40th Session to the HRC
Geneva, 19 March 2019, PdN, Room XX, 15:00
Distinguished Members of the Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my privilege to present two reports to the distinguished Council:
- OHCHR’s latest and 25th Quarterly Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine, covering the period from 16 November 2018 to 15 February 2019; and
- A thematic report on civic space and fundamental freedoms ahead of the presidential, parliamentary and local elections in 2019-2020. This report covers the period from 1 January 2018 to 15 January 2019 and focuses on territory where the Government exercises effective control and where the aforementioned elections will be carried out.
Both of these reports were launched in Kyiv on 12 March and each is available on OHCHR website.
I would like to begin by acknowledging the constructive engagement of the Government of Ukraine with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, engagement for which we are very grateful. The recent six-month extension of the mandate of our Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine is a welcome sign of this cooperation and of the Government’s openness and readiness to continue the collaboration.
Cooperation with the Government is key. However, we seek to keep people at the centre of our work, given that our highest aim is to advance promotion and protection of human rights for the people of Ukraine. For the cooperation too of civil society, the UN and the broader international community in this endeavour, we also are very grateful.
You may recall that in February 2014, following the Maidan events, the Government invited OHCHR to establish a human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine. Our operations – located in different parts of the country including in territory that the Government does not currently control – started in March 2014.
Five years on, it is tragic for the people of Ukraine that the armed conflict continues. Still today, lives are lost to the armed conflict in the east of Ukraine, and the negative consequences of this conflict can be seen throughout the country.
Our 25th human rights monitoring report covers the period from mid-November 2018 to mid-February 2019. We have recorded the lowest rates of civilian casualties for the entire conflict: one man and one woman were killed, while 11 men and three women were injured.
In 2018, we recorded a total of 279 civilian casualties: of which 55 were killed and 224 injured. This was half the number of the civilian casualties documented by OHCHR in 2017, and the lowest annual civilian casualty figures for the entire conflict period.
However, I regret to advise that since 15 February, civilian casualties have increased as a result of shelling, fire from small arms and light weapons, as well as mine-related incidents.
As past ceasefires showed, parties to the conflict can cease hostilities and thereby bring civilian casualties to zero. The immediate answer is clear: uphold the ceasefire and - when engaging in hostilities despite the ceasefire - take all necessary measures to not shell civilian areas. We welcome the recent recommitment on the occasion of international women’s day to ceasefire and we urge all parties to respect it.
The armed conflict has affected people throughout Ukraine; directly impacted on the daily lives of more than five million people, particularly those living in isolated villages on both sides of the contact line and impacting directly on the over 1.3 million internally displaced persons.
The ongoing conflict steals human lives and brings injury to many. It also destroys and damages civilian property, displacing many people. We urge the State to put in place a policy for compensation and reparation for victims – for those who have lost relatives, those who have been injured, those whose property has been destroyed or damaged. This is essential step towards longer-term peace and reconciliation in Ukraine.
The continuing conflict divides communities and tears families apart. The complex and, at times, frankly humiliating procedures people must undergo in order to cross the contact line only aggravates this separation of communities. What was once a 30-minute road trip between communities, now can last hours – leaving people exposed to the cold, snow and ice. As a consequence, since the beginning of this year at least 11 people have lost their lives while crossing the contact line, reportedly due to aggravation of pre-existing health conditions. Moreover, people are obliged to make their way – on feet or by vehicle – only inches away from active mine fields. It is essential that daily connections between separated people and divided communities be maintained from both sides and all parties should do more to ensure civilians can cross the contact line expeditiously and safely.
The situation of people made all the more vulnerable by the conflict and its impacts is extremely worrisome. More than 700,000 pensioners with residence registration in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ have been denied access to their pensions due to the State policy of linking the right to pension to IDP registration. OHCHR reiterates its recommendation that access to pensions should be de-linked from IDP registration and urges the authorities to take the steps needed to ensure people have equal access to that right regardless of their places of residence.
While OHCHR’s Human Rights Monitoring Mission is fully operational in government-controlled territory, it continues to face imposition of restrictions to its operations in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’. Nevertheless, OHCHR continued its work in this territory, where civilians remain subject to arbitrary decisions imposed by structures established and operating outside of Ukraine’s legal and institutional framework. Systemic human rights abuses persist in this territory – such as a practice of 30-day detention of individuals that amounts to arbitrary, incommunicado detention. In this context, I would like to stress the importance of providing international observers regular, unimpeded and confidential access to detainees, which is an essential safeguard.
In territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’, people cannot fully exercise their rights to freedoms of opinion and expression, of peaceful assembly, association, as well as of religion or belief. OHCHR continues to seek a solution to enable resumption of full operations in both self-proclaimed ‘republics’ for the purpose of contributing to efforts to promote and protect human rights for all those living there.
In these past three months, OHCHR documented 315 human rights violations (94 of which occurred during the previous reporting period), which affected 202 victims. This represents an increase of documented violations as compared with the previous reporting period of 16 August to 15 November 2018.
In this 25th Quarterly Report, OHCHR documents 172 human rights violations involving unlawful or arbitrary detention, torture, and ill-treatment, committed on both sides of the contact line; 91 of which occurred during the reporting period. Lack of effective investigations and absence of prosecution of perpetrators for such cases persist; these are critical systemic issues that must be addressed. In this context, OHCHR urges parties to put an end to the practices of arbitrary arrest, torture and ill-treatment.
OHCHR welcomes the resumption of transfers of pre-conflict prisoners from territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’, and the first two such transfers from territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’. We hope that this process will continue given there are more pre-conflict prisoners who wish to be transferred to be closer to their relatives.
During the same three months period, OHCHR documented 89 violations of the right to fair trial, including the use of pressure to obtain confessions and plea bargains. Our Office has repeatedly noted that protracted trials are a systemic issue in Ukraine. Five years after the killings of 98 people at Maidan and the violence in Odesa on 2 May 2014 that led to 48 deaths, we note no meaningful progress in the investigations and prosecutions of perpetrators.
In Crimea, OHCHR continued to find the patterns of abuses identified in previous reports. These include: intimidation of human rights defenders; the Russian Federation authorities’ stifling of dissent and critical opinion; military conscription of Crimean residents into the Russian Armed Forces; and disproportionate impacts on Crimean Tatars of human rights violations such as criminal convictions for alleged membership in religious Muslim groups banned in the Russian Federation. OHCHR renews its calls to the Government of the Russian Federation to end the practice of applying legislation on extremism, terrorism and separatism to criminalize free speech and peaceful conduct.
OHCHR has also analyzed the outcome of the November 2018 Kerch Strait naval incident. In our report, we stress that the 24 Ukrainian crew members currently held in Moscow should be granted protection under international humanitarian law which means inter alia that they must be humanely treated, protected against violence or intimidation, and must receive medical assistance.
In less than two weeks, Ukrainians will elect their President. We urge all involved in this electoral process to promote and ensure that the elections are peaceful and inclusive. This is only possible in an environment where all people can fully, safely and freely exercise their rights to freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association.
To help highlight the importance of these concerns, we have also published a report on civic space and fundamental freedoms in Ukraine ahead of presidential, parliamentary and local elections.
In this regard, during the period 1 January 2018 to 15 January 2019, OHCHR documented 164 violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, freedom of religion and belief, as well as the right to non-discrimination and equal protection under the law. In at least 34 incidents, perpetrators of these were directly linked or affiliated with extreme right-wing groups. The report provides an overview of the trends that have had a negative effect on the exercise of fundamental freedoms in Ukraine, and concerns regarding restrictions to civic space in Ukraine, including failure of the authorities to ensure security for peaceful assemblies and inability to protect groups at risk, lack of investigation and accountability for perpetrators, and attempts to limit civic space by means of shaping the regulatory framework. Emblematic cases described range from acid attacks to gun injuries. In two such cases perpetrators caused the death of the attacked activists.
Impunity prevails in most of the cases we have documented. We note the efforts of the Government to ensure investigations into high-profile cases, but we call on the authorities to step up investigations so that all perpetrators may be brought to account, including by properly qualifying the crimes and by taking into account criminal motives, instead of only describing them as acts of ‘hooliganism’.
We have set out recommendations to all relevant parties both in the 25th Quarterly Report and in our report on civic space. These – along with the recommendations of other parts of the human rights system – can serve as a robust roadmap for reform, a guide to peaceful resolution of the conflict, and a means by which to ensure justice for all in Ukraine.
Thank you for your kind attention.