Ukraine brings its lustration controversy to Brussels

EU - Ukraine Flag montage. [Shutterstock]

A Ukrainian civil society activist and MPs, from the country’s ruling parties disagreed on the role of lustration in building a more just society, during a public event in Brussels today (24 March).

The roundtable, organised by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, in cooperation with Poland’s Open Dialog Foundation, was dedicated to the fight against reform, and on justice reform, in Ukraine.

Lustration took centre stage, with some speakers calling for Ukraine’s recently adopted law to be the main instrument for fighting corruption, while others rejected the idea.

Valled “On Purification of Government”,  the law of lustration was adopted by the Ukrainian parliament on 16 September 2014, and was signed by President Petro Poroshenko on 9 October, becoming effective on 15 October, when it was published.

The law is based on the following principles:

  • The process of verification is supervised by the Ministry of justice. The law doesn’t specify the procedures and the scope of the supervision.
  • The head of each unit of a public institution will be accountable for the verification of its institution. The positions to be subject to lustration are limited to three top levels of public officials.
  • Each candidate for public position will make a lustration declaration in which they will provide information about their sources of income and other matters, such as active involvement in actions against the EuroMaidan participants.

At first, Poroshenko was against lustration, as he considered it an unsuitable solution for Ukraine in view of the military conflict. Instead of lustration, it was better to introduce comprehensive anti-corruption mechanisms, the President claimed.

The law was also criticised by Leonid Antonenko, a prominent Ukrainian lawyer, who argued that the law doesn’t target the most prolific criminals of the former regime in any way, and that it lacks a central body supervising lustration which would be democratically accountable.

The Civic Lustration Committee, an NGO which had previously written drastic lustration draft laws, reportedly plays an important role, gathering claims from citizens, developing a database of officials to be removed from office, and liaising with a pool of journalists.

Oleksandra Drik, representing the Civic Lustration Committee, claimed that the lustration law is the only one that worked in Ukraine, and that her committee would make sure that it is observed.

Without mentioning names, she regretted that the President himself had infringed the law, by failing to dismiss people targeted by the Committee, and moreover by appointing such people. In her words, the Committee, which had recently published a “top 50” list of officials “which should have been dismissed long ago”, had to fight a battle for every single dismissal.

“Lustration is the only chance for us to save the country. If lustration fails, we will definitely lose it,” Drik said, prompting reactions from the MPs present.

Legilsator Natalia Agafonova, from the Bloc Petro Poroshenko, argued in favour of other tools to fight corruption. She also spoke against the concept of “collective guilt”.

“What did automatic lustration came to? That some officials who are not corrupt, who only worked during Yanukovich, who are not part of the top level state authorities, that they should be lustrated? And we have a lack of professionals in our state authorities now, and it’s a big problem for Ukraine,” she argued.

Agafonova also argued that without an independent body to supervise lustration, the process was likely to misfire.

MP Viktoriia Ptashnyk, from the Political Union Samopomich (Self-Reliance), a new centre-right group created by the mayor of Lviv Andriy Sadoviy, said that the law of lustration was a “political decision not in compliance with the rule of law”.

Ukraine should also use other instruments it has, the criminal and anticorruption legislation for instance, Ptashnyk said.

MP Olena Sotnyk, from the same political force, who holds a key position in the Parliament’s European integration committee, said that she “totally rejected the idea of lustration” as main instrument for fighting corruption. There is a more efficient instrument for this purpose than lustration, which is the inevitability of punishment, Sotnyk said. 

Victoria Ptashnyk told EURACTIV that she and Olena Sotnyk represent the political party which initiated the law on Lustration and that both of them fully supported the idea of lustration. Nevertheless, as lawyers, the two MPs also understood that the fight against corruption also required the adoption of an anticorruption law, of criminal and administrative legislation.

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