Ukraine has introduced draft legislation aimed at reforming its security services, granting them extensive powers in the realms of intelligence and law enforcement, but it lacks crucial safeguards against potential misuse of these powers. Human Rights Watch has called for the postponement of the final vote on the legislation, which is currently scheduled for the week of October 11, 2021. The organization is urging Ukraine's parliament to address the human rights concerns within the draft and to engage in meaningful consultations with the country's civil society.
While the security service reform is considered necessary, Human Rights Watch believes that certain human rights issues within the bill remain unaddressed and could jeopardize the overall reform. The draft law has undergone multiple revisions but still contains provisions that grant the security services (SBU) broad surveillance, entry, and detention powers without sufficient human rights safeguards.
G7 ambassadors to Ukraine have urged Ukraine's parliament to adopt the bill without further delay or amendments. However, Human Rights Watch contends that international partners should prioritize respect for international human rights and be willing to invest more time and effort into refining the bill, even if it means further amendments. The G7's support for the current flawed bill should be reconsidered, and it should commit to monitoring the SBU's use of its powers under the law to ensure compliance with Ukraine's international human rights obligations.
The final version of the draft legislation, dated September 22, empowers the SBU with extensive surveillance capabilities and the authority to collect and store both public and private information about individuals and institutions. It mandates telecommunication and internet companies to install special equipment providing the SBU with continuous access to users' data, potentially infringing on the privacy of all telephone and internet users in Ukraine. The bill also grants the SBU the technical capability to block websites at its discretion, sometimes without requiring a court warrant. These measures do not meet human rights standards for acceptable restrictions on freedom of information.
While the draft legislation addresses some longstanding structural and management issues within the SBU, it does so at the cost of human rights. The revised bill retains the SBU's powers of arrest, seizure, detention, and interrogation without sufficient oversight. Provisions governing the use of coercive measures, such as physical force, nonlethal "special means," and lethal force, provide the SBU with greater latitude to employ these measures compared to other law enforcement agencies. This expanded scope raises concerns about potential misuse of coercive force, which must strictly adhere to the requirements of international human rights norms.
The current draft acknowledges the absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment in detention, but it lacks the necessary safeguards to prevent abuses in detention and guarantee due process for those in SBU custody. Specific provisions requiring the SBU to ensure that detainees have access to legal counsel, including legal aid services if needed, are absent. These protections are crucial, particularly in light of credible allegations of SBU involvement in abuses.
While the draft legislation proposes phasing out the SBU's pretrial investigative functions by 2025 and is supported by a roadmap, the roadmap's details need to be more comprehensive and clear to ensure that deadlines are met.
The reform's primary objective is to establish a streamlined, highly effective counterintelligence agency that adheres to international human rights standards. Human Rights Watch believes that it is still possible to achieve this goal by revising the legislation before the final vote.