared to do about a DCFTA or Association Agreement with Ukraine, official voices in Washington can be taken as indicative of elite Western opinion.   As a rule, there is very little difference between American officials’ perspectives on Ukraine and those of their European counterparts.  Also, given Washington’s strong support for Kiev’s “European orientation” in preference to affiliation with the Moscow-led Customs Union (in the words of outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “a move to re-Sovietize the region”), what is said and heard in Washington should not be ignored.


As noted above, the U.S. Department of State already has revoked the visa of U.S. prosecutor Kuzmin, consistent with a non-binding U.S. Senate resolution condemning Timoshenko’s prosecution, expressing “deep concern” about her fate, and calling on the Department to “institute a visa ban against those responsible for the imprisonment and mistreatment of Ms. Timoshenko and the more than dozen political leaders associated with the 2004 Orange Revolution.”


This month, another resolution condemning the Timoshenko prosecution was introduced in the House of Representatives.  While not calling for sanctions, it not only condemns the imprisonment of Timoshenko and Lutsenko, it “demands” (a term absent from the 2012 Senate resolution) that Ukraine “immediately release all political prisoners as well as provide proper medical care to all those that have been imprisoned” and “adhere to the principles of democracy and rule of law by respecting human rights, freedom of the press, and the protection of free speech and the right to assemble peacefully.”  Evidently drafted prior to addition of the Shcherban murder charges against Timoshenko, the newly introduced resolution makes no mention of them.


For those familiar with the use of U.S. Congressional resolutions as a tool for ratcheting up pressure on foreign governments, the shift from “calling on” to “demanding” is a significant one.   It can be taken as indicative of further steps in the near future specifically taking note of the accusations relating to the Shcherban murders.   This could take the form of amendments to the resolution introduced in January, to a new resolution with even tougher language, or perhaps even to an actual sanctions bill, along the lines of the “Magnitsky” sanctions bill enacted against Russia in December 2012.