Since early 2018, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has been paying particular attention to the issue of civic space and fundamental freedoms in Ukraine. OHCHR notes a lack of accountability in most of the documented cases of attacks against journalists and other media professionals, civic and political activists, and defence lawyers. As long as such impunity remains unaddressed, space for the promotion and protection of fundamental freedoms is at risk.
Ahead of the presidential and parliamentary elections in March and October 2019 respectively and of the local elections in October 2020, this report provides a brief overview of developments that have affected the enjoyment of freedoms of opinion and expression, association, peaceful assembly, religion or belief, and political rights. Persistence or an increase of attacks on human rights pertinent to elections could have an impact on the exercise of the right to participate in the upcoming electoral processes and affect their fairness and credibility. The report puts forward recommendations to improve the human rights environment in the context of elections and to thereby strengthen conditions for peaceful and inclusive elections.
During the reporting period, OHCHR documented 164 violations and identified a set of concerns regarding restrictions to civic space, including failure of the authorities to ensure security for peaceful assemblies and inability to protect groups at risk, lack of investigation and accountability for perpetrators, and attempts to limit civic space by means of shaping the regulatory framework. In at least 34 documented incidents, perpetrators are directly linked or affiliated with extreme right-wing groups.
In the context of elections, the Government should be particularly diligent in ensuring respect for fundamental freedoms and condemn and address acts of violence, intimidation, intolerance or discrimination based on any grounds, including political opinion. Peaceful and inclusive elections require an environment where all human rights, in particular the rights to equality and non-discrimination, to freedoms of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, are fully respected and enjoyed by all individuals.
This report covers the period from 1 January 2018 to 15 January 2019 and focuses on territory where the Government exercises effective control and where the aforementioned elections will be carried out. Thus, the report does not refer to the situation in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ and in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation.
Trends negatively affecting the exercise of fundamental freedoms
Throughout the reporting period, OHCHR documented 164 violations affecting the fundamental freedoms of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, and religion or belief, as well as the right to non-discrimination and equal protection under the law. While documenting a gradual increase of violations affecting journalists and other media professionals, civic and political activists, and defence lawyers, OHCHR notes that a significant number of them relate to attacks allegedly perpetrated by extreme right-wing groups, in most cases with impunity. Even though there was a decrease in violations after 15 November 2018 due to the seasonal lull occurring every new year period, OHCHR is concerned that, if impunity remains unaddressed there is a risk that this will fuel further attacks.
Freedom of opinion and expression
OHCHR observed a pattern of violent attacks and acts of intimidation against journalists and other media professionals, civil society and political activists, as well as defence lawyers throughout the reporting period. These attacks have created an atmosphere of intimidation, which has a chilling effect on people’s ability and willingness to speak openly on issues of public importance, notably to express their disagreement or concerns about policies. The protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression is particularly essential during times of political change, notably to ensure that the public is well-informed and empowered to safely and freely exercise civil and political rights. Providing the conditions for free and open political communication is an essential element of ensuring fair and democratic electoral processes.
Throughout the reporting period, OHCHR observed a gradual increase of attacks against journalists, including incidents perpetrated in front of cameras during live broadcasting. Investigators often failed to accurately classify these attacks under applicable law, disregarding perpetrators’ motive to disrupt or prevent journalists’ activities. Disregarding such motive that would justify other charges carrying higher sentences leads to impunity on these charges. Investigators thereby deny the particular protection that is afforded to journalists by the law.
In 2018, in at least two separate cases, Ukrainian courts ruled to grant prosecution access to personal data of investigative journalists, including of their sources, which could be perceived as acts of intimidation. These decisions are of concern and could encourage further attempts of authorities to intimidate journalists, foster censorship and discourage their investigative work.
Furthermore, various authorities continued using a broad and inconsistent interpretation of criminal provisions related to terrorism, provisions on high treason and trespassing on Ukraine’s territorial integrity against journalists, bloggers and social media users for publishing or posting and reposting information seen as ‘anti-Ukrainian’.
Moreover, concerns arise about certain legislative initiatives proposing to vest State authorities with wide discretion and power to block online sources which would unduly restrict freedom of opinion and expression.
Quelle: Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 12.03.2019, Externer Link: https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/UA/CivicSpaceFundamentalFreedoms2019-2020.pdf