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Speeches and Interviews by Ambassador J. Tefft

Opening Remarks at the Conference: Perspectives on Criminal Justice Reform in Ukraine

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Good morning. Distinguished guests, Mr. Minister, distinguished deputies of the Verkhovna Rada, honorable judges, officials, scholars, experts, fellow diplomats, and friends, I am pleased to join you today, to open this important and very timely conference on the prospects for criminal justice reform in Ukraine. It is particularly good to know that this conference takes place just as Ukraine's leadership is addressing the need for reforming Ukraine's criminal justice legislation, with a particular eye on your Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and your Law on the Procuracy.

We commend you for those efforts, as an important step in Ukraine's continuing progress toward international standards and its increasingly important role in Europe.

A just, transparent, and effective legal system is the very cornerstone of a democratic society. It is the key to protecting human rights, to insuring the rule of law, and to curtailing corruption. Such a legal system serves not only to protect the people of a nation from crime, but also to ensure that they can resolve business and commercial disputes fairly and openly. It will protect against excessive governmental power and assure open and honest treatment by the police, by prosecutors, by the courts, and by all their government institutions.

Such a legal system also lies at the heart of Ukraine's economic future. A fair and transparent legal system is critical to encouraging business investment and promoting economic growth, which are key to Ukraine's future prosperity.

One main component of such a justice system is an independent and accountable judiciary. I know that Ukraine's leaders are moving forward on a draft Law on the Judiciary and the Status of Judges, and we applaud that progress. Indeed, I have spoken publicly on this topic at another recent event, and it has long been an area of Ukrainian-led reform that the US has been pleased to support.

But equally important is the criminal justice system, and the structure of the bodies that participate in that system, particularly including the Procuracy.

Now, I know that the need to reform Ukraine's criminal justice legislation has been the focus of much debate for many years in Ukraine. This despite widespread agreement that Ukraine is overdue for a new Criminal Procedure Code and for reform of its Procuracy, as well as for other criminal justice legislation.

I share your hopes that we may finally have arrived at a time when Ukraine will not just debate, but see real progress through the enactment of genuine reform legislation.

President Yanukovych and his administration have made clear that reform of the Criminal Procedure Code and the Law on the Procuracy are to be immediate priorities.

Equally important - indeed more important - President Yanukovych has pledged his commitment to meeting international standards in the course of these reforms, and particularly to meeting the standards of the Council of Europe. I believe this is welcome news, which bodes well for the future of the rule of law in Ukraine, and for Ukraine's future prosperity.
I know also that the newly created Judicial Reform Working Group, chaired by Minister Lavrynovych, has already taken up the issue of reforming the Criminal Procedure Code, and that the Minister and the Presidential Administration are committed to moving forward with that initiative in the very near future.

Again, we applaud that commitment. Reform of Ukraine's criminal justice legislation is an area where the US has long been happy to provide support to Ukrainian-led efforts. When requested by the Ukrainian government, we have helped organize events such as this one. We have brought international experts from throughout Europe and abroad here to meet with Ukrainian experts. We have hosted Ukrainian experts abroad, and provided practical support for workshops and publications.
Now, let me turn from the general to the specific, because we all know that almost any legislation can be touted under the banner of "reform," whether or not it truly embodies international norms - whether or not it advances the protection of human rights and ensures fairness, transparency and accountability.

So let's look at Ukraine's efforts to reform its Criminal Procedure Code (CPC). Efforts to replace Ukraine's current CPC have been underway for many years. But more recently, those efforts have taken an impressive step forward, through the preparation of a new draft CPC. I am speaking of the draft that was initially prepared by the National Commission to Strengthen Democracy and the Rule of Law, which has more recently been improved and reviewed by the Ministry of Justice and the Judicial Reform Working Group, under the leadership of Minister Lavrynovych.
This is an impressive draft. It has been extensively reviewed by several experts of the Council of Europe - including one who is with us today -as well as by a range of international and Ukrainian experts and scholars. This draft has been found, for the first time, to provide the foundation for a genuinely European code - one that properly aims at European standards for protecting human rights and providing fair process for both victims and defendants.

With these positive evaluations, this new draft CPC stands in contrast to Ukraine's previous draft CPC - the one that was adopted on first reading in the Verkhovna Rada in 2004 and still remains in the Rada. That draft was also thoroughly reviewed by international experts, back in 2005. In each review, that older draft was found to be seriously flawed and to fail to achieve European standards.

We see a similar situation if we turn to the Law on the Procuracy. Here too, the draft Law on the Procuracy that is currently in the Verkhovna Rada has been sharply criticized by international and Ukrainian experts for failing to meet international standards. And here too, experts from the Venice Commission have concluded that that draft does not comport with European standards.

But with the Law on the Procuracy, as with the CPC, I understand that there also exists a promising alternative draft that is better focused on achieving such standards.

Now, I am not a legal expert, and I won't claim to be one in a room full of lawyers.   I know that President Yanukovych has said that being a part of Europe is Ukraine's overriding strategic objective. Legislation should meet European, indeed International, standards.

But fortunately, as you Ukrainian leaders and experts debate among these competing drafts, I know that you are committed to keeping the focus where it should be. The people of Ukraine are looking to you for genuine reform - the kind that will further support the rule of law, the protection of human rights, the achievement of international standards, and the foundations for a prosperous economic future for Ukraine.
We commend you for commitment, and your leadership.

The United States is deeply committed to Ukraine's democratic and economic development. We recognize the importance of strengthening the rule of law in this process. The U.S. Government stands ready to continue its support of Ukrainian-led efforts at reform of its criminal justice system.

I wish you a fruitful exchange of experience and success in advancing the further development of Ukraine's criminal justice system.

Thank you for your attention and participation.

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