Human rights in free-fall


With record speed and without any discussion or review by committees, new laws and amendments have passed in the Ukrainian parliament. The new legislation follows in the footsteps of previously adopted laws in Russia in 2012, and limit freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest. The parliaments’ decision has led to violent rallies and clashes between activists and police, in which five activists have been reported killed. Civil Rights Defenders condemn the escalated violence and urge the government to take its responsibility to uphold human rights.

“Lethal violence against demonstrators is a grave violation of the freedom of assembly and right to life. We call upon the Ukrainian authorities to stop this development and respect human rights of the Ukrainian people”, says Joanna Kurosz, Programme Director for Eastern Europa and Central Asia at Civil Rights Defenders.

The law and the amendments that were passed through the parliament in high speed on 16 January and enforced on 21 January, limit freedom of speech and the right to peaceful assembly. The changes open up for prosecution of journalists and civil society activists. The laws complicate the work of NGO’s, news sites and religious organisations and like in Russia, NGO’s receiving foreign funding and engaging in what is widely defined as “political activities” must register as “foreign agents” or risk closure.

“The respect for human rights in Ukraine has deteriorated in a terrifying speed during the last week. The new legislation with its broad definitions and the excessive punishments are a clear response to the recent protests and a huge setback for civil and political rights in Ukraine”, says Joanna Kurosz.

Further, the amendments introduce criminal responsibility for libel, which was decriminalised in 2001. They criminalise “extremist behaviour” which is also applied to any attempts to overthrow the government or “interfere with activities of state authorities”. They also grant further and increased sanctions against violation of the procedures for organising or taking part in public protests.

Civil Rights Defenders stress that the development in Ukraine is a huge setback for human rights and the democracy and that the new laws and amendments are tailored to prevent further protest movement in Ukraine. A movement that saw the light of day when President Yanukovych decided to back off from key integration agreements with the EU in November 2013. But the laws also increase the authorities power to prosecute anyone advocating against the current government.

Categories: News.
Regions: Ukraine.