On the subject of environmental problems in occupied and non-government-controlled territories of Ukraine

In order to promote the observance and protection of human rights and freedoms during the ongoing armed aggression of Russia against Ukraine, the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union constantly monitors problems and threats that arise in the field of human rights, as well as government and civic initiatives aimed at addressing them, both at legislative and practical levels. Special emphasis is placed on the importance of observing the principles and norms of international law (in particular, international human rights law and international humanitarian law).

Lately, we are registering an intensification of environmental problems and a deterioration of the ecological situation in non-government-controlled territory of Donbas and in the occupied Crimea (for example, in the north of the peninsula) due to irresponsible actions and negligent attitude of Russia and its proxies. It is important that this fact has been recognized at the highest level of the government. Thus, Ukraine’s Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov, in his article Mayday! Donbas: Threat of Environmental Disaster in the Center of Europe, raises the extremely urgent and important issue of the environmental situation in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. The article, which is a continuation of the earlier published and UHHRU-analyzed Strategy for Restoring Ukraine’s Integrity and Ensuring De-Occupation of Donbas, the “Small Steps Mechanism” [1], studies in detail the environmental threats posed by the armed aggression of the Russian Federation in Donbas and stresses the need for de-occupation of the region. Provided facts regarding environmental threats are based on the studies of multiple experts (in particular, the OSCE, domestic environmentalists and human rights activists).

UHHRU supports the opinion expressed in this article that the risk of an ecological disaster threatens not just Donbas, but the whole territory of Ukraine and even neighboring countries, and that urgent action must be taken to prevent this. It should be noted that our experts have voiced their concerns regarding the issues related to the state of the environment in the context of the hostilities numerous times. In particular, in 2017, UHHRU prepared an analytical report entitled On the Brink of Survival: Damage to the Environment during the Armed Conflict in the East of Ukraine, which not only includes a comprehensive analysis of the problems, but also provides recommendations to the Government of Ukraine regarding their resolution, in order to protect the environment as well as bring the aggressor state and those responsible for causing environmental damage to justice.

Thus, we urge relevant state authorities, namely the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense, the Parliament, leadership of civil-military administrations and others, to take urgent and systematic measures to ensure international legal protection of the environment during the armed conflict. The recommendations developed by human rights defenders could serve as a basis for this.

Of particular concern is the ecological situation in the north of the occupied Crimea, which resulted from the release of an unknown substance at the chemical plant Krymskyi Tytan (Crimean Titan) in the city of Armyansk on the night between August 23 and 24 and which is also affecting the border with Kherson Oblast. UHHRU believes that a potential environmental disaster should not be kept silent and urges the Ukrainian Government to take all possible measures to protect the people and the environment. From the Russian Federation, as the invading state, we demand compliance with international legal commitments, including the commitment to allow access to the territory of Crimea to an international monitoring missions for the purpose of independent situation assessment.

[1] As a reminder, in order to ensure the observance of human rights and facilitate the transition of Ukrainian society from the armed conflict to post-conflict reconciliation, UHHRU, together with its partners, is working on a national model of transitional justice. The drafted framework law On the Principles of State Policy for the Protection of Human Rights in the Context of Overcoming the Consequences of the Armed Conflict is supposed to introduce the “human dimension” in state policy, which will take into account both national priorities and the interests of ordinary citizens affected by the conflict. The document, which is based on program thematic documents of the UN and the Council of Europe, as well as on various models of transitional justice in other countries, will serve as the basis for other laws and regulations aimed at ensuring efficient protection and restoration of violated human rights, bringing the perpetrators to justice, ensuring the right to know the historical truth about the course of events, as well as ensuring non-recurrence of the armed conflict through institutional reforms and searching for ways toward social unity and reconciliation.

Cover photo – The Ukrayinskyi Tyzhden

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