Statement by UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore
39th session of the Human Rights Council
25 September 2018
I wish to start by thanking the Government of Ukraine for its cooperation and constructive engagement with the Office and it is a particular pleasure to add our welcome to this session, to the Head of the Mejlis, a representative, governance body of the Crimean Tatar people.
The Council may also be interested to take note of the recent extension of the mandate of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine up to 15 March 2019.
In what is a highly charged political context, the main concern of our Monitoring Mission remains the protection of all victims, and the prevention and mitigation of all violations and abuses.
The experience of one Ukrainian woman whose son was held incommunicado in connection with the conflict, reflects that of so many, when she told one of our colleagues,
"For more than a month I had no idea where my son was. We couldn’t find any information on his whereabouts. We feared the worst, thinking he might be dead. We were so scared because we know that this war made many people disappear and never come back."
It is for the human rights of this woman, her son and for the many, many others who have endured abuses and violations, that our mission undertakes its responsibilities.
There are three conference room papers before you:
The conflict in eastern Ukraine – now in its fifth year – continues to claim lives, to destroy homes, livelihoods, economic structures, and tear communities apart.
Since the beginning of the conflict, more than 3,000 civilians have been killed, and 7,000 to 9,000 injured. These tragedies and the other consequences of the conflict – including the human rights violations and abuses that have been perpetrated since 2014 – remain unaddressed. Justice, remedy and reparation for victims – especially those injured or disabled, and for the families of people who have been killed – is virtually non-existent.
As our report documents, between 16 May and 15 August of this year, the Office recorded 105 civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine: 12 deaths and 93 injuries; a toll almost one-third higher than in the previous reporting period, from 16 February and 15 May, with half of these casualties caused by shelling or light weapons fire, and most occurring in May and June.
Under benefit of the “harvest ceasefire”, which took effect on the 1 July, the numbers of civilian casualties from shelling dropped significantly – demonstrating the life-saving importance of concerted efforts to secure a sustainable ceasefire.
However, linked inextricably to the hostilities are a further persisting and serious range of conflict-related violations and abuses, attributable to all parties. These include unlawful and arbitrary detentions, incommunicado detentions, torture, ill-treatment, sexual violence and threats to the physical integrity of individuals. These are violations that can be and must be stopped.
To this end, national and international criminal justice systems must be mobilized to impartially, thoroughly and promptly take concrete measures to hold to account all perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses, and violations of international humanitarian law – regardless of their affiliation or status. This is essential, not only because it is the right of their victims but because justice is essential if a lasting peace is to be fostered.
To date, the parties to the conflict have taken only very limited steps to investigate allegations of violations and abuses committed since 2014. Our report on the 2014 events in Ilovaisk is emblematic of the pattern of impunity that prevails today.
That being said, our Office has noted positive developments over the course of the reporting period. We welcome the recent adoption of the law on missing persons, which criminalizes enforced disappearance, and introduces a number of welfare benefits for relatives of missing persons. I also highlight the recent ground-breaking decision by the Ukrainian Supreme Court, which found that the grounds used to suspend pensions for internally displaced people were unlawful. We hope that this ruling will lead to a national policy that guarantees the payment of pensions to all Ukrainian citizens, no matter where they reside.
We have also seen some progress in investigations into the deaths that occurred at Maidan in Kyiv and in Odessa in 2014. Concrete steps have been taken to reopen an investigation into the killing of a journalist at Maidan. Indictments have also been filed against several former senior police officers in relation to the violence in Odessa city centre in the afternoon of 2 May 2014 that resulted in the death of six people.
However, as next year’s Presidential and Parliamentary elections approach, we are seriously concerned about the accelerating erosion of civic space, which includes evidence of increasingly violent attacks against members of the Roma community, civic activists and against lawyers in high-profile cases. We also remain concerned by the continuing aggressive interference in the parades and assemblies of the LGBTQI community. Law enforcement entities and local governments should address such attacks far more resolutely, and take concrete steps to enhance protection of minorities and preserve civic space for the safe and unhindered exercise of freedoms of expression, opinion and peaceful assembly.
In line with General Assembly Resolution 72/190, the Office has continued to seek access to Crimea but this is yet to be granted. Nonetheless, our monitoring continues.
The dedicated thematic report on Crimea before you, which covers the period from 13 September 2017 to 30 June 2018, highlights a marked shrinking of civic space, which has exacerbated the atmosphere of fear. Criminal proceedings continued to be used to penalize and dissuade political dissent.
Moreover, Russian Federation authorities continue to disregard their obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention, by failing to respect the laws of the occupied territory. To give one example, detainees from Crimea continue to be transferred to the Russian Federation, thousands of kilometres from their families, in violation of international humanitarian law. We have particular concerns for the health of detainees on hunger strike – Oleh Sentsov and Volodymyr Balukh – who are protesting at what they view to be politically motivated prosecutions.
The reports before you reflect the depth of work undertaken by the 54 OHCHR staff working in Ukraine, on both sides of the contact line.
When we speak to victims – on both sides – we hear the same appeal: to stop the fighting, to bring an end to the degrading and humiliating policies directed against civilians, do more to protect people, and open up the space for freedom of expression and the freedom to participate.
While our staff operates without impediment in government-controlled territory, we have faced increasing restrictions on our operations in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’. Nonetheless, we continue to make every effort to find the best way to ensure our operational presence is viable in both self-proclaimed ‘republics’, so that we may contribute effectively to human rights promotion and protection for the four million people resident there, in line with the High Commissioner’s mandate.
I thank you, Mr President.
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