Distinguished Members of the Security Council,
Thank you for the opportunity to brief this Council on the situation of human rights in Ukraine. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has just issued the third monthly report of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. The report covers the period from 7 May to 7 June 2014. In this briefing I will also provide some updates since the report’s 7 June cut-off date.
The report outlines some positive developments that have occurred over the period, through a number of initiatives and legislative changes. They include legislative amendments to combat discrimination and corruption. There have also been legislative developments relating to amnesty, lustration of judges, language rights, ethnic policy, torture and ill-treatment, the media and the reform of law enforcement agencies. These are important pieces of legislation that will go a long way to ensuring proper legal safeguards are put in place to address some of the root causes of this crisis.
The Government has also taken steps towards the implementation of the Geneva Statement of 17 April, through the organisation of roundtables on national unity. The outcome of these roundtables has contributed to Parliament’s adoption on 20 May of a resolution entitled the “Memorandum of Concord and Peace”. The Memorandum foresees the adoption of a constitutional reform package that includes the decentralization of power and a special status for the Russian language; judicial and police reform; and an amnesty law for anti-government protesters in the east who would agree to give up weapons, excluding those who have committed serious crimes against life and physical integrity.
The report notes that the Presidential election took place on 25 May, with relatively few human rights violations in most of the country. However, serious human rights violations took place in that context in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where attacks on election commissions and commissioners occurred throughout the pre-electoral period and during the election, disrupting the holding of elections, and depriving a large proportion of residents of their right to vote.
Progress in the ongoing accountability processes for the Maidan violence, as well as for the 2 May incidents in Odesa remain slow. Some arrests of Berkut forces have taken place, but there have been no prosecutions so far in the case of 113 persons killed during the Maidan events between November 2013 and February 2014.
With regard to the tragic events of 2 May in Odesa, no less than 6 investigations have been launched. Our report, so far, points towards grave inaction, and concerns with the conduct on the part of the police and fire brigade in taking the necessary measures to prevent the incidents and ensuing casualties. The proliferation of investigations carry a high risk of miscommunication and consequent contamination of evidence. The lack of transparency in the investigations is also of concern. It will be crucial that these investigations are carried out thoroughly, promptly and impartially.
I shall now turn to the east of the country, where we are seeing the most serious human rights challenges.
The report highlights the rapidly deteriorating situation in the east. However, the situation has deteriorated even further, since the cut-off date of the report. Estimates based on information gathered from official sources, indicate that from 15 April to 20 June, 423 people, including servicemen and civilians, have been killed.
There is an increase in arms and recruitment for the armed groups. Representatives of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” have recognized the presence within their ranks of armed groups of citizens of the Russian Federation, including from Chechnya and other republics of the North Caucasus.
Abductions and detentions by the armed groups remain a worrying trend. The lawlessness continues to spread. Human rights abuses by the armed groups are increasing and common criminality is rising. The HRMMU has recorded 222 cases of abductions and detentions by armed groups since 13 April. Of these, and as at 7 June, 4 have been killed, 81 remain in detention and 137 have been released.
In the context of the Government’s security operations, there has been an increase in reports of enforced disappearances and of excessive use of force that have led to casualties among the general population. Despite security constraints, we continue to monitor these incidents and raise them with the Government. While we have not received reports of deliberate targeting of the population at large, we are verifying allegations that security forces could have taken further measures to prevent civilian casualties. The Government must ensure that its armed forces refrain from using excessive force, and ensure that its ongoing security operations are at all times in line with the relevant international human rights standards.
The population is leaving, partly due to fear, but also because to the worsening situation of economic and social rights.
Over the last two weeks, the IDP population has doubled in the country with a large movement of people - estimates of some 15,200 – within the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. As of 23 June, UNHCR has profiled more than 46,100 IDPs, 11,500 from Crimea and nearly 34,600 from the east. In the absence of a formal registration system, and given the limited access to some areas by humanitarian partners, the number of IDPs is likely to be higher. The Government is encouraged to respond to the humanitarian needs of IDPs, including by establishing a comprehensive registration system, formulation of legislative and regulatory acts to ease access to important social and economic rights and through the establishment of public assistance programmes. Mobilization and coordination of civil society-initiated relief efforts, and cooperation with international donors and technical assistance are also crucial.
The report indicates that in May studies had to be suspended in several towns in the east, affecting 21,700 pupils. Hospitals remain overcrowded and understaffed, medical supplies are low, and it is reported by the Ministry of Health that up to 10 hospitals are now closed in the eastern regions. Food prices have skyrocketed. Seasonal vegetables are now on average 4 to 5 times more expensive than before. Meanwhile, it is becoming increasingly difficult for businesses to operate and people to go to work. There have been for instance armed attacks against mining companies, which constitute the main share of the region’s economy.
About half of the population of the Donetsk region experience some problems with access to water. Since last week, in Slovyansk, there is no running water and residents are resorting to using wells. Around 90% of the town is now cut off from electricity. Phones do not work most of the time and public transport does not function.
The situation of journalists is also alarming. This Council rightly condemned the recent killing of two Russian journalists by mortar fire, which follows the killing of an Italian photojournalist and his Russian interpreter on 24 May. While the perpetrators of these recent attacks are yet to be identified, it will be highly important to ensure accountability.
The report describes the situation in Crimea as a “legal limbo”. Although Ukrainian legislation is supposed to remain in force, also in accordance with GA resolution 68/262, legal institutions in Crimea are already being required to comply with the provisions of legislation of the Russian Federation. This has very practical effects, as some 15,000 judicial cases remain in legal limbo between Ukrainian and Russian laws and legal systems.
The Crimean Tatar population has been facing some concerning limitations on their enjoyment of freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association and religion.
Mr. President, distinguished members of the Council,
The UN HRMMU has so far been playing an important role in defusing tensions through its impartial reporting on the human rights situation. It can play an equally useful role through human rights and humanitarian confidence building measures. The UN HRMMU has already facilitated numerous releases of individuals detained by the armed groups. However, such measures should be based on reciprocity and individuals that are arbitrarily detained by the authorities must also be released, if there is no well-founded legal basis for them to remain in detention. As the UN HRMMU has contacts on all sides, it will continue to support and facilitate such initiatives.
President Poroshenko’s recently announced peace plan and unilateral ceasefire is a positive step in the right direction. It is also encouraging to learn of yesterday’s announcement by the armed groups that they will observe a ceasefire until Friday. This creates a window of opportunity for human rights and humanitarian confidence building measures.
Beyond the immediate crisis response, respect for all human rights of everyone living in Ukraine, is a prerequisite for sustainable peace. The UN HRMMU stands ready to support the Government of Ukraine, as well as civil society and various national and social groups to make this happen.
Thank you Mr. President.