A Freedom House Report on the State of Democracy and Human Rights in Ukraine

Apr 27th, 2011 | By | Category: Civil Society, Human Rights, News, Ukraine, USA

On April 27 Freedom House presented “Sounding the Alarm: Protecting Democracy in Ukraine” A Freedom House Report on the State of Democracy and Human Rights in Ukraine.

One of Maidan leaders Mykhaylo Svystovych is listed in the report as one of Delegation Interlocutors.

Full text of report is available here and is very much worth studying. We will quote some highlights only.

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In our view, there is no question that President Yanukovych has consolidated power at the expense of democratic development… The negative effects have included a more restrictive environment for the media, selective prosecution of opposition figures, worrisome instances of intrusiveness by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), widely criticized local elections in October 2010, a pliant parliament (Verkhovna Rada), and an erosion of basic freedoms of assembly and speech. Corruption remains a huge drain on the country, and there is significant room for the situation to get even worse.

Indeed, if left unchecked, the trends set by Ukraine’s current leadership will move the country toward greater centralization and consolidation of power—that is, toward authoritarianism. The checks, if they come, must be both domestic and foreign in origin.

But while civil society remains rather vibrant, it is also dispirited, depressed after the letdown by the Orange Revolution’s leaders, and despondent over the current government’s direction. The formal opposition offers little hope, as longtime political figures fail to inspire much public confidence.

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Our visit reaffirmed our belief that Ukraine’s leaders do care about what the West thinks; they seek support and approval for their policies. And yet both the EU and the United States seem to have disengaged from Ukraine or narrowed the bilateral agenda to a few issues of strategic importance, such as nonproliferation. This is the wrong approach.

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Ukraine today is at an inflection point. The decisions taken by President Yanukovych and his government—and the response of Ukrainian civil society and the West—will determine whether the country gradually evolves into a European democracy or slips back into a corrupt post-Soviet authoritarian state.

Both futures are possible. Yet only one is preferable.

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The gravest threat to Ukraine today is not external. It is internal. This means that restoring the vision of Ukraine as a democratic, market-oriented country fully integrated into Europe remains within the control of the people of Ukraine.
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One of the most disturbing trends to develop since Yanukovych became president is the more intrusive presence of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in the domestic political environment.
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…. there are worrying signs that judicial and law enforcement bodies are being used to constrict freedom of assembly. The prosecutor general’s office has launched investigations against a number of leaders of peaceful assemblies, including activists involved in tax protests last November in Kyiv, while local authorities in the regions often ban such gatherings outright

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News coverage in general is thought to have worsened. As several interlocutors observed, television is increasingly a platform for entertainment rather than news, making the internet a more important source of reliable information. Yet only about 17 percent of the population are internet users, according to a 2009 survey from the International Telecommunication Union.

Moreover, the Yanukovych administration recently introduced a draft law that many civil society representatives fear could be used to regulate and constrain internet-based media. And while the administration’s legislation on public information is widely viewed as a positive step, there is serious doubt as to whether and to what extent it will be implemented.

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Some in civil society contend that the government’s draft education law attempted to introduce the Russian model of education in Ukraine, more firmly linking the Russian and Ukrainian education establishments while at the same time ―building a Berlin Wall between Ukrainian and Western education systems.‖

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In that spirit, to prevent further democratic backsliding in Ukraine, and to support constructive initiatives both inside and outside the government, the assessment team recommends the following:

For Ukrainian civil society and media:

  • Focus on what can be accomplished at both the local and the national level—every stand taken in the name of democracy and human rights is important.
  • Seek a diverse media landscape that avoids control by the state or one group of oligarchs.
  • Report responsibly and separate opinion from news coverage.
  • Insist on immediate and transparent steps to investigate attacks, harassment, and pressure aimed at journalists, and hold those responsible to account in thelegal system.

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Despite the challenges facing Ukraine today, specific actions by all elements of the Ukrainian polity and civil society, as well as by the West, can put the country back on the path toward a stronger democracy and more rapid integration with Europe.

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Also read Press Release by Freedom House Concentration of Power Threatens Ukrainian Democracy, According to New Report

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