Almost three decades have passed since the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the subsequent proclamation of independence by the Russian Federation and Ukraine. However, following independence both states faced a challenge in providing documentation to those living on their respective territories. In Ukraine around 35,000 people were left stateless (or at risk of statelessness) and almost double this number were left stateless or at risk of statelessness in the Russian Federation.
The laws and practices in both countries are hostile to stateless people, most of whom were citizens of the former Soviet Union. Both countries do not have a statelessness determination procedure, even though Ukraine has ratified both the 1954 and 1961 Statelessness conventions.
Recently, Ukrainian NGO CF “The Right to Protection” and Brussel-based organization ADC Memorial published a new report “Statelessness in Russia and Ukraine: possible ways to overcome the problem” which looks at the current situation. The report analyses the main legislative and procedural challenges in both countries and sets an agenda for tackling the issue, including the introduction of a statelessness determination procedure, ending the detention of stateless people and positive measures to end Roma statelessness.
Who is stateless in Russia and Ukraine?
The main group of people affected are those who, after the collapse of the USSR, did not obtain a passport of either of the two newly formed states. For some of them the solution is more straightforward, although they still require legal assistance to approach the court in order to obtain a passport. For others who do not appear to have a right to acquire citizenship, the only option would be to undergo statelessness determination, but the procedure does not exist in either of the countries.
To illustrate the context the report provides accounts of those affected. Take the story of Anna Lakatosh and Aladar Forkosh. Born in Ukraine, they are from a Roma family currently living undocumented in the Russian Federation. Following their detention pending administrative removal for not having identification documents, they took their case to the European Court of Human Rights in 2010 (Lakatosh and Others v. Russia). Assisted by ADC Memorial they won the case. Yet almost 10 years later they remain stateless and without documents. This high-profile case indicates that the problem of statelessness, rooted back in the past, has yet to be overcome.
Military conflict between Russia and Ukraine and new cases of statelessness
It is worth noting that from 2014, the number of persons at risk of statelessness has increased significantly due to the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine, when the east part of Ukraine (parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions) was seized by pro-Russian armed groups. Consequently, 40,000 or 57% of all new-borns in the last five years did not get Ukrainian birth certificates and lack proper birth registration. In addition, some from the occupied territories who lost their passports cannot confirm their Ukrainian citizenship, because authorities don’t have access to the archives located on the occupied territory to check whether the passport was indeed issued earlier. Others living abroad and wishing to return are faced with a similar problem if they’ve lost their passport.
The report also looks at the newly adopted legislation by the Russian Federation that foresees the possibility for residents of the non government-controlled territories to obtain a Russian passport. However, these passports issued to residents of occupied territories under simplified procedures are not recognized by Ukraine and are likely to be rejected by other countries.
Possible ways to overcome the problem
A number of other stories included in the report illustrate the devastating effects of policies and procedures which leave people in limbo, without documentation and rights. Despite the decades that have passed since the dissolution of the USSR, both countries still haven’t been able to tackle the situation of documentation. This has also meant that statelessness is being passed on to a new generation. Despite the advocacy efforts of civil society organizations and other stakeholders, unfortunately both countries still haven’t done enough to address the needs of stateless individuals. We hope that our new report which sets out clear recommendations and urgent steps which both countries must adopt will help in putting much needed attention on the issue.