International experts and human right defenders: the equal access to pensions must be ensured regardless of place of residence in Ukraine

Participants of the international conference Paying Pensions to Internally Displaced Persons in Ukraine: How to Exercise the Constitutional Right to Pension? have testified to the statement that Ukraine must vigorously protect internally displaced person (IDP) rights, as well as ensure equal access to pensions for all retirees (including IDPs) regardless of their place of residence. The international conference was organized by the Canadian Non-Governmental Organization Stabilization Support Services (SSS) in collaboration with the Committee of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on Social Policy, Employment and Pension Provision and with support of the USAID Financial Sector Transformation Project.

Attendees of the event include foreign diplomats, ambassadors, leading international experts on pension provision issues, state officials, Members of Parliament, as well as public

activists. Participants argue on how to ensure pension rights for IDPs under military conflict and temporary occupation of the territory of Ukraine.

The conference initiates the discussion of IDP social right restoration welcoming every party interested in solving the problem to participate. Session 1 was dedicated to the current problems of pension provision for IDPs. It is a constitutional right for every citizen to receive both social security and pension. The case of internal displacement cannot limit citizen’s rights.

“Pension provision is a part of social agreement. IDPs must not be discriminated against when implementing their pension rights. Politicians and state institution leaders quite often report that the state has to control and check IDPs with even more severity. As if, verification

procedures are the means for protecting IDPs. Since 2014, myths within society are justifying the policy for pension suspension. However, there is no justification for this human rights violation, for people affected by conflict and occupation in Donbas and Crimea”, – notes Valeria Vershynina, manager of the Liaison Officer (RADNYK) Programme.

The existing models to resolve the problems of social protection of IDPs were discussed by participants during Session 2, which was dedicated to the international experience in pension provision of IDPs. As a result of an armed conflict and inability to exercise effective control over territories, the governments of Georgia, Serbia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, and Armenia faced similar challenges.

“International law provides that Internally Displaced Persons should not suffer from any discrimination in the enjoyment of their right to their pensions”, – states Dr. Bríd Ní Ghráinne, Senior Researcher of the Judicial Studies Institute of the Masaryk University.

The mechanisms to fill in the existing gaps of pension provision for IDPs were discussed during Session 3.

“Тhe burden to prove the entitlement to the right to pension in the court must be withdrawn from IDPs, who have already seriously suffered. The final point in the question of the legality of the termination of pension payments to IDPs was set by the Supreme Court in a model case. The higher legal force of the Constitution of Ukraine, the laws and practice of the European Court of Human Rights over discriminatory administrative acts of the Cabinet of Ministers has been repeatedly proven in the courts of different instances in the pension cases of IDPs and residents of NGCA. Therefore, the final step is for the Government, which is expected to undertake balanced and person-oriented pension policy”, – says Daryna Tolkach, advocacy coordinator at the Charity Fund Right to Protection.

Violation of the rights of IDPs and residents of the occupied territories affects the reputation of Ukraine in the international arena.

“We urge the Government of Ukraine to provide all Ukrainian citizens with equal access to pensions regardless of their place of residence or registration as IDPs.  By delinking pensions from IDP registration, the authorities would ensure that persons from NGCA have the right to receive their pension on Ukrainian-controlled territory through Ukrainian banks without undue burden. Delinking pensions from IDP registration would relieve social protection departments from the administrative burden and costs associated with verifying IDPs for pension purposes. In addition, this would improve the quality of data on displacement, which would aid the state in planning its support to IDPs. Given its many advantages both for older persons and for the state, it’s time to take this policy forward,” – emphasizes Ms Noel Calhoun, UNHCR Deputy Representative in Ukraine.

Civil society, human rights defenders, and organizations uniting IDPs in Ukraine, have already suggested a mechanism to restore the rights of IDPs and residents of NGCA to the Government and the Parliament. These suggestions are reflected in the draft law 6692. Its purpose is to ensure the right to pension of citizens who, for various reasons, cannot obtain an IDP Certificate.

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