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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

Ukraine is a parliamentary democracy with separate executive, judicial, and legislative branches. The president nominates the prime minister, who must be confirmed by the parliament. The 450-member parliament (Supreme Rada) initiates legislation, ratifies international agreements, and approves the budget.

Shortly after becoming independent, Ukraine named a parliamentary commission to prepare a new constitution, adopted a multi-party system, and adopted legislative guarantees of civil and political rights for national minorities. A new, democratic constitution was adopted on June 28, 1996, which mandates a pluralistic political system with protection of basic human rights and liberties.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Courts & Judgments

The Ukrainian Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, in practice the judiciary is subject to considerable political interference from the executive branch and also suffers from corruption and inefficiency. The courts are funded through the Ministry of Justice, which controls the organizational support of the courts, including staffing matters, training for judges, logistics and procurement, and statistical and information support.

Although the Constitution requires that comprehensive implementing legislation to establish an independent judicial system be enacted by June 26, 2001, the Rada did not meet this deadline, nor had the legislation been passed by end of 2001. Pending the passage of the required enabling legislation, the court system remained organized along Soviet lines, with the exception of the Constitutional Court. However, in July 2001 the Government adopted a series of laws designed to bring existing legislation regulating the court system and the administration of justice more in line with constitutional requirements for an independent judiciary. These laws gave the courts the right to issue warrants, adjusted the framework of the court system, and introduced an appellate process. The prosecutor's office is no longer authorized to issue arrest or search and seizure warrants. These powers may be exercised only by the courts and by duty judges in the local courts that have been designated to decide on the issuance of warrants. The reforms also give commercial, appellate, and Supreme Court judges the right to nominate and elect their own chairmen. Although local court judges can also nominate their own chairmen, the Ministry of Justice appoints them.

The judiciary lacks sufficient staff and funds, which engenders inefficiency and corruption and increases its dependence on the executive, since the court receives all its funding from the Ministry of Justice. The court reorganization necessitated by the July amendment package requires more funds than were allotted in the budget and observers believe that significant additional funding is needed to modernize the court system in general and to provide the courts with adequate facilities and equipment.

The July amendments to a series of laws concerning the judiciary and the administration of justice introduced important reforms to the court system. The amendments provided for a unified system of courts consisting of a Constitutional Court, a system of courts of general jurisdiction that includes the Supreme Court and specialized commercial (formerly arbitration) courts, and military courts. General jurisdiction courts are organized on four levels: Local courts, regional appellate courts, specialized high courts (the High Commercial Court), and the Supreme Court. The arbitration courts were redesignated as commercial courts and are intended to operate as specialized courts within the single unified system of courts. As a result, the Supreme Court may review their judgments, including those rendered by the High Commercial Court. Military courts are specialized courts that hear cases only involving military personnel.

The July amendments also introduced a new appeals process to the court system. Regional courts, including the Supreme Court of Crimea, and the Kiev and Sevastopol City courts, became appellate courts for the lower-level courts. They may examine evidence independently in a case, call for additional witnesses or evidence, and render a decision that supercedes the judgment of a lower court.

The Constitutional Court consists of 18 members appointed for 9-year terms in equal numbers by the President, the Parliament, and the Congress of Judges. The Constitutional Court is the ultimate interpreter of legislation and the Constitution, and it determines the constitutionality of legislation, Presidential edicts, cabinet acts, and acts of the Crimean Autonomous Republic. The President, at least 45 Members of Parliament, the Supreme Court, the Ombudsman, and the Crimean legislature may request that the Constitutional Court hear a case. Citizens may apply to the Constitutional Court through the Ombudsman, who started to exercise this right in selected cases. In some limited cases, the Constitutional Court can interpret law for individual citizens, when the applying citizen provides compelling proof that a constitutional provision is violated, or that it is interpreted differently by different government bodies. During the year, the Constitutional Court considered two cases in response to petitions initiated by individuals but submitted by the Ombudsman for Human Rights and a joint stock company.

Many local observers regard the Constitutional Court as the country's most independent judicial body. Human rights groups state that, overall, the Constitutional Court has maintained a balance of fairness.

Under the existing court system cases are decided by judges who sit singly, occasionally with two public assessors ("lay judges" or professional jurors with some legal training), or in groups of three for more serious cases. The Constitution provides for public, adversarial trials, including a judge, public assessors, state prosecutor, defense, and jury (when required by law). With some qualifications, these requirements are respected in practice. The July legislative amendments provide for a jury system, including procedures for the selection of jurors, but the amendments did not address the function and jurisdiction of jurors. Observers believe that the jury system not function until a comprehensive judicial reform is completed and additional funding is provided for the courts.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Human Rights The Ukrainian Government's human rights record was poor in 2001; however, there were improvements in a few areas. Police and prison officials tortured and beat detainees and prisoners, at times killing them. The beating of conscripts in the army by fellow soldiers was common and at times resulted in death. Police abuse and harassment of racial minorities was a continuing problem. The Government rarely punishes officials who commit abuses. The Rada adopted a progressive criminal code that entered into force on September 1, which includes several criminal offenses, including penalties for torture. Prison conditions remained harsh and life threatening, particularly because of exposure to disease. Arbitrary arrest and detention were problems, as was lengthy pretrial detention in very poor conditions. However, the number of defendants released from confinement pending trial increased during the year. Political interference and corruption affected the judicial process. The judiciary also was overburdened, inefficient, and lacked sufficient funding and staff. Long delays in trials were a problem. In July a series of amendments to the laws that regulate the system of courts and the administration of justice were implemented and included the transfer of the right to issue arrest warrants, residential search warrants, and wiretap orders from prosecutors to the courts. The amendments also provided for a unified system of courts, introduced an appellate process, and allowed appellate and commercial courts, as well as the Supreme Court, to nominate and elect their own chairmen. The Government continued to infringe on citizens' privacy rights.

The Government interfered with the news media by intimidating journalists and using libel laws. Nevertheless a wide range of opinion is available in newspapers and periodicals. There were some limits on freedom of assembly, and the authorities forcibly disrupted some demonstrations. Freedom of association was restricted. Some minority and nontraditional religions continued to encounter bureaucratic difficulties from local officials; however, the Government continued to return properties expropriated during the Soviet era to religious groups. There were some limits on freedom of movement; however, in November the Constitutional Court held that the "propyska" system was unconstitutional. Violence and discrimination against women, including sexual harassment in the workplace, were problems. Violence against children was a problem. Societal anti-Semitism and discrimination against religious, racial, and ethnic minorities also were problems. The Government discouraged some workers from organizing unions. Trafficking in women and girls for sexual exploitation was a serious problem, one which the Government, through the Ombudsman's office, took steps to combat.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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