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Deputy High Commissioner to Human Rights Council: Deteriorating Security Situation in Eastern Ukraine Has Seen an Increase in Civilian Casualties and Damage to Civilian Objects Resulting from Active Hostilities

05 October 2021

Council Concludes General Debate on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance, Follow-up to and Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action

The Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights this morning told the Human Rights Council that the deteriorating security situation in eastern Ukraine has seen an increase in civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects resulting from active hostilities.

Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Office of the High Commissioner had recorded a total of 62 civilian casualties – 15 killed and 47 injured. Restrictions on freedom of movement due to the COVID-19 crisis continued to place a heavy burden on civilians who needed to cross the contact line in eastern Ukraine. In the context of the administration of justice in Ukraine, the report found that violations of the right to a fair trial and liberty in conflict-related criminal cases continued through the unlawful application of flagrante arrests without court warrants and the denial of prompt access to legal aid. In civic space, attacks against journalists were also noted, as well as against human rights defenders, environmental activists, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people or their supporters, and members of national minorities. Ms. Al-Nashif said that the report also highlighted that in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, occupied by the Russian Federation, the Office of the High Commissioner continued to document violations of civil liberties and fair trial rights.

The Vice-President of the Council said Ukraine had asked to take the floor as a country concerned at a later stage.

In the interactive dialogue on Ukraine, some speakers remained gravely concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in areas of eastern Ukraine currently not controlled by the Government of Ukraine, and in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, which were illegally annexed by the Russian Federation. Some speakers supported Ukraine’s independence and condemned Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. One speaker said that this agenda item was conceived to address technical assistance and capacity building. The Human Rights Council was not the ideal place to resolve territorial issues; the politicised use that was intended here to be given to this Council was evident.

Speaking on Ukraine were European Union, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Finland, France, Lithuania, Switzerland, Costa Rica, United Nations Children’s Fund, Norway, Albania, Netherlands and Venezuela.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, follow-up to and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

Speakers said that while much had been done to combat racial discrimination, it continued to deprive people around the world of their fundamental human rights. One speaker said that States that wanted to fight racism needed to speak out. It was agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic had further fuelled systemic racism and discrimination. One speaker said that racism eroded democratic values, diminished respect for human rights, and undermined efforts to create inclusive societies. Member States were encouraged to face their past and address systemic racism to ensure a more prosperous future. One speaker said that as the international community sought to build a world that honoured the dignity, equality, and contributions of all individuals and communities, States must address the root causes of structural racism while acknowledging its intersection with gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, religion, national origin, and other traits. Every country had an obligation to address racial inequality and injustice. One speaker said that Muslims were experiencing more acts of discrimination. Another speaker said the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action were synonymous with anti-Semitic hatred.

Speaking in the general debate were European Union, Israel, South Africa, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Belarus, United States, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic, United Nations Population Fund, Georgia, Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Nigeria, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Tunisia, Iran, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Comoros, Columbia and Turkey.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: European Union of Jewish Students, International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, Institute for NGO Research, Friends World Committee for Consultation, China Foundation for Human Rights Development, Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations, Baha'i International Community, Mother of Hope Cameroon Common Initiative Group, American Civil Liberties Union, World Jewish Congress, International Council Supporting Fair Trial and Human Rights, International Service for Human Rights, Joint statement: Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man, Iraqi Development Organization, International Human Rights Association of American Minorities, Alsalam Foundation, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain Inc, Synergie Feminine Pour La Paix Et Le Developpement Durable, Asociacion HazteOir.org, Institut International pour les Droits et le Développement, Zero Pauvre Afrique , International Humanist and Ethical Union, Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, Global Institute for Water, Environment and Health, Africa Culture Internationale, The International Organisation for LDCs, Prahar, Centre Zagros pour les Droits de l'Homme, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme, Tumuku Development and Cultural Union, Centre for Gender Justice and Women Empowerment, Indigenous People of Africa Coordinating Committee, Integrated Youth Empowerment - Common Initiative Group, Association pour l'Intégration et le Développement Durable au Burundi , African Green Foundation International, International Buddhist Relief Organisation, World Barua Organization, Center for Organisation Research and Education, International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, Association Ma'onah for Human Rights and Immigration, Liberation, Community Human Rights and Advocacy Centre, Center for Africa Development and Progress, Association Culturelle des Tamouls en France, Africans in America for Restitution and Repatriation Inc, and Association pour la défense des droits de l'homme et des revendications démocratiques/culturelles du peuple Azerbaidjanais-Iran .

Speaking in right of reply were Armenia, Japan, Azerbaijan and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-eighth regular session can be found here.

The Council will resume its meeting at 3 p.m. to conclude its interactive dialogue on the oral presentation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Ukraine. It will then start an enhanced interactive dialogue on the oral updates by the High Commissioner and the team of international experts on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

General Debate on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Forms of Intolerance, Follow-up to and Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action

The general debate on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, follow-up to and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, started on Monday, 4 October and the summary can be found here.

General Debate

In the general debate, speakers said that while much had been done to combat racial discrimination, it continued to deprive people around the world of their fundamental human rights. One speaker said that States that wanted to fight racism needed to speak out. It was agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic had further fuelled systemic racism and discrimination.

In Europe, certain political regimes supported the accomplices of the Nazis, glorifying and whitewashing their criminal past and deliberately falsifying the results of World War II. This was incompatible with democratic principles and was an abuse of the memory of hundreds of millions of victims of World War II. European Union institutions had ignored this problem for decades, although the issue had affected tens of thousands of people from national minorities, who were still infringed and discriminated against.

One speaker said that racism eroded democratic values, diminished respect for human rights, and undermined efforts to create inclusive societies. Member States were encouraged to face their past and address systemic racism to ensure a more prosperous future. One speaker said that as the international community sought to build a world that honoured the dignity, equality, and contributions of all individuals and communities, States must address the root causes of structural racism while acknowledging its intersection with gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, religion, national origin, and other traits. Every country had an obligation to address racial inequality and injustice.

Hate speech against minority groups was highlighted by one speaker, who told the Council that disinformation had prompted more racial discrimination towards ethnic groups during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another speaker agreed that COVID-19 had accelerated racial challenges and said social harmony was an ongoing process. One speaker noted how, despite the progress made, many persons, including minorities and vulnerable groups, still suffered from denial of their basic rights and structural and systematic discrimination, especially in the context of the current health crisis, which had demonstrated the need to redouble efforts to address destructive tendencies, in order to protect human self-dignity and achieve equality between individuals in the enjoyment of their rights.

One speaker said that Muslims were experiencing more acts of discrimination.

Another speaker said the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action were synonymous with anti-Semitic hatred. Racism was an ongoing scourge and combatting it must be at the centre of any human rights framework. The United Nations must build a new programme and plan of action – one that was not premised on the exclusion and hatred of Jews.

As the world recovered from one pandemic, the disease this time was human rights violations - and it too was spreading, said speakers, raising violations in specific countries and regions. Despite the efforts of the international community, racism was still systemic around the world. The mass exodus of refugees was a stark reminder of the problem. Many faced verbal abuse, with children particularly vulnerable - as well as girls and women. Minority rights needed to be further recognised in some States.

Interactive Dialogue on the Oral Presentation of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Ukraine

Oral Presentation

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, presenting on behalf of the High Commissioner the thirty-second report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Ukraine, said it covered key human rights developments from 1 February to 31 July 2021. The findings in the report were based on the work of the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. The deteriorating security situation in eastern Ukraine had seen an increase in civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects resulting from active hostilities. The Office of the High Commissioner had recorded a total of 62 civilian casualties – 15 killed and 47 injured. The trend was continuing and contrasted with a period of very low civilian casualties, resulting from the strengthened ceasefire of 27 July 2020. Records clearly demonstrated the value of the ceasefire. Restrictions on freedom of movement due to the COVID-19 crisis continued to place a heavy burden on civilians who needed to cross the contact line in eastern Ukraine. This predominantly impacted older persons, specifically women, who were the majority of those crossing prior to the COVID-19 lockdown. Residents on both sides of the contact line had expressed frustration about access to water, sanitation, healthcare, public transport and passable roads.

Ms. Al-Nashif said that in the context of the administration of justice in Ukraine, the report found that violations of the right to a fair trial and liberty in conflict-related criminal cases continued through the unlawful application of flagrante arrests without court warrants and the denial of prompt access to legal aid. The adoption on 20 May 2021 of a law which harmonised the definitions of international crimes in line with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court was welcomed. However, the Office of the High Commissioner was concerned that the law had not yet been signed by the President. In civic space, attacks against journalists were also noted, as well as against human rights defenders, environmental activists, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people or their supporters, and members of national minorities. Hate speech was also directed against Roma, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, women, persons with disabilities and people perceived to have pro-Russian views. It was imperative that authorities effectively investigated such incidents. In the territory controlled by armed groups, an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship continued to prevail, stifling the exercise of freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly. In addition, the self-proclaimed ‘republics’ continued to restrict freedom of religion, in particular, of evangelical Christian denominations.

The report also highlighted that in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, occupied by the Russian Federation, the Office of the High Commissioner continued to document violations of civil liberties and fair trial rights. The Russian Federation’s blanket requirement of pre-authorisation for public assemblies had severely restricted freedom of peaceful assembly on the peninsula. The Office of the High Commissioner continued to document cases of torture and ill-treatment against Ukrainian citizens in Crimea. The report also included recommendations addressed to the Government of Ukraine, as well as to the parties of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, to the Russian Federation as the Occupying Power in Crimea, and to the international community.

Statement by Country Concerned

The Vice-President of the Council said Ukraine had asked to take the floor at a later stage.

Interactive Dialogue

Some speakers remained gravely concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation in areas of eastern Ukraine currently not controlled by the Government of Ukraine, and in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, which were illegally annexed by the Russian Federation. They were appalled by the increased civilian casualties, including children, and documented continuing arbitrary detentions. They strongly condemned systematic restrictions of the human rights and fundamental freedoms by the Russian Federation of the residents of the illegally annexed Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. Some speakers supported Ukraine’s independence and condemned Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. One speaker said such abuses must be held accountable. Another speaker regretted hearing of arbitrary arrests and human rights violations, saying that they should be treated as a priority. The deteriorating human rights situation in Crimea was strongly condemned, including unlawful detentions carried out by Russia. Some speakers called on Russia to take responsibility and stop human rights abuses, adding that politically motivated detentions must cease immediately. Access to Crimea for human rights monitoring was of utmost importance, one speaker noted. Another speaker said that this agenda item was conceived to address technical assistance and capacity building, with the assistance of the country concerned. The Human Rights Council was not the ideal place to resolve territorial issues; the politicised use that was intended here to be given to this Council was evident.