Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Ukraine, with a population of 46 million, is a republic with a mixed presidential and parliamentary system governed by a directly elected president and a unicameral parliament that selects a prime minister. Parliamentary elections in September 2007 were conducted mostly in line with international democratic standards in an open and competitive environment. The political party system remains highly polarized and unstable. Civil society organizations still have limited advocacy opportunities. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces. The police and penal systems continued to be sources of human rights abuses. There were instances of torture by law enforcement personnel, harsh conditions in prisons and detention facilities, and arbitrary and lengthy pretrial detention. The judiciary lacked independence and suffered from corruption. During 2008 societal violence against Jews continued to be a problem, as did anti-Semitic publications, although less than in 2007. Serious corruption persisted in all branches of the government. Societal problems included violence and discrimination against women, including domestic violence and sexual harassment in the workplace, and against children, as well as increased violence against persons of non Slavic appearance. Discrimination against Roma continued. Trafficking in persons continued to be a serious problem, including trafficking in children for commercial sexual exploitation.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The United States places a priority on supporting democratic gains in the country through promoting a more responsive government, and using the embassy's public affairs section to foster a wider knowledge of democracy. Advancing the rule of law and increasing the independence and impartiality of the judiciary are critical in the country's efforts to fight corruption. The United States also promotes fundamental reform of the country's judiciary and criminal justice system to enhance objectivity and fairness. One key way by which the United States encourages good governance in all branches of government is to bolster transparency and accountability through support for independent media and civil society's advocacy and monitoring activities. By building the capacity of civil society organizations (CSOs), those institutions can play a more effective role in supporting the country's democratic gains.

The United States emphasized legal reform, especially of the country's criminal code, and capacity building for the country's border security services as a means of strengthening respect for and protection of human rights. The United States made use of several tools, such as the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP), to facilitate the participation of key individuals in good governance programs. The embassy highlighted the growing problem of hate crimes during the year and emphasized a program to combat trafficking in persons. Lastly, the United States focused efforts to promote labor rights.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

U.S. programs strengthened democratic governance by contributing to more responsive local governance and a more independent and accessible parliament. For example, parliamentary committees conducted public hearings more regularly and maintained their own public Web sites. In addition, citizen access and participation in the legislative process increased via media and civil society efforts and public hearings. U.S. programs also promoted decentralization by improving efficiency and planning in regional and local governments. The United States also promoted democratic governance through support for anticorruption initiatives such as CSO monitoring, investigative reporting, public awareness campaigns, increased enforcement of governmental ethical and administrative standards, streamlined and enforced regulations, and higher education testing. U.S. assistance strengthened democratic political processes by improving cooperation among parliamentary factions, educating young political leaders, and bolstering ties between members of parliament and their constituencies. U.S. programs also supported grassroots activities, including exchanges between political activists from the eastern and western parts of the country. Over 1,000 individuals benefited from nonpartisan political party training.

The United States contributed to a key justice system reform by supporting the drafting of a Criminal Justice Reform Concept, which was adopted in May 2008 and is critical to future Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) reform. The United States also supported the development of a new Council of Europe-compliant CPC and supporting legislation, which will strengthen the criminal justice system and procuracy. Other U.S. assistance strengthened the rule of law by increasing judicial transparency and effectiveness by improving judicial operations, developing key judicial reforms, and widening access to justice. The United States assisted the State Border Guard Service (SBGS) to reform its training system to meet EU standards, including those on human rights.

The United States also advanced democracy by strengthening civil society and independent media. U.S. grants programs disbursed over 100 small grants to support CSO initiatives in areas such as human rights, rule of law, legal reform, anticorruption, government transparency, ethnic and gender equality, and media freedom. Examples of such grants included funding for a study on improving anti-discrimination legislation, and for a leading human rights group to monitor xenophobia and hate speech in the country. U.S. assistance also contributed to improvements in the CSO enabling environment, strengthened the capacity of formative CSOs, and promoted increased domestic philanthropy. U.S. programs supported freedom of association and labor rights by urging reforms in the labor sector in line with European principles, as well as through assistance to support the development of democratic trade unions, a new labor code, and more constructive dialogue among workers, employers, and the government. U.S. programs also worked to strengthen independent media and expand access to objective information, including training to improve journalist professionalism and ethics and developing new media. U.S grants also provided free public access to the Internet to support the open exchange of information at public libraries. The United States promoted civic activism through small grants to support the work of U.S. academic exchange alumni on topics such as tolerance, ethics, volunteerism, Euro-Atlantic integration, and education reform.

U.S. public affairs and visitor and exchange programs strengthen democratic gains by exposing local citizens to democratic cultures and increasing access to information about democracy. The Public Affairs Section disseminated information about the U.S. democratic system through the embassy's Web site, media interviews, and programs at an extensive network of Windows on America resource centers throughout the country. About 100 individuals from the country visited the United States in 2008 on U.S.-sponsored academic exchange programs, along with approximately 300 high school students who spent a year on the Future Leaders Exchange Program to gain understanding of the United States and to experience first-hand democratic values in action. Professional exchanges such as the IVLP and Open World raised awareness about issues such as combating child exploitation, ethnic conflict resolution, rule of law, and government accountability.

To improve respect for and protection of human rights, the chief of mission engaged senior government officials, in coordination with the heads of other diplomatic missions, to address the increase in hate crimes during the year. The deputy chief of mission hosted a roundtable with NGOs to discuss problems that persons with disabilities faced and ways to improve access to education, medical care, social services, and employment. The United States also provided training and support to the SBGS and Ministry of Interior on antitrafficking in persons by improving mechanisms to identify and protect victims, target traffickers, and ensure convictions and sufficient sentencing.