A new UN report released Thursday describes the widespread killings that have taken place in Ukraine since January 2014 and highlights the very limited accountability that has taken place.
The report, which was prepared by the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine*, states that the armed conflict in certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, “fuelled by the inflow of foreign fighters and weapons from the Russian Federation, accounts for the majority of violations of the right to life in Ukraine over the last two years,” claiming up to 2,000 civilian lives. Close to 90 per cent of conflict-related civilian deaths have resulted from indiscriminate shelling of residential areas.
Nobody has taken responsibility for any civilian deaths caused by the conduct of hostilities, the report says, adding that some of the killings may amount to war crimes and/or crimes against humanity.
In general, it concludes, “impunity for killings remains rampant, encouraging their perpetuation and undermining prospects for justice.”
The 20-page report, which has an additional 31-page annex describing more than 60 specific cases, focuses mainly on cases of alleged killings of civilians, and people otherwise protected under international humanitarian law, in the conflict zone while no armed hostilities were taking place in the immediate vicinity of the incidents.
Significant numbers of people, including civilians, have also been summarily executed or died in custody, with most such killings occurring in 2014 and early 2015. According to the report, armed groups mainly executed individuals who had, or were believed to have, vocal ‘pro-unity’ views or to support Ukrainian forces, while Ukrainian forces targeted people based on their alleged affiliation with, or support for, armed groups, or for their “separatist” or “pro-Russian” views.
Numerous allegations of executions of Ukrainian soldiers and elements of armed groups who had surrendered or were hors de combat have also been reported, although the full scale of the phenomenon is hard to assess, the report says.
The report notes that there was a widespread lack of discipline in hastily assembled armed groups and within the Ukrainian forces, which included many rapidly mobilized soldiers and volunteer battalions. A significant number of people known to be criminals also joined one side or the other. These factors led to “an unbridled rule of the gun with armed men readily resorting to violence towards civilians, especially to those who ‘disobeyed’ their orders.”
The Government has investigated and prosecuted some perpetrators of summary executions from its own ranks, the report says. In some cases, however, investigations are slow or “protracted deliberately so that alleged perpetrators are provided with opportunities to escape justice.”
Dozens of people have also died while in custody in the territories controlled by the armed groups. Allegations concerning the death of people in Government custody have also been received, with most deaths allegedly caused by torture and ill-treatment, or by inadequate or lack of medical assistance.
The report also documents killings within the armed groups and Government forces. This includes at least 121 cases of “intentional homicide” of Ukrainian servicemen, some of whom were whistle-blowers who revealed the misconduct of Ukrainian forces in the conflict zone. Armed groups have, in some cases, resorted to execution as a punishment for crimes or disciplinary acts for misconduct in their own ranks.
The report also highlights the large number of deaths that occurred during mass assemblies, especially during the Maidan and Odesa events for which accountability has so far remained very limited.
As of 1 June 2016, 55 individuals have been charged in relation to the deaths of Maidan protestors, including ten senior Government officials and 29 former commanders and servicemen of the ‘Berkut’ special police regiment. However the investigation into the killings of 13 law enforcement agents at Maidan has been hampered by a law which exempts all people who participated in mass protests, and are suspected or accused of crimes between 21 November 2013 and 28 February 2014, from criminal responsibility. The report recommends that the law is amended to allow prosecutions for all killings that took place during the Maidan.
The report also highlights the violence that took place on 2 May 2014, in Odesa, during which 48 people died as a result of clashes between ‘pro-unity’ and ‘pro-federalism’ groups. The UN Human Rights Office “remains concerned that the authorities have still not taken appropriate measures to ensure effective investigations into the 2 May 2014 events, nor to protect the independence of the judiciary,” the report says.
The lack of accountability remains widespread in Ukraine, despite efforts by the Government to bring perpetrators from its own ranks to justice and the pre-trial investigations by the Office of the Chief Military Prosecutor into cases of killing, torture and ill-treatment by members of the armed groups of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic.’
While acknowledging the challenges faced by the authorities in ensuring justice, including the lack of access to the territories where many of the alleged acts took place, the report notes “an apparent lack of motivation to investigate some cases… especially when it concerns acts allegedly committed by Ukrainian forces.”
Parallel ‘law enforcement’ entities, set up in the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’, have reportedly ‘investigated’ some killings in the territories under their control. “These entities do not have any legal status under Ukrainian law. Their ‘investigations’ appear to be selective” and apparently lack due process guarantees, the report says.
In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the status of which is determined by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 68/262 on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission recorded at least one alleged summary execution and ten cases of alleged disappearances which may have resulted in deaths. These allegations are based on witness accounts, the profile of the disappeared and the fact that some disappearances appear to have resulted from abductions involving paramilitary groups often associated with the so-called Crimean ‘self-defence.’
“Accountability will be key to the establishment of sustainable peace in Ukraine, including in the eastern part of the country,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “This is the only way forward, as has been fully and tragically demonstrated by the many countries which have not dealt properly with serious international crimes and human rights abuses, and as a result have sooner or later toppled back into violence.”
14 July 2016