Human rights in Ukraine

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Until very recently human rights in Ukraine were better than those in most former Soviet republics and Ukraine was labeled as "Free" by organizations such as Freedom House.[1] However, after Viktor Yanukovych became president of Ukraine in 2010, Freedom House labeled Ukraine "Partly Free" in 2011, 2012 and 2013.[2] Amnesty International also signalled a significant deterioration of the observance of human rights in Ukraine in 2011.[3]

International and European human rights treaties[edit]

Ukraine is a party of the following international treaties[edit]

Ukraine signed but not yet ratified

Ukraine is a party of the following European treaties[edit]


Meeting in Kharkiv during the 2004 Orange Revolution


Ukraine had been labeled as "free" by organizations such as Freedom House in recent years.[1] In their 2009 report on Ukraine they stated: "Ukraine has one of the most vibrant civil societies in the region. Citizens are increasingly taking issues into their own hands, protesting against unwanted construction, and exposing corruption. There were no limits seen on NGO activities. Trade unions function, but strikes and worker protests were infrequently observed, even though dissatisfaction with the state of economic affairs was pervasive in the fall of 2008. Factory owners were seen as still able to pressure their workers to vote according to the owners’ preferences."[1] On October 20, 2009 experts from the Council of Europe stated "in the last five years the experts from the Council of Europe who monitor Ukraine have expressed practically no concerns regarding the important [process of the] formation of a civil society in Ukraine. Ukraine is one of the democratic states in Europe that is securing human rights as a national policy, as well as securing the rights of national minorities."[4] According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), "while civil society institutions operate mostly without government interference, police abuse and violations of the rights of vulnerable groups … continue to mar Ukraine’s human rights record."[5]

After the early 2010 election of President Viktor Yanukovych international organizations start to voice their concern. According to Freedom House, “Ukraine under President Yanukovych has become less democratic and, if current trends are left unchecked, may head down a path toward autocracy and kleptocracy.”[2] Among the recent negative developments, they mentioned “a more restrictive environment for the media, selective prosecution of opposition figures, worrisome intrusiveness by the Security Service of Ukraine, widely criticized local elections in October 2010 … and erosion of basic freedoms of assembly and speech.” This led Freedom House to downgrade Ukraine from “Free” to “Partly Free” in “Freedom in the World 2011.[2] Also in 2011 Amnesty International spoke of "an increase in the number of allegations of torture and ill treatment in police custody, restrictions on the freedom of speech and assembly, as well as mass manifestations of xenophobia.[3]

In Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index 2010 Ukraine had fallen from 89th place to 131.[6] Neighboring Russia’s press freedom was ranked at position 140.[7] The International Federation for Human Rights called Ukraine "one of the countries seeing the most serious violations against human rights activists" in December 2011.[8]

As of 17 January 2013 Ukraine lost all of its 211 cases at the European Court of Human Rights.[9]

The right to fair trial[edit]

Amendments to the constitution, which came into force, were detrimental for fair trial in that they re-introduced the so-called general supervision by the prosecutor’s office. Other serious problems included lengthy periods for review of cases because the courts were overloaded; infringement of equality of arms; non-observance of the presumption of innocence; the failure to execute court rulings; and high level of corruption in courts.[10] Independent lawyers and human rights activists have complained Ukrainian judges regularly come under pressure to hand down a certain verdict.[11]

According to Freedom House the judiciary has become more efficient and less corrupt since the Orange Revolution.[1]

Recent (since 2010) trails of high profile political figures[12] Yulia Tymoshenko, Yuriy Lutsenko, Igor Didenko,[13] Anatoliy Makarenko[14] and Valeriy Ivaschenko[15] have been described by the European Commission, the USA and other international organizations as "unfair, untransparent and not independent"[16] and "selective prosecution of political opponents".[17][18][19] President Viktor Yanukovych stated late February 2012 these trails "didn't meet European standards and principles".[20]

Media Freedom and Freedom of Information[edit]

In Ukraine’s provinces numerous, anonymous attacks[21] and threats persisted against journalists, who investigated or exposed corruption or other government misdeeds.[22][23] The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists concluded in 2007 that these attacks, and police reluctance in some cases to pursue the perpetrators, were “helping to foster an atmosphere of impunity against independent journalists.”[24][25]

Ukraine's ranking in Reporters Without Borders´s Press Freedom Index has in the latest years been around the 90th spot (89 in 2009,[26] 87 in 2008[27]), while it occupied the 112th spot in 2002[28] and even the 132nd spot in 2004.[29]

Since Viktor Yanukovych was elected President of Ukraine in February 2010 Ukrainian journalists and international journalistic watchdogs have complained about a deterioration of press freedom in Ukraine.[30][31][32][33] Yanukovych responded (in May 2010) that he "deeply values press freedom" and that ‘free, independent media that must ensure society’s unimpeded access to information’.[30] Anonymous journalists stated early May 2010 that they were voluntarily tailoring their coverage so as not to offend the Yanukovych administration and the Azarov Government.[34] The Azarov Government denies censoring the media,[35] so did the Presidential Administration[36] and President Yanukovych himself.[37][38]

The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has resulted in a major threat to press freedom in recent months. A May report from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) found approximately 300 instances of violent attacks on the media in Ukraine since November 2013.[39]

Amid tensions with Russia, Kiev is not tolerating any other points of view in the press. Under the impact of war and extreme social polarization, the democratic credentials of the pro-European Kiev government have been slipping as well. A crackdown on what authorities describe as “pro-separatist” points of view has triggered dismay among Western human rights monitors. For example, the September 11, 2014 shutdown of the independent Kiev-based Vesti newspaper by the Ukrainian Security Service for “violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity” brought swift condemnation from the international Committee to Protect Journalists and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.[40]

The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) broke into the office of a Kiev-based digital newspaper “Vesti”, physically trapping reporters and ultimately shutting down the website.

Vesti News's editor-in-chief Igor Guzhva wrote on his Facebook page that the news outlet had been raided by SBU. The SBU reportedly took all servers, kept staffers in a "hot corridor" and shut down the website completely. Guzhva said that the purpose of the raid was "to block our work.". “Journalists are not being let into their office," Guzhva wrote. "Those who were already inside at the moment of the raid are being kept in the building and are not allowed to use cell phones.”

Guzhva said that this is the second time in just six months that the SBU has tried to "intimidate" its editors. He added that he is unsure of the reason for the raid, but suspects that it might have to do with a story the website recently published on the SBU chief's daughter.[41]

Ukraine has also shut down most Russia-based television stations on the grounds that they purvey “propaganda,” and barred a growing list of Russian journalists from entering the country.[40]

Freedom of expression and conscience[edit]

FEMEN is a feminist protest group founded in Ukraine in 2008. The group is now based in Paris.[42] The organization became internationally known for organizing controversial[43][44] topless protests against sex tourism,[43][45] religious institutions,[46] sexism, homophobia[47] and other social, national and international topics.

Reports indicate that in certain demonstrations protestors included a very large number of public sector workers forced to attend for free and people offered money to be present.[48] Others have complained that authorities are impeding arrival to demonstrations that do not serve their cause.[49][50] Marches and rallies have been banned by city councils and Ukrainian courts when they believed it "could pose a threat to public order".[51]

Torture and Conditions in Detention[edit]

Main article: Prisons in Ukraine

Reports of torture and ill-treatment by police persisted, as did unduly long periods of pretrial custody. Of major concern were the inhumane conditions in detention with overcrowded cells, appalling sanitary conditions and the lack of appropriate medical care. During the year numerous group suicide attempts took place in some penal colonies.[10][52][53]

Human Rights Abuses and the HIV/AIDS Epidemic[edit]

Main article: HIV/AIDS in Ukraine

The Ukrainian government has taken a number of positive steps to fight HIV/AIDS, chiefly in the area of legislative and policy reform. But these important commitments are being undermined in the criminal justice and health systems by widespread human rights abuses against drug users, sex workers, and people living with HIV/AIDS.[24]

Migrants and Refugees[edit]

The Ukrainian asylum system barely functions due to a highly decentralized structure spanning several government agencies and departments. The process of creating a single migration system has been slow; political interference in the system is common and abuses of migrants and asylum seekers’ rights continue.[54]

Human Trafficking[edit]

There has been a growing awareness of human trafficking as a human rights issue in Europe. The end of communism has contributed to an increase in human trafficking, with the majority of victims being women forced into prostitution.[55][56] Ukraine is a country of origin and country of transit for persons, primarily women and children, trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The Government of Ukraine has shown some commitment to combat trafficking, but has been criticized for not fully complying with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, and for inadequate trafficking prevention efforts.[57]

Human trafficking is illegal, however the majority of convicted traffickers received probation instead of prison sentences. The government adopted a multi-year policy to fight human trafficking, however Ukraine remained a country of transit and destination for large numbers of trafficked persons.[58]

Ukrainian human rights organizations[edit]

International human rights organizations cooperating in Ukraine[edit]

  • Amnesty International Ukraine
  • International Society for Human Rights-Ukrainian Branch [8] (Ukrainian)
  • Moscow Helsinki Group

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Freedom House: Annual Report 2009: Ukraine
  2. ^ a b c Freedom House: Annual Report 2010: Ukraine, Freedom House (April 2011)
  3. ^ a b Radio Liberty:Amnesty International notes worsening of human rights situation in Ukraine, Kyiv Post (13 May 2011)
  4. ^ Experts of Council of Europe have no remarks to Ukraine concerning rights and freedom of citizens, Kyiv Post (October 20, 2009)
  5. ^ HRW, 2006 Report on Ukraine
  6. ^ Reporters without Borders Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders (20 October 2010)
  7. ^ Ukraine’s Press Freedom Index rating falls steeply, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (10 October 2010)
  8. ^ Report: Ukraine among states with worst human rights records, Kyiv Post (14 December 2011)
  9. ^ (Ukrainian) Україна програла 11 мільйонів за день; Ukraine lost 11 million per day, Ukrayinska Pravda (17 January 2013)
  10. ^ a b IHFHR
  11. ^ In Ukraine, scales of justice often imbalanced, Kyiv Post (10 April 2012)
  12. ^ Jailhouse Watch: Many former top officials remain in jail for months, Kyiv Post (11 March 2011) Cases were opened against:
    1) Prime Minister – Tymoshenko.
    2) Minister of Police – Lutsenko.
    3) Minister of Defence – Ivashchenko.
    4) Minister of Finance – Danylyshyn.
    5) Minister of Natural Resources – Filipchuk.
    6) Deputy Minister of Justice – Korneichuk.
    7) Head of Customs of Ukraine – Makarenko.
    8) Head of the regional customs – Shepitko.
    9–10) Head of the State Treasury of Ukraine – Slyuz; Deputy head – Gritsoun.
    11) Deputy head of "Naftogaz" (state monopoly on trade in gas and oil) – Didenko.
    12) Governor of Dnipropetrovsk region (former Minister of Transport) – Bondar.
    Repeatedly called in for questioning in order to open a criminal case : minister and former mayor of Lviv – Kuybida; First Deputy Prime Minister – Turchynov.
  13. ^,1518,736745,00.html, Der Spiegel (September 24, 2011)
  14. ^ Kyiv Post (September 24, 2011)
  15. ^ Kyiv Post (September 24, 2011)
  16. ^ EU statement:‘We are disappointed’ with Lutsenko verdict, Kyiv Post (27 February 2012)
  17. ^ Q&A: Ukraine's Yulia Tymoshenko on trial, BBC News (9 August 2011)
  18. ^ Amnesty International: Jailed former Ukraine prime minister must be released, Kyiv Post (11 October 2011)
  19. ^ Parliament again votes down proposal to decriminalize 'Tymoshenko article', Kyiv Post (8 February 2012)
  20. ^ Trials of Tymoshenko, other officials fall short of European standards, Yanukovych admits, Kyiv Post (25 February 2012)
  21. ^ Local newspaper editor badly injured in assault, Reporters Without Borders (March 31, 2010)
  22. ^ Disturbing deterioration in press freedom situation since new president took over, Reporters Without Borders (April 15, 2010)
  23. ^ Media crackdown under way?, Kyiv Post (April 22, 2010)
  24. ^ a b HRW
  25. ^ HRW
  26. ^ Press Freedom Index 2009, Reporters Without Borders
  27. ^ Press Freedom Index 2008, Reporters Without Borders
  28. ^ Press Freedom Index 2002, Reporters Without Borders
  29. ^ Press Freedom Index 2004, Reporters Without Borders
  30. ^ a b 1+1 TV journalists claim censorship of news reports, Kyiv Post (May 6, 2009)
  31. ^ STB TV channel journalists claim imposing of censorship on STB, Kyiv Post (May 8, 2009)
  32. ^ European journalists call on Ukrainian authorities, media owners to respect press freedom, Kyiv Post (May 11, 2009)
  33. ^ International Press Institute: Ukraine's press freedom environment has deteriorated 'significantly', Kyiv Post (August 11, 2010)
  34. ^ Journalists, in defensive crouch, swing news coverage to Yanukovych’s favor, Kyiv Post (May 6, 2009)
  35. ^ Semynozhenko: No examples of censorship on Ukrainian TV channels, Kyiv Post (May 13, 2009)
  36. ^ Opposition benefiting from topic of censorship at mass media, says Hanna Herman, Kyiv Post (May 13, 2009)
  37. ^ (Ukrainian) Янукович: Україна готова, якщо Європа готова, BBC Ukrainian (May 10, 2010)
  38. ^ Special committee calls to check reports of pressure on journalists, Kyiv Post (May 13, 2009)
  39. ^ "Ukraine media freedom under attack: OSCE". Reuters. May 23, 2014. 
  40. ^ a b "Crackdown in Ukraine sullies its democratic aspirations". The Christian Science Monitor. September 21, 2014. 
  41. ^ "Ukraine Security Services Break Into Newspaper Office, Shut Down Website". Huff Post Media. November 9, 2014. 
  42. ^ Fearless ... and topless: Femen activists to bring 'sextremism' to the UK, (19 October 2013)
  43. ^ a b "Ukraine’s Ladies Of Femen". 2011-08-16. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  44. ^ Jeffrey Tayler. "The Woman Behind Femen's Topless Protest Movement - Jeffrey Tayler". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  45. ^ Femen wants to move from public exposure to political power, Kyiv Post (28 April 2010)
  46. ^ Cite error: The named reference BBCobservOct12 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  47. ^
  48. ^ A dangerous “antifascist” card, Kyiv Post (19 May 2013)
    Antifascists to stage march, opposition to close Rise up, Ukraine! rally in Kyiv Saturday, Ukrinform (18 May 2013)
  49. ^ Opposition deputies accuse authorities of preventing Rise Up, Ukraine! participants from traveling to Kyiv, Kyiv Post (18 May 2013)
  50. ^ U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2002 - Ukraine, U.S. Department of State (31 March 2003)
  51. ^ Batkivschyna: Court bans Rise Up, Ukraine! rally in Kharkiv on April 12, Interfax-Ukraine (11 April 2013)
    Ukraine court bans opposition rally during Russian president's visit, RIA Novosti (16 May 2010)
  52. ^ ibid.
  53. ^ UN Committee against Torture, Conclusions and recommendations: Ukraine (2007)
  54. ^ ibid.
  55. ^ Council of Europe - Slaves at the heart of Europe
  56. ^ BBC - A modern slave's brutal odyssey
  57. ^ US State Department Human Trafficking Report 2005
  58. ^ ibid.

External links[edit]