Recently, members of the largest factions of the Parliament have been calling for adopting the concept of “foreign agents”, to declare as such the civil society associations and media outlets that “directly or indirectly act in the interests of the aggressor state, that is, the Russian Federation”. In his annual address to the Parliament, the President of Ukraine also called on the People’s Deputies to support this initiative.
The initiators of these legislative changes justify them by citing the need to counter Russia’s unlawful interference in Ukraine’s domestic policy, which is expected to intensify during the next election year. In Russia itself, the adoption of a similar law resulted in virtual destruction of an independent civil society and contributed to the establishment of an authoritarian regime.
The experience with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) adopted in the United States in 1938 to counter Nazi propaganda is simply not applicable in Ukraine, where there are still systemic problems with the independence of the judiciary.
Human rights organizations are seeing an increase in the number of politically motivated actions of state authorities against civil society organizations that expose corruption or hold protests against top officials. Thus, it is easy to predict that the foreign agents mechanism will first be used against representatives of civil society not loyal to the powers that be. Those that disclose abuses on the part of governments agencies, criticize their ineffective work or publicly voice a different point of view will be the first to suffer. The adoption of the “foreign agent” status will allow the government to label these organizations as “agents of the Kremlin” and enemies of Ukraine’s statehood and sovereignty.
Human rights organizations wish to point out to the President of Ukraine and the Parliament that the best way to counter Russia’s meddling is by improving the professionalism and technical capacity of state bodies authorized to deal with external threats. These authorities must ensure thorough investigations of any manifestations of such interference, to identify those who order and perpetrate the crimes against the foundations of national security, and to make retribution inevitable. It is this, not using Russia’s experience with the Foreign Agents Act, that the Ukrainian government should be working on.
The Human Rights Agenda Platform is an informal coalition of human rights organizations dealing with systemic issues of legislation and practice for the protection of fundamental human rights. Among the Platform’s member organizations are the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Center for Civil Liberties, Amnesty International Ukraine, Human Rights Information Center, Center of Law Enforcement Activities Research, the No Borders project, and EuroMaidan SOS. Coordination of the Platform’s activities is done by the Center for Civil Liberties. Contact: [email protected]
Organizations that have joined the address:
Center for Civil Liberties
Human Rights Information Center
Luhansk Region Human Rights Center “Alternative”
Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
Open Dialogue Foundation
Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research
NGO Human Rights Vector
Kharkiv Region Foundation “Public Alternative”
Ukrainian Institute for Human Rights
No Borders Project
Ukrainian Legal Consulting Group
Kharkiv Institute of Social Researches
Association of Ukrainian Human Rights Monitors on Law Enforcement
Vostok SOS Charitable Foundation
Eastern Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives
Crimean Human Rights Group