OSCE says Kiev significantly restricts movement of civilians in eastern Ukraine
VIENNA–The European security watchdog, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), says the rights of the civilian population in eastern Ukraine have been “severely limited” after the Kiev authorities introduced strict controls over movement into and out of conflict areas.
The OSCE said on Wednesday its observers in east Ukraine’s Donbas region regularly monitored the implementation and the impact of January’s Temporary Order requiring that all individuals, vehicles and cargo travelling into and out the conflict area within the region must hold a special permit. “Monitoring activities have… established that the permit system has severely limited the capacity of individuals to leave conflict-affected areas or to access safe areas and life-saving assistance, including humanitarian aid,” the Vienna-based OSCE said in a report*, noting “complicated and cumbersome application requirements” and “difficulties in obtaining necessary documentation in conflict areas”.
* OSCE Thematic Report: ‘Protection of Civilians and their Freedom of Movement in the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions’, May 6, 2015, 15 pages, online here
The OSCE monitoring mission often observed “long waiting times to submit applications at checkpoints in unsecured areas”, the report said. “Problems with the permit system leave civilians who wish to rapidly vacate conflict-affected areas with no other alternative than to embark on long detours that further expose them to increased safety risks in an unstable environment.”
“These restrictions of movement have hampered the ability of aid providers and civil society volunteer organisations to carry out evacuations of civilians from non-government controlled areas,” the OSCE added. “As a result, the safety and security of the civilian population, including the elderly and persons with disabilities, have been severely impacted.”
The legal framework of the Temporary Order, which came into effect on January 21, also raised a number of questions by OSCE monitors.
“According to customary international law, all sides to a conflict are requested to take steps to ensure the safety and the protection of civilians in the areas of hostilities,” the OSCE said. “This includes the possibility for civilians to voluntarily and rapidly leave areas affected by violence in order to protect their lives as well as to access basic humanitarian assistance.”
Besides, “the Constitution of Ukraine establishes that restrictions on freedom of movement may only be established by law,” it said, noting that “the Temporary Order has not been registered with the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine and the exact status and nature of the order remains unclear”.
The OSCE also stressed that “no concrete administrative or legal procedure has been established affording a reasonable opportunity to appeal against the refusal to issue a permit”.
“While the Temporary Order allows for permits to be issued for personal reasons, such as a death of a relative, it does not include an option for leaving due to security reasons,” it said.
“Permits may be denied when a person is found to represent a threat to national security. However, there are no established criteria in the Temporary Order to assess such threats.”
Monitoring activities conducted by the OSCE mission found that the Temporary Order and the permit system established through this order, “have been inconsistently implemented”, the report said.
The mission “has observed that local authorities implementing the permit system might grant passage whether or not a permit is provided or, in alternative, block passage even if the person bears a permit,” the report said.
The permit application process “remains extremely problematic,” the OSCE said, adding that “civilians who wish to leave conflict-affected areas may wait up to 45-50 days before being able to obtain a permit.”
OSCE monitors, talking to civilians in Donbass who were unable or faced difficulties to obtain a permit, said they had received “frequent allegations of bribes at checkpoints to allow access without the permit” and “allegations of sales of permits”.
The OSCE monitoring mission to Ukraine was first deployed a year ago following a request from Ukraine. It delivers public reports on fighting between forces loyal to Kiev and people’s militias as well as on movements on border crossings between Russia and Ukraine.
Also on TASS:
Kiev forces prepare provocations using OSCE insignia, people’s militia uniform — LPR, April 17, 2015
OSCE mission’s mandate in Donbas should be expanded — Donetsk republic’s envoy, May 5, 2015
Unlawful use of OSCE markings in Ukraine inadmissible — Russian Foreign Ministry, April 24, 2015
OSCE Thematic Report: ‘Protection of Civilians and their Freedom of Movement in the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions’, May 6, 2015, 15 pages
The continuation of fighting between the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) and armed groups in the East, particularly the so-called [sic] “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”) and “Luhansk People’s Republic” (“LPR”), represents a direct threat to the civilian population in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions (collectively “the Donbas”). In this context, and with the objective to address security threats related to the crisis , Ukrainian authorities adopted , inter-alia , a series of measures intended to regulate travel in to and out of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) [sic] zone in the Donbas. In particular, as a mean s to protect national security and public order, the Government introduced a Temporary Order requiring that all individuals, vehicles and cargo travelling into and out the conflict area within the Donbas must hold a special permit. Within the framework of its mandate, the Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM) regularly monitored the implementation and the impact of this regulation from January to April 2015.
Although the SMM’s findings do not allow for a fully comprehensive assessment of the situation , and whilst appreciating the myriad of challenges that the Ukrainian authorities are dealing with, monitoring activities have nevertheless established that the permit system has severely limited the capacity of individuals to leave conflict-affected areas or to access safe areas and life-saving assistance, including humanitarian aid. Many features of the permit system, including complicated and cumbersome application requirements , difficult ies in obtaining necessary documentation in conflict areas where state administrations and services are no longer present, inconsistent application, and impossibility of travelling to permit issuing authorities have significantly impaired the ability of civilians to leave the Donbas. These limitations have further prevented essential aid and services to be provided to those communities most in need.
Moreover, the SMM observed that restrictions on freedom of movement and the related impact of such regulations raise serious concerns f or the protection of civilians. Designated locations where applications can be submitted are situated within areas of active hostilities that can only be reached through roads susceptible to shelling and crossfire. Long waiting times to submit applications at checkpoints in unsecured areas are regularly observed. Problems with the permit system leave civilians who wish to rapidly vacate conflict-affected areas with no other alternative than to embark on long detours that further expose them to increased safety risks in an unstable environment. In addition, the SMM observed that these restrictions of movement have hampered the ability of aid providers and civil society volunteer organisations to carry out evacuations of civilians from non-government controlled areas. As a result, the safety and security of the civilian population, including the elderly and persons with disabilities, have been severely impacted.
The Thematic Report is based on numerous interviews and monitoring activities co nducted by the SMM during the relevant period. Interlocutors included, inter alia: local government officials including officials responsible for issuing and distributing permits; civil society representatives; civilians of different villages who were unable or faced difficulties to obtain a permit; and representatives of (partner) international organizations.
Read the full report, 15 pages, online here.
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