Attacks on anti-corruption organizations in Ukraine are a wake-up call– Human Rights First


Frequent attacks on anti-corruption organizations and activists in Ukraine are a direct threat to future reforms and raise concerns of the international community, stresses the report “Democracy in Danger: Ukraine at a Crossroads Four Years After Euromaidan” by international NGO Human Rights First presented at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. The report outlines attacks on anti-corruption activists and organizations and recommendations on how the West can better press for positive change.

The main focus of attention is the recent attacks on the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine. “The State Department’s response last week noted that recent events – including the disruption of a high-level corruption investigation, the arrest of officials from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), and the seizure of sensitive NABU files – raise concerns about Ukraine’s commitment to fighting corruption. These actions appear to be part of an effort to undermine independent anti-corruption institutions that the United States and others have helped support. They undermine public trust and risk eroding international support for Ukraine,” noted Brian Dooley, representative of Human Rights First.

The report also outlines facts of attacks of law-enforcement authorities on anti-corruption NGOs. “We note with alarm that SBU has opened criminal cases against two organizations fighting health sector corruption, Patients of Ukraine and The All-Ukrainian Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS. […] We see too that in October the tax police raided both offices, and that the organizations could have their bank accounts frozen. These organizations have scored a major success in the fight against health care corruption,” emphasized Brian Dooley.

Dmytro Sherembey, Head of All-Ukrainian Network of People who live with HIV/AIDS, says that there is a number of criminal investigations against the NGO at the moment. “There are eight court decisions allowing to seize our documents, conduct investigation and call our staff members for interrogation. I think the incentive of the Security Service of Ukraine and the Prosecutor General’s Office is to preserve corrupt ‘schemes’ which would allow their officials continue making money. By the way, once our bank accounts and our work are blocked, 150 thousand patients will stop receiving help. And more than 40 thousand patients will be left without medicines which are of vital importance to them,” emphasized Dmytro Sherembey.

“It is obvious that anti-corruption organizations are enemies for the current law-enforcement system, which is serving not the Law but the ruling elite, in the same way as it was serving the previous ruling elite. Because we prevent them from living as they used to live. We want these cases to be finally brought to court, for that all the ‘evidence’ of the Prosecutor’s Office was analyzed, for that they were presented as official documents, not just words of the Prosecutor General or other officials. So, I call the Security Service of Ukraine and the Prosecutor’s Office: if you have questions to our work, let’s go to court,” added Vitaliy Shabunin, head of the board of Anti-Corruption Action Center.

The key recommendation for the US Government regarding the support of the civil society in Ukraine is to support the new-established anti-corruption institutions. “The U.S. government should continue to push, publicly and privately, for the protection of NABU and the establishment of an independent anti-corruption court. It should consider using the authority it has to impose visa bans and asset freezes on government officials and their cronies credibly linked to acts of significant corruption. And it should publicly call for the repeal of the March 2017 law that targets anti-corruption activists, and for the proposed new legislation attacking NGOs to be abandoned, and for the immediate dismissal of all politically-motivated cases against anti-corruption activists and NGOs,” elaborated Brian Dooley.

Oleksandra Ustinova, a member of the Board of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, noted that this is for the first time since the Revolution of Dignity that Ukraine’s international partners started to speak publicly about the probability of personal sanctions against acting Ukrainian officials. “For the first time after Maida, our government has crossed the red line, raising discussions about potential personal sanctions. This must be a very clear warning for those who start politically motivated cases against activists and try to undermine the newly created anti-corruption institutions,” she stressed.