BBG Watch Commentary

Navi Pillay,  UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned new Ukrainian laws limiting the rights of assembly and speech and called for the end to violence. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported on it. Voice of America English news website had no report on the UN human rights statement, while quoting remarks strongly critical of the protesters from both Ukrainian prime minister and Russian foreign minister.

VOA news websites in other languages also did not report on the UN human rights chief’s condemnation of new Ukrainian laws. VOA English website could have reposted RFE/RL report on Pillay’s statement and shared it with VOA language services. VOA did not take this step to give international audiences a more complete and balanced picture of the situation in Ukraine.

Inconsistency in news handling approach could be seen in VOA English news website reporting today on Navi Pillay’s criticism of Iraq’s mass executions and yesterday in reporting on her findings about mass atrocities in the Central African Republic while ignoring her today’s statement critical of the Ukrainian government.

Meanwhile, RFE/RL report on the UN human rights chief’s condemnation of Ukrainian anti-demonstration laws was showing over 400 Facebook “Likes” as of 8:30 PM EST Tuesday.

VOA report on Ukraine’s prime minister warning of use of force against protesters, but ignoring UN Human Rights Commissioner’s concerns and failing to report on a similar statement from EU foreign ministers, who also criticized the Ukrainian government, was showing 3 Facebook “Likes” as of 8:30 PM EST Tuesday.

VOA report mentioned the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) press release expressing outrage over bloody police attacks on dozens of journalists in Kyiv, including RFE/RL reporter Dmytro Barkar and cameraman Ihor Iskhakov. But most of the VOA report focused on heavy criticism of the protesters, including a strong condemnation from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Reporting on statements from the UN, EU foreign ministers and U.S. State Department could have provided more balance to comments from Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and Russian Foreign Minister.

EU foreign ministers  in a joint statement issued in Brussels on Monday blamed the Ukrainian government for the violence. VOA did not report on this statement.

Last Thursday, VOA English website failed to post a report on the criticism of new Ukrainian laws by the U.S. State Department spokesperson. VOA English website also did not report on strong statements last week by key U.S. senators of both parties condemning these laws. The VOA Ukrainian Service, however, did report on these U.S. statements. Most other VOA language services, with the exception of one or two, did not.

VOA English website was also more than two hours late Sunday in reporting on the White House statement calling for the end of violence in Kyiv and did not report on an earlier statement issued Sunday by the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, which also called on all sides to end violence. The U.S. Embassy statement was widely reported by other international media outlets, including Voice of Russia, as was the White House statement.

VOA management has not sent an English service correspondent to Kyiv to cover the most recent demonstrations, VOA English  website’s coverage of Ukraine related news has been inconsistent, lacking balance, often late and superficial.


New laws could seriously curtail fundamental human rights in Ukraine – Pillay

GENEVA (21 January 2014) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Tuesday stressed the urgent need for constructive dialogue in Ukraine to avoid further escalation of the unrest in the country, particularly in the wake of sweeping new legislation that falls short of international human rights standards.

“The violent clashes over the past few days in the centre of Kiev, which reportedly resulted in many people being injured, are very worrying,” the High Commissioner said. “I appeal to all parties to engage in constructive dialogue to avoid further escalation of the unrest. The longer they wait, the more difficult it will become to resolve the impasse.”

Pillay also recommended that the dialogue be inclusive and sustained over time. She took note of renewed efforts by the authorities to initiate dialogue with opposition leaders.

However, the High Commissioner expressed serious concern about the legislative package passed last Thursday, 16 January, which introduces strict conditions for the exercise of fundamental rights, including the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression, and imposes penalties, including prison sentences, for breaches. The laws were published today.

“I call on the authorities to suspend application of the laws to allow time for a thorough review of their content, which must be in full compliance with international human rights standards, in particular Ukraine’s obligations under the relevant treaties it has ratified,” she said.

“I am particularly concerned by the potential that these laws have to curtail the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, the right to information, the right of civil society to work freely. The laws also have the potential to result in impunity for human rights violations.”

Worrying provisions in the law include compelling NGOs receiving international funding to register as “foreign agents”, to lose their non-profit status, and to regularly publish accounts of their activities.

“Such provisions will roll back the enjoyment of human rights for the people of Ukraine, stifle debate and dissent, and jeopardise the democratic achievements of the past two decades,” Pillay said.

She welcomed the Ukrainian Ombudsman’s stated intention to conduct an analysis of provisions of the laws from the point of view of potential threats to rights and freedoms, and compliance with the international human rights standards and obligations of Ukraine.

Pillay also reiterated her call on all parties to exercise restraint, stressing that the right to peaceful assembly is a fundamental human right.

“I call on opposition leaders to clearly distance themselves from those of their supporters who are resorting to violence,” she said. “While fully recognising the State’s legitimate duty to protect against violence, I appeal to law enforcement officials to carry out their duties fully in line with relevant international human rights norms.”


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Council conclusions on Ukraine


FOREIGN AFFAIRS Council meeting Brussels, 20 January 2014

The Council adopted the following conclusions:


“1. Recalling the statement of HR Ashton of 17 January 2014, the Council expresses deep concern about the legislation passed by the Verkhovna Rada on 16 January under doubtful procedural circumstances. These legislative acts would significantly restrict the Ukrainian citizens’ fundamental rights of association, media and the press, and seriously curtail the activities of civil society organisations. The EU calls on the Ukrainian authorities to ensure that these developments are reversed and that its legislation is brought in line with Ukraine’s European and international commitments.


2. The EU is very concerned about recent developments in Ukraine and urges all actors to seek through an inclusive dialogue a democratic solution to the current political crisis that would meet the aspirations of the Ukrainian people. It calls on all actors to exercise restraint and on the authorities to fully respect and protect the peaceful demonstrators’ right to assembly and speech, and the freedom of the press. All acts of violence must be duly investigated and those responsible brought to justice.


3. Recalling the Council’s Conclusions of 10 December 2012, the EU remains committed to Ukraine’s political association and economic integration, based on the respect for common values, and to signing the Association Agreement with its Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, as soon as Ukraine is ready.”