Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to launch the 8th monthly report of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.
The day of my arrival in Ukraine; 11 December, was the first day since hostilities began some 9 months ago that no killings were reported.
Although since then, occasional fighting has resumed, and some killings were reported, it is nonetheless encouraging. It is time to end the bloodshed in Ukraine: as at 12 December, the total number of casualties has reached at least 4,707 killed.
Goodwill on all sides will be required for the current ceasefire to be strictly observed and for the return to the negotiating table. In this regard, I welcome the recent instruction by the Ministry of Defense for the armed forces to halt all active hostilities. During discussions with key interlocutors- Governmental as well as with the armed groups- I emphasised that it is still not too late to find a way out of this conflict. I am convinced that the Minsk agreement, if comprehensively implemented, remains a good starting point in this regard. I have discussed it with Ambassadors Apakan and Tagliavini and I am pleased that the OSCE will continue to play an important role in this respect.
Let me share with you some reflections on the human rights situation. They are based on the findings of the 8th monthly report and on my findings from the last few days in the country, during which I met with a wide range of Government officials, military and civil society, and visited Mariupol.
The human rights situation in eastern Ukraine remains grim. The violence and fighting, including indiscrimnate attacks, have taken a heavy toll on the local population.This situation is aggravated by the inflow of heavy and sophisticated weaponry as well as foreign fighters, including from the Russian Federation.
The breakdown of law and order and the brutal tactics of the armed groups, has for the past nine months, been responsible for the serious deterioration of all fundamental human rights – including the security, liberty and well-being - of individuals living in areas under their control.
The population in the East is increasingly desperate and willing to abandon their homes, uproot their families and leave their businesses behind to seek survival elsewehere. The dire situation, especially in the areas under the control of the armed groups, is affecting the whole population, regardless of their nationality or political affiliation. The current number of IDPs, as of 12 December, is approximately 542,080 and another 567,956 have crossed the border to other states, in particular to the Russian Federation and of those, 240,095 are seeking asylum.
The situation may be further aggravated as a consequence of the Government’s decision that by 1 December, all State institutions and enterprises in the territory controlled by the armed groups would be relocated and banking services suspended.
Over the last days, my civil society interlocutors expressed strong concerns about the potential adverse effects of these measures on the population in the East. While it is understandable that the Government is concerned about the frequent robberies in the areas controlled by the armed groups, and does not wish to fall prey to organised crime, nor fund parallel State structures, the effect of the decree, may have far-reaching negative humanitarian consequences. Effectively, people such as those entitled to State pensions, are being forced to relocate in order to receive them. The same applies to Sate employees, including those who are providing essential public services. There may be no one to care for those who remain, either unable or unwilling to leave.
I am particularly worried about the fate of those in retirement homes, in clinics and hospitals, orphanages and prisons, who may remain without any of the necessary services and medical supplies.
During the winter, the hardship of the popluation in the East will be further worsened. I would like to draw your attention to the national launch of the Strategic Response Plan on 17 December that will outline a broad scope of challenges and humanitarian needs. There will be an urgent need for international support, especially for internally displaced persons, regardless of their ethnicity, political affiliation or region they are from.
Ladies and gentlemen, when discussing ways to improve human rights in Ukraine, due attenton should be devoted to accountability. Accountability, for human rights violations, past and present, is not only crucial for prevention of further human rights violations, it is also essential for the creation of an enabling environment for peace.
In this context, it is important not to lose sight of the need to ensure accountability for human rights violations commited in the context of the Maidan protests and the 2 May Odesa violence. Progress in accountability in these cases has been slow. These investigations should be prioritised and handled swiftly and impartially, as they are crucial for the credibility of the justice system.
With regard to the investigations into violations of international humanitarian law, so far, very limited progress has been reported in the investigation into more than 300 cases of indiscriminate shelling of residential areas since the start of the year.
On the other hand, the Government has made some progress in ensuring oversight of the volunteer battalions, who have in some instances been involved in serious human rights violations, including torture, ill-treatment and arbitrary detentions. In Mariupol over the weekend, I had the chance to raise with the General in charge of all military and police operations in the area the issue of command responsibility for preventing, investigating and punishing violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. I was pleased to learn that an instruction from the Ministry of Defence to ensure respect for Ukraine’s obligations under international humanitarian law had reached field commanders. I also raised the issue of command responsibility under international law with representatives of the armed groups.
I strongly encourage the Ukrainian Government to ratify the Rome State of the International Criminal Court as soon as possible. This will serve as a deterrent for further human rights violations and help pave the way for proper accountability for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
The human rights situation in Crimea remains of concern. Representatives of civil society based in Crimea, with whom I spoke, expressed their alarm over enforced dissappearances, the lack of accountability for violations committed by so-called self-defense forces and restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly and association. While some parts of society have benefitted from salary increases, in particular Government-sector employees, and pensions have also increased, these have to a large extent been off-set by the overall rise in prices. The severing of ties with Ukraine has led to negative effects on small businesses and the supply of goods.
In parallel to addressing the enormous challenges in the East, the Government has taken a number of concrete steps to fight corruption, an issue that was one of the root causes of the Maidan protests, one year ago. A National Council on Anti-Corruption Policy, involving a majority of civil society representatives, was established to coordinate anti-corruption policy and monitor its implementation, and a specialized national anti-corruption bureau will investigate crimes committed by high level public officials, including judges and prosecutors.
At the same time, some newly adopted legislation and its implementation raises human rights concerns. The dismissal of public officials under the lustration law adopted in October has started, and while welcoming the Government’s intiative to tackle corruption and past abuses, I have also raised with the Ministry of Justice my concerns about the potentially discriminatory and arbitrary provisions of this law. In this regard, I welcome the Government’s decision to cooperate with the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe regarding this law.
Another encouraging activity, is the preparation of a five year human rights strategy, to be submitted by the Cabinet of Ministers by 1 January 2015. I had the opportunity to discuss our support to this process with both the Minsitry of Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I welcome the consultative process involving civil society and the Ombudsman’s office, supported by the Human Rights Mission, and the Council of Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen, as 2014 draws to a close, Ukraine stands at a crossroads. At this juncture one path leads to full-and large-scale conflict and the other to a protracted frozen conflict. But there is also a third path: the one leading to durable peace in the East and reconciliation. It is is my sincere hope that this will be the path chosen by those who hold the power to decide the fate of this country. It will require concerted efforts among all national and international stakeholders to reach consensus. The Secretary-General will continue to support international efforts that may lead to a peaceful solution. The UN Human Rights Mission, for its part, will remain closely engaged with the Government and the people of Ukraine, in support of this important objective.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention, and best wishes to Ukraine for 2015: peace, economic recovery and human rights.