Overall situation and state of civil society
Although the current political climate is in flux, Ukraine has made some advances toward democratic reform in its recent history. Newly-enacted progressive legislation, along with new mechanisms for civil society engagement in governance, have helped Ukraine move closer to an Association Agreement (AA) with the European Union (EU). The Law on Public Associations provides an overarching framework for all non-governmental organizations in Ukraine. The Law on Charity and Charitable Associations, the Law on Access to Public Information, the Law on Volunteerism and the Strategy of Government Policy on Civil Society Development and Priority Action Plan are supporting legislation and policy that have helped establish a positive framework for Ukrainian civil society, which remains committed to supporting and furthering these gains.
Nevertheless, even with these significant and progressive legislative reforms, much more is needed to ensure a regulatory framework that is conducive to civil society, protects political and civil rights in Ukraine and prevents possible rollbacks.
Trust in civil society grew in 2018. Some 60% of citizens trust volunteer groups and 45% trust civic organizations, an increase from 53% and 40% respectively in September 2017. However, only 7-8% of Ukrainians are actively engaged in their local community life; 17-21% of people surveyed stated that they rarely participate in meetings and activities.
The crisis in Donbas and Crimea, the economy, and corruption remain the three most important issues that the country faces and form the most significant challenges for civil society in Ukraine. An additional challenge is that politicians have repeatedly tried to control international funding for CSOs, restrict CSO operations and create a negative public image of the sector. Recent examples include: Legislation labeling civil society organizations as “foreign agents” if they receive funds from international donors; the introduction of asset-declaration for anti-corruption activists and professionals; and proposal for additional reporting for civil society organizations. At the same time, Ukrainian citizens are still excluded from government decision-making process, both at the national and local levels. Ukrainian authorities remain closed and unaccountable to its citizens.
Recent changes to the Tax Code also brought challenges for CSOs. Although the comprehensive amendments were designed to provide CSOs with a better tax regime, an easier road to obtaining non-profit status and more opportunities to conduct business activities, most of these benefits have failed to materialize due to poor implementation of the law. Further, new procedures for maintaining the non-profit registry and registration procedures for CSOs were adopted but some changes still need to be developed and adopted. For example, it is necessary to improve legislation on the non-profit registration and clarify who is the beneficiary for CSOs.
Attacks against activists continue without appropriate investigation by state authorities and are sometimes instigated by authorities themselves. Also, ultra-right groups are increasingly engaging in unlawful actions against CSO representatives. During the period of October-December 2018 there were 52 cases of confrontations or violence.
Finally, homophobia is commonplace in Ukraine and violence and
discrimination against LGBT activists routinely goes unpunished. Discrimination
based on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity is broadly
accepted by society. Further legislative and policy protection of victims of
discrimination is urgently needed.