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Consequences of internal displacement at the centre of Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ dialogue with Ukraine

Committee on Economic, Social
and Cultural Rights

21 February 2020

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concluded today its consideration of the seventh periodic report of Ukraine on measures taken to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Experts noted that the large internally displaced population in Ukraine was particularly vulnerable and faced a number of challenges in the sphere of economic, social and cultural rights.

At the outset, Committee Experts said the Committee was fully aware of the significant challenges arising from the temporary occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sebastopol by the Russian Federation and the ongoing armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.

They noted that internally displaced persons still perceived themselves to be discriminated against, and underscored the specific problems experienced by female internally displaced persons. They represented 60 per cent of the internally displaced population and were almost twice more likely than men to live in poor families. Experts requested information on the Government's strategy and planning for the integration of internally displaced persons and the related gender-specific challenges.

Committee Experts underscored the problems arising from the linking of the entitlement to pensions of residents of the non-government controlled areas to their registration as internally displaced persons. What steps had been taken to provide mental health services and psychosocial aid to all those affected by the conflict, including internally displaced persons?

The delegation explained that of the 1.4 million internally displaced persons currently registered, about 700,000 were pensioners. The Government had streamlined the conditions for internally displaced persons to receive pensions. Individuals who had permanent residency in the Government-controlled territory could receive a pension payment even if they did not have a certificate.

Some municipalities had addressed issues related to internally displaced persons in a comprehensive and multifaceted manner, taking into consideration the needs of women for instance, as well as mental health care issues. The Government had developed plans to provide for the needs of internally displaced persons; relevant legislation had been drafted, as well as a plan for its implementation.

The most important thing for the Government, apart from establishing peace, was to provide all the social guarantees and rights of its citizens. Currently, internally displaced records were being kept as a regulating procedure for assigning and making social payments.

In his concluding remarks, Yurii Klymenko, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of the delegation, thanked the Chairperson and the Committee for the constructive discussion and the substantive questions and comments. The Government would examine seriously all concluding observations and conclusions prepared by the Committee.

Sandra Liebenberg, Committee Rapporteur for Ukraine, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue, to which it had provided detailed answers.

Renato Zerbini Ribeiro Leão, Committee Chairperson, concluded the dialogue by thanking the delegation.

The delegation of Ukraine consisted of the representatives of the Ministry of Social Policy, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Ministry of Interior Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The webcast of the Committee's public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.

The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Monday, 24 February, to meet with civil society organizations and national human rights institutions from Benin and Norway, whose reports will be reviewed by the Committee next week.

Report

The Committee has before it the seventh periodic report of Ukraine (E/C.12/UKR/7).

Presentation of the Report

YURII KLYMENKO, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Ukraine had facilitated appropriate conditions to equal rights as laid out in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in particular, the right to work and an adequate standard of living, the right to form and join trade unions and to social insurance, and the right to protect young families, motherhood and childhood.

The National Human Rights Strategy had been designed to unite society around the understanding of human rights and freedoms in Ukraine. Strategic implementation was ensured by the intensive development of legislation on the promotion of human rights standards based on anti-discrimination, equal opportunities, and increased accessibility to social services. The Government's Action Programme set out the goals and priorities regarding the activities for the next five years, notably on the development of human capital and economy; creation of new employment opportunities; infrastructure development; reduction of long-term pollution; and the improvement of demographic numbers. Key objectives and goals had been set for each ministry to ensure the effective implementation of the Covenant.

One of the main conditions for ensuring a decent life and development of a person was work. The priority of the national policy was to overcome the deficit of decent work with a goal to reduce labour migration and return migrant workers to Ukraine. The Government was implementing systematic steps in the area of deregulation of the economy, development of small and medium-sized businesses, updates of labour and employment legislation, and development of social dialogue to create new jobs.

The Cabinet of Ministers had drafted the Law "On Labour" that aimed to reform and liberalize labour legislation, create equal rules and balance the interests of employees and employers, lower unemployment, provide incentives for business development, and facilitate entry-exit from labour relations in combination with effective mechanisms of protection from job loss. In that regard, protection measures should take into account Ukraine's international commitments, including under the Covenant.

In recent years, the dynamics of nominal and real wage growth had been stable. The State budget of Ukraine for 2020 provided an increase of the minimum wage by 13.2 per cent. Equal remuneration for work was ensured by setting in legal acts and sectoral agreements the wage rates by professions (positions), depending on the level of qualification. Occupational segregation was one of the main reasons for the gender pay gap. Men were more likely to occupy senior positions where wages were higher, and, overall, wages in female-dominated professions tended to be lower than male-dominated ones.

In December 2018, the Government had approved the concept for reforming the system of labour protection management, aiming to create a national system for preventing industrial risks and to ensure workers' right to safe and healthy working conditions. Preparatory measures were currently underway to ratify International Labour Organization Convention 187 on occupational safety and health. There were positive trends in the labour market: the level of employment had increased and the level of unemployment had decreased.

In May 2019, the Government of Ukraine, the All-Ukrainian Association of Employers' Organizations, and the All-Ukrainian Association of Trade Unions had concluded a collective agreement - General Agreement on Regulation of the Basic Principles and Norms of Implementation of Socio-Economic Policy and Labour Relations in Ukraine for 2019-2021.

A poverty reduction strategy was being implemented to improve living standards. This had taken place in the face of the Russian military aggression against Ukraine, which had been ongoing for over six years, resulting in displacement and loss of jobs, income and property for 1.4 million Ukrainians. However, targeted work had gradually increased the income of the population and reduced the poverty level in the country. Through a pension reform introduced in 2017, over the past three years, the average pension had increased by 70 percent.

The Government was focusing on further developments and improvements of the social insurance system. The minimum amounts of unemployment assistance and the amount of monthly insurance payments increased annually.

The Law on Social Services had come into force, which improved legislation in the field of social services. Ukraine was taking measures to ensure that people with disabilities had access to health care, education and rehabilitation. A network of transportation services for persons with musculoskeletal disorders was developing in Ukraine. All government and local government websites were adapted for people with visual and hearing impairment. Also, persons with such impairment were provided with special aids for navigation and orientation, communication and exchange of information.

Unfortunately, due to the external aggression, Ukraine was experiencing loss of human capital and negative social and psychological results for the population. The Government gave special attention to people with disabilities who were provided with treatment and rehabilitation and allowed to return to a peaceful life. According to the United Nations, about 30,000 people had been injured.

The most important thing for the Government, apart from establishing peace, was to provide all the social guarantees and rights of its citizens. Currently, internally displaced records were being kept as a regulating procedure for assigning and making social payments.

The new Law on Education had been adopted. In particular, it provided for increasing the accessibility of different types and forms of education to all Ukrainians, regardless of their financial status and place of residence, introducing inclusive education for people with special educational needs. In order to ensure access to good quality health care for every citizen, a medical reform was underway.

Questions by the Country Rapporteur

SANDRA LIEBENBERG, Committee Rapporteur for Ukraine, said the Committee was fully aware of the significant challenges arising from the temporary occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sebastopol by the Russian Federation and the ongoing armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The large internally displaced population in Ukraine was particularly vulnerable and faced a number of challenges in the sphere of economic, social and cultural rights. The Rapporteur noted that the Government had a number of initiatives such as the Action Plan for the Implementation of the Strategy of Integration of Internally Displaced Persons and the Implementation of Long-Term Solutions to Internal Displacement until 2020. She noted, however, that internally displaced persons still perceived themselves to be discriminated against, and underscored the specific problems experienced by female internally displaced persons, who represented 60 per cent of the internally displaced person population and were almost twice more likely than men to live in poor families. She requested information on the Government's strategy and planning for the integration of internally displaced persons and the related gender-specific challenges.

The Rapporteur also drew the delegation's attention to the problem arising from the linking of the entitlement to pensions of residents of the non-government controlled areas to their registration as internally displaced persons. What progress had been made to put in place effective legislative and administrative mechanisms to delink them and facilitate payment of arrear pensions to this group?

While poverty was declining, statistics showed high levels of absolute poverty, which stood at 27.6 per cent in 2018 based on revenue less than living wage. Had the trend of the decline in the share of social spending of total spending in the State budget continued in 2019? Had the State party conducted an impact assessment of the medium-term fiscal consolidation programme to meet International Monetary Fund conditions on the enjoyment of Covenant rights?

Noting an increase in household income below median incomes between 2017-2018, the Rapporteur asked the delegation to comment on the increase in relative poverty. On tax evasion, what specific measures were in place to combat the practice of paying part of wages in untaxed cash, so-called "envelope wages"?

The Rapporteur inquired about the impact of decentralization reforms on the rights enshrined in the Convention. She also invited the delegation to comment on attacks on civil society anti-corruption activists and the media, the most prominent case of which was the attack suffered by Kateryna Handziuk in 2018.

On discrimination, were there plans to extend the prohibition of discrimination to sexual orientation and gender identity and what was the status of the draft legislation on discrimination.

The Rapporteur also inquired about the situation of the Roma community and the deeply entrenched stereotyped gender roles. What measures were contemplated to reduce the gender pay gap, which had remained stubbornly high over a long period of time?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation recalled that in Ukraine there had been people killed in city centres, and this had changed the general atmosphere for the development of the country. The Government had stopped carrying out its activities in Donestk and Luhansk. As of August 2014, people who had been transferred to reception area in territories under government control had been registered. Of the 1.4 million internally displaced persons currently registered, about 700,000 were pensioners.

In 2016, a decision had been adopted allowing the Government to use individualized approaches in delivery of housing-related services. It had run decentralizing programmes by the redistribution of tax revenues to the regions. Some municipalities had addressed issues related to internally displaced persons in a comprehensive and multifaceted manner, taking into consideration the needs of women for instance, as well as mental health care issues.

The Government had developed plans to provide for the needs of internally displaced persons; relevant legislation had been drafted, as well as a plan for its implementation.

Turning to the right to receive a pension, delegates said that, over the past six years, it had been granted to every person who had been displaced. In the territory of Donestk and Luhansk, however, the Government did not know how many pensioners there were. As for paying out pensions to individuals living there, for those of them who had received Russian citizenship, Russia would be responsible for paying out pensions to them. The Government needed reliable information about the people living in the territory that was not under its effective control.

It should be noted that the Government had streamlined the conditions for internally displaced persons to receive pensions. Individuals who had permanent residency in Government-controlled territory could receive a pension payment even if they did not have a certificate. Work was still ongoing to determine exactly how to establish who was an internally displaced person.

Delegates explained that people were looking for decent salaries and Ukraine was struggling to find workers. As companies engaged in tax evasion, this led Ukrainians to go work abroad in neighbouring countries. This was why the Government had doubled the minimum wage. The Government expected an increase in gross domestic product as a result of its efforts to formalize employment, and other labour-related reforms. The rise in the average wage that resulted from the Government's policies was a positive trend.

Awareness-raising campaigns were conducted by local offices of the Ministry of Justice to encourage the Roma population to register the birth of their children.

On the legislation on discrimination, the draft law defined such terms such as "discrimination by association" and was still under consideration by the Parliament, where it would undergo a second reading.

A law on corruption had been introduced which created the status of "accuser of corruption". Individuals with that status had access to legal aid. The High Anti-Corruption Court of Ukraine had handed down sentences against several individuals since it had started its work last year. Many initiatives had been taken to boost governmental action on corruption, delegates assured.

There was an inter-ministerial group working on implementing the Government's Roma strategy. It notably worked on communication and media relations, housing, security and cooperation and the police, as well as social services and healthcare. In that context, the Government had engaged with various organizations representing Roma communities.

In 2017, violent acts had taken place in Roma settlements, as well as intimidation acts targeting Roma people. These events had been investigated, and perpetrators had been arrested. In 2019, there had been no such violations. To prevent violence against the Roma, the police had launched several initiatives, including some related to conflict prevention or engaging youth from the Roma communities. Regular police patrols were organized in areas where Roma people lived.

Turning to human rights organizations fighting against corruption and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people, the delegation said that there had been 82 criminal cases related to attacks against activists that had been opened. The law enforcement bodies responded to any complaints pertaining to violations of the rights of activists.

Second Round of Questions by the Committee Experts

Committee Experts recalled that they had requested data related to the right to work, and that the State party had provided very comprehensive statistics in response. However, after perusing the data, Experts were not able to figure out what the percentage of unemployed people under the age of 35 was. They also sought clarification regarding the unemployment rate amongst women.

The Committee had been informed that at the end of 2019, a group of members of parliament had submitted draft amendments that could erode fundamental rights enshrined in the Convention, notably the right to work and trade union rights. Experts said they would be most grateful if the delegation could advise on this matter.

Experts also inquired about labour inspections and the functioning of the Labour Inspectorate.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation, responding to questions on unemployment, said a programme had been implemented to support startups. The total figure on unemployment was 8.4 per cent and the prediction for 2020 was 8.1 per cent. The draft laws were guided by the same philosophy: labour laws had to be reviewed taking into consideration the trend towards greater mobility. If a person was working in a particularly difficult environment, that person could have up to five months of leave annually.

On labour inspections, reforms had been made to merge various labour regulation enforcement bodies into a single entity. Fines had been introduced, amongst other measures, to tackle offences.

Third Round of Questions by the Committee Experts

Experts said the delegation had shown an excellent level of expertise. However, there were some aspects on which the Committee needed further information in order to better understand the national efforts undertaken to move towards the fulfilment and enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the Covenant. On the granting of personal identification documents and birth certificates, particularly to the Roma population, internally displaced persons and those affected by the armed conflict, it seemed that assistance was available only to those that already possessed an identification document, which in turn made these processes complicated and unpractical.

The current existing legislation established that only children born to stateless parents residing legally in Ukraine may obtain Ukrainian citizenship. However, no process for the determination of statelessness had been adopted and therefore no one had been able to access such status yet. Given the fact that identification documents may not be obtained, it was impossible to prove legal residency in the country territory. What measures were being taken by the State party in order to harmonize its legislation with the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness?

Concerning birth registration, Experts had been informed that local authorities and governmental bodies still did not recognize medical documents on childbirth issued by the so–called "authorities" in the non-Government-controlled areas. The court procedure remained the only available mean of registration of children born in Crimea. This situation left many children without registration and obviously unable to effectively enjoy economic, social and cultural rights.

On poverty reduction, were there any measures contemplated to recalculate the official "subsistence minimum" so that it was calculated based on objective indicators that reflected the real cost of living?

The Committee would appreciate any information on alternative tools used by the State party in order to implement policies and follow up on the indicators on the right to housing.

The Committee understood that a non-discriminatory, comprehensive and administrative mechanism for compensation and restitution to owners of damaged or destroyed property due to the conflict had yet to be established.

They sought clarification on the adoption of the mechanism referred to in paragraph 256 of the responses to the list of issues, which would facilitate the evaluation of damages caused to those whose property had been destroyed as a result of hostilities.

Committee Experts requested information on child malnutrition, as well as on measures taken to establish a compulsory medical insurance programme at the State level and difficulties faced in this regard, as well as difficulties
to comply with commitments related to the UNAIDS Strategy.

Could the delegation provide information on steps taken to develop systematic State policies and programmes to provide mental health services and psychosocial aid to all those affected by the conflict, including internally displaced persons, teachers, social workers and school psychologists, especially those who lived in areas close to the conflict zones.

Experts broached the topic of the State party's policies on drug use, noting their punitive aspects, as well as some features that led to de facto criminalization. There was a very high prevalence of HIV and Hepatitis B amongst drug users in Ukraine. What steps was the Government considering to implement a human rights approach to drug use in order to combat stigmatization of drug users?

Turning to education, Committee Experts underscored the discrepancy between the percentage of persons with disabilities enrolled in Donestk and Luhansk schools in comparison with the rest of the country. Did this mean that the conflict had affected persons with disabilities' access to education?

If the State party was not able to provide additional data on Roma people's access to education, it would amount to render a discrimination invisible.

Addressing linguistic issues, Experts said this dialogue provided an opportunity to address them in a technical, human rights perspective, thus avoiding any form of politicization.

As regarded linguistic matters, the law on education included problematic provisions from the perspective of non-discrimination. The State party should not neglect the promotion of national languages different from the majority language. Indigenous languages required the greatest attention and care.

The limits imposed on some languages, such as the Russian language, were not warranted. Far from any geopolitical consideration, Russian was the mother tongue of 17 per cent of the population. Experts requested information on the "roadmap" developed by the Government on this matter. Was it related to the Venice Commission's report?

When it came to science, the Convention promoted freedom and international cooperation. Russian was the natural language of a significant number of Ukrainian scientists. In that context, how were the limits imposed by the Government on its use compatible with the Convention?

When would the Government submit its law on minorities? Would it allow the Government to remedy the shortcomings related to education and official languages that the Committee had pointed out? Experts asked about objects of cultural heritage in the territories that were not under the Government's control.

Replies by the Delegation

The Government had sought to address the need to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex persons, notably as potential victims of criminal offences. This had led to the provision of training to law enforcement officials. The march of equality organized by this community had been a positive experience; it had been held without any violence. When investigating offences affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex persons, guidelines for criminal procedures were followed, ensuring that any form of discrimination was ruled out. Furthermore, these investigations considered the role played by intolerance.

On the case of Kateryna Handziuk, delegates assured that it had been duly investigated and prosecuted. In June 2016, a court had found the persons accused of this crime guilty and had handed down a sentence against them.

On the granting of personal identification documents and birth certificates, in 2018, almost 4,000 members of the Roma community had received identification documents; since 2014, the number of Roma persons receiving these documents had almost doubled. Social regional services provided support to Roma families. On the education of Roma children, several thousands of them were enrolled in primary school education in the country. A map of Roma communities had been drawn up to facilitate cooperation with the Government, notably on employment.

A survey had been carried out to identify the needs of female and male internally displaced persons. It had found that gendered roles and gender stereotypes underpinned the issues they faced. For instance, it had found that it was mostly women who cared for children. Female internally displaced persons were more economically vulnerable: they were thrice as likely as men to be in a difficult economic situation. Furthermore, more often than not, women were poor and often faced very difficult living conditions. There was a plan in place to ensure the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325 in a manner that fostered the reintegration of internally displaced women.

The Government had sought to simplify the judicial procedure to register deaths and births in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. Measures had been put in place to provide compensation to individuals whose dwellings had been destroyed by the aggression related to the temporary occupation.

On the possession of drugs, delegates explained that individuals who voluntary entered an institution that treated addiction were relieved of criminal responsibility. A bill had been submitted on the recognition of stateless persons. It provided for the granting of identity documents and residency to stateless persons.

There had been a reduction of stillbirths and infant mortality, delegates said. Government leadership had been strengthened to counter HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis infections. In that context, a programme had been put in place, in line with world standards, to assist people with psychological and behavioural issues, notably the population using drugs.

Turning to the reduction in allocations to medical treatment in the general budget, the delegation explained that the Government had implemented the constitutional standard that medical care was free of charge. As a result of the military conflict, which had affected the budget and the economy as a whole, there had been an emigration wave: Ukrainians had moved abroad. In that context, the medical reforms sought to review the financing of institutions to ensure services were provided directly to individuals.

Some of the countries that tried to level accusations at Ukraine on minority languages did not have any schools teaching in Ukrainian, whereas in Ukraine, pre-school education was offered in 10 languages. There were for instance 145 kindergartens in Ukraine where the main teaching language was Russian. The Government had published 98 textbooks in minority languages, including Polish, Hungarian and Russian.

The Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport had created councils which engaged with communities of ethnic minorities and the majority of civil society organizations representing them, notably on education in minority languages.

On the education of Roma children, one could not talk of segregation as the schools with a dominant presence of Roma were located in neighbourhoods where there were several Roma settlements. There were programmes in place to bring in pupils from other neighbourhoods and thus reduce the percentage of Roma pupils.

The Government was working on developing policies to create an independent body on freedom of conscience and issues pertaining to ethnic minorities. This would contribute to the implementation of the recommendations of the Venice Commission.

There were no legislative obstacles to the registration of the birth of Roma children. The problem was that Roma were not interested in registering birth. The Government had carried out various communication campaigns, publishing information on stands and holding workshops, to address this issue.

The Ministry of Education had taken steps to ensure access to higher education for persons living in the temporarily occupied territories. The President had recently signed a law guaranteeing free meals in kindergarten and schools to children of internally displaced persons.

On unemployment, the delegation said that it stood at 8.4 per cent amongst the population of working age. The Government was still working on preparing a final draft bill on unemployment.

On the new methodology to establish the subsistence minimum, changes had been made to remove criteria that courts had determined not to be in line with the law.

The Government offered various forms of assistance to internally displaced persons on the territory under its control, such as support to poor families, including housing subsidies, pensions and preferential treatment in access to health and education services. There were approximately 32,000 internally displaced individuals who received social benefits.

Many of the children who suffered from malnutrition did so as a result of the conflict, delegates said, noting that several thousand children suffered from psychological violence.

Concluding Remarks

YURII KLYMENKO, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of the delegation, thanked the Chairperson and the Committee for the constructive discussion and the substantive questions and comments. The Government would examine seriously all concluding observations and conclusions prepared by the Committee.

SANDRA LIEBENBERG, Committee Rapporteur for Ukraine, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue, to which it had provided detailed answers.

RENATO ZERBINI RIBEIRO LEÃO, Committee Chairperson, concluded the dialogue by thanking the delegation.

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