dcsimg


Header image for news printout

Statement by Mr. Ivan Šimonović Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights at the Interactive dialogue on the situation of human rights in Ukraine

24 September 2014

Mr. President, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I am honoured to have the opportunity to participate in this discussion on the human rights situation in Ukraine. A report has been submitted in accordance with Council resolution 26/30, which covers the period from 21 November 2013 to 5 September 2014. It provides a snapshot of the key human rights developments and concerns described in the five reports issued by OHCHR between 15 April and 29 August 2014. Altogether, the five reports of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine issued so far provide a very comprehensive assessment of the human rights situation over the last 6 months. They are annexed to the report before you. The next report is to be issued on September 30. In this oral presentation I will also include an update.

I would like to express appreciation for the open and constructive cooperation extended by the Government of Ukraine since the deployment of the UN Human Right Monitoring Mission in March 2014. OHCHR looks forward to continuing this positive engagement. We are also thankful to the OSCE for the close and excellent collaboration.

Mr. President, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

The deployment of the HRMMU was triggered by two major human rights challenges in Ukraine. First, the serious human rights violations that had been committed during the Maidan protests, and second, concerns over the human rights situation in Crimea.

It is recalled that the Maidan protests resulted in the death of 121 individuals between November 2013 and February 2014. There were also numerous reports of torture and ill-treatment of protesters by law enforcement officers. The Maidan protest movement, however, also revealed and further exacerbated deep-rooted divisions within Ukrainian society and long-standing grievances with respect to the lack of good governance and the rule of law of previous Governments.

The wide use of anti-Russian rhetoric, especially by the so-called “Right Sector”, as well as propaganda exaggerations and fear tactics used by the Russian media, amplified the already volatile environment. At that time, the HRMMU, as well as the Special Rapporteur on minority rights who conducted a visit to Ukraine in March, could not verify acts of persecution and discrimination against the Russian-speaking minority. Nonetheless, during and in the aftermath of Maidan, there was a notable deepening of the divide within Ukrainian society, in particular between the ultra-nationalists and the pro-Russian sides. The radicalisation of the groups in eastern Ukraine, with the help of external elements, continued to intensify and culminated in the crisis in the east of the country that Ukraine still faces to this day.

The integration of Crimea into the Russian Federation also gave rise to a number of human rights challenges. As of the end of February, allegations of the presence of paramilitary and so-called self-defence groups as well as soldiers in uniform without insignia, widely believed to be from the Russian Federation, were widespread, especially in the context of the 16 March invalid “referendum”. Human rights abuses were allegedly committed by members of so-called self-defence units, including abductions and enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, torture and ill-treatment. There were also reports that voters could not freely exercise their right to hold opinions and the right to freedom of expression.

The introduction of Russian Federation legislation in Crimea has curtailed the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association, religion or belief. Property rights have been violated through “nationalisation” and the illegal seizure of property by the decision of the de facto authorities and actions by the so-called Crimean self-defence. Residents of Crimea who have refused to obtain Russian citizenship are particularly affected. Persons known for their “Pro-Ukrainian” position have been facing intimidation, while other Ukrainians, especially Crimean Tatars face discrimination, particularly in the areas of education, employment, and property rights. Crimean Tatar leaders were banned from entering Crimea and Crimean Tatar activists face prosecution and limitations on the enjoyment of their rights, as has been most recently illustrated with the prevention of Crimean Tatar activist, Nadir Bekirov, from travelling to participate in this week’s World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in New York. In addition, no serious attempts have been made to investigate allegations of human rights abuses committed by the so-called Crimean self-defense forces. As of 18 September, the number of IDPs from Crimea stood at 17,294, according to the State Emergency Services.

The HRMMU continues to monitor the situation in Crimea, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 68/262 on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, although it has not been granted access. The HRMMU has recently renewed a request to the local authorities to visit Crimea.

Mr. President, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Over the last six months, we have witnessed a marked deterioration of the human rights situation in the east and most recently south east of the country.

The current registered death toll, as at 21 September, is 3,543, if we are to include the 298 victims of the Malaysian plane crash. Let me add that this number covers killings registered by available resources, and that the actual number is likely to be significantly higher.

Our reports have shown a sharp rise in killings, in particular between mid-July and the end of August. Between mid-April and mid-July, the period covered by our first four reports, our human rights monitors registered an average of at least 11 persons being killed daily. Between mid-July and mid-August the figure had more than tripled to an average of 36 persons killed a day. This number continued to increase since the cut-off date of the report. By the 5 September ceasefire, on average 42 people were killed every day. After the signing of the ceasefire agreement on 5 September, we have witnessed a marked decrease in killings, on a daily average of under 10 killings a day.

The HRMMU has continued to document human rights abuses committed by the armed groups in the areas under their control, including abductions, killings, physical and psychological torture, ill-treatment and other serious crimes. They abduct people for ransom, for forced labour, and to exchange them for their fighters held by the Ukrainian authorities. There is complete breakdown in law and order. The rule of law has been replaced by the rule of fear and intimidation.

The exact number of people being held by the armed groups is estimated to be somewhere between 500 and 800 people. Ill-treatment of detainees continues unabated. Most recently, in Donetsk, a woman suspected of acting as an artillery spotter for the Ukrainian armed forces was subjected to severe beatings. A civil society volunteer, assisting IDPs and other vulnerable groups in the conflict area, was apprehended and taken to a nearby forest where he was forced to dig his own grave and was severely beaten. Both of these people were later released from captivity and treatment of the ones who continue to be detained may be far worse. Such acts only exacerbate the already deepening divide within Ukrainian society.

In areas where the Government has restored control, it is crucial to fully and impartially investigate allegations of human rights abuses and violations perpetrated by both armed groups as well as its own forces, especially volunteer battalions. Many victims are still afraid to come forward, due to fears of reprisals.

From mid-April to 16 August, more than 1,000 persons were detained by the police and the Ukrainian security service in the Donbas territory. These persons, as all other persons in Ukraine, have the right to due process and equality before the law.

In that context, the new counter-terrorism laws are a matter of concern. The laws substantially expand the authority of the prosecutor and lengthen the time of preventive detention from 60 hours to 30 days. This is inconsistent with international human rights standards.

The case of Nelia Shtepa, former Mayor of Slovyansk, with whom I met in detention facility illustrates how the conflict can affect people from both directions. Ms. Shtepa, who was detained by the armed groups from 17 April to 5 July was freed at the time of government forces take over only to be arrested and detained again a week later on 12 July by the Ukrainian side.

Mr. President, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

The situation of internally displaced persons is alarming. In one month between early August and early September the number of registered displaced persons has doubled and reached 275,498 registered as of 18 September. However, the majority of internally displaced persons seem to be unregistered and the actual number, could therefore be much higher.

Most IDPs rely on the generosity of family and friends willing to host them in their homes as well as their own existing savings. The conflict in the east has triggered a wave of solidarity among Ukrainians in support of IDPs. Nonetheless, reports of tensions among residents and IDP arrivals have also increased, mostly due to the scarcity of jobs and other resources and suspicions of potential connections of the displaced with armed groups.

A disastrous winter for the IDP population has to be prevented. It will be important to ensure that national and international assistance is mobilised urgently to cope with what could become a humanitarian emergency if not tackled in a timely and effective manner. It is also crucial that the draft IDP law, which introduces a number of positive changes, and is currently under review by Parliament, is adopted at the earliest. The law contains a number of provisions that allow for basic services, including access to health care, education and employment, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on internal displacement.

This week, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons is visiting Ukraine. I welcome the Government’s timely engagement with the mandate. The Special Rapporteur’s recommendations can serve as a good basis for Government action on this issue.

Mr. President, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

While the situation in eastern Ukraine remains deeply alarming, it is important not to lose sight of other pressing human rights issues in the rest of the country. Accountability is one of them.

Accountability for the violence in and around Maidan is yet to be achieved. Some 445 investigations on cases of unlawful acts against demonstrators have been opened by the Prosecutor-General, but only two persons have been sentenced for ill-treatment of a demonstrator. Three members of a special police unit were placed in pre-trial detention in connection with the shootings of protesters. However, no one has been held accountable for the violent dispersal of demonstrators on 30 November 2013.

Accountability is also still sought for the violence of 2 May 2014 in Odesa between supporters of the unity and those supporting the federalization of Ukraine, resulting in the death of 48 people, mostly federalization supporters. Two people were detained on murder charges and placed by court under house arrest. According to the Government, 12 of the 33 suspects are in custody and 21 under house arrest. Prosecutions have yet to take place.

The HRMMU will continue to monitor these processes closely and report on their progress.

With regard to judicial and legal reforms, the legal framework to fight corruption has been improved, even if it still falls short of establishing an anti-corruption bureau. The anti-discrimination law has been amended and has been brought more in line with international standards. A law seeking to restore trust in the judiciary has been adopted, providing for a vetting procedure, although a number of concerns remain with respect to due process rights. A progressive law, regulating the rights of Ukrainian citizens from Crimea, has been adopted, without compromising freedom of movement or containing discriminatory provisions. On the whole these are positive legal initiatives.

On the other hand, legal guarantees for an independent judiciary have yet to be introduced and the reform of the prosecution has not progressed yet. There is still no law regulating freedom of assembly. While a post of president commissioner for Crimean Tatar issues has been established, there is no law on indigenous peoples and the law on minorities dates from 1992. These laws should also be prioritised.

Mr. President, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

The 5 September ceasefire agreement and the 12-point Protocol signed the same day, present the most significant opportunity so far for a peaceful solution to the situation in the east.

Although not fully respected so far, positive effects have already been felt.

On 19 September, senior representatives of Ukraine, the Russian Federation and of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office in talks with political representatives of the armed groups agreed on a Memorandum on further steps to be taken to implement the Peace Plan.

We are also witnessing reports of IDPs returning to their homes, albeit to uncertain futures. There is a glimmer of hope that a peaceful solution to this conflict can still be found.

Almost half of the provisions in the 12-point agreement could in fact have a positive bearing on the human rights situation. These include, the devolution of powers on “interim self-rule”; the release of hostages and detained persons; the adoption of the a law on non-prosecution of persons in connection with the events that took place in some parts of Donetsk and Luhansk, except those who committed serious crimes; nation-wide dialogue and finally, measures to improve the humanitarian situation in the Donbas region.

Although the cessation of hostilities in the east remains a pre-requisite to improving the overall human rights situation in the country, it is also important to continue to look for ways to address the underlying and the systemic nature human rights violations in Ukraine.

Corruption was one of the underlying grievances of those who took to the streets in the Maidan movement. A recent Gallup report found that around a quarter of Ukrainians had paid a bribe in the last year. Corruption therefore remains one of the most serious problems in Ukraine and has the potential to affect all human rights, whether civil, political, economic or social. It has exacerbated inequalities, eroded public trust in State institutions including the justice system, led to impunity and undermined the rule of law and good governance. It must therefore be tackled as a matter of priority, together with a deep reform of the justice system.

Finally, let me conclude by reaffirming OHCHR’s commitment to assisting the people of Ukraine in the promotion and protection of their human rights. While we intend to continue to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the country, it is also important to ensure that underlying human rights issues are also addressed as part of the wider reforms the country is undertaking in the context of accession to the European Union, but also beyond.

In this context, OHCHR is ready to support a multi-year human rights national plan of action for Ukraine based on the recommendations of the United Nation human rights mechanisms and the work of the Human Rights Monitoring Mission. It is critically important that these recommendations be part of the wider reform agenda as the international community and Ukraine prepare for a major donor conference later this year.

Thank you, Mr. President, and let us all do what we can to support people of Ukraine.