The system of protection of missing persons and their families is still imperfect in Ukraine – statement of human rights defenders
Every year, on August 30, the world marks the International Day of the Disappeared. Unfortunately, in Ukraine, due to the armed conflict that began in 2014, the number of people who disappeared during the hostilities, including in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine, is constantly growing.
According to the data provided by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, as of May 2023, about 23,000 people who are considered disappeared under special circumstances due to armed conflict have been officially confirmed.
The Law of Ukraine “On the Legal Status of Persons Disappeared under Special Circumstances” was adopted in 2018. This Law, revised after the start of Russian full-scale aggression against Ukraine, established guarantees for the search for disappeared persons, protection of their relatives, and provision of social support. In addition, this Law created the position of the Commissioner for Persons Disappeared under Special Circumstances within the Ministry of Reintegration, and determined that the Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for launching the Unified Register of Persons Disappeared under Special Circumstances.
Despite the existence of a special law for more than five years, the system of protection of persons disappeared under special circumstances and of their family members is far from perfect.
Families of persons who disappeared under special circumstances face an absence of proper communication with the investigator of the relevant police unit that is responsible for the case of the disappearance of their relative. Such communication is particularly complicated after the criminal proceedings are transferred under territorial jurisdiction to the police departments of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia regions, where the number of cases of disappeared servicemen is estimated at thousands. The increased workload of investigators also leads to untimely and improper submission of DNA profiles from relatives of a disappeared person to the DNA database to establish whether or not they match posthumous DNA samples whose profiles are included in the general DNA database.
Since the launch of the Unified Register of Persons Disappeared under Special Circumstances (since May 2023), families of disappeared persons have encountered the inability to obtain a proper extract from the register due to the lack of information about their disappeared relative. This, in turn, leads to the inability to exercise the right to social protection by the relatives of the disappeared person.
Under the current circumstances, when relatives of the disappeared persons need the support of the state, it is especially important for the state authorities to communicate with the relatives, to provide them with information about the stage of the search for their loved ones, about their guarantees and rights. Therefore, the activities of the Commissioner for Disappeared Persons are very important. In fact, the Commissioner and his regional representatives have become active communicators and analysts responsible for proper interaction between the families of persons disappeared under special circumstances and state bodies as well as institutions responsible for searching for such persons and resolving other related issues.
However, on August 10, 2023, the media reported the information that the position of the Commissioner for Persons Disappeared under Special Circumstances would be abolished. The Ministry of Reintegration explained that the position of the Commissioner would not be abolished, but an interagency meeting in the Government considered the transfer of the functions relating to the disappeared persons from the Ministry of Reintegration to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Defense and the Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War.
However, the reasons for this decision have not been publicly presented. What is presented as an “interagency redistribution of functions to improve work efficiency” will in practice lead to the absence of a single authorized coordinating body. This is unlikely to facilitate the search for disappeared persons or ensure better communication with their relatives.
It is important to note that the decision to “redistribute” the functions of the Commissioner for Disappeared Persons was made without consulting the organizations of relatives of disappeared persons. The dispersal of the functions of the Commissioner for Persons Disappeared under Special Circumstances between law enforcement and military bodies, which, by definition (and especially in wartime) are not and cannot be open, creates a risk of deterioration of the situation with the protection of disappeared persons and their families. In addition, there are significant questions about the conformity of the proposed redistribution of powers with the provisions of the Law of Ukraine “On the Legal Status of Persons Disappeared under Special Circumstances”.
The issue of tracing/searching for persons who disappeared during an armed conflict is a matter of international humanitarian law, which protects the right of families to know the fate and whereabouts of their disappeared relatives. Therefore, the state should make every effort to prevent the disappearance of people, search for disappeared persons and overcome the consequences of such events.
The Coalition “Ukraine. 5AM” calls on the authorities to fully implement the Law of Ukraine “On the Legal Status of Persons Disappeared under Special Circumstances” and to take a balanced approach to the issue of redistributing the functions of the Commissioner for Persons Disappeared under Special Circumstances. Such a redistribution should be justified, accompanied by appropriate amendments to the relevant law, and provide for the identification of an entity responsible for maintaining constant communication with the relatives of persons who disappeared in the context of armed aggression against Ukraine.ПІДПИСАТИ