The only way to resolve the issue of IDP voting rights is through legislative changes: by updating the definition of what constitutes an electoral address. Such changes were proposed in bill No. 6240 of 27 March 2017, drafted by GRUPA VPLYVU jointly with the OPORA Civic Network, the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), and several other human rights organisations. This is already the second, improved draft of the bill, containing safeguards against possible manipulations, such as frequent changes of electoral address. In addition, for the first time ever, it includes the category of “other mobile citizens within the country.”
“When we started digging into the issue, we came across a category of people who were completely out of the picture before – that is, Ukrainian citizens living in a place other than the place of their registration. In reality, their number far exceeds the number of IDPs. This category includes migrant workers and people who, for instance, got married and went to live in another region, but are not registered at the new place of residence, because the apartment belongs to their partner’s parents or for some other reason, as well as many other circumstances.”
The very fact that the bill was registered, and that MPs and international partners are now aware of the issue, so that IDPs are not left to deal with it alone, is a real success, says Tetiana.
Advocating for IDP rights, the CSO employs international standards and practices, in particular, the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and Council of Europe recommendations.
“Although there are no direct restrictions in the national legislation regarding IDP voting rights, de facto an indirect discrimination is there,” Tetiana explains. Along with the right to vote, IDPs' rights to participate in local self-government decision-making in their host communities is also being infringed. Moreover, this contradicts the principles and concepts of decentralisation and the participatory approach.
Every day, IDPs contribute to their host communities, for instance, by paying taxes. “Then why don’t we have right to elect the local authorities?” ask the protagonists of asocial ad shot by GRUPA VPLYVU. This video is a part of an information campaign to lobby for the political rights of IDPs and other mobile groups within Ukraine.
We need to be crystal clear about whose interests are implicated by a particular change
To better understand the obstacles to changing an electoral address, Tetiana and her team conducted research among IDPs in 10 regions of Ukraine. In addition to the fact that people often do not have the means to buy an apartment and get registered in a new place, they also face some additional issues unknown to other groups in the population.
First, there is an increased risk for them when crossing the contact line (entry-exit checkpoints) and the administrative border with Crimea. Second, there is a risk of their losing property; if a resident leaves a flat, for example, in Donetsk, their property could be illegally seized, and they would hardly be able to protect their ownership rights if they have no supporting documents. Finally, participants of the focus groups regularly mentioned that an electoral registration sustains a psychological connection to their abandoned place of residence.
“Since it’s really challenging for the IDPs to change their place of registration, we came up with a solution that allows them to change their electoral address without changing the registration. This would allow people to vote at the place of their actual residence.”