New “Donbas Deoccupation” Law Draft Raises Concerns About Martial Law
16 November, 2017

Over a month ago, Ukraine’s parliament passed the so-called “Donbas deoccupation law” in its first reading. The bill was intended to set Kyiv’s future policy toward regions of the country that are currently occupied by Russia and its proxies.

While preparing the final text of the law, members of parliament introduced more than six hundred amendments into the bill. To work through these alterations, Parliament’s National Security Committee created a special working group of MPs, representatives from the government and the presidential administration, and experts.

On November 15, the National Security Committee approved the draft law’s final version. The council members agreed upon all articles of the law except one: article 10, which outlines the special authority granted to the military and law enforcement in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

That article, some fear, could effectively place cities outside the combat zone under military rule.

Many of the changes in the new version of the deoccupation law appear largely formal or phraseological. The draft law still recognizes Russia as an “aggressor state” on the legislative level, renames Ukraine’s “anti-terrorist operation” (ATO) in the east, and creates a unified operative command to control all military, civil-military and law enforcement matters in the conflict zone.

The new version also includes some significant changes and additions. It clarifies the process for appointing the head of the unified operative command and grants the government (as opposed to the operative command) control over which goods and commodities can be transferred across the front line. Both of these details are significant.

But the most significant amendment is also the most controversial. The new version proposes granting security forces the right to use their weapons, detain people and interrupt their work, limit the movement of vehicles, and utilize people’s homes and communications equipment for their own purposes. In practice, this differs little from the authority currently granted to security forces in the ATO region.

However, some members of the National Security Committee are concerned that the new draft law does not clearly define the geographical boundaries of the “area for carrying out national security measures” — the term intended to replace “ATO.”

That means that these “measures” could theoretically extend to the entirety of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, including those cities that are currently not considered part of the ATO zone. Oleksiy Ryabchin, an MP from the Batkivshchyna party, believes that this would de facto place the entire territory of these regions under martial law.

The National Security Committee has decided to dedicate an entire session to clarifying article 10. During that session, the MPs hope that they will be able to pass a final text of the draft law, which can then be voted on in the session hall.

/By Matthew Kupfer