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Ukrainian OSCE Chairmanship treading on thin ice

Analysis04 December 2013

By violently dispersing peaceful protesters in Kiev on Saturday night, Ukraine is treading on very thin ice, particularly as the country is currently holding the OSCE Chairmanship and will host the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Kiev on 5 and 6 December. While peaceful protesters expressed their support for the EU Association Agreement and their opposition to the government over the weekend, police responded with violence, using stun grenades and batons.[1] This violent attack by the police led to a considerable increase in protesters on Sunday, bringing back to mind images of the 2004 Orange Revolution. Although Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych condemned “the actions that led to forceful confrontation and suffering of people”[2] in an address to the Ukrainian people on 30 November, the damage had been done.

If Ukraine ever wants to become part of the European family, the country will have to break once and for all with such violent behavior against its own people. In addition, in its capacity as Chairmanship in Office, Ukraine is internationally exposed and has to represent the values and principles this Organization stands for. The right to peaceful assembly and demonstration is a core value of the OSCE. All OSCE participating States reaffirmed this principle in the 1990 CSCE Copenhagen Document, stressing that “everyone will have the right to peaceful assembly and demonstration” and that “any restriction which may be placed on the exercise of these rights will be prescribed by law and consistent with international standards.”[3]

The violence of the police was strongly condemned by the EU[4] and the United States[5], recalling OSCE values and expressing concerns about the wrong message the police violence sends just days before the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Kiev. Indeed, the ice may be breaking, unless a just compromise, one that includes the will of the people, can be found. The world, particularly Ukraine’s peers in the OSCE, will be watching closely this week.

[1] For a more detailed account of the demonstrations, see for example “Ukraine police smash pro-Europe protest, opposition to call strike”, Richard Balmforth and Thomas Grove, Reuters, 30 November 2013, available at:

[2] See “President’s address to the Ukrainian people”, Press Office of President Viktor Yanukovych, 30 November 2013, available at:

[3] See Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE, Copenhagen, 29 June 1990, available at:

[4] See joint statement by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton and Commissioner Štefan Füle on last night’s events in Ukraine, (131130/02), Brussels, 30 November 2013, available at:

[5] See press statement by Jen Psaki, Department Spokesperson, US Department of State, “Violence against Ukrainian demonstrators”, Washington DC, 30 November 2013, available at:


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