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20.04.2011

Chernobyl Disaster: another anniversary, the same old problems

   

As the twenty fifth anniversary of the accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Maxim Shcherbatyuk from the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union notes that the Ukrainian government has for many years failed to implement the legislative provisions set out in the Law on the Status and Social Protection of People who suffered as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster, thus violating their rights.

According to Articles 39 and 51 of the above-mentioned law, pensioners living in the zone of heightened radioactive and environmental control should have an increase in their pension as well as an additional pension for damage to their health. However the Law has been interpreted incorrectly resulting in the pensioners receiving far less than they are due.

The Pension Fund widely refuses to pay over these pension payments citing normative acts which have less legal force or which have been found to be unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court.  This has forced large numbers of people affected to turn to the court with this leading to masses of court rulings in favour of the claimants.

The Pension Fund’s behaviour is in breach not only of the Law mentioned already (Articles 39, 51 and 67), but also of Article 28 of the Law on Mandatory Pension Insurance and 19 § 2 and 152 of the Constitution, as well as of Constitutional Court Judgment No. 10/2008 from 22 May 2008 and Article 19 of the Code of Administrative Proceedings.

The scale of the problem can be seen in the fact that around 20 thousand suits concerning social payments are presently with the court.  According to media reports just since the beginning of 2011 11 thousand such cases have been passed from the Supreme Court to the High Administrative Court, with many of these cases involving infringements of pension rights.

The most widespread reason for the failure to honour these commitments is the lack of money. The Cabinet of Ministers is therefore proposing to resolve the situation by imposing new amounts for social payments to victims of Chernobyl. Consequently the draft Law “On the State’s guarantees regarding enforcement of court rulings”, it is planned to remove specific figures from the Law on the Status and Social Protection of People who suffered as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster. These amendments will effectively make it legal for the government to continue to pay Chernobyl victims a pittance, avoiding any liability for violating people’s socio-economic rights.

In this context it is worth noting that the Donor Conference for raising the money to finance Chernobyl projects is presently underway. President Yanukovych has stated that 500 million Euros have been raised. However it is unlikely that during the conference the huge problem was raised of the government’s failure to implement its social commitments before people who suffered as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster. Clearly the funds will be for other purposes and the people who directly suffered from the catastrophe will be left to deal with their problems alone, as well as with the nebulous chance of gaining justice.

At the same time, this event confirms that the government is capable of finding money to implement the requirements of the Law on the Status and Social Protection of People who suffered as a result of the Chernobyl Disaster, however it would seem that the government finds it much easier to restrict social guarantees than to achieve their real implementation. 

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