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Current struggle over EU integration in Ukraine critical for minorities, says European rights organization

11 February 2014

Minority Rights Group Europe, together with the Eastern Partnership Minorities Network is concerned that the Ukrainian government is on the wrong track with the protection of minority rights when it withdraws from European integration processes. According to the international human rights organization, further integration between Ukraine and the European Union (EU) would provide much-needed leverage for minority rights protection in the country.

“We express solidarity with the peaceful protesters and civil society over the death and torture of activists and journalists and call for any unlawful act to be investigated,” says Neil Clarke, Director of Minority Rights Group Europe. “Their current struggle which began in November following the Ukrainian government’s withdrawal from negotiations over greater political and economic integration with the EU, is not only important for democracy in Ukraine, but is also critical for Ukraine’s minorities, for whom Ukraine’s participation in integration talks with the EU offers a critical hope for the resolution of underlying issues.”

Ukraine is a member of the Eastern Partnership (EaP), an initiative of the EU to strengthen political and economic relations with six post-Soviet states, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. On 21 November 2013, President Viktor Yanukovich ordered the suspension of the negotiations with the EU over signing the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement.

In order to silence the mass protests of the Euromaidan movement in Ukraine for the renewal of Ukraine-EU integration talks, the government announced a series of laws restricting the civil freedoms of citizens for peaceful protest and increasing restrictions on civil society activity, provoking protesters and contributing to escalating tensions. After the massive opposition within Ukraine and international uproar over police brutality, Mr Yanukovich has recently offered concessions to the protesters, though limited in scope and not in full force yet.

The halt in EaP negotiations also has an impact on the situation of minorities in the country, says Minority Rights Group Europe. Ukraine is home to many minorities such as Russians, Belarusians, Moldovans, Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians, Poles, Jews, Romanians, Armenians, Hungarians and many others. These groups stood to benefit from further discussions between the EU and Ukraine, as they advocated for the more comprehensive protection of minority rights in the integration processes.

Further, the potential implementation of a series of laws which restrict peaceful assembly and civil society organizations’ work in the country would have a negative impact on human rights and fundamental freedoms, including those of minorities, who are most likely to organize their communities through civil society organizations (CSOs).

“With the Eastern Partnership negotiations coming to a dead end, the hope for minority activists to push for a change in Ukraine’s minority rights mechanisms would be lost”, says Agit Mirzoyev, Director of the Analytical Center for Interethnic Cooperation and Consultations and an Eastern Partnership Minorities Network partner in Georgia.

The Eastern Partnership Minorities Network including Minority Rights Group Europe, Analytical Center for Interethnic Cooperation and Consultations, Analytical Centre on Globalization and Regional Cooperation, ECMI Caucasus and No Borders Project/Social Action Centre calls on President Viktor Yanukovich to take the necessary measures to uphold fundamental freedoms during the current unrest in Ukraine and build a legislative framework which will guarantee the rights of minorities in Ukraine and ensure that the country complies with international human rights agreements.

Notes to editors

  • Interview opportunities
    • Irene Fedorovych, No Borders Project Coordinator (Ukraine) – +380 97 509 40 62 – [email protected]
    • Agit Mirzoyev, Director of the Analytical Center for Interethnic Cooperation and Consultations (ACICC) (Georgia) – + 995 599551897 – [email protected]
    • Neil Clarke, Director of Minority Rights Group Europe (Hungary)
  • Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.
  • The Eastern Partnership Minorities Network aims to build the capacity and increase networking between minority activists and organizations. We work with activists and civil society organizations, including ethnic, linguistic, national, religious minorities, indigenous peoples and visible minority communities in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
  • To arrange interviews, please contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].