Speak for Yourself
Heavy-handed measures against a peaceful protest against the contentious language law in Cherkasy, 2012
At a time when fundamental freedom of peaceful assembly is coming under increasing assault in Ukraine, solidarity among representatives of civic society is especially vital. Solidarity does not by any means exclude pluralism of views. Recent statements from one quarter have forced the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union to issue a statement making this clear.
One area of disagreement has for some time been over how freedom of peaceful assembly should be regulated. The current lack of regulation was pointed out recently in the European Court of Human Rights’ Chamber Judgement in the case of Vyerentsov v. Ukraine. Volodymyr Yavorskyy, who successfully represented Oleksiy Vyerentsov in Strasbourg, has outlined some of the reasons why the present situation must change. The authorities, courts and police use three mutually exclusive sources of regulation, with Ukraine’s Constitution least often referred to. In at least 50 cities, decisions by bodies of local self-government are used to restrict peaceful assembly. The third source is a Soviet Decree from 1988 which is all too often used in independent Ukraine. The Decree establishes a permission-based system for peaceful assembly which contradicts Ukraine’s Constitution which demands only notification. It also stipulates that applications must be filed 10 days before the planned gathering which effectively means that a very large number of protests, including spontaneous protests, can be banned outright.
Probably the majority of civic organizations in Ukraine believe that a law is needed to counter the present situation where in most oblasts the authorities very often apply for bans, with 90% of such applications being allowed by the courts.
Some, including the author of these lines, feel considerable concern that restrictive elements would be likely to be added to such a law at the present time. Many recent court bans also, unfortunately, show that a law may not be enough to stem repressive trends. The recent disproportionate actions by the Vyshhorod District Court in imprisoning two Democratic Alliance activists came after the court had banned a peaceful protest outside the President’s controversial residence at Mezhyhirya. The court imposed the ban because of measures supposedly needed to deal with spring flooding. This is, per se, a legitimate reason which falls within Article 39 of the Constitution. Only there was no flood, and yet the ban was still applied.
Such concerns need to be aired and freely discussed since the present situation is clearly dangerous and regulation is needed.
There have, however, been statements over the last week or so which have quite erroneously been attributed to the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. The Head of one of the 30 organizations which make up UHHRU, Volodymyr Chemerys from the Institute “Respublica”, has spoken out strongly against a single law. He and an organization called “For Peaceful Protest” are opposed to the current draft law, and maintain that the situation should be resolved through changes to the Code of Administrative Offences, and some others.
This is their prerogative, but the lack of clarity as to whose views Mr Chemerys is expressing has prompted UHHRU to state unequivocally that the organization is a union of organizations, and any statements representing UHHRU are agreed with all members.
A good position at any time – when those wishing to exercise their constitutional rights are coming under siege, it is positively vital.