“Lost voice. Is this silence forever?” – such is the title of the report prepared by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union and Civil Network OPORA. Sergiy Movchan, analyst of UHHRU Human Rights Abuse Documentation Center, said that the researchers analyzed the special presidential and parliamentary elections of 2014 as well as the local elections in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. This revealed a large number of instances when security of persons taking part in the election process had been violated.
Here is a typical story from the collection of the UHHRU Documentation Center: “There’s a man we picked up from the commissariat (previously district executive committee), he worked as a secretary for an election commission during presidential elections. At the end of May he was arrested and beaten until he agreed to relinquish the commission’s stamp. At his request, I later brought the stamp and keys to the safe. The person was released to us showing visible injuries.”
On 9 May 2014, in Kramatorsk, two armed unidentified individuals wearing masks and camouflage entered district election commission No. 48. They captured the head of the commission and left for an unknown location. Six days later five violently behaving individuals in masks stormed into district election commission No. 54. The attackers were calling themselves forces of the so-called “DPR”. They drove four members of the commission out, sealed off the premises and took the keys to the safe where the documents and stamp were being kept. Such cases were numerous: it is safe to say, hundreds. Past experience shows that when this happens, representatives of law enforcement either do nothing or even commit crimes themselves by assisting the separatists.
According to analyst of Civil Network OPORA Olexander Kliuzhev, many crimes on obstructing elections have been left punished – even those that occurred within government-controlled territories. “Punishment is not a matter of revenge or state policy, it’s a matter of justice,” he said. “Because these enforcement actions threatened the lives and health of the members or election commissions.”
UHHRU executive director Olexander Pavlichenko remarked that the report reveals a practice of discrimination on the part of Ukrainian officials, since they stated that IDPs coming from occupied territories and territories outside GoU control cannot vote in elections held in government-controlled territories since they haven’t been properly registered. This also concerns citizens that live near the conflict zone.
Monitoring visits undertaken by members of international groups revealed a curious trend. For instance, local authorities of Zolote village dropped all activities to avoid organizing elections. Consequently, this also meant neglecting other issues important for the local population, such as management of municipal property and others. Mayor of Zolote supported separatists, and it was impossible to elect another because it was impossible to hold the elections: the village was even excluded from the list of settlements where elections were to take place. “We can encourage population to return to Ukraine by engaging them in the political election process,” says Olexander Pavlichenko. “People should be able to choose the candidates they trust, not those who only came to carry out their job duties, as is the case with civil-military administrations.”
Olga Aivazovska, coordinator of political and electoral programs at Civil Network OPORA, shared that she herself is an IDP and has been unable to register for voting rights for some time. She highlighted three main issues in the report:
inability to hold elections in occupied territories and lack of any prospects in this regard;
exercise of political rights by IDPs is currently highly problematic. They are able to obtain the right to vote, but only following a specific procedure: by temporarily changing their voting location while their voting address remains the same. Only about 120 thousand voters visited government bodies for this procedure during the previous election campaign;
voting rights of IDPs in local elections are not guaranteed.
Currently, out of 198 election districts, 27 are located in territories outside Ukraine’s control. “Holding no elections in the conflict’s so-called ‘gray zone’ was a political decision,” says Olga Aivazovska. “It was made by civil-military administrations, and neither the Central Election Commission nor the Verkhovna Rada gave their consent for this.”
Olexander Kliuzhev believes that the decision on whether to hold elections in certain communities is up to the Central Election Commission only, not local authorities. He noted that mandatory linking of the voting address to registered place of residence in Ukraine, especially during local elections, makes it virtually impossible for the majority of IDPs to take part in them. This constitutes indirect discrimination.
To address these issues, civil society organizations drafted bill No. 6240 “On guarantee of access to voting rights for internally displaced persons and other mobile citizens within the state”. It is supposed to resolve the issue of IDPs’ voting during local elections in settlements/communities of their new actual residence. If this draft law is passed, any citizen will be able to change his or her voting address using a clear and simple procedure, or restore the old voting address.
Prepared by Oleg Shynkarenko (UHHRU)
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