In 2014, this anti-corruption T-Shirt campaign was launched in Ukraine. Photo: life.pravda.ua
NGOs from Europe, USA, and other countries call upon the Ukrainian authorities to stop persecuting anti-corruption activists in Ukraine. This is stated in the open letter signed by 52 civic organizations, published by the Ukrainian Human Rights Information Center.
The authors express their concern about the restrictive legislation requiring activists to disclose their personal assets, criminal investigations and smear campaigns against anti-corruption organizations and activists, as well as physical attacks against individuals and a lack of effective investigations in such cases.
“We call upon the Ukrainian authorities to immediately take all necessary measures to reverse these highly disturbing developments,” the signatories wrote.
In March 2017, Ukrainian President Poroshenko amended Ukraine’s existing law “On Countering Corruption.” The amendments oblige anti-corruption activists to submit public electronic declarations of property status (е-declarations) on par with state officials, despite not receiving state funds. Previously this requirement only applied to the highest state officials, MPs, public servants and judges. Moreover, individuals who provide any services to an “anti-corruption civic organization”, are required to submit e-declarations.
“Due to the vagueness of the law’s wording, it could be arbitrarily applied to harass specific individuals. Since the Law’s adoption, it has had a restraining, discouraging effect on civil society working in the area of countering corruption,” the appeal notes.
As well, the signatories of the appeal mention their concern about a series of recent criminal proceedings against NGOs on fabricated or improper charges. In particular, they name the raid on the Charitable Fund “Patients of Ukraine” and the accusations against it and two organizations of alleged misappropriation of funds to finance the so-called “Luhansk People’s Republic” and “Donetsk People’s Republic.”
As well, the open letter notes the recent criminal proceedings instituted against the heads of the Anti-Corruption Action Centre, warning that the anti-corruption activists believe that information collected during the investigation will later be used in a smear campaign against them, and noting that defamatory materials have already been published to discredit the members of the Anti-Corruption Action Centre, Vitaliy Shabunin and Oleksandra Ustinova.
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Physical attacks and lack of effective investigations
As well, the open letter takes note of two recent attacks on Evhen Lisichkin and Dmytro Bulakh, anti-corruption activists from Kharkiv, who were beaten up in August-September 2017. While the police began investigating these crimes, the preliminary classification of the attack as “hooliganism” is inappropriate, the open letter stresses, and does not provide sufficient protection to anti-corruption activists, who are most exposed and at risk.
“The state has an obligation to provide protection and an effective remedy for persons who have been victims of a human rights violation. The state has also a duty to conduct prompt and impartial investigations of alleged violations of human defenders’ rights, including anti-corruption activists. Ukraine has obliged to uphold these standards as a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as a member of the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) as well as the Council of Europe,” the signatories stress.
On 23 March 2017, the Ukrainian Parliament passed a controversial law requiring anti-corruption activists to submit electronic declarations revealing their assets. On March 27, the president of Ukraine signed amendments to the law after a meeting with public activists. Then, he said he would propose to amend the points of the document that are being criticized.
The Presidential Administration reported that since the obligation for NGO workers to submit electronic declarations only comes into forces starting from 2018, the parties agreed to set up a working group to work out the agreed amendments.
The changes adopted by the Verkhovna Rada in March were actively criticized; in particular, the international non-governmental organization on combating corruption Transparency International urged the Ukrainian authorities to cancel them.
In July, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko submitted to the Verkhovna Rada a bill (No. 6674) regarding the abolition of e-declaration of anti-corruption public organizations, but MPs have not yet considered the draft law.