Officials and foreign experts certain that the bill will foster the return and reintegration of the occupied territories in East Ukraine, although it is likely to worsen the situation instead.
Recently, a draft law “On the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine” was submitted for consideration of the Ukrainian parliament. According to experts, refugees and activists, although the law was meant to speed up the return of territories to Ukraine and to facilitate their reintegration, it is likely to worsen the situation and isolate the territories. Among the controversial issues: introducing martial law after the liberation of the areas, postponing the elections, creating the “National Commission of Understanding”, canceling accreditation of displaced universities.
Further isolation of the occupied territories
The draft law “On the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine” (3593D) will contribute to further isolation of these areas and completely exonerate Ukraine from responsibility for protecting the rights and freedoms of its citizens. It also provides for significant restriction of political rights for the population after de-occupation. After introducing the “legal regime of martial law”, the areas will have a “military administration” and territorial bodies of local authorities and other central executive bodies will be formed from among members of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.
“This is unacceptable and does not contribute to the reintegration of territories in Ukraine,” said Hugues Bissot, senior legal advisor, UN Refugee Agency in Ukraine, at a briefing held at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. “The draft law can have dire consequences for the most vulnerable people and cause a new wave of IDPs (internally displaced persons – UCMC note). It also violates the international obligations of Ukraine,” he noted.
The law may discourage people in the occupied territories of Ukraine
Georgiy Tuka, Deputy Minister on the Temporarily Occupied Territories and IDPs of Ukraine, also disapproves of the draft law.
“Our people on the temporarily occupied territories are hostages to the circumstances. We disapprove of this concept. I will never agree with the position when someone wants us to voluntarily abandon those people and the forcibly occupied territories. For me, these people are hostages of armed groups. We cannot put the responsibility for their fate on the invading country,” believes the deputy minister.
Grygoriy Nemyrya, MP, head of the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, Ethic Minorities Rights and Inter-ethnic Relations, believes that all attempts to isolate the temporarily occupied territories do harm to Ukrainian national interests.
Martial law and postponing elections
According to Bohdan Melnykovych, the draft law provides for the introduction of martial law in the de-occupied territories for at least a year. The martial law is introduced only after the Armed Forces of Ukraine take control over them. After the troops are withdrawn, local residents cannot hold parliamentary elections over six years, and local elections – from two to six years. In addition, the document provides for the establishment of the National Commission of Understanding.
National Commission of Understanding
The commission will establish the involvement of persons in the Russian armed aggression against Ukraine, in the activities of the occupation administration and promotion of temporary occupation of Ukraine. “Creating the commission has a single purpose – to punish people for the suspicion that is not confirmed by any court, or to limit the right of people to hold positions,” said Mr. Melnykovych.
Actual abolition of displaced higher education institutions
Under the draft law the accreditation of the temporarily displaced higher education institutions forced to move from the area of combat operations and Crimea will be abolished. These institutions shall prove the same level of accreditation and be re-licensed. The Ministry of Education may also initiate a merger of the above institutions with other universities. Besides, these higher education institutions shall not reserve the status of “national” institutions. This status also shall be verified.
Obstructing the movement from the occupied territories
Krista Zongolowitz, Denmark Refugee Council, Country Director for Ukraine, emphasized the problem of restricting humanitarian aid delivery to the occupied territories. The draft law provides that under martial law conditions it is forbidden to travel outside the de-occupied territory for persons who were permanent residents in that territory as of the date of its de-occupation without prior permission of the relevant military administration. People who were not living in those territories shall receive the similar permission for entry. In fact, the military administration will be in charge of the freedom of movement of citizens who lived in there.
“The draft law provides no exception for employees of people who provide humanitarian assistance, both tangible and intangible,” noted Ms. Zongolowitz.
Ukraine may transfer the responsibility for its citizens to Russia
Daryna Tolkach, advocacy coordinator, charity foundation “Pravo na Zahyst,” stressed that under the draft law Ukraine is not responsible for the protection of life, health and safety of property of persons; Russia shall be responsible for all violations of their rights and freedoms. “Strange is the fact that by the national legislative act Ukraine transfers responsibility for protecting the rights of its citizens to a third country,” she believes. This position, according to her, is a violation of constitutional obligations and resolutions of the Council of Europe.
The European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) does not support such a behavior either.
There is no strategy of returning the territories
Tamila Tasheva, founder and coordinator of the civil initiative “Crimea SOS,” believes that this draft law is the result of the fact that Ukraine has no vision of what to do with the occupied territories and the people living in them. She stressed that though Ukraine has no effective control over the occupied territories and cannot significantly influence the lives of people there, it should do everything possible to at least not worsen the lives of these people. “The draft law restricts people’s rights to a large extent and would only worsen their lives. This will lead to the impunity of people who resort to repressions, a new wave of internally displaced persons, deterioration of the situation of the displaced higher education institutions and so on. All this will contribute neither to the positive attitude of people living in the government-controlled territory nor to de-occupation and reintegration,” she explained.