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A Fine start to Ukraine’s OSCE chairmanship

Halya Coynash
On the third day of Ukraine’s first ever OSCE chairmanship, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has accused he OSCE Election Mission of political bias in its report on the 28 October Parliamentary Elections.

On the third day of Ukraine’s first ever chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe [OSCE], the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has accused he OSCE Election Observation Mission of political bias in its report on the 28 October Parliamentary Elections.

Before turning to the Ministry’s extraordinary statement, it should be noted that the OSCE was swift in issuing its preliminary assessment of the elections.  While Ukraine’s Human Rights Ombudsperson has still not provided the report she promised, the OSCE was able on 29 October to issue a Statement on Preliminary Findings and Conclusions.  It spoke of a “tilted playing field” and said that this “was the result, primarily, of the abuse of administrative resources, as well as a lack of transparency in campaign and party financing and of balanced media coverage.”  It also noted that "one should not have to visit a prison to hear from leading political figures in the country."

Its findings have been echoed by all election observers, barring only the CIS mission.

All observers however sought to find positive things to say - as one does in such situations.  Unfortunately, the Foreign Ministry has carefully focused on these, showing the same selective approach to information seen over the last three years on the State-owned UTV-1 television channel.

It can be seen here that the final report issued on 3 January 2013 has remained highly critical.  This is not immediately apparent from the Ministry’s statement, seemingly issued only in Ukrainian which rather originally treats the record number of observers as something worth boasting about.

“We value the unprecedented attention demonstrated by international observers, including the OSCE ODIHR to the election process in Ukraine. This was seen in the record number of observers sent at the Ukrainian side’s invitation – around 4, 000 from international organizations and foreign countries to monitor Ukraine’s parliamentary elections.  ... We see this as recognition by the international community of Ukraine’s importance and special role in ensuring further democratic development and stability in the region.”

The Ministry’s version of the report’s comments about the legal framework is also highly specific.

“the creation is noted of a proper legal framework for holding democratic elections in our country through timely adoption of election legislation; the functioning of the State Voter Register is highly assessed and the active nature of the election campaign is stressed.

Unwavering observance of the principles of multi-party and adversarial elections is also highly assessed. This is Ukraine’s undoubted achievement having in a relatively short period ensured its affirmation as a European democratic country.

The observers also noted as positive the calm and peaceful nature of the voting”.

It is remarkable what can be done with selective reporting.  This, however, may wash on UTV-1, but not in a statement from the Foreign Ministry.  Thus, like with articles in the Soviet newspaper Pravda, we get to the “but”.

“However the report points to certain failings found by international missions while monitoring the parliamentary elections in our country. We are aware that the election process in Ukraine, as in any other democratic country, was not free of failings and requires further improvement. In this context the specific recommendations in the OSCE ODIHR final report are important.

Ukraine will take these into consideration in its work on improving electoral legislation and bringing it fully into line with the highest international norms and standards. In this process we are ready to continue constructive and fruitful cooperation with leading international experts, including the OSCE ODIHR.

At the same time we are forced to state that some assessments in the final report on the parliamentary elections have a noticeably political flavour.  We trust that such an authoritative international institution on election observing as the OSCE ODIHR will unwaveringly follow its stated unbiased and professional approach in election monitoring.

Considering also the fundamental divergence seen over recent times in the assessments of various election missions both in Ukraine, and in other countries, we call on the OSCE to take a more active role in promoting identical standards of election monitoring within the OSCE. “

Consider yourself reprimanded…

The statement is not only short of an English version, but on detail.  The divergent assessments could certainly do with clarification.  The two main election watchdogs in Ukraine – the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] and OPORA gave the same assessment, as did EMEMO and the Canadian Mission.  Concerns about precisely the same aspects of the elections and their failure to comply with democratic standards were expressed by the US State Department, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and very many others.

This is a truly dismal start to Ukraine’s chairmanship of the OSCE.  Ukraine, we are told by the newly appointed Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara, will use the chairmanship “to seek to make progress on resolving protracted conflicts, strengthening conventional arms control, combating human trafficking, reducing the environmental impact of energy-related activities, and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms”. 

Kozhara is equally unforthcoming with regard to the environmental impact of energy-related activities, which given the dangerous reduction in environmental control just passed into law and the highly contentious decision regarding new reactors at the Khmelnytski Nuclear Power Plant, is to be regarded.

Most woolly, as usual, is the end refrain about “protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms”. 

These, after all, include freedom of expression, assembly, freedom from political persecution, the right to a fair trial and to free and fair elections.  Three days into Ukraine’s chairmanship of the OSCE, the regime’s commitment to all of these remain seriously in question. 

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