20 February 2019 marks the 5th year of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine. On this day, it is important to speak not just of countering the aggressor state, but also of protecting the victims of the conflict.
Thus, we, the human rights organizations, having been involved in documenting war crimes as well as aiding and protecting the victims for 5 years already, publish this consolidated position and demands for the Ukrainian government agencies to address the issues of IDPs and residents of the occupied territories. Following these recommendations will allow Ukraine to fulfill its duties to its own citizens as well as take real steps toward building sustainable peace, since such peace does not begin in Minsk – above all, it must be founded on proper observance of all rights of the conflict-affected population inside Ukraine.
- To help people who face illegal political persecution in the occupied territories of Ukraine and in Russia. As of February 2019, Russia has illegally detained at least 70 Ukrainian citizens in the occupied Crimea and in Russia for political reasons, and at least 116 people – soldiers and civilians – have been detained in Russia-controlled territories in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. Regardless of this, Ukraine still lacks a comprehensive law that would protect this category of citizens. There is a bill No. 8337 on the Parliament’s agenda today, which, in our opinion, fails to solve the problem, falls short to comply with international law and creates additional risks. On the contrary, the law is supposed to adhere to international humanitarian law and human rights standards, establish the status of all categories of persons illegally detained during armed conflicts, determine clear criteria and establish a transparent and independent procedure for making decisions on the provision of state assistance to such persons.
- To create conditions for realizing the right to social protection of the residents of temporarily occupied territories, particularly the right to pension. Currently, almost 700 thousand retired citizens from Donetsk and Luhansk Oblast that used to receive pension before the war but now face their pensions suspended, and the amount of back payments has already reached UAH 62 billion (almost EUR 2 billion) and this number keeps increasing. IDPs from Crimea also suffer from massive obstacles disabling their pension payments, which among other things include illegal practice of the Ukraine’s Pension Fund of providing Russia with the personal data of Crimeans. It is necessary to create an effective mechanism that would allow those that are staying in the occupied territories or have left them to enjoy their hard-earned pensions.
- To abolish the Law of Ukraine “On Creation of the Free Economic Zone “Crimea” and on Peculiarities of Exercising Economic Activity in the Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine” and to abolish the Resolution of the National Bank of Ukraine No. 699б in order to remove the discriminatory status of non-residents, which is assigned to Ukrainian nationals registered or residing in Crimea or the city of Sevastopol. This legislation prevents them from using banking and other financial services in the Government of Ukraine-controlled territory of the country.
- To introduce an administrative (out-of-court) procedure for recognizing facts of birth and death which occurred in the occupied territories. Despite the adoption of a law that allows Ukrainian public bodies to accept documents issued in the occupied territories when preparing and issuing Ukraine-standard birth and death certificates, such a procedure has not yet been established due to the adamant position of the Ministry of Justice. Such norms are completely nonexistent for the residents of the occupied Crimea. So far, only a court procedure exists which is essentially a substitute for an administrative one, and does not provide a quality judicial process while deepening the courts into bulky workload and putting extra pressure on people. To date, no more than 20% of births and deaths that occurred in the occupied territories have been registered in Ukraine.
- To simplify the procedure of crossing the administrative border with Crimea and the demarcation line with the temporarily occupied territories, specifically by abolishing the permit system of the Security Service of Ukraine for Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts and by changing the procedure for traveling to Crimea for foreign human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists, making it sufficient for them to notify the authorities about their travel plans rather than forcing them to get permission first, and also by implementing a procedure for submitting documents required for traveling to the occupied Crimea online or through Ukrainian consulates located in the applicant’s country of stay, in their native language.
- To ensure proper outfitting of checkpoints at the administrative border with Crimea and at the demarcation line: proper sanitation, public transport connections, waiting rooms, etc. In 2018, over UAH 100 million were allocated from the reserve fund on outfitting the checkpoints at the administrative border with Crimea, but the funds were never spent and no more funding was planned for 2019.
- To eliminate obstacles to transporting personal belongings from the occupied territories, specifically by abolishing the system that established an extremely limited list of personal belongings allowed to be carried to/from the occupied territories. The Parliament should only determine a list of banned items, which would not be violating the ownership rights of IDPs and residents of occupied territories.
- To ensure the ability of IDPs to exercise their voting rights and to adopt the bill No. 6240 “On Amendments to Certain Laws of Ukraine (Regarding Voting Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and Other Mobile Citizens within the Country)”. Right now, IDPs that have been living in local communities for over 5 years and have been paying taxes are not allowed to vote during local elections, or to vote for certain candidates during parliamentary elections.
- To adopt the bill No. 9438, which amends the Criminal Code of Ukraine and allows national investigation bodies and courts to effectively prosecute those persons who have committed major crimes under international law. The Criminal Code currently has no provisions on crimes against humanity, and the provisions on war crimes do not fully comply with international law.
- To establish office of a Military Ombudsperson as a key element of democratic supervision over the Armed Forces, National Guard and State Border Guard Service. Members of the military are among the least protected groups of the population. People serving in the Ukrainian military are essentially “slaves” of their superiors, deprived of any effective means of upholding their rights. This results in low morale and poor psychological climate in military units, as well as a rising number of suicides. Publicity has an effect in particularly flagrant cases, but a law should still be developed and adopted at the system-wide level to establish the office of the Military Ombudsperson who would be better positioned to prevent and combat human rights violations. The Ombudsperson must be independent from the bodies he/she is supposed to supervise, remaining objective and impartial, be open to all members of the military without the need for them to go through the chain of command, as well as have the authority to conduct his/her own investigations.
- To amend the Law of Ukraine “On Sanctions” as well as to implement the Magnitsky Act (as a principle for introducing sanctions against persons responsible for gross human rights violations in foreign countries). The Law of Ukraine “On Sanctions” is in need of significant improvements in order to make more effective the process of imposing sanctions on persons involved in human rights violations in the occupied Crimea, in eastern Ukraine and in Russia linked to the armed conflict. The law has a number of shortcomings, in particular: non-transparent procedure for putting new names on sanction lists; absence of a system of monitoring the implementation of sanctions and no liability for violation of sanction legislation; no mechanism established and no bodies tasked with investigating people’s personal data and other relevant information; no coordinating public authority in the field of sanctions appointed; no monitoring of sanctions imposed by foreign states in connection with Russian aggression in Ukraine provided for. The current sanctions legislation does not comply with international standards and does not allow for justified appeals, in one form or another, to partner countries that have implemented the Magnitsky Act.
- To move all Ukrainian law enforcement agencies of Crimea to Kyiv for better coordination, capacity building and leveling up profession skills in the investigation of war crimes, crimes against humanity and human rights violations in the occupied territories (Prosecutor’s Office of Crimea, National Police and Security Service departments are located in different cities within Government of Ukraine-controlled territory). Crimean law enforcement agencies are forced to operate without access to the territories in their jurisdiction and require systematic communication with human rights organizations, experts and embassies. It is important to ensure coordination and experience exchange both among the law enforcement agencies as well as between them and central authorities responsible for Crime-related issues. At the same time, the Prosecutor’s Office of Crimea, which has assumed the role of a coordinator in the documentation and investigation of these categories of crimes, as well as the courts with jurisdiction over Crimea, are based in Kyiv. Furthermore, to improve the professional capacity of judges specifically in part of dealing with conflict consequences-related cases.
- To develop and implement an effective mechanism for returning people that were convicted by Ukraine and are held in penal institutions in the occupied territories or have been forcibly transferred to Russia. At present, according to human rights organizations, at least 4,000 Ukrainian citizens that were serving their sentences in the occupied Crimea have been forcibly moved from Crimea to Russia.
- To develop and implement a nation-wide state policy on the protection of the rights of orphans and children deprived of parental care that remain in the occupied territories of Ukraine. Some of them were forced to accept Russian citizenship and taken out of Crimea to be adopted by foreign citizens in violation of Ukrainian legislation. There were at least 4,300 such children in Crimea at the time of the attempted annexation. Their fate remains unknown.
Crimean Human Rights Group
Media Initiative for Human Rights
Regional Center for Human Rights
Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
Center for Civil Liberties
Human Rights Information Center
Crimean Human Rights House