The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled that Ukraine is not responsible for the failure to use legal remedies in Russian-occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
"There had been no violation of Article 6 Paragraph 1 (right of access to court) of the European Convention of Human Rights," the ECHR ruled in a case of Donetsk pensioners' complaints about access to a court.
The court combined seven similar complaints from Ukrainian citizens residing in the Russian-occupied city of Donetsk, according to the Ukrainian news outlet Europeiska Pravda.
"The case concerned a complaint by seven residents of Donetsk that they had not been able to bring cases challenging a suspension of pension payments and other social benefits ("social benefits") before a court in the city where they lived," the court said in its summary issued on February 13.
Read alsoUkraine's justice ministry reports on payments under ECHR rulingsSeven retirees and individuals entitled to social benefits, born from 1926 to 1960, who stopped receiving social payments from the Ukrainian budget after the occupation of Donbas in 2014, filed lawsuits against Ukraine. Three of them appealed to the Ukrainian government in 2015 about the resumption of social payments, while others did not do that.
None of the plaintiffs challenged the Ukrainian government's decision to cease social payments in Ukrainian courts, explaining this by the fact that the Ukrainian justice system was not functioning in Donetsk since all courts were evacuated from Donbas because of Russian aggression. "This was the main complaint made by the Donetsk citizens in Strasbourg: they think Ukraine has limited their ability to apply to a court for the resumption of their social payments," Europeiska Pravda wrote.
"The Court noted that because of the conflict in eastern Ukraine the authorities had moved the Donetsk courts to neighboring regions which were under Government control. There was no evidence that the applicants' personal circumstances had prevented them from traveling to the area where the courts were now located to file claims and the Government's actions had not impaired the very essence of their right of access to a court," the ECHR said.
The ECHR rejected all the complaints, taking the side of Ukraine.
"The Court declared a complaint by the applicants under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) to the Convention about the suspension of the social benefits inadmissible for failure to use available legal remedies as they had not gone to court in the neighbouring regions, even though that option had been available to them," it said.
In addition, the ECHR rejected a complaint that the failure to pay pensions and social benefits violated the plaintiffs' right to life.
This was a second ruling by the ECHR related to the conflict in Donbas. The previous one was issued in the summer of 2017. It concerned the loss of control over the city of Luhansk, which is also occupied by Russia. Now the ECHR referred to this previous decision, explaining that Donetsk, was the case with Luhansk, is beyond control of Ukraine, and therefore the proper functioning of the justice system is impossible there.
According to the court, Ukraine has done its utmost to restore this control. "The domestic authorities had taken all the steps that could reasonably have been expected of them to ensure access to the judicial system for residents of territories outside Government control," the court said.