Ukrainian human rights defenders report a worsening in the human rights situation in Ukraine
It was both a bitter irony and a telling statement that the press conference to present the annual report "Human Rights in Ukraine in 2007" was forced to emphatically call for the dismissal of Ukraine’s Prosecutor General over his violation of Ukraine’s commitments with regard to refugees.
A statement (http://www.helsinki.org.ua/en/index.php?id=1217414538 ) was addressed by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union to the President, the Verkhovna Rada and the European Community. It concerned the extradition to Russia of Oleg Kuznetsov who had already been granted refugee status in Ukraine.
There was plenty else to report at the press conference in the UNIAN information centre on Wednesday with little of cheer for Ukraine despite certain changes for the better with regard to observance of some rights. UHHRU Executive Director Volodymyr Yavorsky stated that the situation remained bad with regard to the use of torture and ill-treatment, the right to life in the context of investigations into cases where life has been taken; the right to a fair trial, to privacy and of access to information.
He considers that perhaps the greatest problem is the failure to ensure the right to a fair trial. Long court proceedings; considerable amounts of corruption; the lack of judges’ independence; and non-enforcement of almost 70% of court rulings are common issues highlighted in the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and reports of human rights groups and international organizations. Furthermore the draft laws for court reform, prepared by the National Commission for Strengthening Democracy and the Rule of Law, which could improve the situation are being stalled.
Another problem is the considerable scale of surveillance over individuals by the law enforcement agencies. Human rights groups estimate that around 12 thousand permits to intercept information from communications channels are issued. While this is smaller than the figures in, say, 2003 (40 thousand) it is still substantially higher than in any western European countries and the USA.
With regard to the ever more important issue of freedom of speech, Mr Yavorsky said that while pressure from the authorities has eased, other pressure brought to bear by the owners of the media outlets has in fact become greater. Increasing monopolization of the media by huge holding companies observed over the last two years means that although there is competition between the different holding groups, each upholds its position more and more, and many such outfits practise strict censorship. There are no mechanisms at present to address this problem which is particularly acute at the local level.
It was also reported that in 2007 a third of the population were beyond the poverty line. Problems had been especially exacerbated by a significant rise in communal charges and the increase in inflation since the system for protecting the poor was inadequate.
The human rights representatives stress that the government is not fulfilling the recommendations made by International bodies such as the UN, the Council of Europe and OSCE, which may reflect a lack of any systematic policy on improving rights and freedoms.
Human Rights in Ukraine – 2007 can be found at http://www.helsinki.org.ua/en/index.php?r=a2b3c4 and http://khpg.org/en/index.php?r=a2b4c12d4 As in previous years, it is divided into different rights and freedoms, and is well worth a read!
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