Ukraine’s government under newly elected President Volodymyr Zelensky took several positive steps in 2019, although Ukraine’s human rights record remained mixed, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2020.
Zelensky’s government took important steps to complete anti-corruption reforms that had stalled under Zelensky’s predecessor. But independent media remained under pressure, and the government retained discriminatory policies toward pensioners in areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian proxies, Human Rights noted.
Following Zelensky’s landslide victory in April and his party (servant of people) decisive victory in snap parliamentary elections, parliament adopted legislative reforms to protect whistleblowers, strip members of parliament of immunity, boost prosecutors’ effectiveness, and shield civil servants from political pressure. Ukraine’s High Anti-Corruption Court finally became operational.
Reducing war victims in the east
The war in eastern Ukraine entered its sixth year. In 2019, there had been an overall reduction in civilian casualties as compared to previous years, also Ukraine became the 100th country to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, an international political commitment to making schools safe during times of war.
In September, Russia and Ukraine exchanged 70 prisoners, including 24 Ukrainian sailors Russia captured in the Kerch strait in 2018, and a Ukrainian journalist with. Another major prisoner exchange between Ukraine and Russian-led forces took place in December 2019. Ukraine turned over 124 people and the armed groups released 76.
The government has maintained discriminatory policies that apply to how people living in Russian proxy-held areas can access their pensions. But, by ending expiration dates for electronic passes and repairing a hazardous pedestrian bridge, the government made it easier for them to travel across the conflict line to comply with requirements.
Passing New Laws
Justice for crimes committed during the 2014 Maidan protests remained elusive. The prosecutor general’s office dissolved its investigative unit, tasked with investigating Maidan-related abuses, and nominally transferred its cases to another investigative body, effectively suspending those investigations.
Independence of the Ukrainian Church
A new law requiring that Ukrainian language be used in most aspects of public life raised concerns about sufficient guarantees for the protection and use of minority languages.
A number of congregations transitioned from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is under the Moscow patriarchate, to the newly formed Orthodox Church of Ukraine. There was some violence by supporters on both sides and by local authorities.
Russian Authorities Harassments in Crimea
Russian authorities in occupied Crimea harassed Crimean Tatars, arresting 32 and prosecuting dozens more on trumped-up terrorism charges. Many of those arrested were members of Crimean Solidarity, a legal and social support group for families of those arrested for political reasons. Russian security agents tortured or ill-treated at least four.