45th session of the Human Rights Council
Geneva, 1 October 2020
Salle des Assemblées, Palais des Nations
It is my honor to present, on behalf of the High Commissioner, two OHCHR reports on Ukraine – the 30th periodic report on the Human Rights Situation in Ukraine, covering key human rights developments from 16 February to 31 July of this year, and a thematic report on Human Rights in the Administration of Justice in Conflict-Related Criminal Cases, covering the period of April 2014 to April 2020.
I start with the 30th periodic report. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, hostilities continued in eastern Ukraine, resulting in civilian casualties and damages to civilian infrastructure, objects and property. Between January and July 2020, OHCHR recorded 107 civilian casualties – 18 killed and 89 injured – as well as 41 security incidents in which civilian objects – predominantly schools and water and sanitation facilities – were damaged.
The implementation, on 27 July, of a package of additional measures to strengthen the ceasefire has significantly contributed to easing the effects of the conflict on the civilian population, on both sides of the contact line. I note that, since August, OHCHR has not registered a single civilian casualty or damage to civilian object as a result of active hostilities, and I urge the parties to continue to respect the ceasefire and to fully comply with international humanitarian law.
The combined effects of the conflict and COVID-19 have been particularly difficult for those who need to cross the contact line. Further restrictions on movement across the contact line, imposed in response to the pandemic, have separated families, disrupted education, and prevented people from accessing essential medical care, pension payments, and other social benefits. We call on all parties to ensure the restoration of safe crossings, with due respect to human dignity, to allow people to access basic services and to enjoy their rights equally and without discrimination.
We are concerned by the increase in violence documented by OHCHR in the context of upcoming local elections in October – in particular, attacks by members of extreme right-wing groups against peaceful political gatherings and offices of political parties, also against political activists and their homes. We are further concerned that the impunity accompanying these acts of violence creates a climate of fear and self-censorship, encouraging further attacks. The prevention of such attacks, as well as the effective investigation of past attacks, regardless of the political views of victims or the affiliation of the perpetrators, should be high priorities for the authorities, in order to ensure an environment in which people feel secure to exercise their fundamental freedoms, and this will be key to the credibility of the elections.
OHCHR also documented attacks against members of the media in relation to their work, as well as attacks against LGBTI people, and people perceived to be LGBTI. The first successful Pride march held in Zaporizhzhia, on 20 September, demonstrated that law enforcement agencies can secure assemblies and ensure the safety of participants and supporters.
In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation, we continue to document violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law. The over broad and formalistic application of Russian Federation anti-extremist laws in Crimea severely limited the manifestation of religious practices for several religious groups, including some Protestants, Jehovah’s witnesses, Muslims, Messianic Jews and Hare Krishnas.
In addition, since the first of August, at least 5 raids and searches have been carried out in the homes of Crimean Tatars. This is part of a longer-term trend in which Crimean Tatars are disproportionally targeted by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation and police.
Our report on Human Rights in the Administration of Justice in Conflict-Related Criminal Cases in Ukraine is based on six years of human rights monitoring, of over 1,000 individual criminal cases throughout the country, including in territory controlled by self-proclaimed ‘republics’ and in Crimea.
The report highlights widespread human rights violations in the Ukrainian justice system, in particular, arbitrary arrest and detention, unreasonable trial delays, poor quality of free legal aid lawyers, the use of torture and coerced confessions, as well as the lack of effective mechanisms to remedy such violations. Some fair trial violations in conflict-related cases stem from systemic deficiencies in legislation and in practice, and therefore affect the justice system as a whole.
In territory controlled by self-proclaimed ‘republics’, access to justice remains out of reach, with the population cut off from the judicial system of Ukraine by the contact line. The report therefore assesses how the human rights of persons living in this territory are affected by self-proclaimed ‘republics’ exercising government-like functions.
The report underlines that both the framework and practice applied to conflict-related cases in the self-proclaimed ‘republics’ failed to respect key elements of fair trial and related human rights. Individuals are often held incommunicado, and subjected to torture and ill-treatment in order to extort confessions. Cases are dealt with behind closed doors, with individuals denied access to lawyers of their choice.
The report details violations in Crimea by the Russian Federation, as the occupying Power, such as retroactive application of criminal law; failure to address credible complaints of torture and ill-treatment, and forced confessions; lack of equality of arms; and interference with the work of defence lawyers.
Both our reports contain recommendations, addressed to the Government of Ukraine, to the parties of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, to the Russian Federation as the occupying Power in Crimea, and to the international community. We urge the implementation of these recommendations, in order to help discontinue the patterns of human rights violations and to ensure justice for all.