Appeal of the International Helsinki Federation on the observance of standards of free and honest election in Ukraine
Massive violations of electoral law and the OSCE and CoE standards for elections
Vienna, Kyiv, 28 October 2004.
Free and fair elections represent one of the fundamental freedoms in each society. Only through free and fair elections the citizens have an opportunity to express their assessment of the way the country has been governed since the last elections, and make a choice for its future. Lacking free elections people become mere passive subjects of the State. The history of Europe amply proves that free and fair elections have contributed to prosperity.
The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union are deeply concerned that violations of international standards for free and fair elections have persisted and become even more acute in the course of the electoral campaign ahead of the 31 October presidential elections. We appeal to the relevant authorities to take what steps are possible in the remaining days, to protect the political freedoms and rights of the citizens. We fear that given the gravity and widespread character of violations of Ukrainian electoral law and international standards, the legitimacy of the coming elections could be seriously undermined.
A recent tendency reported by Ukrainian NGOs is the use in hundreds of cases of militia action against individuals and organizations believed to support the opposition: unsanctioned searches of premises, arrests, and beatings. Sometimes NGOs are being accused of no less a crime than terrorism. Since these actions are carried out in violation of proper procedure, there is reason to suspect that various law enforcement and security agencies are being used to harass persons and organizations who support the opposition. Army units are being used to create among the population an atmosphere of fear. Ukraine is again on the verge of becoming a police state, which ignores the rights of its citizens and its international obligations.
Another grave feature in the present campaign is the use of political persecutions such as dismissal from work of e.g. journalists, and exclusions from universities.
Regarding media, State controlled TV, in particular UT-1, have consistently misinformed the public on the presidential candidates in news and other programming, promoting a positive impression of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, and carrying only limited and then almost completely negative coverage of his main opponent Viktor Yushchenko.
There has been massive discrimination against the opposition: in the period from May to August, the Governments candidate received eight times more air time on national TV than the main opponent. The latter was obliquely accused of harboring extremist views and of being allied with extremist organizations. Recently, the media have been used to present opposition figures as terrorists and criminals – before any court had had a chance to decide on the matter.
The only independent TV station of national importance, Channel 5, is now facing closure in what appears to be a politically motivated defamation case. The stations workers are now on hunger strike to express their protest.
Posters and t-shirts against Yushchenko – and for Yanukovich – have been produced massively. This could not have taken place without the knowledge of the central authorities. This also raises serious questions as to how this material has been financed.
As far as the freedom of association and freedom of movement, authorities have banned electoral meetings of the opposition. The Militia has been used to block people from the provinces to join meetings in Kyiv held by the opposition candidate. On these days, Kyiv has become an almost closed city.
Even more thoroughly than in previous elections, the State have throughout the campaign used “administrative resources”, the huge resources of the State to influence and pressure voters. Workers in various institutions and industries were routinely forced first to collect signatures for his registration and to participate at rallies in support of Viktor Yanukovich.
Yet another reason for serious concern is the dubious quality of preparatory work of the authorities with regard to e.g. voter lists, formation of electoral commissions, etc. The Central Electoral Commission has not done anything to address any of these problems, and thus failed to fulfill its role to ensure a transparent and fair process.
While limited transparency is possible through the presence on the local and central electoral commissions of representatives of all candidates, independent Ukrainian NGOs are not allowed to observe elections. This cannot but limit the credibility of the process, and further erode the legitimacy of the electoral results.
In spite of repeated appeals from Governments, international organizations and Ukrainian and international human rights NGOs, the Ukrainian authorities have chosen not to address the violations of law and international obligations. The elections risk producing a result which will not have the necessary legitimacy and which will further delay the development of Ukraine towards a genuine democracy, and a society based on the rule of law.
For more information:
Yevgeniy Zakharov: chair, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union - Phone: +380 57 2143558
Andrzej Rzeplinski: member of the Executive Committee, International Helsinki Federation. – Phone: + 48 22 5564441
Aaron Rhodes: Executive Director, International Helsinki Federation. Phone: +431 4088822
Volodymyr Yavorskyy: Executive Director, Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union – Phone: +380 44 4174118