Ukrainians are constantly fighting and defending their rights, including the holding of peaceful rallies, demonstrations. Trends in 2018 show, that pressure on citizens and the use of violence against activists increasingly become more common. The events that have already happened and what shall we further expect, are words and concerns expressed by human rights activist, a public figure and a chairman of the Institute “Respublica”, Volodymyr Chemerys.
The position of freedom and peaceful assembly in Ukraine
According to our research on the observance of freedom of assembly in Ukraine, which Institute “Respublica” has been holding for more than 10 years, the situation has dramatically changed since the Maidan revolution (Revolution of Dignity) in 2014. If previously the main problems for peaceful assemblies were injunctions (414 lawsuits on banning meetings, for which the court approved 349 in 2012), now the injunctions are minimized (6 lawsuits for which the court did not approve any in 2017). But despite this, there are massive and systemic violations of freedom of assembly in the “post-Maidan” Ukraine. Rallies with a specific aim – anti-war, left-wing, demonstrations of social protest, feminist, LGBT, a meeting of national minorities – are almost impossible to hold.
Often, the organizers refuse to hold a rally, because these assemblies are attacked by ultra-right formations (C-14, Azov, Tradition and Order, Right Sector, UNSO, Svoboda), some of them do not hide their Nazi views and use Nazi symbolism. Representatives of the same formations are attacking the organizers and participants of rallies, both before and after the meeting. The UN monitoring mission on human rights registered 41 cases of such right-wing violence throughout February-May 2018.
The Ukrainian nationalists are the direct perpetrators of the attacks, but these attacks could not have taken place without the assistance of state “enforcement” bodies. These attacks occur in the presence, inaction or outright connivance of the police. All cases of attacks on organizers or participants of meetings are not investigated, which leads attackers to new aggression. There are also cases of direct obstruction to peaceful assemblies by another “law enforcement” body, the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU). Since 2018, as in 2017, the SSU reported on their website that it held educational talks with people who were going to organize rallies on May 2 (the day of mourning in Odesa) and May 9 (Victory Day).
All these trends of violations of freedom of assembly came into sight in 2014, and continue up until 2018.
Over the six past months, some features have been added
First, the number of non-peaceful assemblies have increased, with the use of violence and non-lethal weapons. Primarily, these are counter-assemblies of the ultra-right in order to prevent rallies and demonstrations with the above-mentioned topics, neo-Nazi attacks on the premises of the courts where the cases of the participants of their formations or their opponents are heard, attacks on Gypsy camps. The targets of attacks were journalist (I. Burdyg, R. Kotsaba) and lawyers (Ukrainian Bar Association).
During April-June 2018, the Nazis with C14 and the “Misanthropic Division” made 6 attacks on gypsy camps in different regions of Ukraine, as a result, in one of them a 24-year old Roma was killed near Lvov. Only after appeals from interstate organizations, the police opened criminal proceedings against three attacks. Murder suspects were detained. Regarding attacks on Roma in Kiev and Ternopil, only in relation to one person – the head of C14 – a preventive measure in the form of night house arrest was conducted. None of the participants in the attacks on journalists, lawyers, and the courts haven’t been held accountable.
Another current feature is that there were Marches of Equality (demonstration in defense of LGBT rights) in Kiev (more than 6,000 policemen were involved to protect the order), in Kryvyi Rig (the organizers did not report the time and place of the meeting so that the ultra-right would not know about it), and Odessa. Such unprecedented measures to protect the LGBT meetings of the Ukrainian government applied only as a result of pressure from the international community. In particular, MEP Rebecca Harms and representatives of the US and Canadian embassies participated in the March of Equality in Kiev. Despite their support and participation, LGBT community activists were attacked by the extreme right before (in Kryvyi Rig) or after (in Kiev) meetings.
The fact that only once a year, and under conditions of enhanced security, it is possible to hold a meeting with a separate subject, proves once again that systematic violations of the freedom of assembly still occur in Ukraine. The March of Equality is the exception that only proves the rule.
Legislative regulation of freedom of assembly
Ukraine has not yet adopted a special law that would regulate the holding of peaceful assemblies. Since 2000, about 20 relevant bills have been submitted to parliament. 18 of them were rejected, 2 – are in the Verkhovna Rada, however, it is unlikely that they will be considered until the end of the term of this composition of the parliament. There were rejected primarily because of the resistance of civil society because all these bills provided for restriction on the freedom of assembly. After all, these violations are primarily in the activities of ultra-right forces and police inaction.
To kindly remind you, there is a legislative basis for peaceful assemblies in Ukraine – Article 39 of the Constitution of Ukraine, which determines that we do not have authorized assemblies. After all, no one should give permission (sanction) to a meeting, no deadline has been set for reporting a meeting (local authorities can be reported at least 15 minutes before the rally or not at all), and only the court can prohibit the meeting. Also, according to Ukrainian law, the decision of the European Court of Human Rights is also a source of law in Ukraine.
Therefore, when realizing the right to peaceful assembly, both citizens and state representatives, “sylovyky” and the courts, should take these decisions into account. They can touch upon not only Ukraine, and establish positive liabilities of the state (the duty of the state to protect and ensure the assembly), the right to counter-demonstrations and the fact that the entire assembly has to be ensured, regardless of subject matter.
There are also two decision of the European Court of 2013, which states violations of the freedom of assembly in Ukraine. In particular, these decision state that Article 1851 of the Code of Ukraine on Administrative Offenses “Violation of the procedure for organizing and conducting meetings, rallies, street processions, and demonstrations” should be abolished. After all, there is no special law that would establish this order. Ukrainian legislators have not yet abolished this provision of the Administrative Code, and the organizer of the women’s meeting on March 8, 2018, Elena Shevchenko, who was attacked by the Nazis during the meeting, was brought to administrative/executive responsibility/charge by the police for this very article. However, the court, citing the decisions of the European Court, justified/defended the activist.
We, in turn, want to remind Ukrainians that rights and freedom are guaranteed by the Constitution of Ukraine. As well as the laws of Ukraine and international decisions (in particular, the European Court of Human Rights). In case of violations, be sure to contact the courts and international organizations and defend your rights.