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HRC Inter-sessional meeting

Oral update on OHCHR findings on the human rights situation in Ukraine
by the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

19 December 2018

Distinguished President,
Excellencies,
Colleagues, Friends,

I wish to start by thanking the Government of Ukraine for its constructive engagement with the Office.

On behalf of the High Commissioner, it is my privilege to present to you the 24th periodic report on the human rights situation in Ukraine.  We are most grateful for this opportunity to address you.

Our report covers the three-month period from 16 August to 15 November 2018 and it is based on 119 in-depth interviews with victims of human rights violations and abuse, with witnesses, trial monitoring and site visits.

As we approach the close of 2018, we must acknowledge with deep regret that Ukraine is now in its fifth winter of conflict; a conflict that has caused a multiplicity of human rights violations, led to loss of life, eroded human dignity and destroyed civilian infrastructure.  The conflict impacts on the human rights of all people in Ukraine, contributing to fracture and division in Ukrainian society that further undermines prospects for sustainable peace and stability.

In this report, we document 242 violations and abuses of the right to life, deprivation of liberty, enforced disappearance, torture and ill-treatment, fair trial rights, fundamental freedoms (including assaults on democratic space), economic and social rights.  In 207 cases, the violation or abuse occurred within the reporting period; for 147of these the Government of Ukraine bears responsibility. Of the remainder, the armed groups are responsible for 28 cases, and the Government of the Russian Federation as the occupying power in Crimea is responsible for 32.

Forty cases involve credible allegations of torture, ill-treatment, and sexual violence, and unlawful or arbitrary detention.  These cases were identified through interviews with victims and witnesses.

We interviewed 67 persons held in ten detention facilities and one penitentiary/colony in government-controlled territory.  We are grateful to the respective authorities for providing us with unhindered access to these facilities.

We have also recorded 50 conflict-related civilian casualties in the reporting period (14 deaths and 36 injuries).  This is a decrease of 52.4 per cent when compared with the last reporting period, and continues the steady decline in civilian deaths and injuries throughout 2018.  This decline is linked to the two consecutive recommitments to ceasefire of July and September 2018.  However, it is also important to note that approximately 36 per cent of civilian casualties were caused by shelling or light weapons, with the majority attributable to Government forces.  We look forward to engaging with the Joint Forces Operation of the Armed Forces of Ukraine for the purpose of providing technical assistance to their recently established Civilian Casualty Mitigation Team. This engagement is critical, given that localized exchanges of fire continue to put civilians at grave risk.  

There remains as yet unmet, the need for a comprehensive state policy on compensation and reparation for those who lost relatives, suffered injuries, whose property has been destroyed or damaged. 

Large segments of the population suffer from the socio-economic barriers created by the armed conflict, in particular older persons, children and persons with disabilities and IDPs. Disproportionate restrictions on the freedom of movement along and across the contact line continue to disrupt people’s access to social entitlements, such as pensions and social benefits. This in turn unduly impedes their access to basic services essential for daily dignity, including water, sanitation, heating and health care.

We welcome the improvements introduced to the framework governing the ability of IDPs to exercise their right to social security and protection. The Government of Ukraine must now implement these measures effectively so that a tangible difference is made in people’s lives. Ensuring effective protection, and conditions for people’s exercise, of social and economic rights are vehicles for strengthening social cohesion and can help foster most positive prospects for peace and stability.

We continue to closely monitor progress on accountability for the killing of protestors at Maidan and the 2 May 2014 violence in Odesa. We have observed positive developments in the identification of a sniper from internal troops who is suspected of killing a protester on Maidan Square in Kyiv, but regret the lack of progress in the criminal proceedings into the 2 May 2014 violence in Odesa.  

We have observed little willingness, both within law enforcement institutions and politically, to effectively investigate human rights violations alleged to be perpetrated by state actors. During the reporting period we documented 43 cases where pre-trial detention lasted for up to two years, prolonged without due justification, and we are concerned that this is used to exert pressure on defendants to agree to guilty pleas. 

We remain deeply concerned about the continuing and increasingly violent attacks against journalists, media professionals, civil society activists, affiliates of political parties, and defense lawyers, perpetrated by members of extreme right-wing groups. OHCHR documented 59 violations of the fundamental freedoms of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, religion or belief, marking a 31 per cent rise since the previous reporting period. Such attacks have become increasingly visible, and risk compromising the rule of law essential to ensuring the integrity of the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019.

In territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’, people remain subject to decisions and structures of administration of justice imposed in violation of the Minsk agreements and the constitution of Ukraine. Civic space continues to be highly restricted.  First-hand information from former detainees indicate that human rights abuses continue in territory controlled by both self-proclaimed ‘republics’, including arbitrary incommunicado detention. It is crucial that OHCHR and other international observers be provided with regular, unimpeded and confidential access to all those detained in this territory.

However, in the reporting period, the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ continued to restrict OHCHR operations in areas under their control in eastern Ukraine. As a result, OHCHR has had to step up its remote monitoring of the human rights situation. Regular discussions with representatives of the two self-proclaimed republics aim to secure the resumption of OHCHR operations.

Since mid-August, OHCHR has carried out over 300 specific activities to facilitate the protection of human rights, including trial monitoring, detention visits, advocacy with duty-bearers, humanitarian organizations and NGOs, and cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms. Our documentation, objective reporting, and advocacy is much needed at this critical juncture for Ukraine.

The Russian Federation, the occupying power in Crimea, has not granted OHCHR access to the peninsula in line with UN General Assembly resolutions 68/262, 71/205 and 72/190. In occupied Crimea, the Russian Federation continuously violates its international obligations as an occupying power. In this reporting period, we documented 44 human rights violations in Crimea. These violations include the arbitrary application by the Russian Federation authorities of anti-extremism legislation in Crimea, which has stifled dissent, instilled fear and denied individuals their freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly and other human rights. Crimean Tatars remained disproportionately affected by these measures.

Since the end of the reporting period, we have followed a number of developments.

  • Following the 25 November naval incident near the Kerch Strait, our concern is the human rights of the Ukrainian crew members detained in the Russian Federation. We are in contact with lawyers and relatives of some of the crew members. We call upon the Russian Federation to ensure the crew members’ regular, unimpeded and confidential access to their lawyers.
  • We are monitoring the impact of the 26 November martial law, introduced for one month in ten regions of Ukraine. Any measures restricting human rights during a state of Martial Law must be limited to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation, meaning they must be proportional and limited to what is necessary, in terms of duration, geographic coverage and material scope.
  • We welcome the dialogue between the parties that resulted in the recent transfer of 55 pre-conflict prisoners from territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic. We hope that the process will continue in 2019.
  • On 15 December, a gathering of hierarchs of different Orthodox denominations established a new Orthodox church in Ukraine. We call on the Government of Ukraine to protect freedom of religion or belief for all in the country – regardless their religious denomination or affiliation with religious communities - and to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to avoid the escalation of tensions.