In 2013 in four regions of Ukraine (Kherson, Cherkasy, Zaporizhya, Volyn) an unprecedented experiment has started.
Valeriya Lutkovskaya, the Ombudsman of Ukraine, offered to several well-known human rights defenders to become regional coordinators for the Ombudsman office in order to enhance communication with the people. This position functions on volunteer basis.
Nataliya Kozarenko has just started her work as an Ombudsman Coordinator in Kherson region. Moreover, Nataliya is member of Kherson regional Charity and Health Foundation, member of Association of Ukrainian human rights monitors, member of Public Council of the Ministry of interior affairs of Ukraine.
- Nataliya, please, let us know how one can become a human rights defender? There are no specific courses or master degrees in Ukraine on the matter of Human rights. Ukrainian universities and academies are focused mainly of Law courses for future lawyers, judges, prosecutors etc.
– Being a human rights defender is more a state of mind, a way of seeing things. If you cannot bear the injustice around you, you start to search for ways to combat this injustice, to learn more on the topic of Human rights.
I started working 16 years ago as a consultant in the regional Edited by Kherson regional Charity and Health Foundation. This fund, which is now active for more than 24 years, in the beginning was pure charity. We just provided material help to poor people. But very soon we understood that giving away food or clothes won’t resolve core problems of the population. We need to teach people to know and use their rights. But before teaching those rights, I had to learn them myself, to practice different legal tools. So we moved from simple legal consultations to human rights activities. In our country, human rights defenders have to defend citizens from governmental bodies. And each success story of such defense is a new lesson for us and for the whole community. I have been also learning from my colleagues from different regions of Ukraine, from Poland and USA, where human rights defense experience is analyzed, structures and taught during special courses and seminars.
– I know you have worked as a “Police Ombudsman” in Kherson region. Is your new activity similar to what you have been already doing on that position?
– There is no “Police Ombudsman” position in Ukraine. But I have been doing a work similar to those of my colleagues in Western countries. I had to work a lot with detained people. Together with public activists, we visited police stations, consulted people on their rights, helped them to write complaints, elaborated relevant recommendations to the Ministry of interior affairs, and informed mass-media on the problems existing in this field. This 2-years long work gave me valuable experience.
– A lot of our public activists are bitter that the Department of human rights monitoring in the Ministry of interior affairs has existed only for 2 years.
– The arrival of Anatoliy Mogilev, the new Minister of interior affairs, has paralyzed the whole system. But people, who worked on the elaboration of this system, just couldn’t leave it as it is. Now many of them are working on a volunteer basis for the community. This is how the Association of Ukrainian human rights monitors was created. I was one of the initiator of restoring the work of mobile groups of monitors who controls police stations in Kherson region. We have conducted 5 visits last year in different police stations, as well as in detention centers. We have now new instructions from the Ministry of interior affairs and we will continue our activities in 2013.
– What are your duties as an Ombudsman Coordinator?
– We have several main fields of work: organization of monitoring visits in places of detention, consultations for citizens, informational and educational activities.
I visit different places of detention on a regular basis, accordingly to Ombudsman instructions. I also check on complaints, help with requests addressed to the Ombudsman, and explain what are Ombudsman’s duties and competences. I have participated in several round tables on human rights in regional centers of Kherson. People often associate places of detention with only police stations and prisons. However, there are lots of different places where people are detained under governmental supervision: psychiatric facilities, asylums, elderly institutions, orphanages etc. So our monitoring groups try to visit them all, for example we have been in two colonies, in a regional asylum, in Dnepryanskiy orphanage.
– And what are your impressions?
– Well, I have been visiting such places for the last 4 years, so I can make comparisons. In my opinion, things are getting slowly better. We had 16 places of detention in Kherson region, now we have only 11. They are not overcrowded; our policemen are arresting less people. I have a mixed opinion on the orphanage for children with special needs. On one hand, children and fed and well treated. But on the other hand, they lack special attention, educational programs; they need to travel outside their orphanage to see the real world. But sadly such institutions do not have sufficient funding for developing specific activities for these children.
– What are your plans for the future?
– I want to sign a memorandum of understanding with Skadovsk city council. Actually, the city council has elected its own regional Ombudsman, the first regional Ombudsman in Ukraine. I hope we will work together and joint our efforts for the community.
During monitoring visits to prisons, we have observed that a lot of prisoners do not have passports or identity papers. Moreover, they do not have the required money to pay for the delivery of relevant documents. We are now trying to get funds to help these people get papers (around 40 persons need them). Also, we are preparing a request to the Ombudsman’s office to elaborate changes to current legislation in order to solve this problem everywhere.
- Source: “Vgoru” magazine