A recent legislative amendment requiring activists and journalists reporting on government corruption to file public declarations of their personal assets is vague and could be used to deter or punish investigative journalists and partners of anti-corruption nongovernmental groups for doing their job, Human Rights Watch said today:
Under the new amendment, activists and journalists working with independent organizations involved in anti-corruption work, as well as members of public councils, must publicly declare their personal assets – even though they do not receive public funding – in the same manner as state officials. President Petro Poroshenko, who signed the amendment on March 27, 2017, should initiate urgent steps to annul the new measure, which is an unjustified interference with freedom of expression and other rights protected by Ukraine’s human rights obligations.
“This new requirement is a slap in the face of Ukraine’s anti-corruption activists and its international partners who have been calling for a more transparent government,” said Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The requirement conflates state officials, who have a responsibility to divulge their assets because they enjoy certain privileges of office and their work is funded by tax payers, with private citizens who report on issues of public interest.”
There are numerous problems with the new regulations, Daria Kaleniuk (right), the executive director of the Kyiv–based Anti-Corruption Action Center, writes for the Atlantic Council:
- For one, they violate international standards, which prohibit “excessively burdensome or costly reporting obligations” on civil society. The Council of Europe emphasizes that “all reporting and inspection of NGOs shall be subject to a duty to respect the legitimate privacy of donors, beneficiaries and staff, as well as the right to protect legitimate business confidentiality.”
- Second, Ukraine already adheres to the Council of Europe’s Fundamental Principles on the Status of Non-Governmental Organizations in Europe. NGOs submit monthly, quarterly, and annual tax reports to state authorities. All NGOs in Ukraine are subject to inspection. Moreover, all NGOs receiving funding from international donors provide regular programmatic and financial reports to donors. Finally, many organizations voluntarily undergo an external annual audit and publish programmatic and financial reports online. For example, my organization, the Anti-Corruption Action Center, lists its donors on our website.
By enacting this law, Ukraine is joining the ranks of those countries which significantly restrict the work of NGOs, countries like Russia, Belarus, and Uzbekistan, which begs the question: why did Poroshenko sign it in the first place? Kaleniuk asks.