Ukraine has a mixed record of treating its citizens fairly – that could make it harder for it to maintain peace, once the war ends
Published in Political News
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the dominant Western media narrative has been clear – Russia is the “global villain,” and Ukraine a model country victimized by an unjust war. But while the war may be unjust, Ukraine had its share of problems before the conflict with Russia intensified in 2022.
Expert analysis shows that Russia launched an illegal war and has committed the vast majority of the human rights violations in the conflict – such as targeting Ukraine’s civilians.
Ukraine has also allegedly committed war crimes against Russian soldiers during the conflict. Much like Russia, the country has had a mixed record over the past two decades regarding treatment of its citizens.
We are human rights scholars who helped launch the world’s largest quantitative data set – known as CIRIGHTS – to track global human rights in December 2022.
Our analysis shows that while Ukraine’s prewar human rights record is better than Russia’s, it is far below the global average. Along with an ongoing problem of government corruption in government, Ukraine has been cited by Western human rights groups for not prosecuting hate crimes and failing to properly address and respond to gender-based violence.
Ukraine scores in the bottom third of all countries in terms of its human rights record, according to our data. Its score of 42 out of 100 is the same as that of the Central African Republic – a country rife with violence against civilians and political instability.
Several factors contributed to this ranking. Ukraine’s military, for example, is known to have indiscriminately used cluster munitions in highly populated areas of Donetsk – in the eastern part of Ukraine that is occupied by a rebel government – in 2014, killing civilians. Ukraine’s police also killed numerous protesters in Kyiv during the 2014 protests, which led to EU sanctions.
Other human rights and freedom monitors like the U.S. nonprofit Freedom House have reported more recently that Ukraine was “partly free” when it came to issues like expression, access to information and the press. The country ranked just below the global average, with a score of 59 out of 100.
Other human rights analyses show that the extent to which people in Ukraine are free from government torture and forced labor and enjoy such privileges as freedom of religion and expression has improved since 1991, when the Soviet Union broke up – and Ukraine gained its independence – the country’s ranking still stands below that of Ukraine’s Western European neighbors, like Poland, and the United States. Unless Ukraine addresses its human rights shortfalls, it could risk not achieving or maintaining lasting peace, no matter when or how the war eventually ends. Research shows that human rights violations create social and political problems that can lead to conflict both within a country and internationally.
While many human rights measurement projects tend to focus on if and how a government uses physical violence against its people, our project aims to measure all 30 internationally recognized human rights, including women’s rights and workers’ rights.