Joint statement by the Ukraine NGO Forum on the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine draft resolution on movement of people and transfer of goods across the contact line

As a result of the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, the State territory has been divided into government-controlled areas (GCA) and non-government controlled areas (NGCA) by a 500-km long front-line (the so-called “contact line”), with a system of entry-exit checkpoints (EECP) installed on both sides by the parties to the conflict.

People move through the contact line for family visits, to check on their property, to obtain their pension, to get documentation, or to access services, such as healthcare or education. However, due to the limitations imposed on crossing the contact line, and heavy bureaucratic requirements, every month hundreds of thousands of civilians struggle to cross the line that divides a once-integrated community.

People wait for hours at crossing points in queues where facilities such as toilets, drinking water, health services, and shelter from extreme temperatures are insufficient. For example, the lack of protection from the sun and humidity in the summer can be hazardous to life and health, especially for the elderly. Humanitarian organisations routinely encounter incidents of people losing consciousness due to heat and humidity at the EECP.

All this adds to the fact that public transportation does not run across the contact line, transforming journeys that used to take minutes into time consuming and extremely expensive travels.

The NGO Forum and its members welcome the initiative of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine to review the current procedure on the movement of people, goods and cargo through the contact line by adopting a current draft Resolution “On adopting the procedure for the entry of people and transfer of goods to the temporary occupied territories in Donetsk and Luhansk oblast and exist of people and transfer of goods from such territories”.[1] The NGO Forum and its members commend the positive measures introduced, which have taken into consideration several concerns raised in the past by the humanitarian community. We would like to seize the opportunity to comment on the key aspects of the proposed draft.

 

Maintenance of the checkpoints

The NGO Forum takes note that the draft Resolution designates the Donetsk and Luhansk Regional State Administrations or Regional Military Civil Administrations as the State bodies responsible for the arrangement, maintenance and service of EECPs. It is equally important that the arrangements at the checkpoints will be made at the expense of the subventions of the state budget to local budgets according to the applicable legislation.

Therefore, the responsible authorities are urged to ensure that the necessary funding is allocated specifically for the purposes of the maintenance of the checkpoints.

Transportation of goods through the contact line

The draft Resolution introduces a new approach to the control measures over the movement of goods according to which the Ministry of the Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons is tasked to further elaborate the list of prohibited goods or those which transportation is subject to restrictions.

Such a shift in the approach to the transportation of goods by individuals may mark a positive change for people concerned. However, it is important for the Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons to adopt the procedure introducing the proposed approach with the lists of prohibited or restricted for transportation goods formulated exhaustively without undue interference into the rights of individuals. It is as well crucial to ensure that objects needed to meet humanitarian needs are either excluded from the list or that timely procedures are set up for their transfer across the contact line.

Electronic passes for an indefinite period

The draft Resolution does not waive a requirement on the electronic pass, however, it replicates the provision from the current regulation on a possibility to get a pass for an indefinite period. The relevant provision has not been implemented. This has forced people to apply for a pass every year.

Moreover, as a corollary of the technical dysfunction of the existing control system, information on the passes from time to time gets lost. Consequently, people concerned are not able to cross the contact line.

Drawing on the failure to implement the prescribed procedure in the past, it is critical to ensure that people have access to passes for an indefinite period. In addition, it is recommended to improve database management to avoid, or at least to minimise, the instances when people are not allowed to cross the contact line because of the lost information.

 

NGO Forum and its members also encourage the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine to address the gaps of the draft Resolution, namely:

  • to authorise the public (commercial) transportation through the checkpoints, as the lack of these services disproportionately affect the most vulnerable groups;
  • to introduce the procedure governing the transportation of currency through the contact line as this could significantly reduce arbitrariness in taking authorisation decisions on a case-by-case basis.

NGO Forum and its members commend the Ukrainian authorities’ commitments, expressed in the Joint Statement with the European Union on 9 July 2018, on “further facilitating the access and movement of people and humanitarian goods across the line of contact”. The review of the current procedure governing crossing the contact line presents an excellent opportunity to address the challenges that civilians encounter while crossing the contact line and to have security-related restrictions on the movement through the contact line that would be reasonable, proportionate and responsive to particular vulnerabilities of the conflict-affected population.

The NGO Forum cites the official name of the draft Resolution. Such reference to the document does not constitute an expression of the official position of the NGO Forum or of its members on the qualification of the situation in eastern Ukraine.