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“Isolating the isolated: the draft law on temporarily occupied territories”

11 November 2016, KyivRepresentatives of state authorities, international and human rights protection organizations are calling for an inclusive and participatory approach in the formulation of legal acts concerning non-government controlled areas and its population.

This issue was the focus of the press-conference “Isolating the isolated: the draft law on temporarily occupied territories” held on 10 November 2016.

The UNHCR Representation in Ukraine, and partner NGOs CrimeaSOS,  Danish Refugee Council, Right to Protection and Vostok-SOS raised concerns with provisions of the draft law no. 3593-d “On the Temporarily Occupied Territory of Ukraine”, which is currently under consideration by Parliament. According to experts, the current version of the draft will negatively impact the humanitarian situation in the non-government controlled areas and deteriorate the climate of human rights observance.

The organizations underline that the full blockade and restricted humanitarian access envisaged in the draft law will affect over 2 million people residing in non-government controlled areas. The draft law foresees serious restrictions of civil and political rights as well as undermines international principles of reconciliation and post-conflict setting.

Ukraine’s responsibility for the fate of population and the non-government controlled areas is further underlined by Member of the Parliament, Grigoriy Nemyria, the Head of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and Inter-ethnic Relations: “People, who remained at the non-government controlled area of Donbas, are the citizens of Ukraine. It is the responsibility of the Government to take care of them and to protect them. They should not be thrown to their fate. Any attempts at legislative or executive level to “isolate” or “cut off” Donbas impair our national interest and contravene the Constitution of Ukraine and our international obligations.”

Experts keep a close eye on the issue of Crimea. “In the territory of the occupied Crimea, human rights are systematically abused and persecutions on ethnical or religious grounds take place. Ukraine’s rejection to fulfill its human rights related obligations leaves Crimean residents without any hope to be defended and may lead to impunity of those who violates human rights”, considers Tamila Tasheva, the co-founder and coordinator of the NGO CrimeaSOS.

It is hard to estimate all the difficulties related to the process of reintegration of territories after the Government of Ukraine regains control. This issue shall be framed in accordance with the Constitution of Ukraine and in line with the international treaties of Ukraine, says Bohdan Melnykovych, lawyer at NGO Vostok-SOS. “Provisions of the draft law violate civil and political rights of residents of non-government controlled areas. They will hinder the reintegration process. In addition, suggested reconciliation measures are not such in their substance. If adopted in the present format, they may lead to ungrounded persecutions of unidentified number of people without a proper adherence to criminal procedures in place.”

The overall necessity to have a legislative framework for building relations with non-government controlled areas and its people is supported by KristaZongolowiczthe Country Director of the Danish Refugee Council: As a humanitarian community, we respect the sovereign integrity of Ukraine and would like to call upon the state to exercise its sovereign prerogative in a manner which is least restrictive to the fundamental human rights of the people as prescribed by the relevant bodies of human rights law and international humanitarian law.

The advocacy expert of the NGORight to Protection, Daryna Tolkach, raised concerns regarding full rejection of Ukraine’s responsibility to ensure the protection of human rights in the non-government controlled areas and “temporarily occupied” areas of Ukraine: “Lack of effective control over the territory does not remove the responsibility from the Government for the protection of human rights of its own citizens. This is based on the Article 1 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and the practice of the European Court of Human Rights. During the process of development of laws, it is important to assure their compliance with Ukraine’s international law obligations.”

Hugues Bissot, UNHCR Senior Protection Officer proposed an expanded consultation process: We recommend that Parliament and the Government of Ukraine look for approaches that will allow reconciling state security issues with human rights obligations of Ukraine. We also recommend to consider involving in the discussions foreign experts, civil society members and international organizations with vast experience in post-conflict settings as well as reconciliation efforts.”

The Ministry for Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons called for reducing the isolation and improving communications in non-government controlled areas. Deputy Minister Heorhiy Tuka stated: “Our Ministry proposes to abolish the Law of Ukraine “On creation of the free economic zone in Crimea as this law does not resolve the problem of restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. On the contrary, it creates new challenges: interferes with the right of citizens to freedom of movement and complicates the mechanism of movement of goods and personal belongings. We also seek to introduce amendments to the Tax Code of Ukraine and the Law of Ukraine “On guaranteeing the rights and freedoms of citizens and on the legal regime on the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine”. In particular, amendments shall simplify the process of movement of goods to and from the temporarily occupied territory, influence the currency and payment regimes on this territory and recognize individuals, whose place of residence is registered in Crimea, as residents of Ukraine.”