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Press briefing notes on Ukraine and High Commissioner's visit to the US

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location: Geneva
Date: 3 February 2015

(1) Ukraine

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein today urged all sides to halt the dangerous escalation in the fighting in eastern Ukraine - which is proving catastrophic for civilians. 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. 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 and in areas controlled by the armed groups.

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. 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”.

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.

The full press High Commissioner press release can be viewed at: http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15532&LangID=E

(2) High Commissioner's visit to the US

High Commissioner Zeid today begins the first official visit by a UN Human Rights Chief to Washington D.C. to meet senior U.S administration officials and Members of Congress since 2007, when former High Commissioner Louise Arbour made a similar visit.

Zeid, who took up his position as the fifth UN High Commissioner for Human Rights last September, will hold meetings with State Department and other U.S. Government officials, including National Security Adviser Susan Rice, to discuss a wide range of overseas and domestic issues. He will also meet with around eight senior members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

On Thursday, at 10:00 a.m., Zeid will deliver an address entitled “Can Atrocities be Prevented? Living in the Shadow of the Holocaust” at a public event at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington. He will also attend two round-table events with Civil Society organisations.

The visit ends on Friday, February 6, when the High Commissioner will give a Press Conference at 10:00 a.m. at the Georgetown Law Center, located at 600 New Jersey Ave NW, Washington, DC.


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

Audio recordings of the press briefing will be made available in the early afternoon, Geneva time, on: http://goo.gl/54O06t

Video footage will also be available early afternoon, Geneva time, on the following website, under the "Geneva press briefings" tab: http://webtv.un.org/media/

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