In the mid 1970s I flew from London to Johannesburg via Madrid in order to get the cheapest fare.  During the stopover at Madrid airport I was waiting to buy a newspaper at a shop when I was elbowed out of the way by an immensely solid Guardia Civil officer in a shiny black hat who felt he should be served first.  It left a lasting impression on me as a symbol of the unaccountability of authority in a country which became a democracy only after the death of General Franco in 1975. 

People arriving in Ukraine from other parts of former Soviet Union often remark that the country feels more free and democratic than some other countries in the region.  That’s important: all the main political parties in Ukraine say they are strong defenders of political rights and freedoms; and the Copenhagen criteria, which set out the conditions would-be EU members states must meet, are focused on human rights.  But you can never take human rights for granted; and there are pressures in every country – some more than others – to erode them.  That is why the British embassy in Kyiv has supported projects to help the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, the Supreme Court and the High Administrative Court to help improve the Ukrainian judicial system.  We also blog regularly on this subject – see How to stop censorship in Ukraine, Can Ukraine learn from the Stasi? and Ukrainian militia, Euro 2012 and human rights: are they compatible?  To back all this up, we’ve just launched a brand new human rights page on the British Embassy website.

As countries around the world focus on human rights on 10 December, I hope Ukraine will continue to be a country where visitors are struck on arrival by the scent of liberty in the air rather than being struck – literally, as I was in Madrid – by a sense of human rights or freedom of speech on the defensive.

Leigh Turner
British Ambassador to Ukraine

NOTE:  You can read all of Ambassador Turner's blogs by visiting: 

Ukrayinska Dumka


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