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23 May 2007

The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Ambeyi Ligabo, issued the following statement:
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 personalities, institutions, members of the media, journalists, trade unions, members of the diplomatic corps and individuals with whom I had a wide-ranging exchange of opinions and information. I wish to pay special tribute to those journalists, victims of violence, with whom I met.

Since the independence gained after the collapse of Soviet Union in 1991, the history of Ukraine has been marked by a strive for economic and social development together with significant steps towards consolidation of democracy. Despite the on-going political instability, the country is steadily progressing towards a democratic system based on the Rule of Law, good governance and human rights. Since 2004, the overall situation with regard to the exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression has improved.

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.

In order to address the advocacy of racial and ethnic hatred, which is aggravated by beatings, physical assaults and murders perpetrated against immigrants and other foreigners, including accredited diplomats and foreign students, expeditious and coordinated action by different organs of the Ukrainian Government is required. The psychological or physical harm resulting from such violence could heighten tensions and perpetuates stereotypes.

With regard to the media, I met a number of journalists and other professionals who have been victims of violence by various gangs and other groups, or people, allegedly linked to some state security organs and an academic institution.

Furthermore, it was pointed out by my interlocutors 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.

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.
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.

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. At the same time, all sides, particularly the Government, need to make more concerted efforts to protect and promote human rights of all individuals residing in the country.
It was also pointed out to me that a segment of practitioners in the media were not adequately trained, particularly on media ethics, right to privacy and the importance of respecting human rights. The most notable result of these deficiencies is proliferation of unprofessional publications.

I believe that the quality of journalism, and its impact on a reduction of the polarization, could be improved if members of the Union of journalists and of the various institutional organs, entrusted with the responsibility over matters related to broadcasting and dissemination of information, were appointed or elected in a democratic and transparent way. They should be allowed to run their mandates independently, without political interference.

I urge the Government of Ukraine to follow-up with the proposed legislative reforms covering numerous aspects of the right to freedom of expression so as to ensure that, when adopted by the Parliament, will streamline the legislation on the media will be in conformity with international standards.

I will provide concrete recommendations to the Government of Ukraine, media professionals, journalists, civil society organizations, and individuals acting in good faith, for the full realization of 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.