Human rights in Ukraine – Turning aspirations into actions

Blerta Cela, Deputy Country Director of the United Nations Development Programme in Ukraine, takes stock of progress Ukraine has made and challenges still ahead with protecting human rights. Working with government institutions, law enforcers, the Ombudsperson and civil society, UNDP helps citizens protect and promote their rights – but more still needs to be done.

cq5dam web 380 253This month, like everywhere in the world, Ukraine celebrated the International Human Rights Day, marking the 68th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Adopted on 10 December 1948, the Declaration recognised that "the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."
This day provides an opportunity for all nations to reflect on progress they have made, and what remains to be done to meet the aspirations set out in the Declaration. How can people enjoy full economic, political and social rights? Are these rights protected through effective law enforcement and justice? Is enough being done to protect the rights of women, children, persons with disabilities and minority groups, who often are disproportionally vulnerable and yet are equal under the Law? As Ukraine will go through the Universal Period Review in March 2017, it is the perfect time to reflect on these questions.
Political freedoms have undoubtedly made giant leaps forward in Ukraine, thanks to the brave and committed people who have, on a number of occasions, gone out to the streets and risked their lives. Freedom of expression and civic engagement have blossomed through an active and better organized civil society, which fiercely advocates for unity and change, holding the government accountable for its various international and national commitments it has made since the independence.
Yet security remains fragile for many Ukrainians. The primary providers of security, justice and human rights remain national institutions. However, trust in the justice system remains low: only about 40 per cent of respondents to a UNDP survey think they would receive justice if they fell victim to crime. Some 25 per cent of respondents are convinced they would definitely not get justice, and even more so among women and the poor, who are arguably those the most in need of justice. The picture gets even bleaker as one out of three women respondents do not feel safe in their own homes at night, and two out of three do not feel safe in the streets at night.
Moreover, money and power are still identified as key levers for obtaining justice, and many denounce a culture of impunity for the abuses perpetrated by state actors, as is starkly illustrated by the lack of significant progress in investigating and punishing those who committed abuses during the 2014 Maidan protests.
Ukraine needs police, prosecutors and courts to fully uphold the rule of law for human rights to be fully protected. Our organization, UNDP, and our partners, in particular Denmark, the European Union and the Netherlands, are working with the police and local authorities to enhance capacities and make them more responsive to the needs of their local communities. We are also working closely with the Ombudsperson's office to make it a stronger advocate for human rights and a trusted place where people can go when their rights are violated, as is done in many countries around the globe.
Human rights lenses must be applied to all ongoing and future reforms in Ukraine, while building on or developing mechanisms, which protect human rights across the country, including in conflict-affected communities. A great step forward is the network of Ombudsperson's representatives and coordinators supported by UNDP who dedicate special attention to the rights of internally displaced persons. Additionally, civil society and government authorities should provide legal advice and support to people who want justice, and we are working closely with all our partners to do more in this regard.
The conflict has cast an additional shadow over Ukraine's progress on human rights, including the rights to water, food and health. Many of the people living near or in the conflict areas have no access to social benefits, healthcare and other basic services. Around one in four people surveyed by UNDP in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts does not even have enough money for food.
By combining humanitarian assistance and development action, together with our partners, we have helped create more than 2,000 new jobs for conflict-affected people in less than a year, and provided small grants to help displaced persons relocate their businesses. In partnership with Japan, we have also helped restore a water pumping station in Semenivka, which was destroyed and can now again serve 3.5 million people, ensuring their right to safe water. Working with the Ministry of Health, we are helping to buy life-saving medicines, ensuring that patients can enjoy their right to healthcare.
To tackle the many remaining challenges in protecting human rights, Ukraine needs new, strong partnerships between the Government, local communities and civil society. UNDP was a co-founder and supporter of civil society coalitions, such as the Crimea Field Monitoring Mission, the Resource Centre for Internally Displaced Persons and the Justice for Peace in Donbas Coalition, which have all played essential roles in addressing human rights violations with a particular focus on conflict-related areas. To date, over 150,000 persons have received psychological support and legal assistance thanks to our partnership with local authorities and civil society groups and development partners. We are also working closely with communities and local governments in urban and rural areas throughout Ukraine to ensure that the communities themselves, with their own knowledge and grass-root solutions, are solving the most pressing needs and protect their rights to health, water, decent work and life conditions.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was not drafted by idealists in ivory towers, nor by ideologists with a particular political agenda, but by men and women who had survived the terrible wars and atrocities of the 1930s and 1940s. The authors of the Declaration have set a standard that challenges us all, which we must relentlessly strive to achieve.
Only by keeping human rights at the forefront of politics, and by working together with all stakeholders to reach these highest standards can we finally deliver a country that is a secure, safe, just and prosperous for all Ukrainians.