Demonstrations in Ukraine: two options to safeguard the right to assembly

DRI debated the right to peaceful assembly in a meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and Relations between Nations in Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada on 25 May. Although the right to demonstrate publicly has been respected in recent years, gaps in the law could be open to abuse by future governments.

Experts, judges, MPs, activists, and the police outlined two options for improving the law on freedom of assembly. The first favours a special law dedicated to peaceful assembly. A second option would be to amend existing laws, in particular the administrative procedural code.

All agreed that after the Revolution of Dignity, the need to pass a special law is not urgent. The number of court decisions prohibiting demonstrations fell to just five in 2017. Local regulations restricting the freedom to assembly still exist, but are inapplicable, and participants are not held accountable for merely attending a demonstration.

Participants credited the positive developments to a stronger civil society and its pressure on the courts and local administrations, rather than the behaviour of state officials. Ukraine’s representative at the European Court of Human Rights Ivan Lishchyna pointed out that it is the government’s duty, as member state of the Council of Europe, to ensure that Ukrainians enjoy freedoms in line with European standards.

According to a poll conducted by the civil society initiative “Active Community” in Kropyvnytskyi, protestors generally expect: their concerns to be heard at a demonstration; the state to ensure their safety; and the demonstration not to be stopped by a sudden court decision. Legislators still need to resolve a few issues to meet these expectations. For example, introducing personal responsibility for police officers and the National Guard, and establishing rules on spontaneous assembly.

The issue of an increasing number of non-peaceful assemblies also needs to be addressed, along with threats towards demonstrators, such as at Pride marches.

It is up to legislators to decided how to close current loopholes – the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe supports both approaches (a special law or amendments to the existing laws). Hryhoriy Nemyria, the Head of Parliamentary Committee, stressed the openness of the committee to continue further discussions on the topic with experts and citizen groups.

DRI organised the round table in partnership with Institute Respublica and the Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and Relations between Nations.

Read our briefing paper on Freedom of peaceful assembly in Ukraine

Watch the debate broadcasted by TV Chanel Rada.

Photo courtesy:  Institute Respublica

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