After dogged advocacy by Pact partner, Ukraine greenlights High Anti-Corruption Court

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After dogged advocacy by Pact partner, Ukraine greenlights High Anti-Corruption Court

After Ukraine’s 2014 revolution, the country’s new government had a lot on its plate: the occupation of Crimea, the building of a new state and much-needed reforms. One reform – judiciary reform – was of particular importance to citizens. They expected it, viewing fair, transparent and corruption-free courts as a critical part of the change they’d demanded during the Maidan protests. Supporting the active involvement of civil society organizations and international partners, Ukraine started down the thorny path of remaking its judicial system.

At the center of this journey has been the Anti-Corruption Action Centre, or AntAC, a Ukrainian civil society organization supported by Pact’s ENGAGE project. Funded by USAID, ENGAGE works to advance democratic reforms in Ukraine, build demand for fundamental European values and strengthen civil society. In addition to providing them funding to carry out their work, ENGAGE helps build the capacity of Ukrainian civil society organizations through analysis of their strengths and weaknesses, training, mentorship and more. AntAC is among the local organizations that Pact supports, and in early 2016, AntAC began strongly advocating for the establishment of a national Ukrainian High Anti-Corruption Court.

“At that time, we did not see any other alternative,” recalls Vitaliy Shabunin, head of AntAC. “For the first time since the revolution, Ukraine started investigations of top-corrupted persons. But when they finally got into the courts, nothing happened. In this way, Ukrainians could not clearly see that their efforts and their many fallen were not in vain, and the whole system, especially the judiciary, wasn’t changed at all. That is why we needed a new court and just verdicts.”

This idea was bolstered as citizens and activists witnessed a lack of political will for quick and comprehensive political reform. After the first cases from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine went to court in early 2016, AntAC started monitoring them. The organization regularly spotted stalling tactics used by judges to ensure the fight against top corruption remained fruitless.

AntAC partnered with international donors to develop a concept for the High Anti-Corruption Court, with a focus on additional safeguards for selection of independent judges through international involvement. The concept was then discussed and advocated by Ukrainian decision-makers and international partners.

In February 2017,  Draft Law #6011, “On Anti-Corruption Court,” was registered in  Ukraine’s parliament by reform-minded MPs, its text based on AntAC’s concept. The idea of international involvement in the selection of anti-corruption judges that was included in the bill received a generally positive assessment by the Venice Commission in October 2017. To avoid any possible misinterpretations of Ukraine’s constitution, the Venice Commission invited Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, to submit his own draft law taking best ideas from Draft Law #6011, as recommended by the Venice Commission.

For the next two months, there was no progress, with the president unjustifiably trying to shift responsibility for drafting the law to parliament. AntAC advocated for the president’s prompt submission of his draft law.

In late 2017, the president finally did. AntAC promptly analyzed drawbacks of the new draft law and listed provisions that would need to be changed for it to correspond with the Venice Commission recommendations. This March, the draft law passed its first reading, and then AntAC drafted respective amendments and asked representatives of various factions to submit them to parliament. In public communications, AntAC issued explanations and debunked manipulations that international involvement in the selection of judges would threaten Ukraine’s sovereignty. As a result, at least three fractions – Narodnyi Front, All-Ukraine Union “Batkivshchina” and Samopomich – offered to introduce for the second reading veto powers for international experts in selection of judges. AntAC participated in the development of the amendments for the second hearing. 

AntAC activists hold an anti-corruption rally in front of parliament.

For about two more months, the parliament subject committee failed to begin consideration of the amendments. To unblock the process, AntAC carried out advocacy among MPs, explained in the media what was happening, and organized a well publicized street action calling on the president not to stall the draft law. AntAC also advocated for involvement of Venice Commission experts in the preparation of the draft law for the second reading. 

In late May, the draft law finally was recommended by the subject committee for a second reading, but one issue was left unresolved – the crucial role of international experts in the selection of judges. Negotiations with the IMF on the topic began, with AntAC calling on the IMF and other international partners to insist on the crucial role.

On June 7, with 315 votes, MPs adopted the draft law. But AntAC’s works wasn’t over. They analyzed the adopted text and found a substantial drawback: a provision that would effectively allow corruption suspects to totally circumvent the High Anti-Corruption Court. This provision was added as an amendments right before voting, so that neither MPs nor public experts had time to react.

AntAC advocated for the provision to be corrected and helped draft the needed revisions. AntAC also advocated for additional implementation draft laws to be adopted.

At last, the final pieces of necessary legislation were adopted on July 13, paving the way for Ukraine’s High Anti-Corruption Court to be established.

 

Lead photo: Vitaliy Shabunin, the head of AntAC, talks to reporters.

 

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