Ukraine: Government must condemn killing of ecologist as crime against free expression
14 Aug 2012
ARTICLE 19 calls on the Ukrainian government to publicly condemn the killing of environmental information activist, Volodymyr Honcharenko as a crime against free speech and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice via an independent and transparent process. Volodymyr campaigned for environmental information in Ukraine and died on 3 August.
On 1 August 2012 Volodymyr Honcharenko, a well-known ecologist and public activist, who was critical of the authorities for their lack of accountability with regards to environmental safety and security, was stopped in his car on the road and beaten by unidentified men. Despite the serious head trauma he had suffered, Honcharenko managed to get home and explain what had happened to him, but later lost consciousness and passed away in hospital on 3 August.
Volodymyr’s colleagues and family are convinced that his work - in particular his latest public appearance - were the reason for the brutal attack on him. At his last appearance in a press conference on 27 July, Volodymyr warned of a potential ‘chemical time bomb’ in the Saksaganskyi Region of Kryvyi Rog, where Volodymyr and his colleagues had discovered that 180 tons of chemically-contaminated and radioactive scrap metal were being moved around freely.
ARTICLE 19 is concerned that the investigation into Volodymyr’s killing is treated as a random criminal act rather than an act aimed at preventing him from talking about issues he raised. Violence and other crimes against those exercising their right to freedom of expression are crimes against this right as a whole and should not be regarded as ‘ordinary’ crime.
Furthermore we are concerned that any failure to recognise the free expression aspects of Volodymyr’s case would constitutes a severe blow to freedom of information in the country. Similarly, impunity in Volodymyr’s case, as has sadly been seen in the cases of killed journalists in Ukraine like journalist Georgiy Gongadze who was killed in 2000, would also undermine freedom of expression in the country.
States have a positive obligation under international human rights law to protect those exercising their right to freedom of expression, including journalists, human rights defenders and public activists and investigate and punish those responsible for crimes against them.
The three special mandates for protecting freedom of expression – the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and the OAS Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression – set out standards relating to violence and crimes against freedom of expression. Their 2012 Declaration, adopted in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on 25 June 2012, includes the following relevant standards:
- State officials should condemn attacks committed in reprisal for the exercise of freedom of expression
- The authorities should make all reasonable efforts to expedite investigations, including by acting as soon as an official complaint or reliable evidence of an attack against freedom of expression becomes available
- Sufficient resources should be allocated to ensure that investigations into crimes against freedom of expression are thorough, rigorous and effective and that all aspects of such crimes are explored properly
- Investigations should lead to the identification and prosecution of all of those responsible for crimes against freedom of expression, including direct perpetrators and instigators, as well as those who conspire to commit, aid and abet, or cover up such crimes
- Investigations should be conducted in a transparent manner, subject to the need to avoid prejudice to the investigation.
In view of the above standards ARTICLE 19 calls on the Ukrainian authorities to:
- Unequivocally condemn the killing as an attack committed in reprisal for the exercise of freedom of expression
- Provide sufficent resources for the investigation, which should be prompt in order to prevent losing evidence
- Ensure that both the perpetrators and instigators of Volodymyr’s killing are held to account
- Thoroughly investigate the circumstances of Volodymyr’s death in light of his active disclosure of facts relating to environmental pollution; including radioactive, lead and chemical contamination in the Dnipropetrovsk region that could be a potential threat to public health
- Inform the public on a regular basis about the progress of the investigation and the proceedings against the persons responsible for the attacks.
- For more information, please contact Nathalie Losekoot Nathalie@article19.org +44 20 7324 2500
- Last month, a report entitled "Make freedom of expression a reality, Mr President" - A Report on Press Freedom in Ukraine, was published by several media and human rights groups including ARTICLE 19, after an international joint mission to Ukraine in April 2012. The report outlines concerns ‘regarding media freedom in the country and calls on President Yanukovich to ensure the right to freedom of expression.
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