Mr. President, Excellencies,
I am here to present the Office’s latest findings which are contained in two reports: one, a February report, on sexual violence, and also in our last quarterly report issued last week. That quarterly report covers the three months ending middle of February, a period which actually saw a sharp escalation of hostilities in the east part of the country.
People on both sides of the contact line continue to suffer and are unable to enjoy their basic human rights – the right to life, physical integrity, freedom of movement, access to medical care and education.
Our colleagues in Ukraine conducted 205 interviews during this period and each account is a painful report. In 85 per cent of the cases, we carried out follow-up action to enable human rights protection. We do this through monitoring trials, visiting detainees, referring cases to State institutions, humanitarian organizations and NGOs.
Over the past three years, the people of Ukraine have suffered multiple violations: 9,900 people killed and 23,000 injured. In the three months we recorded 23 conflict-related civilian deaths and
107 injuries. Shelling, including from multiple-launch rocket systems, caused 65 per cent of the casualties. Though this is a decrease since the last reporting period, it is much higher than the same period last year, when most civilians were killed as a result of unexploded ordnance, as opposed to shelling as in this year.
We remind all parties to the conflict of their obligation to do more to protect civilians, and to live up to their promises in Minsk: to strictly adhere to the ceasefire and withdraw their weapons and fighters from what is called the contact line, which is an arbitrary boundary, not a border.
On both sides of that line, in Donetsk and Avdiivka, there has been shelling, with schools and hospitals damaged, and loss of water and electricity, and much suffering.
Divisive narratives have been concocted leading to the growing isolation of the territory that is controlled by the armed groups in the East. Severe restrictions on freedom of movement across the contact line affect an average of 23,000 people per day, and only serve to deepen the divide between the communities.
We welcome the Government’s efforts to improve access to social and economic rights across Ukraine, including for internally displaced persons. But we recall that at least 160,000 pensioners residing in territory controlled by armed groups have been deprived of their pensions since November 2014, and we urge the Government to ensure that everyone has access to their entitlements.
Detention continues on both sides. We have access to Government prisons and pre-trial detention facilities, but have yet to receive full access in armed-groups controlled territory. The self- proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ continue to detain an unknown number of people, raising worries that they may be subject to torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence.
We have observed a low level of trust in the judiciary in Ukraine. This mostly results from frequent violations of due process, including delays and interference with the judicial process. This is why we insist on the importance of finalizing judicial reform in order to achieve and independent and robust judiciary.
The General Prosecutor’s Office and Military Prosecutor’s Office have taken some important steps toward investigating violations and abuses by Ukrainian armed forces and by the armed groups in eastern Ukraine. These investigations need to be effective, conducted without delay and in line with human rights standards. We also monitor the proceedings in the high-profile cases of violence related to public disturbances, including the killings at Maidan and Odesa in
Our work on Crimea has been further defined by UN General Assembly resolution 71/205 of last December. That resolution recognizes Crimea as being under the temporary occupation of the Russian Federation. We are deeply concerned by the serious human rights violations in Crimea, in particular the treatment of detainees. According to information we have received via our remote monitoring, the authorities in Crimea extract confessions from detained persons through torture and ill-treatment. They continue to transfer detainees to the Russian Federation where we have documented cases of denial of medical care and the death of at least one detainee. A new pattern we have observed is the interference in the professional activities of defense lawyers in prominent human rights cases. Against this backdrop, we welcome and encourage the ongoing dialogue between the Ombudspersons of Ukraine and the Russian Federation to facilitate the voluntary transfer of Ukrainian prisoners held in Crimea to penitentiary institutions in mainland Ukraine.
Our Office has requested access to Crimea to the authorities of Ukraine, as per resolution 71/205 of the General Assembly. But regardless of whether we get access to Crimea, our Office will issue a specific report on the situation of human rights in Crimea, between June and September this year, also to fulfil a request of the same GA resolution.
Our report on conflict-related sexual violence in Ukraine, which covers the period from 14
March 2014 to 31 January this year, describes patterns of sexual violence committed against individuals deprived of their liberty in the conflict-affected regions in the east of the country. As often in similar contexts, our Office found that cases of sexual violence are under-reported, partly because of the stigma and trauma is associated with it, and also fear of persecution. The majority of the documented incidents date back to 2014-2015; nonetheless OHCHR continues to receive testimonies indicating that it still occurs on both sides of the contact line and in Crimea.
We urge the authorities of the country to foster accountability, as the lack of an effective judicial response leads to re-victimization of survivors.
We have documented a number of cases which amount to torture or to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and some could amount to war crimes. In the territory controlled by armed groups, sexual violence has been used to compel individuals deprived of liberty to relinquish property or perform other actions demanded by the perpetrators, as an explicit condition for their safety and release.
Imposition of entry-exit checkpoints and the presence of armed actors in populated areas increase the risk of sexual violence against civilians, mainly women.
National legislation and legal practice have a number of caveats that prevent law-enforcement from investigating effectively the allegations of sexual violence, especially those related to the conflict. Lawyers, police officers, prosecutors and judges lack knowledge on how to document, investigate and consider sexual violence.
Professionals in medical and social State institutions lack the specific knowledge and skills required to deal with survivors of torture and sexual violence. The majority of services for survivors are provided by civil society organizations through donor-funded programmes, and UN agencies. High quality services are mostly available only in urban areas and there is little or no assistance available in smaller towns and rural areas. This is especially critical for the life-saving prophylaxis, which has to be taken within 72 hours of rape. In the east, availability of services is also affected by the conflict and by restrictions imposed by the armed groups.
Our Office will continue to assist the Government of Ukraine in its efforts for reform, through technical assistance and advisory services. We enjoy a constructive cooperation with the authorities, whom we continue to urge to turn our recommendations into real changes in the legal framework and the practices of the State.
We continue to engage on the results of the first year of implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, which entails improvements to the judicial system. In January and February this year, we conducted trainings on investigating and documenting torture for around 400 newly recruited regional prosecutors. Our mission has provided advisory services to lawmakers on the draft legislation on missing persons.
These are just some examples of how we work with the Government to ensure that it assumes its role to guarantee the promotion and protection of human rights for everyone in Ukraine.
But, to sum up, while we are doing the best we can with the limited resources and mandate that we have, the fact of the matter is that the overall human rights situation in Ukraine as we will shortly enter the fourth year of the conflict, especially on both sides of the contact line in the east of the country between the Government and the armed groups, is grim and alarming and gives raise to very real human suffering.