Ukraine: standing up for people’s rights

Ukraine: standing up for people’s rights

The continued protests in Ukraine, following the passage of new laws that restrict freedom of assembly and space for civil society, are the expression of a people who see the liberties they thought they had won after the collapse of the Soviet Union being clawed back by their government.

Transparency International and Transparency International Ukraine, its partner organisation in Ukraine, call on the Ukrainian parliament to repeal the laws in order to make way for serious negotiations to end the violence.

The European Union and the United States, among others, have also voiced their concerns about the nature of the laws and both the US and Sweden have mooted the possibility of imposing sanctions or visa restrictions on those directly involved in the introduction of these laws.

Parliamentarians should show their courage by overturning the vote on the new restrictive laws which are unconstitutional. They should support the people in their call for the freedom to express themselves. Ukrainians need to be able to hold their government officials to account without fear of reprisals. Otherwise, a logical question arises: do the authorities really work in favour of their citizens?”

– Oleksii Khmara, Transparency International Ukraine

The new laws, which officially came into effect on publication on 21 January, give powers to the police to arrest and detain people involved in “extremist” activities. These are broadly defined and include, along with curbs on the press, moving in a motorcade of more than five vehicles, holding meetings and street marches near public buildings, and wearing masks and hard hats at these events. People are also barred from the installation of tents, stages or amplifiers in public places. Fines for this could be up to US$640 and 15 days in jail.

The new laws also compel any civil society organisation that receives funding from outside Ukraine – including those in the arts and those like Transparency International Ukraine, which fights corruption – to register as a foreign agent, or spy.

These are the same kind of draconian laws that Transparency International has opposed in Russia.

Transparency International believes that in order to have a government that people can trust you need a strong civil society to hold that government to account.

It is not surprising that hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Ukraine to voice their opposition to the new laws, even though the authorities now can claim the right to arrest and punish them.

Fighting corruption in Ukraine

Transparency International Ukraine started work as part of the Transparency International global anti-corruption movement in 2009. Its goal is to raise awareness about the devastating effects of corruption and advocate the enforcement of anti-corruption legislation. In 2014 it plans to advocate tougher anti-corruption legislation including:

  • new conflict of interests legislation
  • a register of bidders for public contracts that have violated regulations
  • an effective system of financial control over public officials’ assets and interests
  • open public procurement in seven municipalities of Ukraine

It will monitor 400 government officials to see if their way of life is commensurate with their declared income and also will monitor Ukraine’s compliance with international anti-corruption obligations under GRECO, the Group of States against Corruption in the Council of Europe.

Corruption in Ukraine

The problem of corruption in Ukraine has become one of the rallying causes for many of the protestors who have gathered since November last year in Maidan (Independence Square) in the heart of Kiev.

Ukraine scores just 25 out of 100 on the 2013 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index indicating a serious problem with public sector corruption. The 2013 Global Corruption Barometer survey of ordinary people showed that 69 per cent of Ukrainians think that corruption has increased in the past two years and 80 per cent believe that the government’s actions to fight corruption are ineffective. The judiciary, public sector and law enforcement are viewed as the most corrupt sectors.

To break this cycle of corruption requires a commitment by the very people in power who often benefit from the proceeds of corruption. The new laws that prevent citizens from expressing their anger at the government and officials will stifle criticism of a system that has yet to prove it can introduce the governance reforms required to combat corruption, another reason why the government should repeal the legislation immediately.

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