The European Court of Human Rights yesterday began a public hearing in the case of Tymoshenko v. Ukraine (application no. 49872/11), concerning complaints related to the detention of the former Ukrainian Prime Minister. The hearing preceded today’s verdict by the Higher Specialized Court of Ukraine for civil and criminal cases, which controversially upheld Tymoshenko’s conviction and imprisonment.
Tymoshenko was the Prime Minister of Ukraine from January to September 2005 and from December 2007 to March 2010. She was an instrumental figure in the Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution”, one of the democratic “Color Revolutions” to sweep former USSR and Balkan states during the early 2000s. An economist and academic, prior to embarking on a political career, Tymoshenko was a prominent and influential businesswoman in the gas industry.
In May last year, Tymoshenko was charged with abuse of office over a natural gas imports contract concluded with Russia in 2009. She was found guilty in October 2011, sentenced to seven years in jail and fined $188 million. The European Union and the USA, among others, have condemned the Tymoshenko trial as “selective justice” and “political persecution”. In the wake of the Tymoshenko trial, the Council of Europe has adopted a resolution calling on the President of Ukraine to release Tymoshenko (and other convicted members of the former government) to allow them to participate in upcoming parliamentary elections.
Tymoshenko’s application was filed with the ECtHR in August 2011. Tymoshenko will argue before the Court that her detention is politically motivated and has not been judicially reviewed. She also complains of inadequate prison conditions, and that she has been denied medical care.
Ukraine is not a member state of the EU, although there is wide support for accession within the Ukraine, and both the EU and Ukraine have, since the Orange Revolution, pushed for greater economic and political ties. However, the Tymoshenko trial has damaged Ukraine’s apparent commitment to rule of law, human rights and judicial independence, key criteria for EU accession. The President of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, has commented that the verdict “will certainly be one of the obstacles in our direct contacts and certainly will have a negative impact no our negotiations” but that, on the other hand, negotiations should continue – “We should not punish the Ukrainian people”. Nevertheless, the EU has canceled free trade and political association agreements with Ukraine in protest of Tymoshenko’s imprisonment.
Now that Tymoshenko has made an application before the European Court of Human Rights, the hearing and outcome before that body will be sure to further complicate future Ukraine-EU relations. Ukraine is a significant European state, geographically and politically, and its inclusion in the Western democratic club that is the EU would be an important step towards stability and social improvements for the Ukrainian people. However, the treatment of Tymoshenko, an iconic, powerful and high-profile figure in the Ukraine, cannot fail to have some impact on the development of Ukraine-EU relations.
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