Ukraine: EU Should Press for Rights Commitments at Summit


(New York, October 7, 2003) — European Union leaders should use today’s summit with Ukraine to secure concrete human rights commitments from the Ukrainian government, Human Rights Watch said today.

The October 7 summit, to be held in Yalta, marks the single most important meeting of the year between the European Union and Ukraine.

Human Rights Watch called on EU leaders to use the summit to seek specific improvements in Ukraine’s human rights record, particularly in the areas of eliminating torture and ill-treatment of prisoners, guaranteeing freedom of expression, and addressing discrimination against women in the labor force.

“EU leaders should make clear to the Ukrainian government that respect for human rights is a precondition for deepening of relations,” said Rachel Denber, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Division. “A high-level meeting of this kind without specific concessions would not only be an important opportunity missed—it would also represent a serious blow to those brave individuals in Ukraine who have risked their personal safety to speak out against abuse.” On a number of occasions, the European Union has publicly acknowledged shortcomings in Ukraine’s respect of human rights, giving rise to hope that it would use the summit to seek concrete commitments to address them. Most recently, a September 16 statement on the third anniversary of the “disappearance” and murder of Ukrainian journalist Georgiy Gongadze expressed concern about the lack of progress in the investigation into his death and continuing violations of freedom of expression in general.

EU-Ukraine relations have reached a crucial turning point with the impending enlargement of the European Union. As part of its “Wider Europe” strategy, the European Union is currently working on a new framework for relations with its eastern and southern neighbors, including Ukraine—countries that it defines as “not currently hav[ing] a perspective of membership but who will soon find themselves sharing a border with the Union.” Individualized “Action Plans” for each country will form a key component of this process, and include political and economic benchmarks by which to judge progress.

Human Rights Watch called on EU leaders to advance the following specific benchmarks as part of their engagement with Ukraine:

1. To address torture and prison conditions: The European Union should reinforce the recommendation of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe that the Ukrainian government evaluate the degree to which law and practice related to pretrial custody fully guarantee the rights of persons deprived of their liberty. It should insist that custody pending trial be considered an exceptional measure, rather than routine practice, and that police not use administrative detention as a means of detaining individuals when there are not sufficient grounds for holding them as criminal suspects. It should call on the government to ensure that the Ministry of Internal Affairs issue instructions calling on all police officers to strictly observe due process when detaining people.

2. To address violations of media freedom: The European Union should condition any deepening of relations with Ukraine on demonstrable progress by the Ukrainian government in guaranteeing freedom of expression. It should insist that Ukraine undertake sustained and effective measures to prevent and punish official censorship, to eliminate arbitrary administrative and legal actions against television stations and other media outlets, and to end harassment of and violence against journalists.

3. To address discrimination against women in the labor force: The European Union should integrate gender discrimination as a key component of its ongoing dialogue with Ukraine on trafficking of women. It should press for such discrimination to be outlawed and penalized, and assist the Ukrainian government in harmonizing its legislation to meet EU standards on nondiscrimination and equal treatment in employment.

Finally, it should strengthen labor rights conditionality in the EU-Ukraine bilateral market access trade agreements designed to promote Ukraine’s access to the World Trade Organization.

For more information please contact:

In New York, Veronika Leila Szente Goldston: +1-212-216-1271

In Moscow, Anna Neistat: +7-095-970-4120

In Brussels, Vanessa Saenen: +32-2-732-2009

In London, Urmi Shah: +44-20-7713-2788

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