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Interactive Dialogue on the regular periodic update on Ukraine

36th session of the Human Rights Council

Statement by Ms. Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

Geneva, 26 September 2017
Salle XX, Palais des Nations

Excellencies, Colleagues and friends, 

It is my privilege to present, on behalf of the High Commissioner, the 19th quarterly report of our Office on the human rights situation in Ukraine, covering 16 May and 15 August 2017, and our report on the situation of human rights in Crimea, which covers the period of 24 February 2014 to 12 September 2017.

Both reports were prepared mindful of General Assembly resolutions 68/262 on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and 71/205 recognizing Crimea as under the temporary occupation of the Russian Federation.

Allow me to start with our latest periodic report.

The human rights situation for civilians living in the area affected by conflict, especially those living along the contact line, continues to be dismal. The total number of conflict-related civilian deaths recorded by OHCHR since the beginning of the conflict by now exceeded 2,800. And, this is the fourth summer that affected communities have spent amid hostilities.

Two ceasefire renewals - one in June to allow for the harvest to occur, and one in August to support a peaceful start of the school year - may have contributed to welcome lulls in the hostilities and an associated decrease in civilian casualties.

However, the ceasefires were never fully respected, and the associated lulls were often interrupted by sudden spikes in hostilities. 26 civilians were killed and 135 injured during the reporting period, representing a 17 per cent decrease from the previous three-month period. 

What these numbers show is that, if strictly observed, the ceasefire has a significant positive impact on the right to life. We therefore reiterate our call to all parties to the conflict to strictly adhere to their own commitments to cease fire.

A national mechanism is urgently needed to ensure effective, prompt and appropriate remedies, including reparation, available to victims of the conflict, especially civilians who were injured and the families of those killed. Equally needed are mine-awareness and mine-clearing activities.

In addition to lives lost to war, hostilities continue to have a severe impact on critical civilian infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools.

Despite agreements reached in Minsk between the parties to ensure safety zones around critical water facilities, water filtration and pumping facilities around Donetsk were still affected by shelling. The agreed “windows of silence” to allow for vital repairs of infrastructure were also not fully respected. Yet, both agreements are critical for the uninterrupted water supply of up to one million people residing on both sides of the contact line.

Record numbers of people have crossed the contact line this summer. Over one million crossings were registered each month in May, June and July, and up to 1.2 million were recorded in August. Our Office observed the long queues formed at the entry-exit checkpoints by unnecessary or disproportionate measures by both sides that limit movement of people. 

This creates both security and health risks to those made to queue, with particularly pernicious consequences for persons with disabilities and the elderly.  More crossing routes along the length of the contact line are needed. In Luhansk, for instance, the only available crossing is on an unsafe route, accessible only by foot, and requiring a scramble cross the remnants of the destroyed bridge, which is in desperate need of repair before the onset of winter. Improved crossing possibilities are essential for continued family and community ties.

Excellencies,  

Our office has also documented evidence of the continuing use of torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, in detention settings for the purpose of extracting confessions from conflict-related detainees on both sides of the contact line.

Unlawful detentions – some amounting to enforced disappearances – also continued and on both sides of the contact line.

The situation in territory controlled by armed groups is particularly worrisome. Our teams on the ground continued to document cases in which for weeks at a time individuals were held incommunicado in deplorable conditions, sometimes being placed in solitary confinement. Family members who endeavour to learn more about the fate of their loved ones more often are met with blanket denials. The scale of people’s potential exposure to these violations is such that up to three million people in the area are facing the risk of arbitrary detention or so-called ‘charges’, without any means whatsoever of obtaining remedies for any abuses suffered. The continued denial of access needed to undertake private interviews with detainees raises serious concerns regarding the conditions and treatment of those detained and is a clear example of lack of cooperation with verification processes.

Accountability is sorely lacking for killings and violent deaths in the context of mass assemblies in Ukraine.  More than three years after Maidan and the 2 May events in Odesa, senior officials who were behind at least 108 of the Maidan violent killings are yet to be brought to justice. Only a few members of the Berkut special police unit accused of shooting protesters are currently in custody pending trial.

With regards to the freedoms of expression and of peaceful assembly, we noted positive as well as worrisome trends. Large public assemblies were better policed than before. But peaceful rallies of persons belonging to minority groups or holding opposing political views were violently attacked without adequate response by the police.

Excellencies,

Moving now to our report on the situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine).  Our report covers the period 22 February 2014 to 12 September 2017 and details the deterioration of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms since the occupation of the peninsula by the Russian Federation.

As our report sets out, our Office has documented serious human rights violations by State agents of the Russian Federation, including torture and ill-treatment, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions.

These violations have not been investigated effectively. In addition, courts often failed to uphold fair trial rights and due process guarantees.

The imposition of Russian Federation citizenship on residents of Crimea has had regressive effects on the enjoyment of human rights for those who rejected that or were ineligible. Some residents lost various rights and benefits connected with citizenship, including free health care; some risked losing their employment; and others faced deportation.

In addition, the substitution of the Russian Federation legal framework for the laws of Ukraine, in clear violation of international humanitarian law, severely curtailed the exercise of certain fundamental freedoms.

Those most affected by the occupation included individuals who opposed the March 2014 referendum on Crimea’s incorporation into the Russian Federation, and those critical of Russian Federation control over Crimea, such as journalists, bloggers, civil society activists, and supporters of the Mejlis, a representative institution of Crimean Tatars. Their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, association, peaceful assembly, and movement were obstructed through acts of intimidation, physical attacks, as well as harassment through measures such as house searches, detentions and sanctions. Provisions of the Russian Federation criminal law which were designed to fight terrorism, extremism and separatism, have been selectively applied in order to silence criticism and dissent.

Crimean Tatars were particularly targeted and affected by the occupation. The Mejlis was arbitrarily declared to be an extremist organization and banned in April 2016.

We also report on the transfer of hundreds of prisoners and pre-trial detainees to facilities located in the Russian Federation – a practice strictly prohibited by international humanitarian law. OHCHR is aware of at least three cases of transferred detainees who lost their lives owing to the lack of adequate medical treatment in one such detention facility in the Russian Federation.

Freedom of religion has also come under threat.  Jehovah’s Witnesses were outlawed in Crimea, pursuant to a decision of the Russian Federation Supreme Court finding this religious organization in violation of the country’s anti-extremism legislation. This ban affected an estimated 8,000 believers.

Excellencies,

Our Office has been monitoring the situation of human rights in Crimea from its offices in mainland Ukraine, as our requests and diplomatic efforts to access the peninsula after March 2014 remained unsuccessful. We urge the Russia Federation to act to ensure the proper and unimpeded access of international human rights monitoring missions and human rights NGOs to Crimea – and to fulfil its obligations as the occupying power, by ensuring human rights protection, accountability, and redress for victims of human rights violations.  We also urge Ukraine to use all available legal and diplomatic means to promote and guarantee the enjoyment of human rights in Crimea, and to refrain from raising obstacles to their enjoyment. 

Before I conclude, I wish to highlight our Office’s close cooperation with the Government of Ukraine, including through technical cooperation, aiming at jointly strengthening the protection of human rights for all Ukrainians. 

Thank you.