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Conference “The freedom of speech and human rights in Ukraine – 2003”

Yevgeniy Zakharov, the Kharkov group for human rights protection
A brief report about the conference "The freedom of speech and human rights in Ukraine - 2003" that was held on 18-19 September in Kyiv.

On 18-19 September the conference “The freedom of speech and human rights in Ukraine – 2003” was held in the institute of the post-graduate study of the Kyiv National University. The conference was organized by the USA Embassy in Ukraine and Kharkiv Human Raghts Protection Group with the goal to represent the state of human rights in Ukraine in the first seven months of 2003 and the situation with some most fundamental rights and freedoms: the freedom of expression, the right for the access to information, the right for privacy, the freedom from torture and cruel treatment, as well as the right for the access to justice. Besides, the conference had to demonstrate the intermediate results of the work of 42 organizations – the winners of the competition “Human rights and the freedom of the press” conducted by the Embassy.

The conference consisted of six sessions: the first plenary sitting was devoted to the general assessment of the state of human rights in Ukraine, next five sessions – to the consideration of the problems in the above-listed spheres of human rights. The organizers planned to represent different points of view: of the power, civil society, international experts, so they invited the representatives of all these groups to deliver the 20-minute reports. Yet, we could not listen to the assessment of the power organs: neither vice-speaker Oleksandr Zinchenko nor vice-prime-minister Dmytro Tabachnik, who had agreed to take part in the conference, came there. Valentina Dovzhenko, the head of the state committee in charge of the problems of youth, who had promised to the organizers to take part in the conference, refused in the last moment and sent first deputy Zelinskiy instead of her, who spoke only about the work of his committee. Thus, at the first session the participants of the conference (all in all, more than 200 representatives of Ukrainian state and non-governmental institutions and international organizations took part in the conference) listened to the speeches of USA Ambassador John Herbst, international expert Oleksiy Korotayev (Geneva, the International Ligue of human rights), Ashley Gotier, a deputy of the general councilor of the U.S. News & World Report (Washington) and Yevgeniy Zakharov. In my opinion, the refusal of the top Ukrainian authorities from the participation in this conference and the speech of the new USA Ambassador vividly demonstrated the real, and not pretentious, attitude to human rights. The speech of Ambassador Herbst is quoted below. Oleksiy Korotayev expressed the anxiety of the international institutions, in particular, the profile committees of the UNO, about the situation with the application of torture in Ukraine, ungrounded restrictions of the freedom of expression, in particular the censorship in the form of “temniks”, and the illegal restriction of the access to information. He also remarked that some drafts of Ukrainian laws were imperfect and endangered human rights, for example, the drafts of the Criminal-Procedural Code and of the laws on the registration of physical persons, on the monitoring of telecommunications, etc. Ashley Gotier told about new tendencies in the application of the First Amendment to the USA Constitution in the context of media-legislation and court practices. Her speech was very instructive for the Ukrainian lawyers and journalists, who understood the American attitude to the freedom of expression. I presented the report prepared with the assistance of Olga Zhiriachenkova, a worker of the Embassy. The report described the intermediate results of the USA Embassy project.

The agenda of the work of subject sessions was the following. The reporters for 20-30-minute speeches and experienced moderators were invited to the sessions. The persons, who wanted to deliver the speeches shorter than 10 minutes had to agree beforehand the topics of their speeches with the organizers; after this the topics were included to the agenda. Five minutes were given to everybody, who wanted to take part in the discussion.

Taking into account the great amount of work fulfilled by Mykola Tomenko, the head of the Parliamentary committee in charge of the freedom of speech and information, and by Gennadiy Udovenko, the head of the Parliamentary committee in charge of human rights, national minorities and interethnic relations, the organizers asked them to deliver the basic reports at the corresponding subject sessions. The basic report at the session “The access to justice” was delivered by Igor Koliushko, the manager of the Center of political and legislative reforms, a scientific consultant of the Supreme Rada committee in charge of the policy of law. Roman Romanov delivered the basic speech at the session “The right for privacy”, Yevgeniy Zakharov – at the session “The access to information”. It is noteworthy that Mr. Udovenko took into account the absence of the review report on the state of human rights in Ukraine from the viewpoint of the state and, on the first day of the conference, stated in his report the official position of the state concerning the protection of human rights. He mentioned some positive moments: the adoption of the Constitution, introduction of the institute of ombudsperson and the successful work of this institute, adoption of a number of the progressive laws, joining the Council of Europe, signature of several international agreements of the Council of Europe, opportunity to turn to the European Court of human rights and the first successful cases in the Court, improvement of the situation in the spheres of interethnic and inter-confession relations and in other spheres. Mr. Udovenko also described the negative moments and the existing problems. The most important problems, in his opinion, are the low level of legal knowledge and the non-fulfillment of laws. I reckon that the report of Gennadiy Udovenko was very substantial and intelligible, he made an important contribution to the consideration of the state of human rights at the first session.

I think that the agenda of the conference suggested by the organizers was rather sensible. The conference was interesting and informative. The plenary reports were pithy, the discussions were very dynamic. International expert from Geneva Oleksiy Korotayev delivered very helpful speeches during the discussions at all sessions. He permanently compared the problems existing in Ukraine with the common European-Atlantic concepts of human rights. The level of almost all speeches at the conference was high, which was confirmed by assessments of the conference.

The results of the fulfillment of the USA Embassy project also excited a great interest: 200 copies of the printed materials presented at the conference were taken by the participants. In my opinion, it was the most successful conference on human rights, and I am glad that Kharkiv Human Raghts Protection Group took part in the organization of the conference. I want to express my gratitude to the workers of the Department of the press, education and culture of the USA Embassy for their selfless work for the conference.

In the end of the first day of the conference the Reception was held by Ambassador John Herbst. The participants of the conference got the pleasant opportunity to communicate with Ambassador Herbst, other workers of the Embassy and colleagues.

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