Monday, January 26, 2009

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to come back to the case of murder of Ukrainian journalist Georgiy Gongadze.

The Winter session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) started its work today in Strasbourg, France. Among a lot of important questions like the August war between Russia and Georgia, world economy crisis or recent conflict in Gaza in the agenda of the PACE there is one question, which concerns Ukraine directly. It is a report of the member of the Monitoring Committee of the PACE Mrs. Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (MP from Germany, ALDE group) called Investigation of crimes allegedly committed by high officials during the Kuchma rule in Ukraine – the Gongadze case as an emblematic example, which will be discussed by the Assembly tomorrow afternoon. Full text of the report may be read here.

As the resolution and recommendation of the PACE, proposed by Mrs. Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, may (and will) be amended tomorrow, during the debates, I’ll give just a couple of quotations from the mentioned report, which is obviously very important for a future of Ukrainian democracy."

"The Gongadze case and other crimes allegedly involving high officials of the Kuchma regime in Ukraine have been on the agenda of the Assembly for an unusually long time – for a reason: the official investigations also took an unusually long time, and they are still far from being completed, some eight years after the disappearance of the journalist.

The importance of this case, for Ukraine and beyond, stems from the fact that the long list of journalists killed in the exercise of their profession, in Ukraine and in other Council of Europe member states, requires a clear political signal that such crimes are not tolerated.

The first of the two motions underlying the present report was motivated by the failure of the investigations conducted until then to shed any light on the circumstances of the disappearance and murder of the journalist Georgy Gongadze, despite – and some say, because of – widely-publicised information pointing to the possible involvement of high government officials. The second motion drew attention to the fact that the investigations into other crimes allegedly committed by high officials during the Kuchma era were equally stalled, possibly for similar reasons.

A common thread between the two topics consists in the recordings of many hours of conversations in the President’s office allegedly produced by one of his bodyguards, Mykola Melnychenko (“Melnychenko recordings”). These recordings could provide important clues to the political, and possibly also the criminal responsibility of a number of high-ranking officials surrounding the former President. These recordings, their treatment, and the political games played around them, may shed light not only on the political culture which prevailed in Ukraine under the Kuchma regime, but also on the seriousness and determination of the “Orange Revolutionaries” to make good on their earlier promises that, once in power, they would investigate and expose the whole truth, without regard to the rank and political role of the suspects.

The Gongadze case was clearly one of the catalytic events leading up to the “Orange Revolution” brushing aside the Kuchma regime. Given the symbolic importance of the Gongadze case for ordinary Ukrainians, it is my view that President Yushchenko would be well advised to act in such a way that cannot give rise to any suspicion that he is no longer on the side of those who want to see not only the perpetrators of the crime against Gongadze brought to justice, but also all those who ordered and organised it. The award by President Yushchenko, in February 2007, of the Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise to former Prosecutor General Mikhail Potebenko has given rise to doubts in this respect, as Prosecutor General Potebenko is widely regarded as responsible for the disastrous conduct of the crucial initial phase of the investigation.

Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko has also promised publicly several times that the elucidation of the Gongadze case was a priority for her administration. I was therefore surprised that she failed to answer two parliamentary questions on this matter that were addressed to her following her speech before the Parliamentary Assembly during its April 2008 part-session.

In my view, two phases of the investigation can be distinguished, which roughly coincide with the period before and after the so-called “Orange Revolution” in December 2004. I tend to share the point of view of the authors of the “Gongadze Inquiry” reports, who summed up the evolution of the political will as follows: whilst under the Kuchma regime efforts were made to hamper, delay and block the investigation at all levels, the political interferences after the “Orange Revolution” were aimed at focusing public attention on the prosecution of the actual perpetrators of the crime whilst diverting attention as much as possible from the organisers and instigators of the crime.

On 15 March 2008, the three policemen were convicted – of premeditated murder committed following a conspiracy, and of abuse of official functions with severe consequences. But the investigation aimed at identifying the organisers and instigators of the crime has barely progressed since 2005 – in particular as regards the possible evidentiary use of the “Melnychenko recordings” and the inquiry into the responsibilities for the blunders committed during the crucial initial phase of the investigation.

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