Statement by mr. Ambeyi Ligabo, United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, at the end of his visit to Ukraine

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government of Ukraine for inviting me to this country, in my capacity as the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. I would also like to thank all national and international personalities, institutions, members of the media, journalists, trade unions and individuals with whom I met and had a comprehensive exchange of opinions and information. I pay special tribute to those journalists, victims of violence, with whom I met yesterday for their courage.

Since the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991, one of the most significant event in the history of Ukraine has been a struggle for economic and social development on one side, and significant steps towards consolidation of democracy on the other. Despite political instability, the country is slowly but steadily progressing on the road for a democratic system based on the Rule of Law, on the right to freedom of expression and good governance. It was also acknowlegded that since 2004, the overall situation of the exercize of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has improved.

Nonetheless, the current political situation, which is marked by a strong polarization of opinions, discrimination of foreigners residing in the country and migrants, and use of hate speech, do not contribute to the creation of an enabling environment for the full exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

This situation of uncertainty, compounded by uncompromising struggle for power amongst competing political parties has created considerable distress among ordinary citizens and, if not excized properly may eventually undermine democratic achievements so far made, particularly in the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression.

The advocacy of racial and ethnic hatred, hate speech, which is aggravated by beatings, physical assaults and murders perpetrated against foreigners and other immigrants constitutes an area which requires expeditious and coordinated action by different organs of the Ukrainian Government. The potential harm, whether psychological or physical, which results from this violence, heighten tensions and perpetuates stereotypes. It is of specific significance that even accredited diplomats and innocent foreign students have not been spared in this vicious and racially motivated violence.

With regard to the media, I met a number of journalists and other professionals who have been victims of violence by various organized gangs and other shady groups or people alleged to be linked to some state security organs. In this respect, there have been allegations of a training link between a Government Ministry and an identified inter-regional academic institution.

Furthermore, it was pointed out by my interlocutors that many journalists, especially from the regions, are under severe pressure and intimidation from local authorities while others are frequently harassed, arrested and framed on frivolous court charges.

I also noted that there is undue delay in the determination of cases of violence against journalists and many of the perpetrators have not been brought to justice.

However, I was pleased to note that authorities, institutions, media and individuals were willing to discuss openly issues related to violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Nevertheless, all sides particularly the Government, need to make more concerterd efforts to protect and promote civil rights of all individuals residing in this country.

I also believe that polarization could be diminished and peaceful coexistence could be improved if the Union of journalists and the various institutional organs entrusted with the responsibility over all matters related to broadcasting and dissemination of information, are appointed or elected democratically and transparently. They should also be left to run independently without any political interference.

It was also pointed out to me that a segment of pratictioners in the media were not adequately trained, particularly on media ethics, privacy and the importance of respecting human rights. The most notable result of these deficiences is proliferation of unprofessional publications which are funded by obscure entities.

I urge the Government of Ukraine to follow-up with the proposed legislative reforms covering all aspects of the right to freedom of speech which, if adopted by the Parliament, will streamline various media acts in line with international standards.

I stand ready to provide concrete recommendations and give advice to the Government of Ukraine, media professionals, journalists, civil society organizations and individuals acting in good faith for the promotion and the protection of all human rights, especially the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Finally, I wish to thank the United Nations Office in Ukraine for its valuable support and assistance.

Kyiv, 18 May 2007

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