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Ukraine: Government Proposals on NGOs Would Curtail Their Work
In response to the government of President Poroshenko introducing two bills to the Rada, Ukraine’s Parliament, requiring NGOs as well as individuals and organizations that work with them, to submit detailed financial reports or otherwise risk losing their non-profit status and facing heavy fees, Freedom House issued the following statement:
“The Poroshenko Administration’s proposed legislation to withdraw nonprofit status from NGOs that fail to fulfill onerous financial reporting requirements will undermine the independence of NGOs in Ukraine, many of which are focused on strengthening democratic institutions and expanding political rights and civil liberties,” said Marc Behrendt, Eurasia director at Freedom House. “The legislation imitates efforts by authoritarian governments to limit the influence of civil society in the guise of promoting transparency. Transparency of NGOs is essential to their legitimacy and accountability, but this legislation would threaten the organizations’ ability to continue their work. President Poroshenko should fulfill his promises by consulting with Ukrainian civil society and the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission before proceeding with this legislation.”
The Poroshenko Administration introduced laws 6674 and 6675 into the Rada, measures that would withdraw non-profit status from NGOs and subject them to heavy fines, if detailed financial reports were not submitted on time. Similar provisions have been used in countries with weak judicial and regulatory systems to put pressure on independent civic groups, such as in Kazakhstan. The Poroshenko Administration proposals would also intrude into the partnerships that many NGOs have by requiring them to report on the companies, organizations, and individuals they work with and fund.
The proposals would roll back requirements that certain individuals and NGOs working on preventing or combatting corruption report to the government, adopted into law without meaningful debate in March 2017. In an interview, Deputy Head of the Administration of the President of Ukraine Dmytro Shymkiv claimed that rules proposed by the Parliament were payback for civic activists’ oversight of the authorities, asserting, “Parliament’s attitude was ‘You want to check us, we’ll check you.’”
In a letter to the Council of Europe’s Commission for Human Rights, Shymkyv wrote that the Presidential Administration reaffirmed Ukraine’s commitment to the values and principles of the Council of Europe and said that the draft law on NGO transparency would be submitted for the consideration by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission, the organization’s group of independent experts in the field of constitutional law.
The President’s proposals appear to violate standards established by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the organization’s main decision-making body, including the standards on transparency (paragraphs 62 and 64) and supervision (paragraph 72) of NGOs.
Ukraine is rated Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2017, Partly Free in Freedom of the Press 2017, Partly Free in Freedom on the Net 2016, 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.