Today, on February 13, representatives of Civil Network OPORA and Coordination Centre for Legal Aid Provision signed a Memorandum of Cooperation as a part of legal awareness initiative “I HAVE THE RIGHT TO VOTE”, which is being jointly realized by organizations.
The Memorandum of Cooperation was signed by Head of the Board of Civil Network OPORA Olha Aivazovska and Director of the Coordination Centre for Legal Aid Provision Oleksii Boniuk.
Thus, organizations agreed in the Memorandum to jointly develop, plan and conduct informational and awareness campaigns, and that OPORA's electoral rights ombudsmen founded by EU will conduct trainings for lawyers, which provide free legal aid, dedicated to the protection of electoral rights of citizens.
Olha Aivazovska explained during the meeting major directions of OPORA's activities in current election campaign, and how both organizations can fortify each other's efforts:
“Today, such cooperation institutionalizes activeness of organizations not only in election administration matters, but also in helping all citizens, who have the right to vote, to properly realize this right. Besides that, this will help to bring to account individuals, who plan to violate electoral legislation, which are punished under the Criminal Code of Ukraine. Voters that play unfair are standing in the way of fair voters willing to realize their rights and, I believe, dominate in our country.
Our organization is realizing a wide-scale observation of the election process. This is a traditional form of OPORA's activities – we have been systematically watching and assessing the election process, using special methodology. 83 long-term observers have been working in each region since October, and this number increased to 200 on 1 January. These observers watch adherence of election administration bodies to electoral procedures, record and respond to any information about violations.
It is easy to understand why we are interested in watching the process beyond the election period, – there are some issues like misuse of administrative resources, which can happen before or in-between of elections. There is also a problem with activities of investigators in between elections, when evidence base is collected, and the incident is reported, but it takes so much time until cases reach courts, and there is nobody to watch efficiency of investigators at sites and analyze decisions of the corresponding courts.
In 2015, we came up with an idea to create an operative headquarters under the Ministry of Internal Affairs to respond to information about violations. There are already the certain results of this work. It is, of course, difficult to boast about court decisions bringing to criminal responsibility the individuals, who initiated or organized voter bribery, forged electoral documentation etc.. However, it would be wrong to say now that nobody gets punished in Ukraine. Thus, there have been 80 bills of indictment since 2015 and only 1 sentence of acquittal. In other words, almost all cases brought to court by the National Police of Ukraine end up with a bill of indictment. This should be taken into consideration.
We have also started a new practice this year and signed the Memorandum with the Office of Authorized Human Rights Representative of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. We have also developed a plan of measures to facilitate the protection of electoral rights, but not only to report violations and demand proper response of the corresponding bodies and guarantee the certainty of punishment. Our local representatives and electoral rights ombudsmen are not representatives of the Office of Authorized Human Rights Representative under this Memorandum, but they do have the certain mandates, particularly access to prisons. We observed the voting process there, but unfortunately we have evidence that tortures and threats are used against citizens of Ukraine, who stay in prisons, to make them vote for a certain candidate. This should be definitely avoided. We are also actively working on protection of electoral rights of internally displaced persons and migrant workers, so-called internal mobile groups of citizens. We have discovered in the course of this election campaign that it’s necessary to spread the influence, because there are also problems with realization of electoral rights in overseas constituency, where 4 million citizens are registered.
All the lessons we are going to learn from this election campaign may become a foundation for recommendations and proposals, or even draft decisions and laws in the next convocation of the Parliament. Thus, communication and partnership with different non-governmental structures are highly valuable. Any human and time resources are limited. If one organization or separate institutions are working on the same issues separately this is less efficient than united initiatives working together.
We are also planning to organize the certain awareness campaign, so we attract television and other mass media. I believe that the plans, which the Ministry of Justice has, will bring something more than a successful realization. If we compare to previous elections, mass media became more open to share awareness materials. Moreover, they are already interested in placement of social ads. Information about activeness of the voters, who has already passed the procedure of a temporary change of voting location without changing of an election address, is already awareness-rising activities of non-governmental and governmental structures. I don't remember any election when so many voters changed their voting location in the first month of a three-month campaign to become an active election participant on 31 March.”