Ukraine: Update on Military Occupation of Civilian Property - December 2017

CURRENT SITUATION

Housing, land and property issues are key protection concerns for conflict-affected people in Ukraine.1 For people living close to the contact line separating governmentcontrolled areas (GCA) and non-government controlled areas (NGCA) of Ukraine, expropriation and occupation of residential houses, commercial property and private agricultural land by military actors has been reported.

Military occupation of housing, including looting and damage, has been reported both in GCA and NGCA.

Protection concerns related to military occupation of property include increased risks to life, as the positioning of military bases in civilian areas increases the amount of shelling2 and fighting in the area and, consequently, leads to greater number of civilian casualties. People may refuse to flee their homes, even when their lives are at risk due to shelling, because of the fear that their property will be taken for military use if they leave.

In addition to losing access to their homes and property, households who have had their homes occupied by military forces must pay land tax and utility bills for the occupied home, in addition to rent and utility bills in their place of residence, placing households under a heavy financial burden and forcing people into bankruptcy.

Even when military expropriation has ended, property owners are often left without any confirmation that the property was used by the military and have no evidence to apply for compensation for damaged or destroyed property or accrued debts for utilities and unpaid taxes.

Soldiers may leave behind landmines and unexploded ordinances and the use of land plots for military purposes (e.g. mining, digging trenches etc.) means that it is often impossible to conduct farming activities.

Military occupation can also serve as an obstacle to durable solutions, by jeopardizing the potential for the voluntary return of displaced people.

Currently, there are no administrative procedure for the documentation and compensation for military use and damage of occupied civilian property. This leaves civilian households in a situation of uncertainly, not knowing what resource is available.

KEY MESSAGES

• According to UN Guiding Principles on internal displacement, property of displaced people must be respected and protected. Therefore, armed unitsshould be aware of their responsibilities under international law to respect the housing, land and property rights of civilians, especially individuals living along the contact line. The Shelter Cluster and its partners are conducting an ongoing verification which shows that secondary incidents of damage to housing are often caused by military occupation of vacant housing. Therefore proper military installations outside of civilian areas is the most preferred option.

• If nevertheless military occupation occurs, is crucially important that authorities acknowledge the fact of the military occupation of civilian property. Authorities should develop a comprehensive mechanism for assessment, compensation or restitution for the cases of military use and damage of civilian property.

• It should be clear for conflict-affected population what is the procedure of getting compensation for military occupation of their properties. Civilians should not fear of repercussions for reporting the cases of military use of private property