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UNHCR’s One-sided Preliminary Conclusion Misinterprets Ukraine’s Draft Law


Kyiv, March 29, 2014. On March 23, 2014, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released preliminary comments on Ukraine’s draft law on guarantees of the rights and freedoms of citizens on temporarily occupied territories. According to UNHCR the draft is not in line with international law since its provisions “may exacerbate the risk of displacement from Crimea”. Notably, there is no mentioning of Russia’s responsibility to respect the human rights of Crimean locals on the territory it illegally annexed.

UNHCR is concerned that the Ukrainian law on occupied territories contradicts international human rights standards because it is being adopted “in an accelerated manner” without due international consultations. It should be noted that the draft law was developed and submitted to the Ukrainian Parliament at a time when Russian occupants have been actively conducting “nationalization” – see illegal seizure – of Ukrainian public property and even private possessions on the peninsula. Which means that Ukrainian authorities clearly have no time to procrastinate, because if they do, the occupation regime of racketeering and, often, looting will leave nothing for Kyiv to protect.

UNHCR’s preliminary comments on the Ukrainian draft legislation are one-sided in laying all the responsibility for the plight of the internally displaced Crimeans solely on Ukraine. The Commissioner, by accident or design, did not address in his comments the Russian Federation’s ‘contribution’ to the crisis. He said nothing about the fact that Russia has illegally occupied Crimea, blatantly violating the rights of local citizens in the process (Amnesty International reported on numerous cases of harassment and intimidation of journalists, activists and peaceful protestors in Crimea).

In order to protect the the IDPs’ rights, Ukrainian legislator suggests provisioning that any real estate transaction concluded on the temporarily occupied territories in violation of Ukrainian legislation, would be considered invalid. The UNHCR states this is wrong because “ordinary citizens may face insurmountable difficulties in selling their homes and re-locating”.

At the same time the Commissioner ignores the RF’s announcement that only Russian legislation will be applicable in Crimea – a measure which directly threatens most property or business (i.e. individual property rights) acquired in Crimea under Ukrainian law.

The UNHCR comments go on to say that “Article 6 of this draft legislation prohibits movement to/from Ukraine and Crimea.” This statement is just false. The mentioned article does not prohibit the movement to/from Ukraine and Crimea. It states that the movement of people will take place in accordance with the procedure to be adopted by the government of Ukraine, which by no stretch of imagination can be classified as a violation of rights of IDPs, as provided for in the UN’s Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement – the main international instrument providing protection to the Crimean locals fleeing their homes.

“The prohibitory provisions of the draft law are targeted at those who might jeopardize the citizens’ rights. The draft, as it reads in its headline, is meant to guarantee the rights and freedoms to Ukrainian citizens. Ukrainian law enforcement is physically impossible in Crimea while the peninsula is ridden by Russian gunmen, therefore, Ukrainian legislator provisions the opportunity for restitution for those rights, which were or may be violated during the time of occupation,” commented Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia.

The Minister also added that the Ukrainian side understood that the UNHCR’s comments were of preliminary nature since the Commissioner had very limited time to review the draft laws, and that a more thorough analysis would follow with time, yet, Ukraine had to act in a significant time constraint in order to effectively protect its people.

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