EU should encourage Ukrainian government to do more for human rights

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On Monday, the EU-Ukraine summit will take place in Kiev – the first for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy since taking office in May. This summit – the 21st – is an important opportunity for the EU to reaffirm its expectations vis-à-vis Ukraine in terms of the protection of human rights.

Since 2014, the government has been at war with armed groups in eastern Ukraine fed and funded by Russia. Although the conflict is no longer in the headlines, it continues. At least 13,000 people have been killed, including at least 3,300 civilians. Under Zelenskiy’s predecessor, the government used the need to counter Russian military aggression, a huge challenge of course, to justify retreating on several human rights issues. At the next summit, the EU should put pressure on the Ukrainian government to break with this pattern and prevent the rights climate from deteriorating further.

There is an urgent need to investigate and prosecute the hate-motivated violence and violence against civil society activists, which has proliferated in Ukraine over the past 18 months. Those attacked included people working to defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, protecting the environment and campaigning against corruption.

Efforts to restrict media freedom and physical attacks on journalists continue. The media watchdog, Institute of Mass Information, documented at at least six cases of journalists beaten or injured in the first five months of 2019. Last month, investigative journalist Vadym Komarov died in Kiev from a brain injury after an attack clearly in retaliation for his journalism. The murder of Pavel Sheremet in 2016 is still unsolved. Effective investigations would send a strong message that there will be no tolerance for attacks on journalists in Ukraine.

Authorities should also do more to defend the rights of Ukrainians living in conflict-affected areas in eastern Ukraine, especially the elderly in areas held by Russian-backed proxies. It is time for the government to end the policies that discriminate against them by placing unnecessary and unwarranted hardship on them in collecting their pensions.

Finally, reform is needed to ensure greater transparency, respect for human rights and accountability of the Ukrainian police and security services.

Good governance and the strengthening of human rights are part of Ukraine’s commitments under the Association Agreement with the EU. In the spirit of these commitments, the EU should call on Ukrainian leaders to meet their human rights obligations.


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