Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk arrive for a joint news conference following the EU-Ukraine summit in Kiev, Ukraine, July 13, 2017. 

© 2017 REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
(Kyiv) – Ukrainian authorities backtracked on important human rights pledges during 2017, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018.

Holding accountable people responsible for torture and enforced disappearances, and for attacks on journalists and anti-corruption and rights groups should be priority issues for the Ukrainian government and its international partners during 2018.

“For the last year, Kyiv has been treating its human rights obligation as though they were optional,” said Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities are carrying out some deeply undemocratic practices and proposing new laws that that undermine Ukrainians’ fundamental freedoms.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

In recent months, Ukraine’s government took several steps to restrict freedom of expression, media freedom, and freedom of association, invoking as justification the need to counter Russia’s military aggression in eastern Ukraine and anti-Ukraine propaganda. In March, the Ukrainian government adopted legislation imposing criminal penalties on anti-corruption activists who fail to publicly report their personal assets. In July, President Petro Poroshenko proposed draft legislation to introduce burdensome and excessive public online reporting requirements for all nonprofit organizations.

Throughout 2017, all sides to the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine endangered civilians and civilian infrastructure, as they continued hostilities.

The authorities have brought almost no one to justice for torture in custody, unacknowledged detention, and other armed-conflict-related abuses. The leadership of the State Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) denied its responsibility for secret detention and enforced disappearances, despite numerous, well-documented allegations by former detainees. The military prosecutor’s investigation into these practices yielded no meaningful results.

In August, SBU officials unlawfully detained and tortured a woman, later charging her with treason for allegedly working as a Russian agent. The authorities did not investigate her torture allegations.

In the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) Russia-backed de-facto authorities arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared people, with utter disregard for the rule of law.

Justice for crimes committed during the 2014 Maidan protests, which led to the ouster of the Ukrainian government, and for mass disturbances in Odesa remained elusive. Four years after Maidan, authorities appear unwilling to pursue meaningful prosecutions of those responsible for more than 100 deaths and numerous other crimes.

The human rights crisis in Crimea that began with Russia’s occupation of the peninsula in 2014 persisted. Russian authorities thoroughly suppressed public criticism of Russia’s actions there, including through criminal prosecution. They also targeted Crimean Tatars for their pro-Ukraine position, using criminal prosecutions for separatism and baseless terrorism-related charges. Authorities in Crimea also detained and imposed fines on Crimean Tatars who peacefully staged single-person pickets to protest the arrest and prosecution of others.