"Yesterday, several legislative amendments were adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament. The process took place with unusual haste; the amendments were tabled on 14 January and rushed through Parliament two days later. These amendments, which have reportedly already been signed into law by the President, raise serious concerns in terms of the country's obligations to respect human rights", said today Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.
"I have particular concerns about the following provisions, which would most certainly impinge on several fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, association and assembly:
- Changes to the NGO legislation affecting the activities of civil society organisations and human rights defenders in Ukraine. As I have already emphasised in my work in other Council of Europe member states, labelling NGOs as "foreign agents" based on their involvement in vaguely defined "political activities" interferes with the rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression. NGOs should be able to pursue their public watchdog function in an environment conducive to their work.
- Provisions which could exempt from criminal liability police officers who committed human rights violations during the recent demonstrations. It is a fundamental obligation of the government to ensure the accountability of those implicated in serious human rights violations. Impunity for these violations can only encourage repetition of such crimes and deny justice for the victims.
- Re-introduction of defamation into the Criminal Code. For several years, defamation only carried civil liability. Coupled with the new restrictions on the Internet, re-criminalisation of defamation will have a further chilling effect on the already alarming situation with freedom of the media in Ukraine.
I am deeply concerned by the substance of these new legislative amendments, many of which run counter to Ukraine's obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and other international human rights standards.
In the coming days, I intend to undertake a more detailed analysis of the legislation in light of Council of Europe standards, which will then be shared with all the relevant actors and the public in general."