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Human Rights Watch World Report 2007 - Ukraine

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 11 January 2007
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 2007 - Ukraine , 11 January 2007, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Events of 2006

The government was incapacitated by political crises for six months of 2006, resulting in little progress in improving Ukraine's key human rights problems and dashing the hopes many had in the Orange Revolution's promise of reform. While civil society institutions operate mostly without government interference, police abuse and violations of the rights of vulnerable groups – including migrants, asylum seekers, and people living with or at risk of HIV/AIDS – continue to mar Ukraine's human rights record.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) found the 2006 parliamentary elections to be free and fair. In February the new parliament adopted a vote of no-confidence in the government of Viktor Yushchenko; after much political struggle a new government was formed in August headed by Viktor Yanukovich, whom Yushchenko had defeated in the 2004 and 2005 presidential elections.

Media Freedom and Freedom of Information

Ending government interference with the media remains one of the human rights achievements of the Yushchenko presidency. But numerous, anonymous attacks and threats persisted against journalists, particularly those based in Ukraine's provinces, who investigated or exposed corruption or other government malfeasance. The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists concluded that these attacks, and police reluctance in some cases to pursue the perpetrators, were "helping to foster an atmosphere of impunity against independent journalists."

Upon entering office in 2005, Yushchenko pledged to prioritize the investigation into the unsolved kidnapping and murder of investigative journalist Georgy Gongadze in 2000. Many considered progress on this a political litmus test of the seriousness with which the new authorities were pursuing the restoration of the rule of law in Ukraine. The trial of three police officers charged with the murder began on January 9, 2006, in the Kiev Court of Appeals. The court closed parts of the trial to the public after one of the defense lawyers said that the media presence was harming the health of his client. Hearings were postponed several times and, at this writing, the trial was ongoing. Media freedom activists expressed frustration that the court would not admit as evidence tape recordings implicating high level government officials in Gongadze's murder.

Torture and Conditions in Detention

Reports of torture and ill-treatment by police persisted, as did unduly long periods of pretrial custody. Prison conditions in most facilities in Ukraine are appalling; the most serious problems being overcrowding and lack of adequate nutrition and medical care in prisons. There have been at least four reported cases of prisoners attempting suicide to call attention to the poor conditions in detention.

In March the European Court for Human Rights ruled in Melnik v. Ukraine that overcrowded, unsanitary prison conditions and poor medical care contributed to the illness of a prisoner and amounted to degrading treatment. The court also faulted Ukraine for apparently failing to provide an effective mechanism for inmates to complain about conditions in detention.

Human Rights Abuses Fueling the HIV/AIDS Epidemic

Ukraine's HIV/AIDS epidemic is the worst in Europe and one of the fastest-growing in the world. The Ukrainian government has taken a number of positive steps to fight HIV/AIDS, chiefly in the area of legislative and policy reform. But these important commitments are being undermined by widespread human rights abuses against drug users, sex workers, and people living with HIV/AIDS in the criminal justice and health systems.

Human Rights Watch's research in 2005 and 2006 found that police subject drug users and sex workers to physical and psychological pressure as a means to extort money or information from them. These abuses, together with direct police interference with the delivery of HIV prevention information and services, drive those at highest risk of HIV/AIDS away from lifesaving services that the government has pledged to provide. People living with and at high risk of HIV/AIDS also face widespread discrimination in the health care system. They are denied medical treatment, and face violations of their privacy.

The criminalization of possession of small amounts of narcotics further accelerates HIV infection rates by driving those most vulnerable to HIV infection away from prevention services. It also exposes many to health risks in prison that would put them at risk of contracting HIV or that would exacerbate an existing HIV infection. Methadone and buprenorphine, widely recognized as among the most effective means to treat opiate dependence, are critical to prevent HIV among injection drug users and to support antiretroviral treatment adherence for HIV-positive injection drug users. Ukraine began to provide buprenorphine on a limited basis in 2005. In 2006, the Ministry of Health worked with international health experts and civil society organizations to address barriers to providing methadone, but to date it is unavailable.

Migrants and Refugees

Migration and asylum issues remained high on the government's agenda, particularly in the context of its relationship with the European Union. The Ukrainian asylum system barely functions due to a highly decentralized structure spanning several government agencies and departments. Plans for a single migration system to deal with all aspects of migration and asylum have progressed, but reform has been slow, political interference in the system is common and abuses of migrants and asylum seekers' rights continue (see also chapter on EU externalization policy).

Ukrainian authorities in February deported 11 Uzbek asylum seekers without giving them the opportunity to appeal their negative asylum determinations; nine had previously registered as asylum seekers with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ukraine. The forcible return of the Uzbeks was a clear violation of Ukraine's international obligation not to transfer any person to a place where his life or freedom would be under threat or where he would be at risk of torture. The government's decision to return the men was widely condemned by the international community.

With the accession to the EU of countries along Ukraine's western border, migrants increasingly transit through Ukraine to reach EU territory. Police and border guards apprehend and detain undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers, often in appalling conditions in detention facilities on the border. A large number of migrants who manage to cross the border are sent back to Ukraine in accordance with Ukraine's bilateral readmission agreements with Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia.

In October 2006, the EU and Ukraine concluded a readmission agreement that required Ukraine to readmit any undocumented third country national who transited through Ukraine before gaining access to EU territory. Human rights and refugee protection groups advocated for an agreement that would delay such returns until Ukraine's migration and asylum systems operated in conformity with international human rights standards. The final agreement contained a two-year "grace period" delaying such returns, but human right groups expressed concern that it would take much longer for Ukraine to implement reforms to ensure the rights of migrants and asylum seekers.

Human Trafficking and Discrimination against Women

Women continue to face gender-based employment discrimination and hold disproportionately few senior positions in the government and private sector. No women serve in the Cabinet of Ministers, and only one of 27 parliamentary committees is headed by a woman. The government has a mixed record of progress in combating discrimination. In May the minister of justice ordered all draft legislation to undergo a gender analysis and formed an expert panel for this purpose. Framework legislation on gender equality adopted in 2005 remains largely ineffective because implementing legislation has not been enacted.

On November 21, 2005, the government launched a national campaign to combat violence against women as part of a wider program under the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

Amendments to the criminal code adopted in January criminalize human trafficking and seek to bring Ukraine in line with its international commitments. Although the authorities created a 500-person anti-trafficking department, the majority of convicted traffickers received probation instead of prison sentences which a UN expert in October attributed to corruption in law enforcement and the judiciary. The government adopted a multi-year policy to fight human trafficking and took steps to raise awareness about trafficking, assist victims, and educate law enforcement. Despite these efforts, Ukraine remained a country of transit and destination for large numbers of trafficked persons.

Key International Actors

The UN Human Rights Committee's concluding observations on Ukraine's periodic report noted several positive government steps, such as the establishment of a witness protection program, but expressed concerns in a wide range of areas, including police mistreatment of detainees, the need to intensify efforts to fight domestic violence, and the lack of transparency in the appointment of the judiciary.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) agreed with other international monitors in its assessment of the March elections as free and fair. PACE also expressed concerns about the parliamentary crises and several human rights problems but it noted "significant progress" by Ukraine in protecting human rights and building democracy.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled on an increased number of complaints against Ukraine in 2006. The court issued 160 judgments from October 2005 to November 2006, compared to 64 in the same period the year before.

Citing this improvement in the political process, in September the European Commission proposed opening preliminary negotiations on an enhanced version of its Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Ukraine.

In March, the US and Ukraine signed an agreement aimed at facilitating the country's eventual entry into the World Trade Organization. The US also removed trade restrictions in place against Ukraine since the Cold War. The US Agency for International Development (USAID) substantially increased the flow of aid to Ukraine in 2006, budgeting over US$190 million in assistance.

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