Council of Europe’s Venice Commission Publishes Opinion on Ukraine’s New Law on National Minorities (Communities)

September 12, 2023
The New York–based Hungarian Human Rights Foundation (HHRF) has prepared the below summary of the Venice Commission’s June 12 Opinion on Ukraine’s Law on National Minorities (communities), providing commentary and context of the findings where applicable.


In December 2022, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted a new “Law on National Minorities (Communities).”  On June 12, 2023, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe issued an Opinion on this Law. In addition to providing a comprehensive analysis of the Law’s compliance with existing international instruments, the Venice Commission highlights specific concerns regarding freedom of expression, discrimination against national minorities, and challenges in implementation. The Commission also suggested amendments to ensure that minority rights are explicitly protected, and to remove or reconsider potentially discriminatory provisions. As Ukraine moves forward in its accession to the EU, implementing the Commission’s suggestions could help create an inclusive society that respects and safeguards the rights of national minorities. This document, prepared by the Hungarian Human Rights Foundation (HHRF), summarizes the Opinion’s findings, and provides commentary and context where applicable.
In this document you will find:

Conclusions and Recommendations of the Venice Commission

The Commission recommends the amendment or reconsideration of parts of the Law on National Minorities to ensure full compliance with international standards. Key recommendations include:
  • Extend the right to organize events in minority languages to all individuals.
  • Remove the obligation to provide interpretation into Ukrainian at public events, or at least reconsider it to avoid disproportionate burdens.
  • Clarify the obligations and terminology related to the language of book publications, to avoid discriminatory restrictions against regional or minority languages.
  • Ensure legal certainty regarding official inscriptions and general information translated into minority languages.
  • Revise the Law to ensure the use of minority languages in interactions with administrative authorities.
The Venice Commission also reiterates its earlier recommendations concerning other laws, which explicitly or implicitly referred to by the Law on National Minorities (Communities):
  • Reconsider provisions in other laws that limit the freedom to use minority languages, and their differential treatment.
  • Ensure access to mass media in minority languages by removing quotas that limit the percentage of mass media that are broadcast in minority languages.
  • Further postpone the transformation of the minority language school system, considering the recommendations from their 2017 Opinion.
The Venice Commission expresses its willingness to provide further assistance to the Ukrainian authorities and the Parliamentary Assembly.

Summary and Reaction by the Hungarian Minority in Ukraine

The Venice Commission underscores the importance of aligning the Ukrainian Law on Minorities with international standards. Their recommendations stress the importance of revising specific sections of the Law to ensure explicit and legally precise protections for minority language right. Furthermore, they advocate for the removal of onerous mandates concerning the use of the state language, which disproportionately burdens minorities. With respect to minority language education, the Commission reiterates its earlier stance: the planned transformation of the minority-language school system should be postponed and revised in accordance with the Commission’s earlier recommendations from 2017. The cooperation and dedication of the Ukrainian authorities to engage in constructive dialogue with the Venice Commission will be pivotal for the successful implementation of the recommendations. Equally important is that Ukrainian authorities involve national minorities in consultations for assessing and implementing the Venice Commission’s Opinion. The Cultural Alliance of Hungarians in Sub-Carpathia (KMKSZ) expressed its appreciation for the Commission’s Opinion on the Law on National Minorities and for the Commission’s emphasis on Ukraine’s international commitments and European standards for minority protection. With regard to education and language rights, KMKSZ conveyed its disappointment that Ukrainian authorities failed to make recommended corrections in these areas prior to the adoption of the Law. According to KMKSZ President Dr. László Brenzovics:  
The recent laws in Ukraine prohibit minorities from practicing the rights they used to have, years before the EU enlargement process began – rights they have already acquired. Instead of losing these acquired rights, they should be able to fully exercise them in a 21st-century European Union, especially in a Ukraine that is at the doorstep of the European Union. We also observe that in Brussels, in many cases, there is a lack of awareness regarding the true situation of the Hungarian, Romanian, or Bulgarian minorities living in Ukraine and what is actually taking place.”  
KMKSZ welcomes the Ukrainian Parliament’s decision to postpone the enforcement of Article 7 of the Education Act by one year but notes that further amendments to legislation related to minorities will be necessary to achieve a satisfactory resolution. In the interim, KMKSZ stresses the need for full implementation of the Venice Commission’s recommendations.
On August 10, KMKSZ and the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Ukraine (UMDSZ) released a joint statement expressing “support for efforts to amend the Law on National Minorities (Communities) in Ukraine and to expand the rights of minorities in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission and the Committee of Experts of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.”The organizations raise objections to the procedural aspect of the proposed amendment. Specifically, the motion was introduced shortly before the debate, which prevented them from conducting a thorough legal analysis, crafting substantive proposals, or engaging in meaningful communication. In addition, they express regret that none of the constructive recommendations they made during the nearly one-year deliberation period prior to the adoption of the Law were included in the amendment. Moreover, the amendment is slated to be adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament in mid-September leaving no time for substantive discussion nor to submit well-substantiated recommendations. As regards the substance of the proposed amendment, the statement points out problems with the content, specifically
  • the mere declaratory nature of additions, some of which duplicate other legal documents,
  • the use of undefined concepts with little relevance to the enforcement of the law yet allowing for arbitrary interpretation, and
  • failure to consider Council of Europe Recommendation No. 1201, namely, that an important criterion for the definition of national minorities is that their representatives “traditionally live on the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders,” would be deleted from Article 1 of the Law, if adopted. Consequently, all citizens of Ukraine who are not ethnic Ukrainians (or members of indigenous peoples) would be included in the category of national minorities.
  • In their view, several passages of the draft are discriminatory and violate fundamental human rights, and they, therefore, recommend revision and/or deletion.
Dr. László Brenzovics and Dr. László Zubánics, president of UMDSZ, conclude by stating that “as a whole, the proposed amendment does not restore all the rights of minorities guaranteed by the Constitution of Ukraine, and moreover, it does not serve to restore the minority rights that existed previously.”


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