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Protracted conflict in eastern Ukraine continues to take heavy toll on civilians

GENEVA (8 October 2014) – In spite of a fragile ceasefire over the past month in the east of Ukraine, the protracted conflict continues to kill and wound civilians, and deprive the more than five million residents in areas directly affected by the violence of their basic human rights, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Wednesday as he released the latest report on the human rights situation in the country.

While there has been an absence of large-scale offensive actions since the ceasefire was announced on 5 September, in some areas artillery, tank and small arms exchanges have continued on an almost daily basis, such as in Donetsk airport, in the Debaltseve area in Donetsk region, and in the town of Shchastya in Luhansk region.
From mid-April to 6 October, at least 3,660 people were killed and 8,756 wounded in eastern Ukraine, the UN Human Rights Office said Wednesday as it released the report.* Since the ceasefire began, between 6 September and 6 October, at least 331 fatalities were recorded, although some of the individuals may have been killed prior to the ceasefire, with the data only recorded later.

“While the ceasefire is a very welcome step towards ending the fighting in eastern Ukraine, I call on all parties to genuinely respect and uphold it, and to halt the attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure once and for all,” High Commissioner Zeid said.

“For almost half a year, residents of the areas affected by the armed conflict have been deprived of their fundamental rights to education, to adequate healthcare, to housing and to opportunities to earn a living. Further prolongation of this crisis will make the situation untenable for the millions of people whose daily lives have been seriously disrupted.”

Nearly 40,000 small and medium businesses in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions have ceased activity due to the fighting, leaving thousands without income.

While some internally displaced people have returned home, data released by the State Emergency Service suggests that as of 2 October, there were 375,792 internally displaced people (IDPs) in Ukraine.* Those who have returned home face serious difficulties besides the volatile security situation, the report notes, with private property destroyed or damaged, as well as water shortages and limited access to healthcare. Expected gas shortages are particularly worrying, with winter coming and many IDPs living in ill-equipped temporary shelters.   

The report of the 35-strong UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, which covers the period from 18 August to 16 September, notes that between 24 August and 5 September, armed groups of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ were bolstered by an increasing number of foreign fighters, including citizens believed to be from the Russian Federation.

“During the reporting period, international humanitarian law, including the principles of military necessity, distinction, proportionality and precaution continued to be violated by armed groups and some units and volunteer battalions under the control of the Ukrainian armed forces,” the report states, referring to daily reports of skirmishes, shelling and fighting. “Armed groups continued to terrorise the population in areas under their control, pursuing killings, abductions, torture, ill-treatment and other serious human rights abuses, including destruction of housing and seizure of property. There have also been continued allegations of human rights violations committed by some volunteer battalions under Government control.”

Between 24 August and 5 September, there was also a sharp increase in detentions by the armed groups, and there were alarming reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees, including mock executions and sexual violence. There were also reports of ill-treatment of those detained by Ukrainian armed forces and police.

“With the shift in control of territory during the reporting period between Government forces and the armed groups, the risk of reprisals against individuals for collaborating with ‘the enemy’ or for such perceived collaboration has increased,” the report notes.

High Commissioner Zeid stressed that all violations and abuses of international human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law must be scrupulously investigated and prosecuted, including the indiscriminate shelling of civilians, killings, allegations of sexual violence, the illegal seizure of property and the ill-treatment of detainees. Zeid expressed deep concern about the lack of rule of law in the areas held by the armed groups.

“This is a call for justice, not retribution. All parties must ensure that there are no reprisals for perceived collaboration or affiliation with an opposing camp,” the High Commissioner said, referring to the report’s documentation of increased tensions between residents and IDPs in some areas, mostly due to growing distrust fuelled by suspicions of potential connections with opposing groups. “It is crucial for the authorities to defuse such tensions,” he said.

The report notes that two laws adopted on 16 September, pending the President’s signature, have the potential to “play a critical role in reconciliation and creating an environment for sustainable peace.” One is the law on the prevention of persecution and punishment of participants of events on the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which provides for an amnesty in connection with the conflict, apart from some grave offences. The other law offers special status to parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The report stresses that strategies for the implementation of both laws should be developed with the participation of victims and civil society.

The High Commissioner also called for prompt adoption of the draft IDP law, which is under review by Parliament, so as to allow the provision of basic services, including healthcare, education and employment.

In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the human rights situation continued to be marked by multiple and ongoing violations, the report notes, including the curtailment of the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and of religion or belief, and increasing intimidation of Crimean Tatars under the pretext of combating extremism.


* Figures marked with an asterisk have been updated beyond the period covered by the report. The casualty figures are estimated by OHCHR and WHO; and the figures for displacement by the State Emergency Service of Ukraine.

To read the full report, please visit: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/UA/OHCHR_sixth_report_on_Ukraine.pdf

For more information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 /rcolville@ohchr.org ) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org)

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