By Borys Humeniuk
AFTER gaining independence in 1991, following the collapse of the former Soviet Union, Ukraine began drafting a new constitution which was adopted on June 28, 1996. This constitution and its adoption established a legal foundation of the independent Ukraine. It was considered progressive in terms of human rights and freedoms for all Ukrainians.
But the history of the constitutional process in Ukraine is not so short, dating back to Kievan Rus’, the loose federation of east Slavic states which existed from the 9th to 13th centuries, through to Bohdan Khmelnytsky the founder of a Ukrainian Cossack state in 1649. Later, it was the 17th century Cossack and diplomat Pylyp Orlyk who was a crucial part of an anti-Russian alliance and wrote the ‘Constitution of Ukraine’, one of the first European constitutions.
In August 1991, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council) adopted the Act of Independence which was endorsed in the national referendum of December 1991. Ukraine was recognised by most countries as a sovereign state. And with the adoption of its constitution, Ukraine became an independent democratic state with all the fundamental principles of the rule of law and human rights.
At the same time, the Ukrainian state chose the path of peaceful development and in January 1994 committed to full nuclear disarmament of the country. In 1991, Ukraine inherited the third largest nuclear weapons stockpile in the world after the Russian Federation and the United States. Under the Trilateral Agreement with these two states, Ukraine agreed to denuclearisation in exchange for security assurances, financial assistance and a denuclearisation implementation timetable. Ukraine joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons as a non-nuclear weapon state in 1994, and having transferred all of its nuclear warheads to Russia, became nuclear-weapon-free in 1996.
Moreover, on December 5, 1994 the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Britain and the United States signed the Budapest Memorandum to provide Ukraine with security assurances in connection with its accession to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state, which has now been brutally violated by one of the signatories. Russia is not only violating international agreements and its obligation as a guarantor of Ukraine’s security, but it is also violating Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and is interfering in the internal policy of our country. It claims Ukraine is not providing the proper rights and freedoms in the southern and eastern regions of the country, thus questioning democracy in our country. But Ukraine always adheres to democratic principles.
The Ukrainian government has undertaken efforts to conduct constitutional reform and ensure decentralisation of power as a key element as well as adopting legislation for the special status of certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk. In accordance with the law of local self-government in these areas adopted by the Ukrainian parliament on September 16, 2014, local elections were scheduled for December 7, 2014 after which the law should have come into force. Russian-supported militants in Donetsk and Luhansk regions ignored the above law and, in breach of the Ukrainian legislation and Minsk agreements, held their own illegal “presidential” and “parliamentary elections” on November 2, 2014.
Russia did not prevent militants from holding these sham elections and later declared that it respected their results and intended to cooperate with the newly elected “authorities” in Donbas. Moreover, Moscow promoted the federalisation of Ukraine and insisted that Ukraine start a dialogue and cooperation with the said illegitimate “authorities”.
Opening the first session of the newly established Constitutional Commission in Ukraine aimed at the regulation of constitutional rights, freedoms and duties, the president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, on April 6 stressed Ukraine was, is and will be a unitary state. Today, public support of the unitary model is close to 90 per cent. The process of constitutional amendments reflects the public consensus.
Representatives of political forces and the public, aided by national and international experts have been tasked with building on constitutional amendments required by the public and Ukraine’s international commitments.
In this regard it is worth mentioning that constitutional reform in Ukraine is aimed at our country joining the European Union. Ukraine sees the European Union as an optimal model for our country, its economy and public institutions, and in the future – as our common home. It is obvious, that the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, including a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, will constitute a solid base for comprehensive reforms in my country and will also address competitiveness issues and the steps needed for Ukraine to meet EU standards and trade rules on the EU markets, including Cyprus.
Borys Humeniuk is the Ukrainian ambassador to Cyprus