Human rights groups urge Ukrainian leaders to change SBU reform bill ahead of passage

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and more than 20 other groups urged Ukraine’s parliament to address shortcomings in a bill to reform the country’s security services before passing it.

HRW is one of 23 civil society groups that on June 3 sent a letter to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and co-sponsors of the bill to change the “problematic” parts of the proposal, which is currently being drafted. preparing for adoption, possibly later this month.

The reform is key to helping the security service, known as the SBU, transform into an effective agency that respects and supports international human rights standards, HRW said in A press release.

But the bill contains provisions that could be detrimental to human rights, the groups said, urging Ukrainian lawmakers to address issues arising from the bill’s lack of clarity and properly defined powers and roles, and its provisions now, or in some cases, strengthening regulations that endanger human rights and fundamental freedoms.

“The current security agency reform initiative, which Ukraine’s partners and allies have long called on the government to undertake, is both necessary and long overdue,” said Hugh Williamson, director Europe and Central Asia at HRW. “But for the reform to be successful and to strengthen the rule of law in Ukraine, several key problematic aspects of the proposed law must first be addressed.”

the the groups letter said that while the reform was supposed to streamline the work of the SBU as an intelligence agency and remove law enforcement functions from its mandate, the proposed bill “expands the scope of the [SBU’s] activities beyond the protection of national security by giving the agency a broad mandate to investigate a wide variety of crimes.

SBU conducts large-scale counterterrorism exercises in Kherson region in April 2021

The letter called this “deeply problematic in light of serious and credible allegations by Ukrainian anti-corruption and human rights groups. [SBU] involvement in corruption, corporate raids and interference with anti-corruption investigations conducted by other state agencies.

The bill also retains the SBU’s powers of arrest, seizure, detention, interrogation and surveillance, without clear oversight, the letter said.

Although the bill reiterates the absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment in detention, it fails to provide sufficient protections to prevent abuse in detention or to ensure due process measures requiring the SBU to ensure that ‘a detainee has a lawyer, according to the groups. who signed the letter.

The groups also point out that a provision to phase out the SBU’s preliminary investigative functions by 2024 and one allowing the agency to operate temporary detention centers until January 2023 are not supported by a clear roadmap that would ensure that these deadlines are met.

Noting that the reforms are “long overdue,” the letter encourages Ukrainian leaders not to pass up the opportunity to pass a bill that “adheres to the stated vision of limiting the role and powers of the [SBU] and which respects Ukraine’s international obligations and respects fundamental rights and freedoms. “

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