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Ukraine's new law on people missing in Donbas conflict

Author : Olena Holubeva

Four years after the war in the east erupted, Ukraine has finally adopted a bill on regulating the problems that have remained unresolved for all these years
11:42, 1 August 2018

Read the original text at 112.ua.

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Four years after the war in the east erupted, when nothing has been known about the fate of the combatants and civilians, Ukraine has finally adopted a bill on regulating the problems that have remained unresolved for all these years. July 30, the law was signed by President Poroshenko. The document should solve the acutest problems - the lack of a unified register of missing persons and problems of identifying the remains.

July 30, President Petro Poroshenko signed the law "On the legal status of missing persons." The bill regulates the gaps in the current legislation with regard to the proper regulation of the legal status of missing persons, introduces a unified system for accounting for such persons, provides for the right to obtain a pension on special terms, People's Deputy Oleksiy Ryabchyn wrote on Facebook. "The issue of missing persons has not been fully resolved since 2014. I am surprised by the position of the government because it had to resolve the issue even before the adoption of the deputy bill," he said.

Related: Thousands of people in Donbas listed missing, - IRC

Recommendations for the establishment of a mechanism that would regulate the procedure for the search for missing persons at the national level were provided by a delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) noted establishing a specialized government body tasked with coordinating the work of all state and non-governmental organizations working on the issue of missing persons; considering adopting a special law on missing persons (in particular, in Resolution 2067). The UN Monitoring Mission on Human Rights in Ukraine drew attention to a significant number of people missing in connection with the armed conflict in the territory of Ukraine. Despite this, no recommendations have been properly implemented. "The issue of missing persons does not fully belong to the competence of any of the ministries or other central executive bodies and is not coordinated at the national level. Individual events in this context are not systemic," according to the note.

Currently, the National Police, the Security Service of Ukraine, the Office of Civil-Military Cooperation of the Armed Forces within the framework of the EVACUATION-200 project (search for missing servicemen and transportation of bodies or remains from the conflict zone) are being searched for missing persons, head of Department of Investigation of the Civil-Military Cooperation of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Vladyslav Kravchenko stated.

One of the most serious problems is the lack of a single register of missing persons. Each department has its own register, be it the National Police, the Ministry of Defense (with respect to the armed forces of the Armed Forces) or the United Center within the Security Service (its registry includes not only missing persons but also prisoners of war)," Kravchenko said.

Related: 103 Ukrainians still in militant captivity, 402 are missing, - Security Service

The absence of a single register led to disagreements. In particular, the 19th report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the situation with human rights in Ukraine for the period from May 16 to August 15, 2017 notes that the number of missing persons since the beginning of the Donbas conflict in the public databases of National Police and the Main Directorate of the National Police in Donetsk region differed by 170 people. "Lack of effective coordination between public authorities and exchange of information between the government and armed groups, publicly available data on the number of missing persons in the conflict zone are significantly different," as said in the document.

At the end of 2017, the head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Vasily Hrytsak, said that more than 400 people had disappeared since the beginning of hostilities in Donbas. It was reported that as of the end of May, 56 children were considered missing, 33 of them are still being sought. 85 servicemen are among the missing since 2014, Kravchenko stated: "These are mostly those, who disappeared in 2014-2015 during the events in Ilovaisk, Debaltsevo."

Another problem is the lack of coordination between the departments in terms of the identification of remains found in burials. “Almost half of the cases with the found remains of the servicemen are problematic. There is a coincidence in the DNA expertise, but relatives refuse to recognize that the remains really belong to the person they are looking for. In particular, despite the coincidence of the DNA expertise, which is actually the basis for the investigative bodies to stop searching for the missing person, relatives have questions about the differences in anthropology, odontology, and so on,” Kravchenko adds.

Related: Missing children search service to be launched in Ukraine

The draft law "On the Legal Status of Missing Persons" provides for the creation of a Commission on the Issues of Missing Persons as a consultative and advisory body to the Cabinet of Ministers. The Commission will maintain a single electronic register, in which the submissions will include data from missing servicemen and civilians. The Commission will include representatives of the Ministry of Defense, investigative bodies of the National Security Service, the Security Service, representatives of the forensic medical examination of the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (units that conduct DNA examinations), and others. "This will provide an integrated approach to solving problematic issues of families of missing persons," Kravchenko assures.

Related: Over 400 people are listed missing in combat zone of Donbas

A commission of representatives from ministries and departments should be formed within a 3-month period after the bill comes into force.

However, it depends on the government whether the body would work properly in practice, the co-author of the bill, People's Deputy Oleksiy Ryabchyn notes: "The government must introduce an effective coordination between the executive authorities, create a full-fledged register of persons missing and fill it up with the corresponding data. The fact that the law is signed is the first important step, but after it, the government should perform its part of the duties."

There are certain concerns about the bill and representatives of the volunteer organizations. In particular, the NGO "Union of People's Memory" fears that the possibilities of non-state search groups for tracing missing persons will be limited due to the statutory requirement to collect information only in consultation with the National Police of Ukraine, and to establish contacts with legal and physical persons in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions will need to obtain permission of the commission. "It is not clear why the search teams should receive the approval of the National Police to collect information about missing persons. Why should one limit search groups in dealing with legal entities or individuals in the occupied territory?" Taras Borgun, the lawyer of the organization, notes.

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