Freedom of expression increases in Ukraine despite intimidation – UN expert

23 May 2007

While democracy and free expression have increased in Ukraine in the past few years, journalists are still subject to intimidation by individuals said to be linked to authorities, an independent United Nations expert said today.

“Despite the ongoing political instability, the country is steadily progressing towards a democratic system based on the rule of law, good governance and human rights,” Ambeyi Ligabo, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said after a visit to the east European country.

“However, the current political situation, marked by a strong polarization of opinions, does not contribute to the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, especially for foreigners residing in the country, ethnic groups and migrants, who are often victims of discrimination,” he said.

Mr. Ligabo, an unpaid expert who reports to the UN Human Rights Council, said that he met with a number of journalists who were victims of violence by various gangs and others allegedly linked to state security organs and an academic institution.

In addition, he was told that many journalists, especially from the regions outside the capital, are under severe pressure and intimidation from local authorities while others are frequently harassed, arrested and framed on hollow court charges.

He 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.

“This general situation of uncertainty, compounded by uncompromising struggle for power amongst competing political parties, has created considerable distress among ordinary citizens and, if not excised properly, may eventually undermine democratic achievements so far made.”

He was pleased that many people in authority were willing to discuss the problem with him, but he stressed that all sides, particularly the Government, need to make more concerted efforts to protect human rights, including the passage of legislation on free expression that is in conformity with international standards.

In addition, he said that much Ukrainian media was of low quality, increasing polarization in the country.

This could be remedied by training and the appointment of the relevant officials in a democratic and transparent way, he said. “They should be allowed to run their mandates independently, without political interference,” he added.

Mr. Ligabo said he would provide more concrete recommendations to the Government of Ukraine, media professionals, journalists, civil society organizations, and others in the near future.

 

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