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Activists: Ukraine needs a mechanism to return and legalize the prisoners from temporarily occupied territories

Kyiv, October 24, 2017.

The situation of convicts in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine remains complicated. Presently, 798 prisoners have expressed a desire to be moved to the government-controlled territory. However, there is no mechanism for their return and legalization. Eleven public organizations signed an open appeal to the President of Ukraine, the Commissioner of the President of Ukraine for the peaceful settlement of the conflict in Donbas, the Minister of Justice of Ukraine, the Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, the International Committee of the Red Cross, with the request to take necessary measures to resolve the situation. This was reported by Olha Kuryshko, a lawyer at NGO Crimean SOS, at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center.

Every week, the Secretariat of the Commissioner for Human Rights receives about 10-12 requests asking to transfer the convicts to the government-controlled territory, said Halyna Kilimova, a specialist at the monitoring department of the penitentiary institutions of the Secretariat of the Commissioner for Human Rights. “According to the information available, there are 27 penitentiary institutions in the uncontrolled territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions with about 12,700 people. There are four institutions and about 3,200 prisoners in the territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea,” she said. “Some of these convicts have already soured on the Ukrainian state for lack of inaction regarding their problem. Even in strategic terms, I think, we do not need that many people indignant at Ukraine to be at the disposal of people we consider terrorists,” said Natalia Melnyk, an expert on documenting human rights violations in the ATO zone, NGO Donbass SOS.

To resolve the problem, it is necessary to develop a state strategy, said Oleksandr Pavlichenko, Deputy Director of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Chairman of the Board of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union. “Currently, the Ministry of Justice does not implement any policy or strategy in this regard, does not promote the issue of how to work with those who are returning from the uncontrolled territory, does not simplify the procedure for their entry into the Ukrainian environment but has been rather complicating it,” he explained. “All respondents note that the fact that they have not been evacuated from the ATO zone is the violation of their rights, because they cannot serve their sentences in accordance with Ukrainian legislation, cannot serve parole or use the so-called ‘Savchenko Act’, they cannot even file complaints to the Ukrainian authorities,” informed Natalia Melnyk, expert on documenting human rights violations in the ATO zone, NGO “Donbass SOS”. “Ukraine, at least in its territory, shall provide a regime that enables them to fulfill their civic duties, including serving their sentences,” emphasized Oleksandra Romantsova, Deputy Chairman of the Board of the Center for Civil Liberties.

Public organizations record the deterioration in the conditions of detention of prisoners in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine: poor food, lack of medical care, lack of heating in the colonies. “Almost everyone is reporting problems and obstacles put by the colonies when the convicts request for their transfer to the government-controlled territory. The convicts’ petitions either are not accepted on various grounds or are not registered at all,” informed Natalia Melnyk, an expert on documenting human rights violations in the ATO zone, NGO “Donbass SOS.” Besides, there are cases when the so-called ‘DPR’ and ‘LPR’ change the custodial control and duration of the sentences.

In Crimea, prisoners are often forced to obtain Russian citizenship. “We have already recorded the cases of forced destruction of documents certifying the identity of a citizen of Ukraine. It is practically impossible to restore documents for such persons. They automatically become citizens of the Russian Federation. This entails the problem of their return to the government-controlled territory,” Olha Kuryshko informed. There are also cases of transferring convicts to serve their sentences to the colonies in the territory of the Russian Federation. As of today, 2,200 persons have been transferred.

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