As you may recall from my last post, I came to Kyiv to help Ukrainian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) document their identity, homes, land and property (HLP). Documenting the destruction of civilian homes and public infrastructure is one thing, but collecting compensation for the losses and damage is another.
On February 24, 2022, the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine hoping to quickly conquer the entire country and install an illegitimate puppet government. Over the next three months we watched Russian soldiers commit war crimes and atrocities while forcing 13 million citizens to safer areas within Ukraine, or flee the country entirely.
As a Canadian of Ukrainian heritage, I was outraged that the country where my father was born was being destroyed before my eyes, so I decided to do something about it.
A little less talking and a little more doing
Based on the work we at Peer Social had been doing to build a self-attested identity solution for refugees and IDPs, we became linked to HLP specialists like Dr. Jon Unruh of McGill University in Montreal. We released a podcast with Dr. Unruh in November 2021 called Why Decentralization Matters. In it we discussed digital technology and the transformative impact it can have on HLP compensation & restitution, if done right.
Through Dr. Unruh, I was introduced to an international group of HLP experts from the Global Protection Cluster representing UN agencies (IOM, UNHCR, OHCCR), and international NGOs like the Norwegian Refugee Council, and New America. These fantastic organisations have been working for years to protect the rights of vulnerable people around the world who’ve been displaced from their homes due to climate change, conflict and war.
Helping me HLPing you
Usually, HLP experts deploy to a country after a war or natural disaster has displaced large populations, and work with refugees and IDPs to document their HLP. They also develop the legal guidelines necessary to process claims for compensation and restitution according to transitional justice precedents like the Pinheiro Principles. Transitional justice is intended to be flexible and temporary, allowing refugees and IDPs to use non-traditional evidence of their identity and occupation of a particular home to establish their right to compensation. However, Ukraine has a slightly different perspective.
Shortly after the war began, the government of Ukraine proposed draft Law 7198 regarding compensation for Damage and Destruction of Certain Categories of Realty Units as a Result of Military Actions, Terrorist Acts, Sabotage Caused by the Military Aggression of the Russian Federation. This law gave every Ukrainian citizen the legal claim of compensation from Russia for any damage or destruction caused by the war.
We convened a sub-group of the Global Protection Cluster focused on Ukraine and examined the law with great interest. Our analysis identified a few problems with Law 7198, most notably very specific evidentiary requirements, and judicial process requiring any damage claims to be processed one at a time.
A shortcut on the long road home
Our group’s experience with HLP restitution in countries like Iraq, Bosnia, and Sri Lanka shows that Law 7198 should be modified to more quickly help the millions of displaced Ukrainians. If the restitution process is applied individually per claim, compensation distribution could take 100 years or more. We’ve seen other nations descend into chaos with internal dysfunction and armed conflict when destitute people are forced to wait an unreasonable length of time.
Considering their heroic efforts to resist Russian aggression, Ukrainians deserve a far better future than anarchy. So our group produced a guidance note suggesting how Law 7198 can be amended to include more flexible mass compensation guidelines established under transitional justice. In early August 2022, with guidance note in hand I jumped on a flight to Warsaw where I was joined by Dr. Unruh. We made our way to Kyiv with a colleague from UN Migration (IOM), Igor Cvetkovski. We then began the long process of speaking with representatives of the Ukrainian government and civil society organisations regarding quicker HLP restitution and compensation.
Nearly three months later I’m still in Kyiv and we’re making significant progress.