Human rights situation in Ukraine deteriorates – advocates


Human rights situation in Ukraine tends to deteriorate, report human rights activists referring to events of the last year and legislative initiatives introduced at the last parliamentary session. The statement was presented by the Center for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International Ukraine, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and Open Dialogue Foundation at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.

The advocates express concern about the initiative to introduce amendments into appointment procedure of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights, making the vote open and, as result, jeopardizing the independence of the vote. Moreover, this provision was included in the draft law on the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, which has nothing to do with the institute of Ombudsman, emphasizes Oleksandra Matviychuk, head of the Center for Civil Liberties.

Arkadiy Bushchenko, executive director of Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, drew attention to draft law “On ensuring information security”, especially the notion of “technological terrorism” with its vague definition, leaving space for the biased use of the law.

Human rights activists expressed concern that several decisions of primary national importance, such as draft law on de-occupation of Donbas, were not discussed with the civil society,  concerns with the use of paramilitary units of the Ministry of Internal Affairs to enforce public order; several violations of freedom of assembly, incidents with abuse of power by the police; discreditation campaigns against anti-corruption activists and agents of change in official institutions; proposal of new, excessively strict requirements to NGOs reporting and accountability. The latter, for instance, make NGOs report about all their subcontractors – self-employed individuals and prescribe that an NGO would lose its non-profit status for late submission of reports. “In our opinion, the aim of these legislative initiatives is to complicate the NGOs activity, or even make it almost impossible […]. That reminds me Russian approach to NGOs, where a lot of them are treated as ‘foreign agents’. Fortunately, we haven’t gone that far, but these draft laws are already a step in that direction,” Brushchenko noted.

“It is clear that in a time of war, even if war is not proclaimed, human rights may be restricted, but only proportionally. These restrictions must lead to a publicly proclaimed aim unachievable by other means. But what we actually see in various fields of official decision-making is a disproportionate restriction of rights and liberties”, stressed Oleksandra Matviychuk.  “These restrictions are often explained by the necessity to counter Russian aggression, and at least a part of the society agrees with these disproportionate restrictions. It is a surprising situation because if this tendency goes on, people will give up their freedoms and liberties for which they struggled and shed blood during Euromaidan. As a country on the way of democratic reforms, we face a challenge: we need to win the war, but we must avoid becoming a country like authoritarian Russia,” Matviychuk stressed.

Oksana Pokalchuk, executive director of Amnesty International Ukraine, expressed concern about the growing influence of religious institutions on official decision-making, taking into account that according to Ukrainian Constitution Ukraine is a secular state. “Now we can see a very active and aggressive influence of religious institutions on decision-making in the Parliament,” she stated. For instance, the Council of Churches blocks ratification of the Istanbul Convention, which is a part of Ukraine’s Eurointegration commitments. Recently a group of MPs submitted a draft law which suggests opening and closing parliamentary sessions by a prayer. The draft law on prohibition of abortion hasn’t been mentioned since March, but it is still registered on the parliamentary website.  “We mimic practices of authoritarian countries of our region, such as Turkey and Russia… It is a crackdown on our rights,” emphasized Pokalchuk.

These worrying trends have already been noticed by Ukraine’s international partners, and this can have a negative impact on Ukraine’s reputation and good will to support Ukraine, noted Liuldmula Kozlovska, president of Open Dialogue Foundation. “These things won’t be tolerated, and we have heard the first warning at the PACE. We are invited to present our report in the UN and in the European Parliament. We have to support people struggling for change in Ukraine. And it is a very clear message for the Ukrainian government,” Kozlovska stressed.