The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is joining colleagues in Ukraine and Britain in their demand that Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko withdraw a decree awarding Mykhaylo Potebenko the Order of Yaroslav the Wise and press forward with an investigation into the deliberate hampering of the inquiry into the killing of journalist Georgiy Gongadze in 2000.
The IFJ and the Institute of Mass Information (Kyiv), the Kharkiv Human Right Group, the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine, Internews-Ukraine, the Media Law Institute, the Center of Social Media, the Laboratory of Legislative Initiatives, the National Union of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and the Gongadze Foundation have sent the following letter to President Yushchenko:
To the President of Ukraine
Mr. Viktor Yushchenko
Dear Mr. President,
We – the International Federation of Journalists, the Institute of Mass Information (Kyiv), the Kharkiv Human Right Group, the Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine, Internews-Ukraine, the Media Law Institute, the Center of Social Media, the Laboratory of Legislative Initiatives, the National Union of the United Kingdom and Ireland, and the Gongadze Foundation – appeal to you with respect to the decree you signed on February 17, 2007, awarding the Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise to Mykhaylo Potebenko, adviser to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Ukraine.
We recall that Mr. Potebenko was head of the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine from 1998 to 2002. In 2000 it was to Potebenko, as Prosecutor General, that our colleague, the journalist Georgiy Gongadze, appealed, when he learned that he was being followed. Then, the Prosecutor General failed to reply to Gongadze and failed to take any measures to protect his life. This made it possible, then, for Gongadze to be kidnapped and killed, allegedly by law enforcement officers. Given the General Prosecutor’s responsibility to ensure the protection of Ukrainian citizens’ right to life, Potebenko in his role as General Prosecutor may be considered partly responsible for Gongadze’s tragic death.
After Georgiy went missing, Potebenko organised an investigation into his murder based on hypotheses that could not withstand the slightest criticism. The investigation failed to meet any standards of accuracy.
When the Gongadze case was brought before the European Court of Human Rights, the judges ruled that the Articles 2 and 3 of European Convention of Human Rights were broken. This judgement acknowledged that Ukrainian state officials, i.e. police officials had deliberately deprived the journalist of his life, and subjected him to torture. The judges acknowledged that the failure by the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine to proceed with an accurate investigation into Gongadze’s murder during two first years of investigation, under Potebenko, inflicted serious suffering on our colleague’s close friends and family.
The Court’s ruling should have obliged Ukraine to proceed with an official internal investigation, to call to account the people responsible for the sham investigation of the Gongadze case during the first years after he went missing. But instead of analyzing what part Potebenko had played in the failure of the investigation, Ukraine has honoured him for “building a state based on the rule of law” (to quote the decree of the President of Ukraine #116/2007).
We, undersigned representatives of civic organizations of Ukraine and international organizations, believe the fact of such an award, together with failure to carry out a proper investigation as to the attempt to manipulate the case of Gongadze, is an outrage to those who are working to consolidate democracy and a law-based state in Ukraine. It can only multiply the pain and despair of Georgiy’s relatives and friends. The groundless award of such decorations also has a very negative effect on Ukraine’s image in other democracies, and hampers the prospects of its European integration.
We ask you, Mr. President, to withdraw the decree on the decoration of Mykhaylo Potebenko with the Order of Yaroslav the Wise, and to press forward with an investigation into the deliberate hampering of the inquiry into the Gongadze case.
The International Federation of Journalists
The Institute of Mass Information (Kyiv)
The Kharkiv Human Right Group
The Independent Media Trade Union of Ukraine
The Media Law Institute
The Center of Social Media
The Laboratory of Legislative Initiatives
The National Union of the United Kingdom and Ireland
The Gongadze Foundation