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Ukraine: Delay Votes to Prevent Harm to Democratic Institutions
In response to Ukraine’s Parliament, the Rada, scheduling votes on legislation that would increase government monitoring of civil society institutions and politicize the human rights Ombudsman, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The Rada risks doing serious harm to democracy in Ukraine by passing legislation that would add burdensome oversight of civil society organizations and undermine the effectiveness of the Ombudsman,” said Marc Behrendt, director for Europe and Eurasia programs at Freedom House. “The Ombudsman institution, one of Ukraine’s most respected and authoritative public institutions, will lose its credibility if candidates represent political interests rather than an independent human rights agenda. The NGO proposals would attempt to put civil society under government control, similar to actions taken in Russia and Kazakhstan, undermining Ukraine’s move towards a more democratic society. The Rada should delay or reject votes on both matters until they meet Ukraine’s international human rights obligations, after the Venice Commission’s assessment of the measures at the end of March.”
The Rada is expected to vote on draft laws 6674 and 6675 which imitate efforts by authoritarian governments to limit the influence of civil society in the guise of promoting transparency. The legislation threatens to undermine the independence and capacity of NGOs in Ukraine. The laws are currently being reviewed by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, the organization’s group of independent experts in the field of constitutional law, the results of which are expected on March 18. Analyses of the draft laws by Ukrainian NGOs, international NGOs, and Council of Europe experts find that the proposals are inconsistent with Ukraine’s international human rights obligations.
The Rada is also expected to select a new Ombudsman, formally known as the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights. Freedom House, a coalition of Ukrainian human rights organizations known as the Human Rights Agenda, the European Network of National Human Rights Institutions, and others have called for an open and independent selection process that is consistent with international standards known as the Paris Principles. Freedom House and others have raised concerns about the damage to the credibility and influence of the Ombudsman institution if the institution represents political interests and is subject to political horse-trading. The Rada has instead considered only candidates proposed by political factions.
Ukraine is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2018, Partly Free in Freedom of the Press 2017, Partly Free in Freedom on the Net 2017, and receives a democracy score of 4.61, on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 as the worst possible score, in Nations in Transit 2017.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.