Threat Targeting Democratic Development and International Reputation of Ukraine: Threatening CSO-Related Legislation Discussed in Kyiv

The Ukrainian civic sector must uphold its independence and right to freedom of activities. Those and other issues were discussed when presenting an Initial Analysis of the Package of Draft Laws Related to CSOs Receiving Foreign Funding in Ukraine developed by the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ECNL), on Friday, October 2.

The discussion referred to, inter alia, three documents:

  • the Draft Law “On amending some legislative acts of Ukraine” (on the transparency of the activities of civic organisations receiving foreign assistance). Registration.
  • the Draft Law “On amending the Law of Ukraine ‘On Lustration’” (as regards preventing foreign impact on state interests). Registration.
  • the Draft Law “On amending some legislative acts on ensuring citizens equal rights and opportunities to represent supervisory boards and management bodies of state unitary enterprises, economic companies and state-owned banks, and on forming such supervisory boards impartially, and on carrying out efficient activities by such supervisory boards in view of the national interests of Ukraine”. Registration.

The authors of those draft laws (Oleksandr Dubinskyi (the member of the Servant of the People faction), Fedir Khrystenko (the member of the Opposition Platform – For Life faction), Andrii Derkach (the non-affiliated People’s Deputy) propose to introduce a number of essential limitations and control standards which will target the activities of civil society organisations in Ukraine.

The representatives of Ukrainian civil associations and charitable foundations, the Ministry of Justice, People’s Deputies joined the discussion organised by the Reanimation Package of Reforms Coalition in association with the Initiative Center to Support Social Action “Ednannia” and the Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research within the Ukrainian Civil Society Sectoral Support Initiative Project. The event was moderated by Maksym Latsyba, the Head of the Civil Society Development Program at the Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research.

“Local partners requested us to analyse whether three draft laws registered at the Ukrainian Parliament would comply with international standards. We analysed those draft laws and identified possible interference with several basic freedoms, such as freedom of association, access to funding, right to privacy, as well as the prohibition of discrimination and inhuman and degrading treatment,” Luben Panov, the consultant of the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law, noted when presenting the results of the ECNL analysis.

As a focal topic of the discussion, the draft laws actually trigger a lot of questions related to their compliance with international and national legal standards among international and Ukrainian experts. Thus, the provisions of the draft laws breach a number of articles of the Constitution of Ukraine (Articles 36, 38, 43, 58 and 62), violate the presumption of innocence, the public right to participate in state affairs management and the right to freely choose a place for and type of activities.

Moreover, if those draft laws are adopted, it will put at stake the international reputation of Ukraine and may deteriorate its cooperation with international partners, lead to censorship, non-publicity of public authorities and, as a result, loss of vitally important technical assistance which our country receive from international partners.

“In addition, the draft laws pose a threat to the sector, freedom of association, human rights and international technical assistance received by the State of Ukraine. Therefore, they pose a threat to Ukraine and its citizens. Such initiatives actually demotivate international donors to provide international technical assistance to Ukraine and decrease the amount of assistance received by our country. It is important to note that the State of Ukraine is the largest recipient of international technical assistance. The government receives approximately 90% of the assistance, while the civic sector receives only 12%,” Mariya Heletiy, the representative of the ICSSA “Ednannia” and the Deputy Head of the Ukrainian Civil Society Sectoral Support Initiative Project, said during the discussion. Mariya also reminded that the European Union had provided EUR 1.2 bln for Ukraine to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Thus, political parties whose representatives register similar legislative initiatives at the Parliament must be politically liable for such actions.

The representatives of the Verkhovna Rada who joined the discussion of the threatening draft laws also expressed concern about those proposals.

Rostyslav Pavlenko, the People’s Deputy of Ukraine, the European Solidarity faction, noted,

“Those standards which we are discussing today have nothing to do with a corporate management model. They have nothing to do with control, security and etc. They have something in common with the revenge of the Russian world. In some cases, they directly copy standards of the Russian Federation limiting rights of CSOs. They have something in common with criminal laws dated 16 January 2014 which escalated the situation in Maidan Nezalezhnosti.”

Pavlo Frolov, the People’s Deputy of Ukraine, the Servant of the People faction, and the Chairperson of the Sub-committee on Rules of Parliamentary Procedure of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Rules of Procedure, said,

“I think that these draft laws have practically no chances to be adopted. They do not comply with democratic development, the principle of the rule of law, the EU legislation. We have heard the facts [the opinion and arguments of the civic sector], we will inform the committees of them, and the draft laws will be professionally assessed so they won’t be included in the parliamentary agenda and adopted.”

The People’s Deputy also stressed on a threat posed by one of the key positions of draft law No. 3326 — the proposal to prohibit CSO representatives from becoming state officials. Viacheslav Bykov, the Executive Director of Tabletochki Charity Foundation, dwelt on risks related to that draft law,

“It [draft law No. 3326] contains a very interesting wording ‘civic organisations and other non-profit organisations’. And it raises a question: what do non-profit organisations mean in Ukraine? They actually include the Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, political parties and a number of other associations. As a matter of fact, we can consider that all non-commercial organisations are non-profit organisations. Then I have a trivial question: where do our MPs want to find human resources? I think that civic organisations and charitable foundations are talent factories. Where would you find today a qualified person who understands management and economy as well as solve social issues?”

Thus, the participants of the discussion noted that the draft laws would pose a threat to the Ukrainian civil society as well as work of political parties and the prospect for the political system of Ukraine to function normally, in whole. Meanwhile, the draft laws slowly but steadily continue being considered at the Verkhovna Rada.

“The representative of the Servant of the People faction told us that those draft laws would never be on agenda. It is sad to say but two of the draft laws we are discussing today are already on agenda. Moreover, one of the draft laws was included in the agenda on September 15. It means that they politically size our reaction, i.e. the reaction of CSOs, by including such illegal and unacceptable draft laws in the agenda. Accordingly, further steps will depend on what we say and how strong our ‘No’ will be,” Glib Kolesov, the lawyer of the Centre for Democracy and Rule of Law (CEDEM), noted.

Tetiana Pechonchyk, the Chairperson of the Board at Zmina, Human Rights Information Centre, expressed her concern about the threatening draft laws registered at and included in the agenda of the Parliament, particularly draft law No. 3326 initiated by Fedir Khrystenko (the member of the Opposition Platform – For Life faction). Tetiana also reminded that a great deal of similar draft laws is registered at the Verkhovna Rada today,

In addition to those three draft laws, there are another 12 draft laws we are concerned about. It is an enormous amount, it is a stream of draft laws which violate human rights and freedom of association. They are incredibly odious, some of them even outreach the Russian legislation which is not democratic in respect of civic organisations. But I think that they are likely to die together with those other draft laws and not to be considered.”

During the discussion, it appeared that the Ministry of Justice had already reviewed draft law No. 3564 (known as Agents 2.0) initiated by Oleksandr Dubinskyi, and had sent its opinion to the Cabinet of Ministers planning to forward it to the steering committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.

“There are almost ten pages of remarks related to the violation of constitutional rights as well as international commitments of Ukraine. The National Agency on Corruption Prevention noted that the draft law did not comply with international commitments provided for by international legislation. The explanatory note does not analyse any practice of foreign countries referred to by the authors. Therefore, I say that the representatives of public authorities support the public and agree that the provisions of the draft laws do not comply with the effective legislation,” Anna Sokolova, the Head of the Division of State Registration of Legal Entities and Individual Entrepreneurs of the Department of Private Law of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, said during the discussion.

Our discussion is real, and it is very well. All of us support the position that such antidemocratic draft laws are damaging, and confirm thereby that we favour democracy. We will definitely forward these studies to MPs and secretariats of committees and factions,” Hlib Strygunenko, the Advocacy Manager at the RPR Coalition noted.

In general, the participants of the discussion were on the same page concerning the desperately negative and threatening potential of draft laws No. 3193-1, 3326 and 3564, and concerning risks which they would pose to the future development of civil society and democracy in Ukraine in whole. Thus, the invitees agreed that they would, together with colleagues and partners representing the civic sector, call on MPs to reject those draft laws and would focus on a need to establish a more enabling environment for CSOs at the legislative level.

Maksym Latsyba, the Head of the Civil Society Development Program at the Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research, also stressed on a need to continue resisting similar damaging legislation,

“We must be careful and definitely inform MPs, factions and committees of our position in order to minimise potential negative amendments to legislation. We must provide all necessary information and convince the Parliament that those draft laws will cause large risks and damage to democratic development, civil society development and protection of human rights in Ukraine. Meanwhile, we must intend to replace that negative civil society agenda at the Verkhovna Rada with a positive one, and develop and register, in association with MPs of various factions, draft laws which will create more enabling environment for civil society organisations.”

The discussion was organised by the Reanimation Package of Reform Coalition in association with the Initiative Center to Support Social Action “Ednannia” and the Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research and in cooperation with the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law. The event was organised within the Ukrainian Civil Society Sectoral Support Initiative Project implemented by the key implementing partner — the Initiative Center to Support Social Action “Ednannia” — in consortium with the Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research (UCIPR) and the Centre for Democracy and Rule of Law (CEDEM) due to substantial aid provided by the American people through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Source: UCIPR