Brussels informed of human rights violations in Ukraine
Human rights violations in Ukraine and pressure on independent media outlets were the main topics of a press conference held on Monday in Brussels by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group and the independent television channel TVi.
The EU – Ukraine Summit begins a new page in Ukraine’s European integration. While entirely welcoming possible acceleration of the movement towards a visa-free regime and supporting development of bilateral and sectoral partnership, Ukrainian human rights organizations and independent media outlets must point to serious human rights problems which are direct impediments to our country’s European development.
Recognition and respect for democracy and human rights are fundamental European values and effective safeguards for their observance hinge on an effective and fair system of justice, public control over the activities of the authorities, the functioning of an independent press, transparency and openness of State institutions; as well as honest electoral systems free from manipulation and rigging.
Unfortunately the 10 months of Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency have been marked not only by retention of Ukraine’s commitment to European integration and an increase in the number of assurances from officials of their commitment to human rights and democracy.
The press conference addressed cases involving serious human rights violations in various spheres.
For the first time since independence, Ukraine’s corrupt prosecutor’s office and the state medical institutions dependent on it have tried to forcibly hospitalize an absolutely healthy person, human rights activist from Vinnytsa, Andriy Bondarenko.
The authorities under Viktor Yanukovych are continuing the practice of flagrant infringements of freedom of peaceful assembly. The police and other law enforcement agencies are making wide use of intimidation and threats in order to stop people taking part or promoting various protest actions. Activists from the Lviv civic organization “Guards of the Law” have been sentenced to terms of administrative arrest for peaceful protest. Protesters in Kharkiv have also had their right of peaceful assembly flagrantly infringed, and have had administrative charges fabricated and been threatened with criminal proceedings. Even today, on 22 November, the police prevented 140 coaches with demonstrators wanting to protest against the new Tax Code, getting to Kyiv.
Yanukovych’s team have carried out a campaign of harassment and pressure on civic and human rights activists. Under the pretext of a pornography investigation, involving a clip publicly available on Youtube, the police have virtually blocked the work of the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group, having carried out an unauthorized search of its office and removed all computer technology, confidential files on refugees and asylum seekers, correspondence with the European Court of Human Rights on specific cases. The practice has been revived of putting pressure on activists through so-called prophylactic talks with them, their relatives and the heads of academic institutions. We are also aware of cases where the latter have been forced to exert influence on students’ civic activity.
The Crimean authorities have been harassing human rights activist Andriy Fedosov, whose organization USER defends the rights of the disabled and monitors human rights in psychiatric institutions.
The Ukrainian authorities have not taken any effective steps towards putting an end to the shameful practice over many years of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officers. Penal institutions and special places of confinement (illegal migrant centres, psychiatric institutions or homes for adults and children, etc) function virtually without public control or effective legal assistance to those living there who are at great risk of treatment prohibited by international law.
The situation with freedom of expression has worsened sharply. The authorities have not been able to prove that they are taking all measures to uncover the disappearance and probable murder of Kharkiv journalist Vasyl Klymentyev. The stripping of frequencies from TV Channels 5 and TVi were part of a procedure staggering for its lack of logic and arousing numerous questions regarding the lawfulness and proportionality of interference in the activities as well as equal treatment of all television channels.
The press conference was given by: Arkadiy Bushchenko – bar lawyer, human rights defender and Head of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. Arkadiy has successfully represented applicants in dozens of cases against Ukraine in the European Court of Human Rights;
Dmytro Groisman – lawyer, human rights defender; Coordinator of the Vinnytsa Human Rights Group which focuses on fighting torture, as well as on refugee and patients’ rights.
Mykola Knyazhytskyy is a well-known Ukrainian journalist and the Director of TVi which recently lost the broadcasting rights and most of previously allocated frequencies. Mykola Knyazhytskyy has accused the Ukrainian Security Service [SBU] of unlawful surveillance and intrusion in his private life in 2010.
They stressed that Europeans have the right to the truth about the human rights situation in Ukraine and observance of human rights if a fundamental element of dialogue between Ukraine and the EU.
At present they are convinced the Council of Europe must not stop its monitoring of Ukraine’s implementation of its commitments made when joining the Council of Europe. They believe that the EU could ensure that all types of sectoral partnership, especially between law enforcement bodies, are linked with adequate fulfilment by Ukraine of its international human rights commitments.