11.06.2010 | Yevhen Zakharov

Human Rights in Ukraine


Following the elections, the new President and government inherited systemic problems in this area: large-scale and fragrant violations of the right to fair trial, to protection from torture and other forms of unlawful violence, unwarranted detention, the poverty of a considerable percentage of the population and others. The authorities during the first 100 days in power not only have not demonstrated intention to improve the situation, but have even reduced the positive processes which had been underway and new trends in violations of human rights have emerged, together with disregard for such rights.

There has been a strong attack on civil and political liberties. There were more violations of freedom of peaceful assembly during this period then from 2007-2009 put together. On 25 March the Cabinet of Ministers issued an instruction to the Kyiv City State Administration “on using comprehensive measures on organizing work with citizens and their organizations, including on preventing and stopping in future the holding of protests near the premises of the President’s Administration and the Cabinet of Ministers”. This instruction is a flagrant violation of freedom of peaceful assembly and a number of articles of the Constitution.

This was while the Minister of Internal Affairs stated that for peaceful gatherings one should allocate “some big field on the outskirts of Kyiv where nobody will disturb anybody”.  Traffic Police officers prevented people from many regions getting to Kyiv for an opposition rally on 11 May. The transport companies were warned that they could have their licences removed if they took the people to the rally. Only one nationwide TV channel, STB, reported this. In general the news on television and radio stations have again become bland and vapid, and talk more about natural and other cataclysms abroad than events in Ukraine. The reduction in freedom of expression can also be seen in the disappearance of several hard-hitting talk shows.

 There has been a considerable reduction in political freedom overall. The Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University Father Boris Gudzyak reported that an SBU [Security Service] officer had tried to get him to sign a letter, without leaving him even a copy, in which the Rector would agree to warn students off taking part in any protests “not authorized by the authorities” Father Gudzyak did not even read the letter and made the visit public. It is, however, certain that many rectors of institutes signed such a letter. It is also known that  a separate Order from 22 April this year in district Departments of Education in Kyiv and in each secondary school,  people were appointed responsible for “providing information regarding the city authorities, enhancing the quality of information and analytical material on socio-political and highly publicized events in the city and districts, including providing swift information about what is happening in the district on a day to day basis”. The motive for the issue of this order is simple: “increasing the attention of the President’s Administration leadership to information regarding the city authorities”, and this information will be sent to the department of internal policy of the State administration. The existence of such letters from the SBU and orders demonstrate the wish to impose total control over civic life in educational institutions.

Policy on memory has changed readically. Material on the history of political repression has been removed from the websites of the President and regional administrations.  New attempts to foist a Soviet view of history, to rehabilitate Stalinism and Stalin a monument to whom was erected in Zaporizhya, elicit outrage. Only 141 Verkhovna Rada Deputies supported a draft resolution condemning the erection of the monument. While declaring the wish to unite the country, the Party of the Regions, together with their coalition partner – the Lytvyn Bloc and the Communist Party – are effectively dividing it, since nothing could be more divisive than such steps.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs [MIA] is planning to introduce on railway tickets full name, date of birth, series and number of a person’s ID, this being a flagrant violation of the right to privacy and demonstrating an attitude to all Ukrainians as to potential criminals. The introduction of this “Search – Route” system will signal the transformation of Ukraine into a police state. The Minister has dissolved the Department for the Monitoring of Human Rights in the Work of the Police which was a serious preventive measure against abuse and violations of human rights. All MIA human rights projects have been stopped. Yet only a person who is blind or entirely biased could fail to see the enormous work done in the police aimed at ensuring respect for human rights in the work of the police and reform of the MIA achieved by the Department in less than 2 years. Hundreds of ordinary citizens who complained of unlawful actions by the police have received assistance from the staff of the Department. With their help significant abuses by the police have been uncovered

It was It is thanks to members of the Department that the mobile groups on monitoring observance of human rights in places of detention under the MIA began working systematically and conditions in temporary holding facilities improved.

In some regions of the country unlawful use of force by the police has been observed, as well as total failure of the police to act when unidentified individuals in plain clothes used violence against peaceful demonstrators, protesting against the illegal actions of the local authorities. This was the case in Kharkiv, for example, where the local authorities passed an unlawful decision to cut down 503 trees in the old part of the central park to build a road (primitive barbarism!. The tree felling was not authorized by the Ministry for Environmental Protection, ran counter to the General Plan of the city, the graphic part of which was unlawfully classified as “for official use only” in 2008. Nor were the public hearings required by law carried out. More trees than officially planned were, however, felled because of the use of force against the trees’ defenders.

The Verkhovna Rada is reviewing a number of draft laws which seriously violate human rights and rejecting draft laws aimed at protecting them, for example, the progressive Criminal Procedure Code. The judicial reform proposed by the President violates standards for the right to a fair trial. The preventive safeguards in the checking of draft laws by the Ministry of Justice to see that they comply with case law of the European Court of Human Rights are effectively not working.

There have been repressive measures and violence against trade union activists and human rights defenders. The Krasnodonvuhyllya company [coal mining – translator] is destroying the Independent Miners’ Union because it refused to give its consent to a worsening in pay conditions in breach of legislation. In Donetsk the head of a civic organization “Legal Defence”, Vadim Cherkass was beaten up.

Administrative pressure by the authorities has increased which can be seen by the significant increase in complaints against arbitrary behaviour by tax and other regulatory bodies.

We would note that President Yanukovych has on a number of occasions reacted to cases of human rights abuse in his speeches, asserting that “criticism from opponents is a vital component of democratic society”, that “you mustn’t save on human rights” and so forth. However one has the impression that these statements are a ritual and nobody plans to follow such recommendations. Article 3 of the Constitution which states that the affirmation and safeguarding of human rights and freedoms are the main duty of the State, seems like typical hypocrisy which nobody plans to heed.

In order to make systematic improvements in the area of human rights the authorities must place them at the centre of State policy. It is important in the first instant to strengthen human rights safeguards, pass a new Criminal Procedure Code, carry out reform of the judicial system and system of criminal justice in accordance with the concept strategies previously adopted, change the priorities of information policy, passing draft laws on access to public information, on information, on public broadcasting, on civic organizations and review legislation and practice regarding protection of public morality. The draft laws on legal aid, on peaceful assembly, on personal data protection also need to be changed, as well as the Labour Code. All of these seriously infringe human rights. There is also an urgent need for the introduction of the post of specialized Ombudsperson s on countering torture and ill-treatment, against discrimination, on freedom of information and protection of personal data, and protection of the rights of the children, as well as regional representative offices of the Human Rights Ombudsperson.

The references below are primarily about the crushing of peaceful protest in Kharkiv. More information about the issues above can be found under the sections of Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, the Right to a Fair Trial and others.


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