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Anna Yushchenko, a lawyer of the UHHRU public reception: “The root of the gender-based violence issue is the attitude of society.”

Tamara Martseniuk, a gender expert, prepared a new interview from the series “Women Human Rights Defenders, Who Change Ukraine”. This time, Anna Yushchenko, a lawyer of the public reception of the Ukrainian Helsinki Union in Kyiv, answered the questions of the questionnaire.
Anna Yushchenko earned a Bachelor’s Degree in the field of Law at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv with distinction (2012). In 2013, she earned a Specialist Degree at the Faculty of Law of the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. She also finished a two-year distance learning course of the Human Rights House Network “International Law for the Protection of the Public Interest” and a distance course on the topic of eligibility of complaints to the European Court.

Anna has vast experience of legal work: as an assistant notary, as a lawyer at a law firm and business associations. In 2014, she worked as coordinator of the Portal of free legal aid of the Ukraine-wide coalition of legal aid and an assistant at the Legal Country project in the Management Systems International (MSI). She participated in ‘The Young Generation Will Change Ukraine’ programme of the Charity Foundation of Bohdan Hawrylyshyn. From the age of 12, Anna is a member of the Plast National Scout Organization of Ukraine.

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Since July 2014, Anna Yushchenko is a lawyer at the public reception of UHHRU. She gives oral and written legal advice on almost any legal issue, compile legal, especially procedural documents, represents the applicants in general (civil cases) and administrative courts, compiles applications to the European Court of Human Rights.
Please share your history of involvement in the human rights movement in Ukraine. Why did you decide to work in this field?
– It all started when I began working as a lawyer at the UHHRU public reception. I always liked working with people and help them to solve problems. Therefore, I applied for the vacancy. It found that this work was not limited to the reception of citizens and advising. Our responsibility also includes the selection of litigations that can be strategic and, I am not afraid of the expression, can change Ukraine. Also in the most audacious cases of human rights violations, we cannot stand aside and provide a full legal support to clients. All, of course, depends on our capacity. But this is a very interesting experience, providing guidance of litigations, identifying systemic problems of legislation. This is not easy because one must know almost all areas of law, well most, and, of course, international standards of human rights, which we are trying to implement here.

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Where have you got human rights education and knowledge?
– I earned legal education at the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv and the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. Knowledge of human rights – during all kinds of training and seminars organized by UHHRU. I also finished a two-year distance learning course for Human Rights Advocates “International Law in Human Rights Activity,” organized by the Human Rights House Network and the distance course on eligibility of complaints to the European Court, which took place on the platform of the Council of Europe HELP (Human rights education for legal professionals).
What is your area of focus in the field of human rights?
– Most of all, convicts, who complain about violations of the right to a fair trial, unlawful imprisonment and torture, seek for support of our public reception. Also, people often seek support with the issue of property rights violation and the right to private and family life.

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Did you work with the theme of women’s rights?
– There were several calls to our reception, concerned with domestic violence, including its manifestations such as removal from home, deprivation of property rights. Currently, these cases are being processed.
In your opinion, what are the greatest successes of the human rights movement in Ukraine?
– I would say this is public confidence in human rights defenders. Often, this is where people find support and understanding when their problems are ignored by the police or social services.

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What are challenges of the modern human rights movement in Ukraine?
– Society, demanding justice after the Revolution of Dignity, is very much more active. People are increasingly turning to human rights organizations for help. There are new problems, which did not exist before, many of them caused by the war in the East. Resources are limited, and human rights organizations often have to decide, which is a more acute problem that requires immediate response and intervention, and what can wait. This is not easy.
In your opinion, is it enough attention paid to gender issue by the human rights movement?
– I think, yes. In particular, our organization is open to working with problems and victims of gender discrimination or violence, ready to defend the rights of victims at the national level and in international institutions. The Ukrainian Helsinki Union is also implementing an in-house policy of gender equality and non-discrimination. Also, employees of our organization had the opportunity to be trained on gender issues.

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Gender-based violence is a serious problem, particularly in Ukraine. In your opinion, what should be done to improve the situation?
– To adopt a package of legislation, which establishes a comprehensive approach to combat these phenomena. I can express my indignation regarding the delay in the Parliament with the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention). I wish that MPs seriously treated this problem and not block the adoption of this important legislation to us due to absurd reasons like this, unfortunately, was held in November last year.
Of course, the Convention is not a panacea, and the implementation of its provisions into practice can go a long time. However, though this treaty has not too strict process control of its provisions, however, it is an additional mechanism of the state. If, after the ratification, Ukraine will not make any steps in this direction, it will lose its image. So I think that we will make significant progress in this direction if the state ratifies the Convention.
There is no secret that the root of gender-based violence problem is the attitude of society, namely stereotypical thinking about this characteristic of both men and women. I think combating these phenomena requires educational work. Also, we need a proper gender education of youth, and even review school programs or introduce additional courses for children, where they talked about equality and tolerance.
What or who inspires you the most in your human rights work?
– For me, these are the people, whom we helped. Successful cases of our reception and colleagues from other cities give hope, and I want to work even more.
Interview by Tamara Martseniuk
This series of interviews is dedicated to activists working in various areas of human rights protection. This year we celebrate the 40-th anniversary of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, pioneers of Ukrainian human rights movement. UHHRU is its successor. We have developed an in-house policy of gender equality and non-discrimination and strive to make Ukrainian women human rights activist more visible in society.

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