Kyiv, Ukraine, 18 September 2015
I have conducted an official country visit to Ukraine from 8-18 September 2015. I would like to thank the Government for extending the invitation to me to visit the country, as well as for the open and cooperative approach of the officials I met. I would also like to thank the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) for the invaluable support received in the preparations and conduct of my visit.
The aim of the visit was to examine the level of protection of the right to life in Ukraine, as well as the efforts undertaken to prevent unlawful killings and ensure accountability, justice and redress in such cases.
During my visit, I had the opportunity to hold meetings here in Kyiv, as well as to travel to Zaporizhzhia, Mariupol, Donetsk, Kramatorsk, Kharkiv and Odesa.
During the past two weeks I have held meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Office of the Military Prosecutor, the Security Service of Ukraine, the Headquarters of the Anti-Terrorism Operation, the National Security and Defence Council, the High Specialised Court on Civil and Criminal Cases, the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsperson) including her National Preventive Mechanism (NPM). I met with regional administrations, and some regional departments or specialized units of relevant Ministries. I also met with the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, the General Consulate of the Russian Federation in Odesa, and with other international and national monitors or non-governmental organisations, civil society, and families of victims.
I also had the opportunity to cross the so-called “contact line” and travel to Donetsk, where I met with representatives of various monitoring missions, with representatives of the ‘Office of the commissioner for human rights’ (‘ombudsperson’) of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and with representatives of the ‘bar association’. I regret that, despite significant efforts on the part of the HRMMU to arrange meetings, no other ‘officials’ of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ would meet with me. I share HRMMU’s concern for the lack of accountability for the “grave human rights violations and abuses” that have reportedly taken place there since the beginning of the conflict, as I observed no progress in this regard during my stay. I was also able to visit some of the outskirts of the city of Donetsk, including the area surrounding the airport, and to see with my own eyes some of the extensive damage that has been caused, particularly to civilian infrastructure and domiciles, by heavy shelling.
The armed violence that has been taking place in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine since April of last year has taken a heavy toll on civilians and caused significant internal displacement. Like all other international observers I naturally welcome the renewed ceasefire commitment announced in late August and the fact that this has largely been observed since 1 September.
I regret that I was unable to visit the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. I am aware of several allegations of serious violations of human rights in that territory, and I want to reiterate that in order to ensure the greater protection of all human rights, including the right to life, this area should be made accessible to international missions such as HRMMU. When I met with the consulate of the Russian Federation in Odesa I took the opportunity to underscore the need for such visits to take place.
A detailed report on my findings and recommendations will be presented at the 32nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council next year. The observations and recommendations presented today are preliminary and will be examined and developed further in the future report.
II. Legal Framework
The right to life is protected in Article 27 of the Constitution of Ukraine. Ukraine is a state party both to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) which (in Articles 6 and 2 respectively) both protect the inalienable right to life. The ultimate responsibility for the protection of right to life in any country lies with its Government.
Ukraine has many of the building blocks in place to secure the protection of human rights, including the right to life. At the same time the country is facing significant challenges: challenges which if not met in a comprehensive and incisive way threatens to place this goal out of reach.
To a large extent the normative framework has been established: the laws are there, the treaties ratified. The problem lies with establishing a systematic and effective system and a culture of accountability for violations of those norms.
In response to the violence in the East, the Government launched what it refers to as an “anti-terrorist operation” aimed at retaking control of the two regions. However, regardless of classification as anti-terrorism operation, the objective criteria of an armed conflict exist. Indeed, many of those officials I have spoken to have referred to the existence of a “war” in the eastern regions, and nobody in the Government disputes the fact that there is an armed conflict. There seem to be general consensus that both international humanitarian law and human rights law applies.
Nonetheless, the framing of the conflict as an anti-terrorism operation has led to considerable confusion, both among observers and monitors and in some cases it seems among the participants themselves, about who within the Government is in control of this war? This may lead to uncertainty about responsibility.
In addition, in June 2015 the Government of Ukraine informed the relevant institutions that it would derogate from certain State obligations under the ICCPR and the ECHR. The derogation is envisaged with respect to the right to liberty and security, fair trial, effective remedy, respect for private and family life and freedom of movement, and should be applied in certain districts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The derogation thus includes certain rights (including effective remedy and procedural rights such as the supervision by judicial bodies of the lawfulness of detention) that the UN Human Rights Committee has interpreted as non-derogable. With respect to my mandate, I am particularly concerned that these elements of the derogation may create an environment in places of detention that may facilitate incommunicado or secret detention, torture, ill-treatment, executions and disappearances.
I note that among the package of measures agreed in the Minsk Agreements is a proposal that there be a general amnesty by way of legislation forbidding prosecution or punishment of persons in relation to events that have taken place in the eastern Donbas region. While supportive of measures aimed at de-escalating tensions, I am concerned that such legislation could amount to fostering impunity for grave violations of human rights by all parties. Any amnesty devised should be interpreted in such a way as not to include immunity for at least international crimes, such as war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Ukraine has committed to accepting the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, and signed the Rome Statute in 2000, but a technical constitutional impediment has delayed ratification. I understand that this impediment will be overcome in the proposed reform of the constitution, but in the meantime I welcome the fact that on 8 September the Government sent a declaration to the ICC Office of the Prosecutor under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute, giving to the Court ad hoc jurisdiction “for the purpose of identifying, prosecuting and judging the perpetrators and accomplices of acts committed in the territory of Ukraine since 20 February 2014.” The Prosecutor of the ICC has confirmed that she will open a “preliminary examination” in order to establish whether the criteria for opening an investigation are met.
III. Securing the right to life in wider Ukraine
A. In the context of assemblies
A State’s conduct with respect to assemblies should flow from its responsibility to facilitate and to enable peaceful assemblies. It should be underlined that the right to life continues to apply during any assembly (whether peaceful or not) and that therefore there is no such thing as an unprotected assembly. There was agreement among those officials with whom I met that the principal role for the police within the context of assemblies was that of protecting citizens. In this connection it was pointed out that only in rare circumstances would police be sent carrying firearms to manage an assembly.
I want briefly to elaborate on two examples where it appears that the State failed in its responsibilities with respect to large-scale assemblies, both emblematic cases within the current situation in Ukraine:
(i) Maidan Protest
With respect to the use of force against protesters in the Maidan protest, most significantly between 18-20 February 2014, I am concerned that more than 100 people were killed as a result of the firing, allegedly by Berkut and other law enforcement officers of live ammunition at participants. In addition, thirteen police officers were also reportedly killed. As with any use of lethal force by police officers it is vital that there be a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into the events to establish that the use of force was both necessary and proportionate.
In this connection, I am greatly concerned by the apparent shortcomings of the investigation into these events. While what process there is seems to be progressing very slowly, having reached court-level proceedings now in a very limited number of cases, there are more systemic failings. The escape of a principal suspect from house arrest, as well as the loss of a great deal of vital physical evidence are both issues that should themselves be independently investigated.
(ii) Events of 2 May in Odesa
I have also had the opportunity to hear more about the events of 2 May 2014 in Odesa, where at least 48 people died as a result of clashes between rallies of opposing political opinion to which authorities appear to have reacted in an either deliberate, ill-prepared or negligent fashion. According to the accounts I received from people who were on the scene, the police held a low profile as the crisis was evolving and did not intervene to prevent or stop the violence at the Kulykove Pole square. The fire brigade, which is located very close to the Trade Unions building where many protestors burned to death, failed to respond for 45 minutes to urgent calls that they received. While both pro-unity and pro-federalism groups played a part in the escalation of violence on that day, the subsequent criminal prosecutions for hooliganism or public disorder appear to have been initiated against participants in a partial fashion.
I am concerned by allegations of numerous failings in the official investigation into the events of that day. By allowing almost immediate access of the scene to ‘pro-unity’ protesters, members of the public or to municipal authorities, investigators lost a large proportion of potentially valuable forensic evidence. Meanwhile I am worried by indications that the Government has significantly reduced the size of the team investigating these events in the past year, before it has had an opportunity to report. The slow progress of the investigation and the lack of transparency with which it is being conducted have contributed to a great deal of public dissatisfaction and provided a fertile environment for rumour and misinformation. It is disconcerting that the Special Unit of the Ministry of Internal Affairs that investigates the 2 May events cancelled our appointment in Odesa at short notice, without any explanation.
I am further concerned that administrative and personal impediments seem to have been imposed to prevent or at least discourage the families of those who died from obtaining the status of suffering or affected persons before the Courts. Meanwhile I am greatly alarmed by reports of the extent to which authorities are tolerating both verbal and physical intimidation both of families attending court proceedings and of the judges of those cases, not only outside the court building, but also inside it and in the court room itself.
I welcome the support that the International Advisory Panel on Ukraine, established by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, is providing to the Government in order to ensure that the investigations into both incidents are in line with the European Convention on Human Rights.
B. In the context of detention
Though issues concerning the treatment of detainees falls more squarely within the mandate of my colleague the Special Rapporteur on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, violence or other threats to life within detention facilities can lead directly to deaths for which the State has a heightened responsibility. For this reason, wherever possible, I try also to visit places of detention on my country visits, so as to assess these threats firsthand.
It seems that the Office of the Ombudsperson and the NPM created within it are relatively free to exercise their responsibilities to conduct unannounced visits both to pre-trial detention facilities (SIZO) and to penal colonies, and that this access provides an effective system of protection for the rights of those detained. Among the principle threats to life for detained persons in Ukraine are diseases such as TB and HIV. In the Donetsk region, for example, the rate of TB is allegedly 10 times higher in the prison population than in the general population. I welcome the partnership between the Penitentiary Service and the international NGO Médecins Sans Frontièrs which is aimed at providing specialised care to those detainees with TB.
Detainees with whom I spoke had few complaints about conditions in the pre-trial detention facilities. However several made allegations of ill-treatment at earlier stages of their detention. There is a systematic pattern of complaints about ill-treatment at the hands of agents they identified to be members of the SBU, whom one interlocutor described as ‘untouchable’. I found it very difficult to establish from any officials the locations in which it is possible such abuses may have taken place, whether police temporary detention facilities (IVSs) or other sites. I could find no evidence of a system of oversight that could effectively investigate any abuses that might (even infrequently) occur or protect detainees against them.
C. Violence by armed militia groups
While the majority of the “volunteer battalions” have from a military perspective now been incorporated into the formal structures of the Ukrainian Armed Forces or the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine (National Guard or otherwise), there remain a small number of potentially violent militia groups, such as the Right Sector, that act seemingly on their own authority, thanks to a high level of official tolerance, and with complete impunity.
I am concerned by cases of bodily attacks on journalists or writers, including the cases of Oles Buzyna (who was killed in April 2015 in Kyiv) and that of Serhii Dolhov (who was arrested or disappeared in July 2014 in Mariupol by Azov Battalion).
Some I met with expressed concerns that the lack of official mechanisms for combatants to be demobilised after fighting in the East may be contributing to this violent potential in wider Ukraine.
Of particular concern is the extent to which these groups use violence or, more commonly, threats of violence, to exert pressure on persons holding dissenting views, the judicial system and on other mechanisms of accountability.
D Accountability for violations
In many of the meetings I held with officials during my visit I tried to explore the mechanisms of accountability that exist in current or proposed legislation and how they should function. As noted above, I leave with the impression that in many instances the formal processes exist or will shortly exist, however I am concerned that – with the exception of the Office of the Ombudsperson and its NPM – these mechanisms are not being effectively used. Indeed, even the NPM, which appears to be achieving its objective as a preventive mechanism, cannot fully act as an accountability mechanism since it only make recommendations to the Office of the Prosecutor, which is not compelled to take up cases.
Several practising lawyers with whom I met identified the reluctance of the Office of the Prosecutor, combined with the close relationship between the Prosecutor and the judicial authorities, as the principal impediment to pursuing allegations of ill-treatment on behalf of their clients.
IV. The right to life in eastern Donbas
A. General observations on the conduct of hostilities
As noted above, I welcome the fact that it seems that there have only been very limited violations of the ceasefire on either side of the “contact line” since 31 August. I hope that this ceasefire continues to hold and that it provides a space for more thorough-going de-escalation of the conflict.
Over the past 18 months, however, the conflict has exacted a heavy human price. Last week the HRMMU released their latest report on the human rights situation in Ukraine, estimating that a total of nearly 8,000 have now been killed and more than 17,000 injured in the course of hostilities.
The majority of these deaths have been caused by shelling, which it would appear on both sides has been taken place indiscriminately or with inadequate precautionary steps taken to protect civilians.
I am also concerned by allegations that the conflict is being waged in part using inherently indiscriminate weapons such as cluster munitions and landmines, including anti-personnel mines. Ukraine is party to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, which establishes an absolute prohibition to use anti-personnel mines “under any circumstances”. I also note with concern that Ukraine failed to fulfil its commitment to destruct all its stockpiled anti-personnel mines before 1 June 2010. According to its official reports, Ukraine still retains over 5 million anti-personnel mines.
I am also concerned by the threat that unexploded ordnance (UXO) and other explosive remnants of war pose against civilian lives, particularly children. The HRMMU has already verified numerous civilian casualties as a result of UXO left in the battleground both in Government-controlled areas and in territories controlled by the armed groups. I would like to remind the Government of its obligations under the fifth Protocol to the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons, on Explosive Remnants of War. According to the Protocol, which Ukraine ratified in 2005, state parties have to mark and clear, remove or destroy, as soon as feasible, all explosive remnant of war in territories under their control. In case explosive ordnance used by Ukraine remains in territory outside of its control, the Government has the obligation to provide assistance and information to facilitate the marking, clearance, removal or destruction of the ordnance by a third party. Throughout the hostilities, Ukrainian armed forces have the obligation to record and retain information on the use of explosive ordnance, in order to facilitate its clearance without delay after the cessation of hostilities.
More generally I am worried by the extent to which reporting on the conflict is being instrumentalised by all parties using mechanisms which ought to be exercising an accountability function with respect to their own forces. Instead of responding to, investigating, or prosecuting cases of indiscriminate shelling by their own military forces, each side are dedicating their time to documenting in laudable detail the violations of the other side with a view to continuing their confrontation in the national or international courtroom.
A. In areas controlled by the Government of Ukraine
(i) Indiscriminate shelling
I am concerned that forces on the Government side are using weapons in the course of hostilities that are either inherently insufficiently precise to justify within the context of a highly urban and civilian-populated conflict zone, or that weapons with a known level of precision are being used outside or without regard to proper Standard Operating Procedures to guide targeting.
Moreover I have not been convinced during my engagement with the relevant authorities that there is a proper investigation conducted when allegations of civilian casualties are brought to their attention. The answer that I got from some of the military authorities to the question when an investigation into allegations of excessive civilian casualties would be triggered, was that such a situation will never arise, because there was an order by the Minister of Defence that this should not happen. Such a denial that a problem could exist makes a solution very difficult to achieve.
While I understand the difficulties of conducting investigations in territory outside the control of the Government’s armed forces, such difficulties should not be understood, as suggested in many of the meetings I had, as a reason to reject any possibility to verify civilian casualties caused by shelling or to assess alleged violations of international humanitarian law. The conflict is currently being closely monitored by several international organizations, which publicly report the occurrence of civilian casualties on both sides of the “contact line”. Combined with Ukraine’s military records on the use of artillery, and the possibility to contact families of casualties, morgues, hospitals or other sources for verification, it would be possible for the Government to assess the damage caused by its use of artillery.
Damage assessments conducted this way may not always amount to evidence solid enough to allow accountability for possible violations of international humanitarian law. However, credible estimations of civilian casualties would enable the armed forces to evaluate and strengthen precautionary measures taken to mitigate the impact of shelling among civilians.
I have received several allegations of secret detention, in which individuals claim to have been detained for varying periods of time before being formally introduced to the Penitentiary service. In some cases this initial detention takes place at the hands of officials thought to be of the SBU, in other cases such individuals have been apprehended by members of former volunteer battalions.
One facility that is mentioned frequently in this regard is the military base at Mariupol airport. During my visit to Mariupol I attempted to conduct a pre-announced visit to this base, however I regret that, despite the advance notice, I was denied access to the facility. Other such detention facilities reportedly include the premises of the SBU in Kharkhiv, and the SBU office in Kramatorsk.
The existence of unacknowledged, secret detention facilities almost completely undermines the effective work being conducted by the National Preventive Mechanism and the Office of the Ombudsperson. It is disappointing that judges and prosecutors, who are in many cases presented with quite clear prima facie cases of ill-treatment at the point that the detainee is presented formally to be remanded, do not respond more robustly to uphold the detainee’s rights. The impunity that exists for acts of violence in such conditions poses a clear and direct threat to the right to life.
(iii) Alleged summary killings
I am concerned by reports of bodies discovered near Makiivka, in the Donetsk Region in September last year. While several of these bodies appear to be members of the armed groups who died in combat, some are reported to bear signs of having been executed after being detained by Government forces.
(iv) Integration of voluntary battalions in command and control
At the time of the start of the conflict, the Ukrainian Armed Forces were underprepared for the nature or scale of the challenge that would confront them. Not all of the regular forces, to say nothing of the volunteer battalions, had been properly trained in military warfare, let alone International Humanitarian Law standards that should regulate the conduct of hostilities.
I want to underline questions concerning the responsibility for the actions of volunteer battalions, both now that the majority have been formally incorporated into the Ukrainian Armed Forces or the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine (National Guard or otherwise) and during earlier stages of the conflict. Any extent to which the State is tolerating the existence of politically-motivated armed militias on its territory is a concern. The extent to which the State has been actively collaborating with those militias, in order to participate in joint military operations against a common enemy suggests that the State’s responsibility for the actions of the members of those groups may be even more direct.
It seems that these “battalions” and militias operate in a climate of impunity, partly as a result of the pressure which they exercise on prosecutorial or judicial authorities if they attempt to pursue cases against members perceived by these groups of being “patriotic”.
(v) The impact of restrictions on movement on the right to life
I am concerned by the potential (and in some cases realised) humanitarian impact of the limitations imposed by the government on free movement of people and goods in the Donbas region. The long queues which the resulting checkpoints inevitably entail have been the target of shelling. The extent to which the barriers impede the transfer of vital medical supplies to hospitals on the eastern side of the “contact line” also raises serious questions about its appropriateness.
B. In areas not controlled by Ukrainian authorities
As noted above, despite extensive efforts on the part of HRMMU, I was not able to meet with many representatives of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ or self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’. This was extremely disappointing, given the number and gravity of allegations that have been made about the protection of human rights, including the right to life, in those territories.
(i) Indiscriminate shelling and the positioning of artillery in civilian areas
Allegations have been made that the forces on the non-Government controlled side are deliberately positioning their artillery within close range of built-up civilian areas and occupying hospitals and schools, so as effectively to use civilians as a shield, or to entice government troops to cause civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure, which can then be used for political purposes.
The salience of this problem is demonstrated by the extent to which local populations have taken to the streets to protest it. For example, there are reports that protests were held to this effect in Donetsk on 15 and 16 June 2015. In situations where people are reportedly reluctant to express dissent, this speaks to the severity of the threat to life posed by the tactics of these armed groups.
(ii) Summary executions of detainees
There are allegations of the killing of detainees held by fighters of the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ in Sievierodonetsk, as they were retreating from the city in July 2014. While local police had remained in control of their headquarters on Partyzanska Street the fighters had taken over the police IVS next door. On the day of the retreat, police reported hearing shots fired from within the IVS at around 5a.m. Several hours later, after the Ukrainian forces had arrived, the police re-entered the IVS, and discovered and documented two corpses in separate cells, each shot either in the neck or in the head. The corpses also showed signs of beatings.
(iii) Allegations of quasi-judicial executions
I have been alarmed by allegations of executions taking place in quasi-judicial circumstances. This has allegedly occurred both in the context of ‘military justice’ and in more civilian, ‘criminal justice’ context. For example, it is alleged that in May 2014 the ‘minister of defence’ of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’, Igor Strelkov (Girkin) «sentenced» to death by firing squad two local commanders for looting, armed robbery, kidnapping and desertion. It is not known whether they were executed.
Summary executions may have been carried out under the pretext of «criminal legal authority». In July 2014, when the Ukrainian Government regained control of Sloviansk, documents were found in the SBU building, which had been used as a detention facility by armed groups of the ‘Donetsk people´s republic’, that armed groups had given death sentences and carried out executions of at least three persons, reportedly based on legislation dating back to 1941.
In August 2014, it was reported that the ‘Donetsk people’s republic’s’ de facto authorities had introduced a document that they referred to as the 1960 Criminal Code of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, which included provisions for imposing the death penalty for the ‘gravest crimes’. Lawyers I spoke with, however, stated that the ‘constitution’ of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ proclaimed the right to life and that the imposition of capital punishment as provided in the «criminal code» would thus be incompatible with it.
(iv) Threats against certain groups
Amnesty International found strong signs of alleged drug dealers having been executed by forces of the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ in the area of Sievierodonetsk. Their commander Oleksii Mozhovyi had publicly threatened anyone involved in drug trafficking on 3 June 2014. On 13 June 2014, the police found three bodies of persons they identified as suspected drug dealers.
In May and July 2014, there were reports of summary executions by self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people´s republic’ forces in the area of Sievierodonetsk, Rubizhne and Lysychansk, in the Luhansk Region.
(vi) Targeting of those hors de combat
As reported by the HRMMU, on 19 August, part of the town of Ilovaisk came under the control of Ukrainian armed forces. By 27 August, the Ukrainian troops in Ilovaisk were surrounded by the armed groups of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people´s republic’. The same day, a safe corridor was negotiated for Ukrainian forces to leave Ilovaisk. However, at least one column of Ukrainian troops was heavily shelled while leaving Ilovaisk. Between 107 and more than 200 Ukrainian servicemen were killed, many of which were wounded soldiers being evacuated.
In January 2015, following the shelling of a bus station in which several people were killed, Oleksandr Zakharchenko, ‘head’ of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’, made a statement on television announcing that his troops would give no quarter, and take no soldiers of the Ukrainian forces as prisoner. Making such a statement is a war crime. However, available evidence does not seem to indicate that this statement was implemented.
Also in January, Ukrainian soldier Ihor Branovytskyi was allegedly summarily executed while in captivity of the armed groups of the ‘Donetsk people’s republic’. Branovytskyi was among a group of 12 soldiers captured and taken to the base used by the so-called ‘Sparta’ battalion and severely beaten. When Mr Branovytskyi collapsed and fainted he was reportedly executed by the battalion commander Arsenii Pavlov (‘Motorola’). During my meeting with the ‘office of the commissioner for human rights’ of the ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ the ‘deputy ombudsman’ agreed to investigate this case.
(vii) Downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17
On 17 July 2014, the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 caused the death of 298 persons, becoming one of the most tragic events in the ongoing conflict. Despite initial difficulties to secure access to the site, international investigators now led by the Dutch Safety Board are expected to issue their final report in October. I welcome the progress achieved by the investigating team so far, and hope that the outcome of their work will serve as basis for accountability and provide relief to the families of victims.
The challenges faced by Ukrainian society are real. There are fundamental divisions about its geopolitical orientation which affect national identities. A brutal armed conflict with strong international dimensions is playing itself out on its territory. Twice during the last two years the country has seen massive demonstrations deteriorating into bloodshed on the streets. There is not an established tradition of accountability for violations of the right to life or other human rights on which to draw. The current conflict seems to have exacerbated structural weaknesses.
Long term security will depend on the extent to which a fully functioning human rights protection system which guides the actions of all members of the society is established. The approach that I saw too often during my mission in Ukraine is that when asked about human rights protection one side immediately invokes the transgressions of the other. Human rights are treated as an instrument with which to assail the opponent; not as a shared system of accountability.
The sad truth is that serious violations occur at one point or another in all societies. The Ukraine is no exception, and in some respects it faces unique challenges. The real question is how does one deal with the violations that occur. Many officials whom I met – particularly in the SBU – simply denied that there was any wrongdoing and pointed to the fact that there are laws in place that meet international standards. There is little hope for progress where this is the approach.
I was however heartened by the admission of a senior official whom I met during the mission who commented: ‘Things do not always go as we want them to go’. Being realistic and open about the fact that there are violations is the first step towards addressing them. The second – and decisive – step is to create and utilise mechanisms of accountability to address those violations.
VII. Preliminary Recommendations
- Efforts by all parties to end the armed conflict in the Eastern part of the country should be renewed. The cease-fire should be observed and monitored. As long as hostilities continue, all parties must take concrete measures to reduce civilian casualties, and adhere strictly to the IHL requirements of distinction, proportionality and precaution in attack.
- Proper internal measures of reporting on exchanges of fire should be established. Targeting should follow international standards, and be adjusted based on regular assessments of its impact. Allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law must be investigated.
- It is of great importance to move the conflict out of built-up areas. All parties to the conflict should refrain from using weapons that do not allow sufficient precision in this context.
- The Government of Ukraine should take steps to ratify the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. In their public statements on the use of such weapons by the opposing armed groups, the Government has added weight to the idea of an emerging norm against the use of cluster munitions under any circumstances. All parties to the conflict should immediately desist from the use of such weapons, which are inherently indiscriminate.
- All remaining illegal volunteer batallions and militias must be disbanded and disarmed.
- The events at Ilovaisk in August 2014 must be investigated and any perpetrators be brought to justice.
- A system of independent overview of the conduct of all those who perform law enforcement functions must be established, focusing in particular on allegations of ill-treatment by the SBU. This mechanism should be empowered to conduct investigations into suspected informal detention facilities, including comprehensive power of search within military or SBU facilities.
- The investigations into the events at Maidan in February 2014 and the 2 May events of the same year at Odessa must be completed as a matter of priority and accountability for losses of life must be established. The systemic failures that contributed to the eventual losses of life – such as the low profile of the police and the delayed response of the fire brigade in Odesa – should also be investigated and where appropriate rectified.
- The difficult situation of the families of those who lost their lives should be acknowledged by the Government. Their safety, physical and psychological well-being, dignity and privacy must be protected, and they must be promptly informed of progress in the investigations. Public officials must treat them with respect at all times.
- The killing of Oles Buzyna and the disappearance of Serhii Dolhov must be investigated.
- The Government of Ukraine should consider inviting official country visits from the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination, and the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.
- The reservations to the ICCPR and the ECHR must be reconsidered on a regular basis.
- The office of the Ombudsperson must be strengthened.
- The human rights situation in Crimea must remain under the scrutiny of inter alia international monitoring bodies. The governments who control access to the territory – Ukraine and the Russian Federation – must grant full access to such monitors. However, even without such access the monitoring must continue.
- Judges and other officers of the court must be protected against intimidation.