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Ukraine: Dangerous escalation in conflict proving catastrophic for civilians – Zeid

GENEVA (3 February 2015) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Tuesday urged all sides to halt the dangerous escalation in the fighting in eastern Ukraine. He called on States and all those with influence in the region to take measures to ensure full compliance with the Minsk accords, which have a direct bearing on the human rights situation in the east of the country.

“Bus stops and public transport, marketplaces, schools and kindergartens, hospitals and residential areas have become battlegrounds in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine – in clear breach of international humanitarian law which governs the conduct of armed conflicts,” High Commissioner Zeid said.

“The death toll now exceeds 5,358 people, and another 12,235 have been wounded since mid-April last year. In just the three weeks up to February 1, at least 224 civilians have been killed and 545 wounded*. Any further escalation will prove catastrophic for the 5.2 million people living in the midst of conflict in eastern Ukraine.”

In particular, there has been a high civilian death toll from the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas in both Government-controlled territory, such as the towns of Avdiivka, Debaltseve, Popasna and Shchastia and the settlement of Stanytsia Luhanska, as well as the cities of Donetsk and Horlivka controlled by the armed groups. In the single most deadly incident involving civilians, at least 31 people were killed and 112 wounded in Mariupol, following two attacks by multiple launch rocket systems.

“The protection of civilians by all parties to the conflict must be of the utmost priority,” Zeid said. “All violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law must be thoroughly investigated and perpetrators must be promptly brought to justice.”

The High Commissioner also expressed concern about the implications of the harsh winter months on civilians in conflict-affected areas, with shortages of food and water and power cuts. The plight of these civilians has been compounded by Government decisions that have resulted in further restrictions on the freedom of movement and socio-economic isolation. The prolongation of the conflict would make the humanitarian situation untenable for millions of people, Zeid stressed.

“The public declarations by representatives of the armed groups, rejecting the ceasefire agreement and vowing to scale up the offensive are extremely dangerous and deeply worrying,” Zeid said. “They add to the terrifying predicament of the civilians who are trapped in the areas, and the total breakdown of law and order. I urge all States with influence to work together to ensure that parties to the conflict immediately cease hostilities and abide by earlier ceasefire decisions.”

There are also worrying developments in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the status of which is prescribed by UN General Assembly resolution 68/262, in particular with regard to multiple violations of the rights of Crimean Tatars.

Last week the premises of ATR, the only television channel broadcasting in the Crimean Tatar language, were raided by armed, masked men in unmarked military clothing, and the Deputy Head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, Mr. Ahtem Ciygoz, was detained. He faces up to 10 years in prison for creating “mass disturbances”.

More than 20,000 people have been internally displaced from Crimea to mainland Ukraine since the March “referendum”, which followed the takeover of the peninsula by so-called self-defence forces almost a year ago. Subsequently Russian legislation and citizenship were introduced in Crimea.

The Human Rights Mission in Ukraine will issue its next report on the situation in the country, including Crimea, at the beginning of March.

* The casualty figure is a conservative estimate of the HRMU and WHO based on available official data: casualties of the Ukrainian armed forces as reported by the Ukrainian authorities; 298 people from flight MH-17; and casualties reported by civil medical establishments of Donetsk and Luhansk regions: civilians and some members of the armed groups. HRMU and WHO believe that the actual numbers of fatalities are considerably higher.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 or rshamdasani@ohchr.org)

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