The murder of any human being is a tragedy and the failure to obtain justice for any victim is a travesty. For Ukraine, the failure to bring those guilty of killing protesters during the Euromaidan Revolution to justice is more than just a tragedy – it is a national fiasco posing a direct threat to the country’s stated aim of building a society based on the rule of law.
The failure to punish those responsible for the murders on Maidan is proof positive that Ukraine’s current political leadership does not honor the spirit and essence of the Euromaidan movement. This is not just a political or organizational failure. It is tantamount to a moral crime against the nation as a whole. It is particularly offensive that this failure is attributable to democratic leaders brought to power by the Euromaidan Revolution. Either they have forgotten the meaning of the protests, or they never grasped it in the first place.
UNDERMINING UKRAINE’S DEMOCRATIC TRANSITION
If the Euromaidan Revolution accomplished anything, it was to establish an unambiguous mandate for a future Ukrainian society governed by the intellectual and spiritual principles of democracy and liberalism. The protesters on Maidan demanded political, legal and moral accountability for crimes committed by those in high office. The principle was clear from the very start of the protests – corruption was no longer the accepted norm in Ukrainian public life.
What Ukraine’s present political leaders have failed to grasp is that by not punishing those responsible for the Maidan murders - witnessed by hundreds of millions around the world - they have failed to live up to the fundamental demands for justice underpinning Ukraine’s revolution. They have also failed to create the foundations for a system of justice that should have been a central focus of efforts to break away from the corrupted past. In effect, they have perpetuated the societal cynicism that has prevented the development of democratic institutions on the country.
UKRAINE NEEDS THE CLARITY OF A PUBLIC INQUIRY
Ukraine now needs to see renewed calls for justice and accountability regarding the deaths of protesters during the Euromaidan Revolution. This push should form the basis of broader demands for a judicial ‘revolution’ rather than the current process of ‘reform’ and political compromise. There can be little doubt that without fresh public pressure, there will be no justice for the ‘Heavenly Hundred’, as the victims of the revolution have come to be known. Successive post-revolutionary Prosecutor Generals have failed to secure justice. Clearly, the current system is not up to the task. Ukraine should instead seek to create a National Commission to investigate the events surrounding the deaths of January and February 2014. This National Commission should receive financial and organizational support from Ukraine’s international partners.
There are numerous precedents for a National Commission of this nature. Mature democracies often employ similar mechanisms to probe national tragedies and events of historic importance, whether they are termed National Commissions, Public Inquiries, or Royal Commissions. The goal is to create clarity for the public, determine the bigger picture behind key events, and present recommendations. Senior judges generally preside over such bodies, aided by teams of lawyers and independent investigators. They call witnesses to testify under oath as to what they saw and what they did. In addition, they provide a forum for those effected by events to speak publicly.
It is not difficult to imagine the stunning impact a public National Commission could have on the life of Ukraine. Nor is it hard to see the potential transforming effect it could have on the country and its citizens. Millions would follow the proceedings daily on TV. They would witness the spectacle of public accountability taking place before their eyes for the first time.
Some will criticize the idea of a National Commission as a pointless exercise at a time when the country needs to be addressing more immediate security concerns and looking to the future. However, while there are many huge challenges facing today’s Ukraine, without justice for the Maidan victims there can be no progress in other areas. The crimes against Euromaidan protesters cannot be resolved in the privacy of backrooms and closed court sessions. This approach will fuel speculation of a cover-up and damage Ukraine’s international credibility. Only a public inquiry will provide the kind of clarity the country demands.