International Helsinki Federation is concerned about human rights at election in Ukraine

The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) is appealing to Ukrainian authorities to observe international standards for free and fair elections, as reliable evidence suggests that governmental officials in several sectors are illegally abusing public institutions to manipulate the outcome of the 31 October 2004 presidential election.

Coverage of the campaign in state-controlled television channels is heavily biased in favor of Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who is seeking the presidency with the backing of current President Leonid Kuchma, according to independent monitoring organizations and well as representatives of the National Union of Journalists. State-controlled television channels routinely convey negative portrayals of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko.

Newspapers published by local Oblast administrations, which are financed with public funds and available to poor rural populations – some of them without charge – contain strongly propagandistic materials in favor of Mr. Yanukovych.

The IHF has received numerous reports of citizens being intimidated by authorities when they have demonstrated their support for the opposition candidate, for example being filmed by undercover police officers. As in recent Belarusan elections, factory workers are being pressured into supporting the government-backed candidate, with threats to their jobs if they do not cooperate. The heads of regional administrative bodies have been threatened with dismissal if elections results do not meet government goals.

The IHF has also received reports of university students being threatened by university deans to support Mr. Yanukovych, and to avoid attending electoral rallies of opposition candidates (e.g. Nezhne Pedagogical University in Chernihiv Oblast).

The opposition campaign charges that the government monitors and disrupts mobile telephone communications, made possible when communications firms provide state authorities with the needed eavesdropping capabilities, which is a precondition to qualify for licenses to operate GSM networks in Ukraine.

Serious observers of the electoral process are concerned by evidence that government agents might seek to provoke ethnic tensions, for example between Tatars and Russians in Crimea and by allowing extremist groups to incite ethnic hatreds. A fringe chauvinist party lead by Eduard Kovalenko was recently allowed to hold a rally in downtown Kiev, permission for which would have been routinely denied by authorities to any independent NGO. This new “party” made grossly racist statements, and then claimed to be supporting the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko. Observers believe this to be an attempt to compromise the opposition candidate by presenting him as a racist.

The Ukrainian human rights community is impaired from monitoring the balloting on 31 October 2004 by a law that makes it impossible for local, independent observers to do so. In view of the alleged gross falsification of the recent mayoral elections in the West Ukraine town of Mukachevo, NGOs and independent observers fear that the authorities might use any means they can to ensure that the election is won by the current Prime Minister.

The IHF is concerned by the numerous allegations of abuse in a campaign that has barely begun. It appeals to the Ukrainian authorities to ensure equal access of all candidates to the state controlled media; full freedom for all candidates and their campaigns to address voters and present their platforms; a total ban on using tax-payers’ money and state resources in general to support the campaign of the Prime Minister and to obstruct any other candidates; and renewed access by independent Ukrainian observers to monitor the elections at all stages.

The IHF therefore calls upon Ukraine to meet legal obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights to respect the right of all citizens to free elections and to equal access to information from all political parties and public groups; and to fulfill its commitments as a signatory to the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and the Copenhagen Document (1990) adopted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

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