On the surface, it’s just another law. But for the families of Ukrainians who have gone missing over four years of war, it could make a world of difference.
On July 12, the Verkhovna Rada passed a law on the legal status of missing persons, with 238 parliamentarians voting in favor, Hromadske reported.
The bill grants Ukrainian citizens who have gone missing the official status of “missing person,” and provides for the creation of a unified register of missing persons. There are also plans to create a Commission on Missing Persons, which will work to find these people in coordination with other state agencies, civil society, and international organizations.
“It’s difficult to believe, but until today missing persons had no clear legal status, their relatives had no social protection, and state agencies had no relevant legal foundation,” Mustafa Nayyem, an MP from the Petro Poroshenko Bloc, wrote on Facebook.
That lack clarity has often left the families of missing persons in limbo. The new register may “end some of the awful confusion faced by relatives still desperately trying to find out what happened to their loved ones,” Lily Hyde, a journalist who has covered this issue, wrote in a Facebook post.
Currently, a person is considered deceased if they have not been found within three years. Under the new law, the authorities will continue working to establish the whereabouts or burial site of a missing person, even if they have been legally recognized as deceased.
People will also now be required to provide information about family members who are considered missing persons. But the law will also grant them the right to information about deceased family members and to their remains.
The law also criminalizes “forced disappearance” — the arrest, detention, or kidnapping of an individual by state officials. Additionally, efforts to hide information about a person’s physical condition or whereabouts can be punished by three to seven years in prison, according to Nayyem.
Before the Rada vote, Hryhor Nemyrya, who chairs the parliamentary committee on human rights, told the gathered MPs that more than 1,500 Ukrainians are considered missing persons, and around 1,000 bodies have not yet been identified, Ukrainska Pravda reported.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which provided consultations on the law, has welcomed its passage and now awaits its implementation.
“This is a positive development which should speed up and streamline the process of searching for and identifying missing persons, and supporting their families,” Alain Aeschlimann, head of the ICRC Delegation in Ukraine, said in a press statement.
The Red Cross also called on the Ukrainian authorities to “adopt a holistic response” in helping the families of missing persons and offered continued support in that process.