CIVICUS

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Ukraine

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Last updated on 03.05.2019 at 15:09

Ukraine - Overview

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine is having a significant impact on the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, particularly for those people in the conflict zone.

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Authorities criticised for slow response to human rights violations

Authorities criticised for slow response to human rights violations

Association

In January 2019, the NGO Forum of Ukraine presented their 2019 Action Plan. According to the information published on the Forum web page, the aim of the action plan is to alleviate people suffering and restore the lives of those affected by the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, through loyal and sound investment in civil society.

In January 2019, the International Partnership for Human Rights published a briefing paper on the main human rights concerns by national and international civil society in Ukraine. According to the organisation, Ukraine has made some progress in respecting fundamental rights. However, there are still areas that require attention and intervention from the authorities to improve the way in which the right to association, the right to freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly are respected and protected.

Peaceful Assembly

On 20th February 2019, according to reports, two protests took place in Kyiv and Odessa. The protests were organised by the staff and students of the Odessa National Medical University (ONMEDU) who have been calling for the resignation of acting Health Minister Ulana Suprun. According to the site, around 200 staff and students from the Odessa National Medical University (gathered in the streets of Kyiv on Wednesday, 20th February 2019.

On the same day, protesters also congregated in Odessa at the building of the university. There were reports that unidentified people, believed to be in support of Suprun, attempted to block access to the university and to storm the administration building.

Among the issues leading up to the protests is that the acting Health minister refused to approve the 2019 budget for ONMEDU resulting in unpaid salaries and bursaries for over 3000 staff members and 14,000 students since January 2019. 

Expression

The persecutions of the Crimean Tatars continue in the country. On 28th March 2019 the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reported about the arrest of 20 tatars, most of whom are activists who support the political prisoners in the region, their families, and report on human rights abuses. Their homes were also raided and arbitrarily searched by law enforcement officers without court orders.

In late February 2019, in the context of the presidential election in Ukraine, journalists at Bihus.info (an investigative journalism publication from Ukraine) published the results of several fraud investigations in the defence industry. A few days before publishing the investigation, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that the journalists from Bihus.info were being monitored and surveilled.

CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, Gulnoza stated:

"Following and monitoring the work of journalists is clearly designed to intimidate the press and is unacceptable…. Those behind the surveillance of journalists from Schemes and Bihus.Info must stop, and Ukrainian authorities must conduct an investigation to find out who is responsible for it and hold them accountable."

In a separate incident, in early March 2019, reporters Katerina Kaplyuk and cameraman Boris Trotsenko, who work for the investigative news show "Schemes," a project of U.S. funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Ukrainian Service, were assaulted by government officials. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the two reporters had gone to the offices of the village council of Chabany, south of Ukraine's capital, Kiev, to interview an official for an investigation into alleged private use of state owned land, when officials started throwing blows at them.

In February 2019, Amnesty International expressed concern that Ukraine has failed to prevent or investigate "numerous" human rights violations committed in 2018 against human rights activists, political opponents, and ethnic minorities.

In their report, Amnesty International stated:

"In almost all instances, the law enforcement authorities have been slow to react and perpetrators were rarely, if ever, brought to justice."

Association in Ukraine

The process to register and form an organisation is easy, and the legal framework for civil society is mostly open and supportive.

The process to register and form an organisation is easy, and the legal framework for civil society is mostly open and supportive. The government does not have wide power to deregister an organisation and there are no documented cases of illegal or arbitrary dissolutions of organisations. However, since 2015, CSOs are required to open bank accounts only in state banks, which could open the door to state interference. In the areas controlled by armed groups, human rights organisations have been targeted and forced to leave, while the remaining CSOs carry out primarily humanitarian work.

Peaceful Assembly in Ukraine

The constitution guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and requires organisers to give the authorities advance notice of any demonstrations.

The constitution guarantees the right to peaceful assembly and requires organisers to give the authorities advance notice of any demonstrations. During the 2014 ‘Euromaidan’ protests, many protestors were arbitrarily arrested and the police used deadly force to disperse protestors, resulting in hundreds killed. As a consequence the government also passed legislation to criminalise the demonstrations. No one has been held to accountfor the killing of protestors and other human rights violations during this period.Recently, the government has been more tolerant of demonstrations, but the police have still failed to protect protestors from clashes. Despite police protection during a recent Pride march, right-wing activists attacked the march resulting in 10 injured participants. Freedom of peaceful assembly continues to be significantly violated in the territories controlled by armed groups.

Expression in Ukraine

The media landscape has improved since the end of the Yanukovych administration in 2014. Journalists face violence and intimidation, and the government’s intolerance of pro-Russian or pro-separatist views has increased.

The media landscape has improved since the end of the Yanukovych administration in 2014. Journalists face violence and intimidation, and the government’s intolerance of pro-Russian or pro-separatist views has increased. Journalist Oles Buzina, well known for his pro-Russian views, was shot dead by two masked gunmen in front of his house on 16 April. The Interior Ministry banned the broadcast of 14 Russian channels, and the authorities have also detained pro-Russian journalists and barred many others from entering the country. The new law on public broadcasting aims to address the concentration of ownership of private outlets in a small group of businesspeople, as a way of increasing media plurality. Libel was decriminalised in 2001, although civil suits are still used against journalists. No websites are permanently blocked in Ukraine, but some Ukrainian news websites in non-government controlled areas have been blocked. Social media users tagged as ‘separatists’ or ‘extremists’ have been targeted with harassment and intimidation. Journalist Ruslan Kotsaba was arrested on charges of treason after he posted a YouTube video calling on viewers to boycott military mobilisation in Ukraine. Media workers operating in the territories controlled by the armed groups face hostility, extreme intimidation and physical violence, as well as widespread self-censorship.