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Ukraine Human Rights & Democracy Focus of Helsinki Commission Hearing

Washington – The United States Helsinki Commission held a hearing today examining the status of human rights and democracy in Ukraine and the role of the United States in assisting Ukraine’s development as an independent, market-oriented democracy in the face of the current political crisis.

“Pervasive, high level corruption, the controversial conduct by authorities in the Gongadze investigation and ongoing human rights problems are raising legitimate questions about Ukraine’s commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). “I am especially troubled by the level of corruption in Ukraine, which has had such a debilitating impact on the people and which discourages valuable foreign investment, something that Ukraine badly needs to assist in its economic recovery. Left to fester, corruption will undermine Ukraine’s fledgling democracy and independence.”

“Ukraine’s promise for a better future has not yet been met,” said Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “We know this all too well from the tape scandal, alleging the involvement of top officials in malfeasance. We know this from the Ukrainian authorities’ sometimes heavy-handed responses to the independent media and opposition. More recently, this promise for a better future was thwarted by forces reluctant to engage in the kinds of reforms that will truly break the ties with a gloomy, communist past. It was these forces who voted – ironically, on the fifteenth anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster – to dismiss popular reform-minded Prime Minister Yushchenko.”

“Given the importance of our relationship with Ukraine – and let there be no doubt that it is a very important relationship – the Commission has become increasingly concerned about the direction in which Ukraine appears to be heading,” Chairman Campbell added.

“Despite the forces hostile to reform, it is clear that the United States must not abandon Ukraine,” said Co-Chairman Smith. “Whether through political support or through concrete assistance to strengthen democracy, it is incumbent upon us to work with the Ukrainian people so that the promise for a better future for which so many sacrifices were made will – at long last – become a reality.”

“Almost a decade after achieving its centuries-old dream of independence, Ukraine is at a crossroads with respect to its democratic development as well as with its geopolitical orientation,” concluded Chairman Campbell. “Is Ukraine acting in a manner consistent with its declared desire to integrate with Europe or is it moving away from a pro-European orientation? And what are the consequences for Ukraine if it moves away from the West?”

Opening statements by Commissioners and witnesses are available on the Helsinki Commission web site.

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