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Our Rule of Law Work in Ukraine

Promoting Social Cohesion

In 2020, ABA ROLI launched a program designed to increase national unity, promote civic identity, and foster informed and constructive dialogue on issues central to the country’s European future. The four-year, Promoting Social Cohesion in Ukraine Program—known as “Pro-SoCo”—is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL).. We are focused on increasing social cohesion in Ukraine. Social cohesion is defined as tolerance for differences across groups and their unity around democratic principles and reforms. We seek to unite diverse Ukrainian champions from different regions around shared challenges and national values while aiding them to jointly advocate for key policy reforms. As such, ABA ROLI is working towards greater tolerance of differences and inclusiveness towards vulnerable groups such as ethnic and national minorities, internally displaced persons, and LGBTQI individuals. For example, the program works to bolster the skills of teachers and youth leaders to help prevent discrimination, strengthen tolerance, and promote social cohesion among children—particularly in communities hosting large numbers of persons displaced by the war with Russia.

ABA ROLI strives to unite a diverse cross-section of leaders around common goals of tolerance and national identity among Ukrainians. This coalition includes minorities, youth, media, civil society, and professionals from different regions across the country. We are helping these partners put together a reform agenda and advocate for concrete steps national and local governments can take that could increase tolerance, inclusion, and a sense of civil unity. ABA ROLI also supports local media to challenge stereotypes, influence the sharing of information, promote accurate understanding of timely issues, and contribute to effective advocacy. Our approaches prioritize opportunities for cross-regional cooperation, diverse communication within communities and among different regions, and participation of minorities and vulnerable groups.

ABA ROLI employs several cross-regional tools to help Ukrainian advocates understand existing social divisions and develop new initiatives for social cohesion, including participatory democracy schools, educational camps for youth groups, democracy cafes, an online “living” library (containing stories of successful initiatives by activists and teachers around the country), and a network of local governance champions and tolerance ambassadors. To further assist this effort to counter stereotypes and disunity, ABA ROLI supports journalists—through funding and mentorship—to develop cross-regional media initiatives aimed at challenging misinformation and perceptions undermining social cohesion. In conjunction with these efforts, ABA ROLI aids Ukrainian human rights defenders develop a unified approach to advocating for reforms and stimulating social cohesion, including legislative recommendations, an all-civil society conference, and advocacy campaigns.

Illustrative achievements to date include the following:

  • In 2021, ABA ROLI launched a "living” library website which serves as a digital forum to share stories that illustrate social cohesion among Ukrainian society and promote efforts to counter discrimination towards vulnerable groups. For teachers, the website contains a resource center with videos and informational materials, which focus on creating a tolerant atmosphere in schools.
  • In response to the February 2022 invasion by Russia, ABA ROLI rolled out numerous activities that seek to enlist teachers and youth leaders to help mitigate potential friction between IDPs and representatives of hosting communities. We provide them with tools to combat discrimination and exclusion towards vulnerable children struggling to adapt to new circumstances, particularly ethnic and national minorities, Russian speakers, and children with disabilities.
  • In 2023, ABA ROLI organized two cross-regional, multi-day trainings for internally displaced women aimed at helping them integrate into their new communities, find local job vacancies, and access broader guidance on professional development. 
  • Also in 2023, ABA ROLI developed a new methodology for assessing vulnerable groups’ needs and increasing their involvement in local and regional decision-making processes, mobilized a pool of lawyers equipped to provide legal protections for vulnerable groups free from bias or prejudice, and conducted an information campaign highlighting inspirational cases of cooperation between activists and communities during wartime.
  • In 2023, ABA ROLI assisted in Ukraine’s pursuit of European Union accession by helping the State Service of Ukraine for Ethnic Affairs and Freedom of Conscience to develop new regulations pertaining to the implementation of the Law of Ukraine on National Minorities. We also supported the State Service’s advocacy efforts promoting the valuable contributions made by ethnic minorities in Ukraine’s resistance to Russian aggression.  

Promoting Internet Freedom

In 2019, ABA ROLI launched the five-year, Promoting Internet Freedom in Ukraine program, which seeks to strengthen the knowledge and capacity of cross-sector Internet freedom (IF) champions to advocate for laws and policies that promote IF and online freedom of expression (FOE). The program is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL). To achieve the program’s goals, ABA ROLI partners with local and international civil society organizations (CSOs), experts, businesses, members of Parliament, and government agencies to organize expert symposia and conferences to share best practices that support IF through sound policy. We are also providing technical assistance and financial support to local CSOs—selected through a competitive application process—to advance IF and FOE in Ukraine, and to promote the independence of Ukrainian CSOs in their advocacy efforts. In addition, we train civic activists, lawyers, and other local leaders on international best practices in IF, online freedom of expression, and the countering of disinformation. We are also helping the Ministry of Digital Transformation to align legislation on digital rights and freedoms, cybersecurity, and e-commerce more closely with norms and standards accepted by the European Union and Council of Europe.

Cross-sector cooperation is central to ABA ROLI’s approach. When blocks of stakeholders conduct advocacy in unison on a specific issue, it is likely to carry more weight in influencing government bodies and overcoming political pressures than if any single individual or organization acted alone. We bring our international and national legal expertise to bear through the design and delivery of meaningful consultations between Ukrainian partners and experts.

First, ABA ROLI solidifies the foundation of expertise and knowledge amongst the community of IF stakeholders so that they may understand relevant IF and national security issues from not only a domestic context but also regional and international perspectives. This legal knowledge is essential to ensure that new laws are developed with input from informed stakeholders— those who have the capacity and knowledge to push for protections of human rights and freedom of expression within the complex Ukrainian national security context. We also conduct symposia for the legal professional community, followed by roundtables for a broader stakeholder group. These events ensure that the participants can deepen their understanding of pertinent and contemporary legal frameworks and principles related to IF. In addition to symposia and roundtables, we also provide comprehensive training modules for local experts to educate them on international best practices in the areas of IF, online FOE protection, cybersecurity, personal data protection and countering disinformation.  

Second, ABA ROLI provides opportunities for stakeholders to cooperate and develop relationships with each other. We conduct expert-led bootcamps that help participants to develop IF advocacy concepts into concrete plans of action. We conduct competitive subgrant competitions, through which we support local partners to implement projects and achieve their advocacy objectives. To support the sustainable development of local expertise in the areas of IF and online FOE as well as to improve the capacity of local organizations, we provide open competition outreach and further education to IF and online FOE newcomers— emerging authorities, students and academics and local organizations— on all aspects of legal IF protection. ABA ROLI also assists local experts with productive multiregional and multi-stakeholder sharing of information through quarterly “community of practice” meetings.

Third, ABA ROLI engages with the Ministry of Digital Transformation in harmonizing Ukrainian legislation and regulations with standards accepted by the European Union and Council of Europe in the spheres of digital security, digital markets, and digital rights protection. We link international subject matter experts with local IF and online FOE community members to help bolster efforts at advocacy as well as policy reform.  

Illustrative achievements to date include the following:

  • In June 2021, ABA ROLI convened a groundbreaking symposium entitled the "First Annual International Conference on Human Rights in the Digital Dimension." This online event was the first of its kind in Ukraine related to IF and online FOE, bringing together contributions from 68 speakers across 12 sessions on a variety of topics. Subject matter included online freedom trends, digital technologies and access to justice, artificial intelligence (AI) and human rights, and bullying and minority rights. The speakers were from Ukraine, United States, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Denmark, Georgia, Finland, Sweden, Thailand, Uzbekistan, and South Africa. The event brought 176 participants from civil society, academia, legal bodies, media, and government agencies, including MPs, deputy ministers, representatives of the Office of the Ombudsman, Council of Europe, and European Union Delegation to Ukraine.
  • In 2021, ABA ROLI presented and disseminated an innovative analysis of the legal state of Internet Freedom in the country, entitled “Internet Freedom Report 2020 - Respect for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms on the Internet." In the document, ABA ROLI encapsulated the most significant legislative changes and initiatives that took place in 2020, explaining their impact upon fundamental freedoms in Ukraine. The report also featured concrete recommendations to the Government and Parliament for possible amendments to local laws. 
  • In 2023, ABA ROLI undertook several educational initiatives aimed at boosting cross-sectoral stakeholders’ (i.e., academia, civil society, defense attorneys, lawyers, judges, and media) awareness of Internet freedom and online freedom of expression. Topics included European Court of Human Rights case law, Ukrainian efforts to counter online propaganda and disinformation during wartime, use of digital evidence (images, pictures, and videos) to prove war crimes and damages, the evolving landscape of national media regulations, and efforts to bring Ukraine’s national policy on the protection of children’s digital rights in line with European Union standards.
  • In 2023, ABA ROLI and its local partners assisted representatives of civil society, academia, and the business sector in formulating and presenting to the Government of Ukraine a set of policy recommendations on protecting online freedom of expression and human rights. This group used analytical findings to address the rules and risks for judges in using social networks, challenges related to combatting disinformation and propaganda, integration with European digital markets, and the technology industry’s policies on personal data protection
  • In 2023, ABA ROLI and our partners strengthened the capacity of local stakeholders to engage in IF and FOE advocacy. Our team developed six analytical reports related to personal data protection among the largest Ukrainian companies; the impact of the war on companies’ treatment of personal data protections; threats to digital rights during the war; the model of a National Coordinator of Digital Services; Ukraine’s efforts to regulate artificial intelligence; and gaps in Ukraine’s efforts to counter Russian disinformation and propaganda. The program shared these findings with key  Ukrainian government bodies responsible for digitalization and information policy.     .

Learn more about our work in Ukraine on our ABA ROLI Ukraine Internet Freedom Program websitePromoting Social Cohesion Program website, and ABA ROLI Ukraine Facebook page.

Our Past Work in Ukraine

Click here to learn about our past work in Ukraine.