(CN) — Ukraine must allow refugees who fled war in eastern regions of the country to vote in local elections where they are living, Europe's human rights court said Thursday.
The ruling by the European Court of Human Rights found Ukrainian courts unjustly barred four refugees living in Kyiv from casting ballots in city elections.
Four women who fled to the Ukrainian capital after Russia invaded Crimea brought the voting rights case to the court in Strasbourg, France. The conflict in eastern Ukraine continues to simmer ever since Russian forces annexed Crimea in 2014 and pro-Russian separatists declared parts of eastern Ukraine autonomous.
In 2015, when the women registered to vote in Kyiv elections, they were told they couldn't cast ballots.
Ukrainian election officials and courts, including appellate chambers and the Supreme Court, said the women could not vote in the Kyiv elections because they were still listed as residents of Sevastapol, Alupka and Donetsk, cities inside the conflict zone, on their national identity cards.
The women were registered as internally displaced persons residing in the capital. An internally displaced person is a designation under international law for someone who flees war or disaster inside their country.
The Strasbourg court said Ukraine's legal interpretation amounted to discriminatory denial of their right to vote. The court noted the women couldn't go back to their conflict-riven cities to vote, had been paying local taxes for more than a year, which gave them a stake in Kyiv elections, and were at risk of losing their status as internally displaced persons if they changed their residency to Kyiv.
“By failing to take into consideration the applicants’ particular different situation, the authorities had discriminated against them in the enjoyment of their right to vote in local elections,” the court said in its unanimous ruling.
Ukraine reports that nearly 1.5 million people are listed as having been internally displaced by the conflict, so Thursday's ruling could affect many of those people.
Under Europe's human rights charter, Ukraine will be expected to adhere to the court's ruling and allow war refugees to vote in local elections. The court also ordered Ukraine to pay each woman 4,500 euros (about $5,240). Ukrainian officials still could get the ruling overturned by the court's grand chamber.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.