Ukraine: Adoption of a “Foreign Agents” law would threaten human rights work

19/10/2018
Urgent Appeal

Geneva-Paris, October 19, 2018 – “Ukrainian authorities should refrain from adopting a “foreign agents" law, as this would not only resemble a similar repressive bill in Russia but would also possibly open a way to its abuse by applying the law against human rights and civil society groups perceived as disloyal to the authorities”, says the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, an OMCT-FIDH partnership.

On September 17, 2018, one of the main factions in Ukrainian Parliament "Popular Front" that also forms the governing coalition in Ukraine announced its plans to table a bill that would aim at registering entities as "agents acting under the influence of an aggressor state". The leader of the parliamentary group "Popular Front" added that a bill would concern those who "directly or indirectly serve the interests of the aggressor state, i.e. the Russian Federation”.

The President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko himself called upon Parliamentarians to support this initiative during his annual State of the Nation Address in Parliament on September 20, 2018. The proponents of this initiative have justified the necessity for this regulation arguing that Ukraine needs to counter Russia’s political interference, particularly in the run-up to the 2019 elections in Ukraine.

If approved, this bill would constitute a major setback to the right to freedom of association in Ukraine, particularly in a context in which human rights organisations have denounced an increase in the attacks against civic organisations, particularly those which expose corruption or carry out actions of protest against high-rank Ukrainian officials. According to these sources the first nine months of 2018 alone have seen at least 50 attacks against activists and human rights defenders including assault, arson and disruption of property, beatings and harassment[1].

In this context, a “foreign agents” law would create a major threat to human rights organisations and civil society groups as a whole perceived as “disloyal” by the authorities.

The Observatory recalls that this initiative to label certain groups as ’foreign agents’ resembles the law adopted in Russia in 2012. It has subsequently led to drastic restrictions to the right to freedom of association in the country, with hundreds of NGOs having been officially labelled as “foreign agents”.

The Observatory is concerned that such a legislative move would contradict international standards: any restrictions to the right to freedom of association must be “necessary in a democratic society”, and respect the primacy of the general interest and the principle of proportionality (Article 22.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and case-law of the United Nations Human Rights Committee).

The Observatory therefore urges the Ukrainian authorities to refrain from adopting any “foreign agents” style law as such legislation entails stigmatisation and opens ways to abuse in a context where civil society groups are already under attack.

The Observatory echoes the call of local human rights organisations to the Ukrainian authorities to counter the illegal interference of foreign countries by increasing the competence of state bodies in charge of combating external threats. It is important that these bodies be able to carry out effective investigations of any manifestations of such interference, unmask the actual instigators and perpetrators of crimes against the national security and ensure their transfer to justice.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

For further information, please contact:

OMCT: Miguel Martín / Delphine Reculeau: Tel: +41 22 809 49 39
FIDH: Audrey Couprie: Tel: +33 6 48 05 91 57 / Samuel Hanryon: +33 6 72 28 42 94/ Email: shanryon@fidh.org

[1] See https://helsinki.org.ua/en/articles/since-the-beginning-of-the-year-more-than-50-attacks-on-civil-society-activists-have-been-reported/

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