Restoration of postal service as one of the directions of reintegration of Donbas
Why is the functioning of postal services in the temporarily occupied territories so important, despite the development of modern telecommunications technologies? What options for its restoration are offering the Donbas Regional Justice Reform Council is explained by the coordinator of this council Olena Fonova, PhD, Judge-Speaker of the Commercial Court of Luhansk region.
Thus, the impossibility of notifying the hearing of a case where the defendant is a citizen of Ukraine living in an uncontrolled territory or a legal entity registered in the specified territories violates their right of access to court. However, the state did not make adequate efforts to remedy this situation and fulfil its positive obligations to ensure access to justice.
Postal communication, despite the development of modern telecommunications technologies, plays an important social, informational, organizational and procedural role in the life and work of both individuals and legal entities. Since November 2014, the Ukrposhta branch has not been operating in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. Therefore, there is no postal service, so any delivery of correspondence to and from the uncontrolled territory is completely absent.
Challenge of mail notification, the inability to timely inform by sending appropriate notifications, including by public authorities, adversely affects the rights of persons living in uncontrolled territories. At present, it is estimated that about 1.6 million people live in temporarily occupied territories. Many of them are elderly people.
In respect of many citizens from temporarily occupied territories who were defendants in court cases there were rendered decisions in absentia that they were not aware of. Decisions cover many types of debt, from utilities to loan arrears. This is due to the fact that the announcement of a summons to court or information on case consideration is placed on the website "Judiciary of Ukraine", to which the vast majority of the population from temporarily occupied territories does not have access.
Online tools do not solve the problem and the ability to submit documents or appeals. Authorization is required to use them, often with a digital signature that cannot be obtained in temporarily occupied areas. In addition, people do not have the skills to use online tools, so the only possible connection for them is mail.
The situation is particularly difficult with prisoners who are serving sentences imposed by Ukrainian courts in areas beyond the control of the Ukrainian authorities, or who have been remanded in custody prior to the anti-terrorist operation. They do not have the opportunity to send procedural documents to the law enforcement agencies of Ukraine in paper form. They also do not have access to the Internet. Even with such access, prisoners cannot confirm their requests with a digital signature due to the impossibility of obtaining them. Therefore, they are deprived of the opportunity not only to be physically present at the hearings, but also to correspond with the courts. Judicial practice is ambiguous in this direction. Some judges ignore electronic requests from such prisoners, and some accept and consider them. At the same time, it is impossible to leave to the discretion of judicial authorities the possibility of appealing to the Ukrainian court of these categories of citizens.
As the ECtHR's position in many cases shows, the main component of the right to a fair trial is the right of access to a court, in the sense that a person is given the opportunity to go to court and that there are no legal or practical obstacles to exercising that right.
At the same time, there is a well-founded fear that the inability to use the postal service by persons living in termporarily occupied territories and in need of recourse to the courts is precisely such a practical obstacle to the exercise of the right to a court that the state does not eliminate.
Also, in view of the above, postal service is the only way for people living in the temporarily occupied territories to apply to Ukrainian government agencies and organizations for administrative services, the right to education, and so on.
Donbass Regional Justice Reform Council offers the following solutions:
- It is proposed to create post offices in the very "grey zone" between the checkpoints and points of intersection with the uncontrolled territory, where correspondence is delivered and received, with further direction or delivery to recipients on both sides of the line. In addition, it is mandatory that the marks of delivery of messages and postal items of both parties be recognized.
In order to implement this option and ensure the inviolability, secrecy and confidentiality of postal notices, control of their receipt at address directed and provide feedback to the party that sent such notification, appropriate negotiations should be initiated, including within the framework of the Minsk Agreements.
- As another option, it is possible to offer introduce reception and issue of postal correspondence at zero checkpoints and to simplify crossing demarcation line for persons wishing to use their services.
Postal communication is communication with Ukraine, legal, property, public, personal. After all, depending on the direction of communication with Ukraine and its state bodies, citizens support and strengthen their belonging to the Ukrainian state. This is extremely important on the way to the reintegration of the temporarily occupied territories and the restoration of trust in their state by the citizens living there.
Donbas Regional Justice Reform Council was established in Kharkiv шт 2018 to implement bottom-up reform by bringing across region-specific challenges and their solutions to the central level and organizing a better exchange of information on sector reforms from the centre to the regions and at the interregional level.