GENEVA (9 December 2015) – In a conflict that has claimed more than 9,000 lives, the last few months have seen a significant reduction of hostilities in certain parts of eastern Ukraine, according to a UN Human Rights report released today. Serious human rights concerns persist, however, including continuing impunity, torture and an absence of the rule of law in the east, as well as a difficult humanitarian situation for those living in the affected areas and for those internally displaced.
The twelfth report by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine states that the “ceasefire within the ceasefire” of 26 August led to a considerable decrease in hostilities, particularly due to the withdrawal of certain heavy weapons by the Ukrainian military and the armed groups. Between 16 August and 15 November, the time period covered by the report, 47 civilians were killed and 131 injured. The total death toll since mid-April last year is at least 9,098, with another 20,732 injured. Total figures include civilians, Ukrainian armed forces and armed groups.
The new casualties resulted largely from explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices, “underscoring the urgent need for extensive mine clearance and mine awareness actions on both sides of the contact line,” the report states. There remains, however, an inflow of ammunition, weaponry and fighters from the Russian Federation into the territories controlled by the armed groups, leaving the situation highly flammable.
The report also reveals that serious human rights abuses against people in the territories controlled by the self-proclaimed “Donetsk people’s republic” and “Luhansk people’s republic” continued, including killings, torture, ill-treatment, illegal detention and forced labour, lack of freedom of movement, assembly and expression. Local residents continue to remain without effective protection of their rights. “An estimated 2.9 million people living in the conflict area continued to face difficulties in exercising their economic and social rights, in particular access to quality medical care, accommodation, social services and benefits, as well as compensatory mechanisms for damaged, seized or looted property,” the report notes, adding that the onset of winter and impediments to the work of humanitarian organisations could worsen the situation.
“The situation for an estimated 800,000 people living along both sides of the contact line has been particularly difficult,” the report notes.
The limitations of the freedom of movement of civilians across the contact line, due to the requirements of the January 2015 temporary order issued by the Government, remained one of the major challenges for people living in the conflict-affected areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. As the reports notes, this is leading to an increased sense of isolation for many people, disrupting family and communal links.
The report also cites pervasive self-censorship and the inability of media professionals to exercise their freedom of expression in the east. Restrictions against media professionals by the Ukrainian Government also undermine freedom of expression.
The report also notes that “elements of the Security Service of Ukraine appear to enjoy a high degree of impunity, with rare investigations into allegations involving them.” The report has documented cases of “enforced disappearance, arbitrary and incommunicado detention as well as torture and ill treatment of people suspected of trespassing against territorial integrity or terrorism or believed to be supporters of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’.”
Accountability has yet to be achieved for the killing of protestors and other human rights violations committed during the Maidan events in Kyiv between November 2013 to February 2014, the report notes. There has been no progress in ensuring accountability for the death of 48 people during the violence in Odesa in May 2014.
In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the status of which is prescribed by UN General Assembly resolution 68/262, residents continue to be affected by the broad curtailment of their rights due to the application of a restrictive legal framework imposed upon them by the Russian Federation, the report states. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine continues to receive allegations of violations of the right to life, liberty, security and physical integrity, as well as fair trial rights and the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The report also notes that the trade blockade of Crimea imposed by Ukrainian activists has led to human rights abuses, which were not properly addressed by law enforcement officers.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the absence of the rule of law and legitimate authorities in territories controlled by armed groups, coupled with continuing presence of foreign fighters and sophisticated weaponry, have left people in hardship, with no real protection and no access to redress and justice.
“Civilians in the conflict-afflicted eastern parts of Ukraine end the year as they began it, in a very difficult humanitarian and human rights situation. Elderly people have no access to their life savings, people with disabilities have little assistance, and reduced access to healthcare has left many in dismal, precarious, even life-threatening situations,” High Commissioner Zeid said.
“After more than 9,000 people have lost their lives, the reduction in hostilities, and thus in new casualties, is very welcome. I urge all sides to fully implement the Minsk Agreements and to actively work to ensure the application of the rule of law and international human rights norms everywhere in Ukraine.”
The High Commissioner reminded all involved in the conflict, including those in control of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, that they can be held criminally accountable for the human rights abuses committed in territories under their control. This applies in particular to those with command responsibility.
He noted some progress by the Government of Ukraine in implementing relevant provisions of the Minsk Agreements as well as launching of a National Human Rights Strategy and accepting the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court for crimes committed after 20 February 2014. The High Commissioner also urged the authorities to ensure justice and accountability.
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