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On 13 May 2019, the Council adopted the EU annual report on human rights and democracy in the world for 2018. The report also covers the human rights situation in Ukraine.
The report noted that in 2018 the EU remained at the forefront of the protection and promotion of human rights in a rapidly changing geopolitical landscape. The EU engaged in activities across the globe in line with the objectives set out in the EU action plan on human rights and democracy (2015-2019). The Council recognised that in a volatile and unpredictable world, the Action Plan has been instrumental in taking forward the human rights agenda.
Globally, the year saw an increase in threats and violations against journalists and other media workers, further shrinking the space for free journalism. In line with the priorities of the Global Strategy for the EU’s foreign and security policy, the EU continued to firmly oppose any unjustified restrictions of the rights of freedom of association and of peaceful assembly.
1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: Human rights are generally respected and fundamental freedoms upheld in the area under the control of Ukrainian Government. The most severe human rights violations take place in the areas not under the control of the government (NGCA), both in the Crimean peninsula, which has been illegally annexed by Russia, and in eastern Ukraine, due to the conflict in Donbas, as a consequence of Russia's destabilising actions. The situation of more than 1.5 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Donbas and Crimea remains challenging, although some improvements have been observed. Concerns exist in a number of areas, including the safety of investigative journalists, rights of persons belonging to different minorities and accountability, while some progress has been observed in gender equality.
2. EU action - key focus areas:
• accountability for all crimes, including those committed in the course of the ongoing armed conflict, and during the incidents occurred in Maidan and Odesa in 2014;
• preventing ill-treatment and torture;
• advocating electoral reform;
• promoting and protecting fundamental freedoms;
• protecting the rights of persons belonging to national minorities and vulnerable groups;
3. EU bilateral political engagement: The EU has worked closely with Ukraine to improve the performance in the field of citizen's rights. Recent elections (mostly in newly amalgamated municipalities) were held overall in line with international standards. In September 2018, 14 new members of the Central Electoral Commission were appointed. However, the adoption of the new electoral code remains unlikely before the elections 2019.
Ukraine is characterised by a very vibrant civil society, which plays a key role in promoting reforms in Ukraine. Freedom of association is generally respected. Ukrainian legislation protects freedom of expression, however physical attacks against journalists and civic activists and impunity for those crimes still occurs in some instances. Little progress was achieved in 2018 in the prosecution and judgement of high-profile cases related to the 2014 mass killings in Maidan and Odesa.
The EU has been actively engaged with Ukraine in order to promote the rule of law and the fight against corruption. In 2018 an important focus area was the establishment of the High Anti-Corruption Court (HACC). The EU was instrumental in setting up the Public Council of International Experts, including with EU experts, that plays a key role in the selection process of judges before Ukraine appoints them to the HACC.
An important priority for the EU Advisory Mission (EUAM) and international partners has been the adoption of the framework Law on National Security (LNS), which was an important step to increase democratic and civilian control over the security sector. Concrete results will depend on the passing of secondary legislation.
Overall, rights of persons belonging to minorities in Ukraine are respected, despite the limited allocation of funding and administrative resources for the promotion and protection of minority rights. In 2018, violence against the Roma minority was witnessed in a number of cities in Ukraine, reportedly perpetrated by members of extreme right groups. Human rights monitors and civil society organizations have often criticized the lack of effective investigations into these crimes.
The 2018 Government Action Plan for Ukraine’s overall political priorities features gender issues higher among priorities than in previous years and measures are planned to enhance gender equality in all areas of public life in Ukraine. The Kyiv Pride Equality March (June 2018), as well as Marches in Kryvyi Rig (July) and Odesa (August), were held without major security incidents, while in November the rally for rights of transgender people in Kyiv was disrupted by far-right organisations. The adoption of a new Labour Code also remains pending. At present, it remains unclear whether the new version of the Code will preserve already existing provisions sanctioning discrimination based on the sexual orientation and gender identity. The Government’s action plan foresees strengthening the protection against hate crimes on the bases of gender and sexual identity.
The Law on Education adopted in September 2017 led to criticism by some representatives of national minorities and their kin-states. The Government has committed to implement the recommendations of the Venice Commission (VC), but most of the recommendations remain to be implemented. Consultations on the draft Law on Secondary Education have started and the Government submitted to Parliament a draft bill prolonging the transitional period for entry into force of the law on education. A draft Law on the use of the State language (Ukrainian) has been prepared for the second reading by the Parliamentary Committee, and awaits final adoption by the Parliament. The EU and other international partners have recommended the Ukrainian authorities to seek the advice of the VC on the law, prior to its entry into force.
The EU continued its active promotion of human rights priorities in Ukraine during the annual Human Rights Dialogue that was held in Brussels in May 2018. Human rights have also been on the agenda of the EU-Ukraine Summit, the Association Council, and the Association Committee. They were also addressed in the framework of numerous visits by high officials to Ukraine, including the HR/VP and various Commissioners. In Kyiv, Brussels, and elsewhere, the EU has engaged on a regular basis with the Ukrainian authorities, the international community and civil society. In terms of public messages, the HR/VP, her spokesperson, and the EU Delegation to Ukraine have issued various statements condemning human rights violations in the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula and in NGCA in Donbas.
4. EU financial engagement: In 2018, the EU continued to support the implementation of the Human Rights Strategy priorities. The rights-based approach has been streamlined in EU assistance projects. The EU further expanded its financial and technical assistance to the Ukrainian civil society and human rights defenders, supporting their work on political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights, and democratization. A twinning project with the Ombudsperson's office was completed in 2018. The EUAM also supports human rights compliance in the civilian security sector, particularly with issues pertaining to fair trials, effective remedies and freedom of assembly. The EU also worked closely with the Council of Europe through a number of projects focusing on the implementation of European human rights standards in Ukraine, including in the field of freedom of the media, prevention of torture and ill-treatment, and penitentiary and criminal justice reforms. Also, the EU supported the work of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission to Ukraine.
5. Multilateral context: The EU continues to bring up issues human rights issues related to Ukraine in the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the UN Human Rights Council. This is done both when the issues are related to the areas of Ukraine controlled by the government, but more often when severe human rights violations take place in the areas not controlled by the government on the Crimean peninsula and in eastern Ukraine affected by the conflict in the Donbas.