20 years on, and still waiting for a decent peaceful asssembly bill


Does Ukraine need a law regulating freedom of peaceful assembly?  This was the topic which experts, members of NGO and officials met to discuss at a roundtable entitled “Defining avenues of legislative defence of freedom of peaceful assembly”.

A number of civic organizations are concerned that having passed a new law, the authorities will impose additional restrictions which will obstruct people from exercising their right to peaceful gatherings. They consider that it is Ukraine’s Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights that should regulate this right.

Yet is this enough for the Ukrainian authorities and courts?

According to Roman Romanov, Director of the International Renaissance Foundation Rule of Law Programme, there is also a norm in the US Constitution which defends freedom of peaceful assembly. Yet in the USA there is different court practice of applying that norm and ordinary courts defend the rights of protesters. In Ukraine on the contrary, the courts in most cases support the decisions of the authorities or public bodies.

For example, cases are quite widespread where the local police department sends the court a document stating that they are unable to guarantee order during a peaceful gathering, and the courts ban it on the grounds that “something could happen”. This was the behaviour of Donetsk courts in 2011 which resulted in a tent camp being dispersed and the death of one man.

Maxim Latsyba from the Ukrainian Independent Centre for Political Research is convinced that the law needs to be passed since a negative trend with each year is growing in Ukraine where freedom of peaceful assembly is restricted. Because the courts in their rulings rely on Soviet legislation

Oleksandra Matviychuk, Head of the Centre for Civil Liberties believes that the Law should regulate restrictions, and not freedom of peaceful assembly. This view is supported by Volodymyr Chemerys, head of the Respublika Institute who points out that the law should meet three critieria:

-          It doesn’t run counter to European principles;

-          It serves the interests of civic society;

-          It does not make existing practice worse.

So are MPs ready to adopt a liberal law corresponding to European values?

According to Larisa Nadtochiy from the Secretariat of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Human Rights, “we have been working on such a law for 20 years. However each time the political will to pass it was lacking”.

Will the legislators find the political will this time to pass a progressive law?  We can only guess right now, however it is clear that its adoption  depends on the joint efforts of civic organizations. 

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