Ukraine: European Court of Human Rights rules against Ukrainian agro land-sale moratorium

On 22 August 2018, the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the case of Zelenchuk and Tsytsyura v. Ukraine went into legal effect. In the judgment, the ECHR essentially ruled that Ukraine should revise its law restricting the sale of agricultural land.

The case concerned a complaint by two Ukrainian citizens, who argued that Ukraine's absolute ban on selling agricultural land plots violated their property rights as landowners. 

In Ukraine, the Agricultural Land Moratorium bans citizens and legal entities from selling or disposing of agricultural land plots except through inheritance, swap transactions and expropriation for public use.

In 2001, the Land Code of Ukraine established this moratorium, which was scheduled to remain in force until 1 January 2005. Because the Ukrainian parliament extended the moratorium each subsequent year, it remains in effect in 2018.

In the ECHR judgment, the court ruled that the Agricultural Land Moratorium violates Article 1 of Protocol No. 1 (protection of property) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECHR found that the Agricultural Land Moratorium imposed an excessive burden on two claimants, and Ukraine's reasons for failing to pass less restrictive measures were insufficient. 

According to the judgment, Ukraine did not reach a fair balance between the claimants and the general interests of the community, and exceeded its powers.

The ECHR identified the violation, but did not award monetary compensation to the claimants, except EUR 3000 to each for costs and expenses. The court stressed it would make no such awards in future cases of this type.

The key aspect of the Judgment, however, is that the ECHR ruling not only concerned the claimants, but the legality of the Agricultural Land Moratorium in general. The ECHR reasoned that Ukraine should introduce necessary legislative and other measures to ensure a fair balance between the interests of agricultural landowners and the general community.

The Agricultural Land Moratorium has been controversial ever its introduction. The Ukrainian business community generally considers it unnecessary, restrictive, and an impediment to the development of a transparent agricultural land market.

ECHR judgments are mandatory for application by Ukrainian courts according to the Law of Ukraine “On enforcement of decisions and application of the European Court of Human Rights practice”. As a result, this judgement is expected to prompt Ukraine to pass legislation to lift the Agricultural Land Moratorium.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Zelenchuk and Tsytsyura v. Ukraine dated 22 May 2018 (846/16, [2018] ECHR 427).