Statement by UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore
Geneva, 24 September 2019, PdN, Room XX, exact time TBC
Distinguished Members of the Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my privilege, to present on behalf of the High Commissioner, her 27th quarterly report on the human rights situation in Ukraine, covering the period from 16 May to 15 August 2019.
The report which was launched in Kyiv last week is based on 81 visits to settlements along the contact line, 30 visits to places of detention, monitoring of 98 trial hearings and 15 assemblies, as well as 205 in-depth interviews with victims and witnesses of human rights violations and abuses, relatives of victims, lawyers, Government representatives, civil society and other interlocutors.
At the outset, allow me to stress that this report comes at a time of renewed hope for the people of Ukraine – hope for peace, reconciliation and the advance of human rights.
Through peaceful, competitive and largely inclusive elections, a new parliament has now taken office, and a new government has now been formed.
The High Commissioner congratulates the country’s new leadership on their taking office, and urges national leaders and institutions to embrace this as the opportunity to renew and strengthen Ukraine’s commitment to respect, protect and promote the human rights of all people within its borders, and to take concrete action to make that a daily reality.
In this regard, the initial developments are positive: the recommitment to the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, for example; the disengagement of forces and the ongoing improvements to the Stanytsia Luhanska crossing point, so critical as winter months approach; and the commencement of operations of the High Anti-Corruption Court of Ukraine.
We also note with appreciation, the breakthrough exchange of detainees between Ukraine and the Russian Federation that occurred on 7 September, which included persons for whose release we have been advocating, as well as the 24 Ukrainian sailors who were detained near the Kerch Strait in November last year.
These welcome steps are very encouraging; however, more work is needed.
The report before you documents how arbitrary arrests and detention continue, as does torture and intimidation, and violent attacks against political party members and offices, against events held by minority groups and attacks on journalists – one such attack being perpetrated against investigative journalist Vadym Komarov who subsequently died. Impunity too continues to prevail for past killings of journalists, including with regards to the killing of Pavel Sheremet three years ago.
Along the contact line, the population continues to live exposed to grave danger due to the ongoing hostilities. In the three-month period covered by the report, the conflict killed eight civilians while 60 more were injured, including nine children – this is a 50% increase on the number of civilian casualties recorded during the previous reporting period.
The overwhelming majority of those wounded or killed were victims of shelling and small arms and light weapons, while four casualties were related to mines and the handling of explosive remnants of war.
However, we can report that the number of civilian casualties dropped significantly following the parties’ recommitment to the ceasefire on 21 July. Encouragingly, and once again, this demonstrates clearly that civilian casualties can be prevented; number reduced to near zero when parties seek political rather than military resolution to the conflict.
Nonetheless, the conflict-affected population also continues to face serious obstacles frustrating their daily lives – obstacles to their freedom of movement and to their access to basic services, goods, to pensions and social benefits. Those obstacles are the result of discriminatory government policies, practices and legislation. We welcome efforts to begin addressing these issues – such as the planned repairs of the bridge at the Stanytsia Luhanska crossing point, and the Government’s adoption of new regulations simplifying the movement of people and goods across the contact line.
Accountability for past human rights violations has yet to be addressed, including for killings which took place during the Maidan protests over five years ago. We urge the newly appointed Prosecutor General and Chief Military Prosecutor to conduct prompt and effective investigations of conflict-related and other grave human rights violations, and to prosecute those responsible - whether they are members of law enforcement entities, the military, extreme right-wing groups or armed groups of the self-proclaimed ‘republics’. Victims and their families have a right to justice, and they are calling for it. Justice, in turn, when provided through due process under the rule of law, is essential for sustainable peace and reconciliation.
It is why we are so concerned that, recently, terrorism charges were filed against individuals who helped others to file complaints to the International Criminal Court and the European Court of Human Rights. Such charges are unacceptable and impose a chilling effect on the people of Ukraine’s freedom to exercise the right to seek legal redress in international courts.
For more than a year now, the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ have substantially restricted OHCHR operations in territory under their control. We nevertheless continue to document human rights concerns in these areas; breaches of human rights through such as arbitrary and incommunicado arrests and the absence of space for people to exercise fundamental freedoms, symptoms of the persistent climate of fear that prevails in these parts of Ukraine’s territory.
We continue to be denied access to detention facilities and detainees in these areas, despite our repeated requests. This is particularly concerning in light of credible allegations of human rights abuses occurring in detention. We call on the self-proclaimed ‘republics’ to lift the restrictions imposed on OHCHR operations in territory they control, and to provide us and other independent international observers with unimpeded access to places of detention, in accordance with international standards.
We do welcome the transfers of 178 pre-conflict prisoners from territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ to Government-controlled territory in May, July and September – and hope this practice will continue.
In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, we continue to document violations of international human rights and humanitarian law perpetrated by the Russian Federation, as the occupying Power, including deportations of protected persons, forced conscription and restrictions on freedom of expression.
We also recorded an increased number of house searches and raids, which have disproportionately affected Crimean Tatars. We once again call on the Government of the Russian Federation to comply with its obligations as a duty-bearer under international human rights law, and as an occupying Power under international humanitarian law, and further we request again agreement to unimpeded access the peninsula.
With the occasion of the new government, we have witnessed promising signs that Ukraine is about to turn a corner. The road ahead may yet be difficult and that road no doubt is long. However, with the support of the international community, the larger UN family and OHCHR, we see that the Government can build on its early momentum and advance respect for human rights, ensure justice for those who have suffered so much at the hands of the conflict, and secure thus the basis for sustainable peace and reconciliation throughout Ukraine.
Thank you for your kind attention.