Eurointegrators’ with Tetiana Popova. Interview with Freedom House’s Matthew Schaaf, Armed Forces’ colonel Volodymyr Liamzin (05.12.2018)

In “Eurointegrators,” media expert and ex-Deputy Minister for Information Policy of Ukraine Tetiana Popova sits down with diplomats, heads of international organizations, and Ukrainian power brokers to discuss Ukraine’s European integration.

In this episode, the guests are Matthew Schaaf, director of Freedom House Ukraine, and Volodymyr Liamzin, deputy head of the Civil-Military Cooperation department of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

The show is produced by a Ukrainian NGO Information Security and Oboz.TV.

The text version of the program is available below:

POPOVA. Hello, I present today a new episode of the program “Eurointegrators” and our guest today is the Director of Freedom House of Ukraine Matthew Schaaf. Hi Matthew.

SCHAAF. Hello.

POPOVA. And Deputy Head of a Civic Department of Armed Force of Ukraine Volodymyr Liamzin. Hi Volodymyr.


POPOVA. Matthew, the first question is to you. How does Freedom House see martial law in Ukraine?

SCHAAF. First of all, we are the human rights organization, at the defense of human rights defends democratical institutions. So our key concern about any human rights and democracy, and the impact of a policy and a development on human rights and democracy. And martial law in Ukraine or no there is no difference. We are not in the position to say whether this measure was necessary or not, but we did feel that it was necessary to encourage the Ukrainian government, to encourage the military to limit any restrictions of human rights in Ukraine during martial law. So it’s not a secret that the President’s order and the order of Secure and Defense Council talk about possible limitations of human rights. And we have urged the government to institute only those limitations which were absolutely necessary during the time of martial law.

POPOVA. How much is your organization able to monitor the human rights and freedom of speech in regions with martial law?

SCHAAF. Our presence and the office here are quite small and all the work that we do – the research work, the programmatic work. We work with Ukrainian third-sided Organization, with the Government and others, so all the monitoring that we have been doing has been in cooperation with Ukrainian human rights activists – human rights defenders, and others. Certainly we have been following military reports, just like everyone else. But I think there is a growing understanding both with Freedom House and with our partners there are needs to be more done to understand how martial law is affecting people. And that means not only the specific provision of martial law and the authorities it gives to the government, but also how people in these regions are perceiving the impact of martial law. So for example we’ve heard that many people don’t understand: martial law, it sounds bad, and what does it mean for me? Does it mean that military can come to my apartment and try to take something? What do I do if these men come? There is a lot of misunderstandings about what It means, and that’s one of the things that we’ll be doing in the future is trying to strengthen the capacity – our own capacity and the capacity of the Ukrainian society to follow all these things, to understand what is happening and how it’s affecting people and as I said before the rights and participation in democratic society.

POPOVA. Volodymyr Liamzin, then here’s a question for you: Is it possible then that the military or some other official could walk into someone’s home and say in effect, “we’re taking your property”?

LIAMZIN. At the present time, as you’re aware, the Ukrainian president has issued an official statement asserting that the rights and restrictions referred to in the legislative act will not be applied at this time. In the case of open aggression by the Russian Federation, if the situation is exacerbated, it’s possible that under extenuating circumstances, and only after the relevant regulatory acts are passed, these rights may be applied by the military at a state level. But at this time there’s no discussion/question of military personnel entering a private home or commandeering it in the name of, let’s say, military necessity.

POPOVA. The trouble is, the law doesn’t specify that this can take place only in cases of acts of aggression by land. It simply says that certain rights may be restricted, and they’re pretty serious and numerous rights. Why do you think that international organizations are following this particular situation so closely?

LIAMZIN. Yes, in Article 8 there are 24 points outlining various individual restrictions; additionally, it specifies which articles of the constitution may be suspended or curbed and in what way. Again I’ll say: this is not currently under discussion at all. At present there is no need for the military to occupy civilian premises. In fact we have a current example we can look at, how operations are conducted in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, there are already certain mechanisms in place there. And if we’re talking specifically about the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, then yes, this is possible under certain circumstances. As far as the rest of the territory of Ukraine, it’s not a question at all.

POPOVA. But in order to do this in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions is an additional legislative act needed or not?

LIAMZIN. No. This is all spelled out in the law, in what is called the Donbass integration act, that is, about the specifics of politics in the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, everything is spelled out there.

POPOVA. Could this happen, for example, in the Kharkiv and Odessa regions? Excluding situations where it’s authorized by additional by laws?

LIAMZIN. Unquestionably, there should be an act or bylaw passed in such cases. As I said, this isn’t being discussed at present, so there’s no need or basis for it right now.

POPOVA. Matthew, what can we learn from your organization experience in other hot spots of the world?

SCHAAF. There haven’t been that many cases of countries recently instituting martial law, but they are having some. For example with Egypt and the Philippines, and I believe also Ethiopia, and the other countries that we are also following. But there are also countries that are different than Ukraine in many ways. And it would be good for Ukraine to continue to be different from the systems and the governments in those countries. Well we’ve seen that this type of special powers can be misused by governments for political purposes to accomplish other goals other than the ones that are specifically mentioned in the emergency law or the martial law or whatever it’s called. So that’s one of the reasons why we had also a statement after martial law was imposed was not only to call on taking those extreme measures, only those that are absolutely necessary, but to be transparent about it and for restrictions to be justified. So in our opinion it’s not enough to just say there is aggression from Russia, so we need to limit an enjoinment of all these constitutional articles, but what needs to happen is if there is a threat of some sort and it requires some kind of extraordinary measures for that to be publically stated for the connection between the limitation that has been taken and the justification to be very clear. So not talking in generality or abstractly but to make clear connections for why these measures are necessary right now, and so that’s one way to avoid potential abuses of extraordinary powers like this.

POPOVA. Do you mean that such things like martial law could be used as a political game?

SCHAAF. It can be, for sure. In some other countries that I mentioned before that’s happened. Not only for political purposes but also for a purpose of putting pressure on society, for purposes of putting pressure on political opponents. I’m not saying that that’s happening in Ukraine, although there has been a lot of discussions about the reason the martial law was introduced and also discussion about potential political connections. And I think it’s very important that those discussions happen actually. That’s the sign of a democracy, or one of the signs of a democracy that are happening in a very challenging time. People are asking the questions, questioning steps that the government is making, the military is taking. So that’s a good thing.

POPOVA. Martial law is already in effect for more than a week. Do you have any concrete examples of citizens’ rights violations or some opposite examples of how martial law helps you to stand again Russian aggression?

LIAMZIN. In the first place, as our president recently stated, martial law was introduced in order to arm and outfit Ukrainian servicemen. And in the week after martial law was introduced in Ukraine there have been, shall we say, certain grounds for the servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to be able to use weapons, if necessary, outside the area of the United Forces operation. That is, if before this the legal basis for the use of weapons was only on the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where the hostilities are taking place, now we have legal grounds for servicemen of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to legally use their weapons on all territories where martial law has now been enacted.
Additionally, the Armed Forces of Ukraine were brought to a higher level of combat readiness than they had been before. Of course, the procedures that are currently taking place in the Armed Forces of Ukraine are aimed at creating the most optimal conditions for confronting a possible enemy invasion.

POPOVA. What procedures? If you can talk about this–Do you mean reservist meetings?

LIAMZIN. I mean all the activities of everyday life, which are carried out in the Ukrainian Armed Forces: military personnel training, equipment preparation, and other routine activities.

SCHAAF. We have a lot of questions that people have and unfortunately not a lot of answers. In terms of official measures being taken to restrict people’s rights I’m not aware of these types of measures, although I’ve heard a lot of rumors and I’ve seen also statements by Government officials, by Members of Parliament, by local Government’s officials about restrictions. Some of our partners operate hard lines and they have also the accepting calls from people in the other not just Donbas, Donetsk and Lugansk regions, but also the other regions were martial law was instituted. And so far I don’t have up-to-date data; there are just a lot of questions about “What does it mean for me?” And “What do I do if this happens?” And so one of our main concerns is without a strong understanding of what martial law means to people and how it will change their lives and whether restrictions of their rights are actually enforced or not. The concern is that people will stop doing things that they normally do as a part of their lives. Or they would restrict of their participation in public events, they would not participate in public discussions certainly about the conflict but also about anything else, they have a fear or not knowing what’s okay and what’s not in the current environment. So in this environment where people don’t really understand there in my opinion need to be a lot more effort to communicate to people about: What does it mean for you? Are any rights being restricted or are they not? And so on. This also needs to happen with government officials too. I’ve seen some statements by government officials that for example all public demonstrations are no reason on all band. I’ve seen also from local government officials some more types of statements. I have heard of new block posts being put up in reasons what they haven’t existed before. But as far as I understand it they haven’t then any particulate restrictions like film expression for example. So we are waiting and seeing.

POPOVA. At this time Freedom House is receiving a lot of inquiries about the lack of government information on this, about what will or could happen in this or that region. Because they’re saying that new roadblocks have appeared, talking about the work of mass media and whether it will be affected by this, and in which areas; in what ways personal privacy and privacy of correspondence could also be affected.
Could you please tell in more detail about which rights could theoretically be limited? But as far as I understand we have not only two regions under martial law and 10 which aren’t, but also two more regions which are under additional legislative restrictions due to current aggression. Explain the difference please, what has or hasn’t been restricted in those 2 and in the other 10 regions?

LIAMZIN. Firstly, at this time there is no talk about introducing particular restrictions, those specified in the law, concerning freedom of movement, or freedom of speech. Again, right now the main focus is something which concerns every ordinary citizen. This is about the recent announcement from General Headquarters of the Ministry of Defense through official channels advising all Ukrainian citizens not to publish information about military movement, about where military units have been deployed. I would like to appeal again to our citizens. We have a very powerful force in our country – we call them “sofa experts” who really enjoy commenting either on social media or sometimes on television, at speeches, expressing their opinions. These are people who are very far from actual military affairs, but consider themselves experts and comment in such a way which disadvantages the reputation of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. I would like to avoid this.
I`ll say again that we aren`t talking about restricting correspondence or about censorship. But in the interests of national security, if necessary, we do have certain structures, certain bodies, public institutions related to this, which will carry out their work exclusively within the framework of the legislation of Ukraine.

POPOVA. At this time, can they already do this in the 10 regions or only in 2, or is it not possible even there?

LIAMZIN. I’d rather not comment on the activity of other security institutions or law enforcement authorities. As for the restriction of the movement of citizens – again, there’s no question of this. However, every law-abiding citizen who is on the military register must inform the military commissariat when changing his place of residence.

POPOVA. And what about the roadblocks which appeared in the other regions?

LIAMZIN. These are definitely not military roadblocks, which roadblocks are we talking about? In the areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, on the contrary, since April 30, since the beginning of the United Force operation, the number of roadblocks has been optimized. They were reduced from nearly a hundred and fifty to now about fifty of them.

POPOVA. I understand that these were most likely police checkpoints. In front of Vinnitsa, I heard.

LIAMZIN. Yes, this meant not actual roadblocks, but checkpoints set up by the national police. They have their own work and directives. Of course, in these areas of Ukraine they are on enhanced mode of operation, this is absolutely normal in this kind of situation.

POPOVA. Regarding the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, if I understand correctly, the decision to occupy civilian housing, for example, if it’s necessary to conduct military operations in a particular building, is made on the spot by the commander?

LIAMZIN. What is currently taking place in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions has been the case since the beginning of 2014, that is, during this time there have been certain incidents at certain moments, and someone was right, and someone was wrong. Now, again, right now there is no need to discuss this. At this point the troops are almost standing still, that is, the front line of conflict hardly moves. No one is actively moving forward.

POPOVA. So it won`t happen that people will be evicted from their homes or premises by servicemen for military necessity?

LIAMZIN. Yes, there is no need for that.

POPOVA. Will this be true in the other regions as well?

LIAMZIN. Yes, it will.

POPOVA. I think that`s a very important question

LIAMZIN. That`s absolutely an important question. I would like to emphasize again that there`s no need for that at this time.

POPOVA. Article 34 of the Constitution of Ukraine by this law was actually limited, its freedom of speech part. Does it mean that average citizen allows criticizing the Armed Force of Ukraine or decision about martial law?

LIAMZIN. First of all, fortunately we all live in a democratic country

POPOVA. I hope so.

LIAMZIN. Yes, I believe it. Every individual has freedom of speech. But we do make requests and give recommendations, we aren`t just saying no that`s forbidden to talk about. And again what people say, what someone writes about troop movements or when someone expresses their opinion, this won`t be investigated by the Ukrainian armed forces. Every word said or written will be evaluated by other institutions. We merely recommend and request not to post information about the army movements, which is especially important in the regions where martial law was introduced. There won`t be any action by the Ukrainian armed forces against the individuals who share this information.
It`s not the job of the Ukrainian armed forces, that`s not our function or directive. And if there is anything to be done, then other institutions will deal with these situations.

POPOVA. But you will pass on the information about these people to the other organizations?

LIAMZIN. To be fair nowadays everybody’s on Facebook, and anyone who wants to will use it to draw conclusions. I just want to believe that Ukrainians are clear-headed, and during these hard times our country is going through, that they’ll understand what should and shouldn’t be said.

POPOVA. But you haven’t explained specifically what is or isn’t allowed to be talked about, except the part about troop movements. I remember when we introduced ATO press cards for journalists at the Ministry of Defense in 2014, when I was an adviser. We clearly spelled out in a document that was given to each journalist what they could and couldn’t say or talk about. We explained what they had or didn’t have the right to talk about, according to the existing laws on antiterrorist activity at the time. And you essentially are not explaining right now, any further information, aside from not talking about military movement. So does that mean that anything else can be talked about?

LIAMZIN. By and large, for the ordinary citizen nothing has changed with the introduction of martial law. People are saying now exactly what they could say before. Freedom of speech has not been forbidden.

POPOVA. Ok we`ll keep that in mind

POPOVA. What do you think?

SCHAAF. As far as I understand, the inclusion of this article into the President’s order and the Secure and Defense Council’s order means that there could be measures introduced that restrict this right. But I haven’t meant so far as my colleague has said and as far as I understand it, specific measures have not to take it to restrict this and other rights that are provided by Constitution during this period of martial law. I think the challenge is in the lack of information and understanding, because there were lots of titles in the media that, you know, “Rights could be restricted”, “These right weren’t included in the President’s order” and so on and so forth. And despite that the President has been said the no rights will be restricted. It’s probably somewhere in between, and people don’t know and don’t have all the information, and at the same time there had been recommendations from the military, but also from government officials at local and national level to do this or to not do that. For example I’ve heard a recommendation for political parties to not be active in one region during martial law, one of the regions that affected by it. It’s not an official restriction but certainly I would expect that recommendations like that in an environment, where there is a lot of questions and not a lot of information, that people would act upon it or rather potentially not do things that in a time when there are major elections coming in Ukraine, that political parties would not be working with use, doing whatever political parties are supposed to do.

POPOVA. Freedom of assembly.

SCHAAF. Yes, these recommendations could influence people in a negative way. And so that could be a serious problem.

POPOVA. And what about freedom of assembly?

LIAMZIN. Returning to the official statement made by the Ukrainian president which says that…

POPOVA. But there have been communications from local authorities recommending against holding meetings or gatherings.

LIAMZIN. Again, recommending against is not prohibiting. In our country there is a certain procedure according to which all public events are organized.

POPOVA Usually it must be agreed to by local authorities. If they decline permission then this is already a restriction of this right.

LIAMZIN. Well, that’s their legal right. Each individual case has to be assessed as to what grounds it was declined on.

POPOVA . Thanks to you for coming to our studio. Thanks to all who watched us. See you next week.

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