(Kyiv) – Ukrainian civilians are exposed to risks to their health and safety – even grave danger – as they face endless waits when they need to go back and forth across the contact line between government-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine and the separatist-held Luhansk and Donetsk regions, Human Rights Watch said today.
Lack of adequate sanitary and other infrastructure at crossing points, and exposure to landmines can make an already grueling crossing – often involving long waits in freezing or hot temperatures – dangerous for civilians, Human Rights Watch found. Fighting, which has recently flared up in the vicinity of the contact line, means civilians waiting at crossing points, including overnight, are exposed to shooting and shelling. All parties to the conflict should uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law to take necessary measures to protect civilians. Authorities on both sides of the contact line should ensure that civilians are not exposed to undue hardship or unnecessary suffering.
“Civilians living in eastern Ukraine have many ties on both sides of the line of contact, such as family, friends, or property or may need to access government-provided services,” said Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The parties to the conflict recognize that civilians need to cross from one side to the other, and so they should facilitate that and avoid measures which make crossing a threat to their health or even lives.”
- Increase the number of entry/exit crossing points along the line of contact, particularly in the Luhansk region where only one functioning crossing point exists at the moment that civilians can only cross on foot;
- Increase staffing and boost technological and other infrastructure at entry/exit crossing points to facilitate transit, especially during winter months;
- Ensure that all crossing points are equipped with adequate toilet facilities, shelters from inclement weather, warming stations, and potable water stations;
- Investigate and address allegations of corruption and extortion among border guards and other officials present at crossing points; formalize and widely publicize crossing procedures as a means to combat corruption; and
- Ensure priority crossing to vulnerable groups of people on both sides, such as elderly people, people with disabilities, young children, pregnant women, and others. Make information about priority crossing publicly available and visible at crossing points.
To Ukraine’s Security Service:
- Improve the e-pass system to avoid delays; ensure people without access to electricity, computers or the internet, elderly people, and people with disabilities are able to obtain e-passes without undue difficulties, including by increasing the locations where e-passes can be obtained in person; ensure those crossing the line of contact for humanitarian or medical reasons are not prevented from crossing only because they do not have a valid e-pass.
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The February 17, 2017 report incorrectly stated that there was no procedure in place to allow people to apply for an emergency e-pass if it is needed for family emergency or other extraordinary situations, however this only pertains to medical emergency or other extraordinary situations. Additionally, the crossing points are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the summer, instead of closing at 10 p.m.