Ambassador John Herbst Opening Remarks.


Thank you Mr. Zakharov for the warm welcome and introduction. I am honored that the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group asked me to speak. Let me say thank you to the other organizers of this conference, as well as to the leadership of this great university for providing us with a venue for this dialogue. I arrived in Ukraine less than a week ago. It is apt that my first public appearance would be at the 2003 conference on Media Freedom and Human Rights in Ukraine. After all, the United States constitution is devoted to the principles that this conference will address. My interest is in improving the U.S.-Ukrainian relationship to the fullest extent possible. That is best achieved by encouraging Ukraine to realize the democratic objectives that it has laid down and to practice the human rights principles that it has embraced by signing the European Convention on Human Rights. Respect for these basic freedoms is an essential part of the advance to democratic freedom and prosperity.

Ukraine has repeatedly stated its aspiration for integration into Europe, for membership in NATO and the European Union. . To achieve its goals of membership in these organizations, Ukraine must ensure that all its citizens enjoy media freedoms and fundamental human rights. Ukrainians must not be satisfied with their country’s progress until they live in a country free from “temniks”, for example. As some of you may know, I have spent much of my life working in and on the post-Soviet area. In this context, Ukraine has managed some real achievements in the development of a democratic society. At the same time, Ukraine’s human rights record in 2003 continued to raise concern. This week marks the third anniversary of the disappearance of Heorkiy Gongadze, and we still do not know what happened. The recent death in custody of Minister of Interior officer Ihor Honcharov, who had been scheduled to testify in court on the murder of Gongadze, will continue to spark interest in the human rights case of the journalist. Future events in the life of harassed judge Yuriy Vasylenko of the Criminal Division, Kiev Court of Appeals and his wife, lawyer Tetiana Montian, require national and international monitoring attention. In addition, we will continue to monitor events in the high profile lives of human rights defense attorney Andriy Fedur, and of the wife and mother of the slain journalist Gongadze. The controversial vehicular death of journalist Volodymyr Yefremov and attacks on journalists throughout Ukraine continue to cause concern. With the 2004 presidential election, Ukraine’s treatment of its journalists will continue to be a point of international scrutiny.

With presidential elections in Ukraine quickly approaching, Ukraine’s aspirations of European integration hinge on a free, fair, and transparent 2004 presidential election in Ukraine. Outside observers will expect presidential campaigns and the election itself to be conducted based on the very freedoms you are espousing at this conference.

On the positive side, in May 2003 the Government of Ukraine closed the criminal case against numerous Ukrainian publications that alleged defamation of President Kuchma. When parliament votes in September, amendments to the law on TV and radio broadcasting should not restrict the re-broadcasting of the BBC, the Voice of America and Deutsche Welle in Ukraine. Moreover, the Government of Ukraine should cease to put pressure on Western broadcasters and their Ukrainian partners.

Also encouraging is that the State Bureau of Religious Affairs (SBRA) continues to show signs of real governmental representation of all the country’s religions and various believers. Adherents of many faiths have found comfort in freely expressing their beliefs in Ukraine.

During twelve years of independence from the Soviet Union, Ukraine has come a long way. But make no mistake; there is a long way to go. This coming year offers real opportunity for Ukrainians to bring greater democracy to Ukraine. Americans stand ready to support Ukrainians to help realize goals of freedom. Now, I am here to listen, to form impressions, and in the coming years, to work with Ukrainians toward improved fundamental freedoms and human rights in Ukraine. I will work with you to support the goals Ukraine has articulated for itself: a future of independence and democracy in Ukraine. I look forward to working with you to make Ukraine a better place for all. Thank you very much.

In what follows we are presenting the short resumes of the sessions.

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