Ukraine’s parliament dismissed Ombudsperson Lyudmyla Denisova on May 31 following an appeal to her by representatives of the Ukrainian media and journalists to be more cautious in reporting sexual crimes during the war.
The New Voice of Ukraine explains what Denisova is accused of, and why she herself calls her dismissal illegal.
Appeal of media workers
The appeal of female media workers to Denisova was published, in particular, by Detector Media on May 25. It was signed by 89 representatives of the media and journalists and 51 other people, including human rights activists, lawyers, psychologists, teachers and NGO reps.
The authors of the appeal expressed concern about the ombudsperson's rhetoric in her social media posts about sexual crimes during the war. They stressed that Russian war criminals must be punished, but reporting of such crimes must be done with caution, especially concerning children and minors.
“Sex crimes during the war are family tragedies, a difficult and traumatic issue, and not an issue for publications in the spirit of ‘tabloid gossip’. The end goal should be remembered: drawing attention to the facts of crimes,” the appeal stressed.
The document also states that the media respect the official sources of information, which are Denisova herself as an official and the Ombudsperson's Office.
“Therefore, any information disseminated on behalf of the commissioner or her office, including on social media pages, has the status of confirmed facts for journalists. In addition, it is usually impossible to verify information regarding the sexual crimes of the invaders in other sources. It is very important that it really be confirmed,” the text of the appeal reads.
It is noted that for official public communication regarding children subjected to sexual violence by the Russian military and the dead, there must be a forensic medical examination report, and in such communication “every word must be carefully picked.”
In addition, the appeal draws attention to the fact that during the reporting of sexual crimes, especially against children, one should take into account the expediency of publishing the details of these crimes, which may be shocking.
“For example, ‘a six-month-old girl, whom the Russians raped with a teaspoon’, ‘two of them raped babies orally and anally’, and ‘a nine-month-old girl was raped with a candle’,” write the authors of the appeal.
They point out that sex crimes during war are a tool for genocide and war without rules, but they cannot serve as illustrative material to stir up the emotions of the audience.
The authors of the appeal asked Denisova the following:
- Publish only that information for which there is enough evidence, check the facts before publication;
- Report what materials she submitted to the justice system;
- Verify and carefully consider every word in order to avoid sensationalism in messages;
- Avoid excessive detailing of crimes;
- Use correct terminology, for example, use the word "survivors" or "affected" instead of "victims";
- Take care of the privacy and safety of those affected. Remember that victims can be identified if they live in small villages or towns;
- Remind about support networks for victims (lawyers, human rights centers, professional psychological assistance).
Collection of signatures for the dismissal of Denisova and her statement about the illegality of the dismissal
On May 30, Denisova said at a briefing that parliamentarians were collecting signatures for her dismissal and, according to her information, on May 31, they plan to declare no confidence against her "on the command of the President's Office".
The ombudswoman said that the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Ruslan Stefanchuk confirmed the information about the collection of signatures.
She claimed that the Office of the President was not satisfied with her "proactivity in collecting information about human rights violations in the temporarily occupied territories."
According to Denisova, her likely dismissal would be illegal, since recent changes in the laws on the functioning of the civil service and local government during martial law do not comply with a special law on the commissioner for human rights.
Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty wrote that, according to its information, the deputies want to fire Denisova "for a number of reasons."
“First of all, because of not always appropriate media activity,” said its interlocutor in the Verkhovna Rada.
Another RFE/RL interlocutor in the parliament named another reason — "a systemic lack of coordination with the President's Office."
It is also noted that Zelensky’s administration has denied pressure on the Verkhovna Rada regarding the dismissal of the Commissioner for Human Rights, and Denisova's statement is called "an attempt to switch attention from real achievements and problems" in the work of the ombudsperson "to some kind of conspiracy theories."
“The Office of the President has not held any meetings on the activities of the Commissioner for Human Rights and does not plan to do so, and the assessment of the activities of this official is carried out exclusively by parliamentarians,” Deputy Head of the Office of the President Andriy Smirnov said in a comment to RFE/RL.
Head of the board of the Human Rights Centre ZMINA, Tetyana Pechonchyk also called the possible dismissal of Denisova illegal. On her Facebook page, she also quoted Volodymyr Yavorskyi, chairman of the board of the Docudays UA International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, as calling the law that would allow Denisova to be fired "obviously unconstitutional."
On May 31, the speaker of the Servant of the People, Yulia Paliychuk, announced that signatures in favor of a no-confidence motion against Denisova had already been collected.
On the same day, Pavlo Frolov, a member of the single-party majority and a representative of the parliamentary committee on regulations, said in his Telegram channel that Denisova’s activities were discussed at a meeting of the Servant of the People faction chaired by David Arakhamia with the participation of Verkhovna Rada Chairman Ruslan Stefanchuk andDeputy Prime Minister — Minister for Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories Iryna Vereshchuk.
According to Frolov, at this meeting it was unanimously decided to initiatean expression of no confidence against Denisova and dismiss her from herpost in accordance with Article 12 of the law on the legal regime of martiallaw. The MP noted that a quarter of lawmakers (at least 113) can initiate no-confidence motion, after which an urgent vote should be held at the plenary session of the Rada.
The complaints regarding the work of Denisova, according to Frolov, are as follows
- failure to use her powers to organize humanitarian corridors, protect andexchange prisoners, counteract the deportation of adults and children from the occupied territories, which “Iryna Vereshchuk was forced to do”;
- an incomprehensible fixation of the Ombudsman's media work on the numerous details of "sexual crimes committed in an unnatural way" and "child rape" in the occupied territories, which could not be substantiated by evidence;
- the prolonged period of time after Feb. 24 that Denisova spent abroad "in Davos, Vienna, Warsaw and other warm, peaceful western European countries," according to Frolov.
The Ukrainian parliament appointed Denisova Ombudsperson on March 15, 2018; her term of office was to be five years.
On May 31, Denisova was fired, with 234 MPs in favor of the no-confidencevote.
Has her daughter got anything to do with the dismissal of Denisova?
During a press conference on May 30, Denisova also stated that she was being pressured through her daughter.
“In this political steamroll, pressure is being exerted on me even through my daughter... She has already been summoned for interrogation three times, the last time she felt plain sick. That is, they’re even targeting my family,” she said.
Ukrainian news medium Hromadske writes that Denisova's daughter is psychologist Oleksandra Kvitko, who works for the Psychological Assistance Hotline of the Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rightsand advises, in particular, victims of rape committed by occupiers.
Kvitko was accused of posting stories on social media about her experience of working with rape survivors, including their drawings, thus violating professional ethics. Following this, the National Psychological Association's Ethics Commission announced that it was considering the first complaint regarding a possible violation of ethical requirements, which concerns a counseling psychologist.
Who could be the next ombudsperson
RFE/RL, citing Nelli Yakovleva, deputy head of the parliamentary committee from the Servant of the People, writes that as of May 30, no possible candidates for the position of the Rada Commissioner for Human Rights had been officially proposed to the legislature.
According to an RFE/RL interlocutor who is familiar with the situation, unofficially, instead of Denisova as ombudsperson, the parliamentary majority would like to see an MP from the Servant of the People faction – 31-year-old Oleksandr Kachura – or the current Presidential Commissioner for Ensuring the Rights of Ukrainian Defenders – 41-year-old Alyona Verbytska.
“But there are problems concerning the age (of candidates),” the source of RFE/RL clarified, hinting at Kachura.
Kachura himself, in a comment to RFE/RL, said that “while the ombudsperson appointed by Verkhovna Rada is working, it is inappropriate to talk about any personnel appointments.”
Verbytska told RFE/RL that although she “has been defending people’s rights for many years now,” as of May 30, she had not received an offer to nominate her for the position of the Verkhovna Rada Commissioner for Human Rights.
RFE/RL has been told by a Rada rep that the appointment of a new ombudsperson to replace Denisova is a “long and winding procedure.”