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i Image credit / Kyiv Post
pro-European protesters in Ukraine & the right to assembly
The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) has been voted and ratified by 47 European states, and Ukraine has become one of those states since 9 November 1995.
Article 11 paragraph 1 passage 1 of the ECHR provides that “everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly (and to freedom of association) (…)”.
Article 11 paragraph 2 of the ECHR provides that “No restrictions shall be placed on the exercise of these rights other than such as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This Article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on the exercise of these rights by members of the armed forces, of the police or of the administration of the State”.
The limits of the right to assembly in the light of the aforementioned provisions have been examined by national courts across Europe, such as the High Court of Justice in England and Wales (Queen’s Bench Division, Administrative Court) in the case Moos v Police of the Metropolis. In that case on 1st April 2009 there were two large demonstrations in the City of London against the G20 Summit. The police decided to contain the places of the protests and the claimants argued that such containment was unnecessary and unlawful. It was held that various conditions must be fulfilled to justify lawful police steps to protect public safety such as that the steps must be necessary, reasonable, and proportionate, depending on the imminence of the situation of a possible breach of law and on the specific circumstances.
The accession of the European Union (EU) to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) constitutes a major step in the development of human rights in Europe. Discussed since the late 1970s, the accession became a legal obligation under the Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force on 1 December 2009 (see article 6, paragraph 2). The legal basis for the accession of the EU is provided for by article 59, paragraph 2 ECHR (“the European Union may accede to this Convention”), as amended by Protocol No. 14 to the ECHR which entered into force on 1 June 2010.
Ukraine was in discussion with the EU for an association agreement. Unfortunately, literally at the last moment the Ukrainian President decided to unilaterally freeze the procedure and the signing of such an agreement. This has caused the reaction of the Major Opposition in Ukraine and citizens were in the streets to protest for the European future of Ukraine, as they have such legal right based both on the Constitution of the country and on the ECHR.
During the last few months various events occurred. However, on the 24th of January 2014 five people were reported dead because of the excess of police force against the demonstrators, whilst police violence against a young man was recorded and uploaded in the internet showing many policemen beating a nude armless young man and taking humiliating photos of him. The escalation of violence obviously threatens public safety. Therefore, the police reacted in a very violent way against the protestors, and the humiliating behavior or the abuse of police power is far beyond the fair keeping of the public order. Such abuse was condemned through public statements by both the European officials and the European political parties, such as the European Federalist Party. Ukraine was in the path of reforms towards a closer step to the European Union, and this was the situation in the minds of the Ukrainian citizens and in the minds of the European officials, too. The unjustified unilateral decision of the President of Ukraine harmed the balance in politics of Ukraine, negatively surprised Europeans and Ukrainians and created an unfair situation for the legitimate expectations of Ukrainians who were and are pro-European.
Moreover, civil rights may be balanced against other rights, as the ECHR also provides in paragraph 2 of article 11 (“for the protection of the rights of others”).
If we imagine for a second that the civil right of citizen A or of a group of citizens A is a big bubble A (i.e. the right to assembly) and the civil right of citizen B or of a group of citizens B is a big bubble B (i.e. the right to public safety), we can understand that each bubble, each civil right may not violate the other. However, in difficult situations, this happens. And then, the law enforcers shall balance the two rights. If no one can strike this balance, the next step is more violence, a dictatorship or a civil war. To avoid such situations, the political parties shall talk to create a safe environment for all citizens.
In the case of Ukraine, all parties should calm down to find a solution to this very unpleasant situation. The European path of the country is essential to provide such safe environment for all Ukrainians. The unreasonable, the unnecessary and the misappropriate excess of police force shall not contribute to public safety. The interest of the protesters for Europe and the interest of the government for delaying Europe shall be in harmonious existence for the benefit of Ukraine and the Ukrainians. Maybe the government shall make a step closer to Europe, responding to the public demand in this country. The respect of the European Convention of Human Rights and of the rule “pacta sunt servanda” shall guide the country and its citizens. Ukraine can be simultaneously an ally of Russia and a member of the European family. Europe and the European Union shall help Russia and Ukraine and their governments to see that the European perspective of Ukraine is for the benefit of all citizens of Russia, Ukraine and of Europe. We want to live in peaceful countries, in a peaceful continent, in a peaceful world, full of opportunities for the citizens in a democratic society for a better future for all. The future of Ukraine is a European one.
  EWHC 957 (Admin), http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2011/957.html
 European Federalist Party, Press Release, Pro-EU Demonstrations in Ukraine, Brussels, 1 December 2013, http://federalistparty.eu/blog/2013/12/01/press-release-pro-eu-demonstrations-in-ukraine/