Mr. Speaker, last week, former Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko was sentenced to four years imprisonment in yet another politically motivated trial. This comes after the imprisonment–also the result of an unfair trial on specious charges–of his ally, former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, who continues to languish in prison in ill health.
The sentencing of Mr. Lutsenko is a further confirmation that the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych is not taking its OSCE human rights and democracy obligations seriously. The imprisonment of opposition leaders Tymoshenko and Lutsenko prohibits their participation in October’s parliamentary elections, raising serious questions about whether Ukraine will meet OSCE election standards. This could be especially troubling given Ukraine’s assumption of the OSCE Chairmanship in January, 2013, two months after these elections. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, it is also of concern to me and my colleagues, who have long advocated an independent, democratic, and free Ukraine.
Mr. Lutsenko’s conviction is disconcerting in that it starkly illustrates the deterioration of human rights, democracy and the rule of law under the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych, who has pressed the pause button on Ukraine’s once-promising advance towards democracy–and increasingly it seems he is switching to the reverse button. Instead, what we now see is something increasingly reminiscent of the kind of authoritarianism that exists in Russia, Belarus and elsewhere in the post-Soviet space.
Ukraine’s democratic backsliding is harming relations with the EU and the United States, and both have repeatedly made clear that for relations to improve, respect for human rights and the democratic process must improve. Most importantly, this now two-year deterioration negatively affects the Ukrainian people, who, following the Orange Revolution, had tasted the fruits of freedom, and are now increasingly experiencing the burden of its undoing.
It is time for President Yanukovych to show respect for the dignity of his own people by putting an end to political prosecutions and other reprisals against those who oppose him and allow their full participation in political life. In order to find credibility with both the Ukrainian people and the international community, he must end restrictions on freedom of speech and association and reverse the debilitating corruption and judicial subservience to the executive which has so eroded the rule of law.
Mr. Speaker, the time has come for the Ukrainian authorities to stop their slide to authoritarianism and resulting isolation which will only harm Ukrainians who for so long–and at such great cost–have struggled for freedom, dignity and justice.