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Press briefing note on Ukraine and France/Racism

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date: 20 February 2015
Subjects:     (1) Ukraine and  (2) France / racism

(1) Ukraine

While the 15 February ceasefire has led to a decrease in hostilities in many parts of the conflict zone in east Ukraine, we remain deeply worried about the fate of civilians and captured or wounded, hors de combat Ukrainian servicemen in the Debaltseve area, where heavy fighting continued until 18 February as a result of repeated breaches of the ceasefire by the armed groups. It is unclear how many civilians were trapped while fighting raged in the town, how many have been wounded or killed, and whether they now have access to medical and other basic services.We deeply regret also that OSCE monitors were not, and still have not been, allowed access to this area.

We are also concerned about the resumed shelling of populated areas, in the cities of Donetsk and Mariupol in particular. It is crucial that the ceasefire is respected and the fighting stops, especially in built-up areas, and the Minsk Agreements are fully implemented.

The death toll since the beginning of the conflict in mid-April 2014 has now risen to at least 5,692 until Wednesday, 18 February. At least 14,122 people have also been wounded in the east of Ukraine. We stress once again that this is a conservative estimate. Our human rights monitoring team and WHO who gather these data from official sources believe the actual number may be considerably higher. A further increase in the number of recorded casualties is expected in the coming days because reporting on casualties during the pre-ceasefire period, and especially in recent days in Debaltseve, has been considerably delayed.

The condition of captured Ukrainian pilot Nadiia Savchenko, who has been detained in Moscow since July last year, is also worrying. Today is the 70th day of Savchenko's hunger strike. According to her lawyer, she decided to refuse glucose injections which were being given to her. We call on the Russian authorities to release her immediately on humanitarian grounds.

(2) France / racism

We strongly condemn the racist behaviour of a group of Chelsea football fans during the build up to a Champions league game in Paris on Tuesday. The fans were filmed singing a song that flaunted their racism and repeatedly preventing a French citizen of African descent from boarding the Paris Métro by shoving him back on to the platform.

As you know, in recent years we have been engaging in discussions with both FIFA and UEFA about exploring ways to enhance the effort to drum racism out of football after numerous examples of racist behaviour by football fans, especially inside stadiums – and the events in the Richelieu-Drouot Metro station in Paris show that much work remains to be done before racism is truly eradicated from sport, let alone from society at large.

The fact that this particular incident was filmed and widely shown in the media has given rise to widespread and welcome condemnation by politicians, media and other commentators, and we also welcome the fact that the French authorities have launched an investigation into the incident, and the British police have said they will assist the French authorities in identifying the people involved and support them in any action they choose to take.

It is important to recognize, however, that this was not an isolated incident. Similar acts of cruel and casual racism take place every single day, all across Europe, without arousing much indignation, because they are not caught on camera. As the victim himself told a French newspaper, he was not particularly surprised by what happened, as he “lives with racism” all the time. It is important to build on the outrage created by this snapshot of the ugly face of racism, to re-energize the effort to combat it in all its forms wherever it occurs.


For more information or media requests, please contact Rupert Colville  (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org ) or Cécile Pouilly (+41 22 917 9310 / cpouilly@ohchr.org).

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