Changes to terrorism law give Ukraine forces fighting chance to defeat eastern insurgency

by Iana Koretska
Kyiv Post | June 20, 2014

The Verkhovna Rada on June 5 passed a number of changes to the law on terrorism which had been heavily criticized by lawyers for not providing an effective legal framework to fight Kremlin-backed separatists Ukraine’s eastern-most regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.

The amendments were passed in the third attempt by a simple majority of 239 lawmakers out of the legislature’s 450.

President Petro Poroshenko signed the document on June 18.

They are supposed to extend the legal reach that counterterrorism forces have to combat the Russia-backed militants. Until now, there were restrictions and preconditions attached to firing and ending the life of a terrorist.

This is crucial for Ukraine to defend itself against the Kremlin’s undeclared war and invasion of eastern Ukraine. Since April, when the counterterrorism operation started, some 151 Ukrainian servicemen have died at the hands of Moscow-backed separatists.

The amendments, in particular, legitimize the use of Ukrainian military servicemen in the operation. Before this, only special units of the Interior Ministry could be engaged.

The new legislation also allows commanders to temporarily restrict the rights of local populations as well as to shut down business entities – fully or partially.

Discrepancies in the legal status of the National Army and National Border Guard were also removed, says Andriy Podumay, a lawyer with ILF legal service provider.Legislation on terrorism also suffered from vague language and is its weakest point, says Oleksandr Gorovoy, a private lawyer who is also an ex-military serviceman.

"All anti-terrorism legislation is problematic. It was drafted at the time when there were no terrorist actions in Ukraine,” he explains.

Terrorist acts are punishable by at least ​five​ years in prison, though a terrorist may also receive a life sentence if the number of victims is massive or there are substantial property losses.Moreover, terrorism law is not something law students pay much attention to during their studies.

As a result, there are not too many experts on the issue – lawyers who follow the Criminal Code are probably the best, said Kateryna Andreeva, spokesperson for Lavrynovych and Partners law firm.

When the law was passed, Iryna Herashchenko, member of the UDAR parliamentary faction and the key initiator of amendments to the law on terrorism, said: “Today terrorists became a real threat for the lives of civilians. And there are people who are helping the terrorists! Those people, who are helping the terrorists, who blackmail the Ukrainian army, must be punished!”

On June 17, Poroshenko appointed Herashchenko to represent him in Donbas and take charge of the peace process there.

However, Gorovoy says that despite passing the amendments to the law on terrorism it is still a problem to implement them. Police simply refuse to do their job in Donbas.

“Police and prosecutors ran away – only military servicemen are left in Donetsk and Luhansk,” he added.

Lawyers compare parliament’s decision to pass the amendments with the U.S. Congress’s so-called Patriot Act adopted soon after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York City. It substantially strengthened the country’s security apparatus. Besides, other measures were introduced to provide better control over foreign citizens travelling to the U.S.

Ukraine is following American policy on restricting travel to the country from Russia. The State Border Service on April 17 restricted entry for Russian male citizens aged 16-60 and since then they are allowed to come only if they can prove they’re visiting a relative who is fatally sick or deceased.

Moreover, National Security and Defense Council head Andriy Parubiy on June 16 said that Ukraine will build a solid wall along its state border with Russia to avoid any future provocations from the Russian side.

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