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Intersessional meeting of the Human Rights Council Update on Ukraine

Statement by UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
Kate Gilmore

Geneva, 18 December 2019

Mr. President,
Excellencies,
Distinguished Members of the Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my honour to present to this distinguished Council, on behalf of the High Commissioner, our 28th report on the human rights situation in Ukraine.

The report covers the period from 16 August to 15 November 2019 and was launched in Kyiv on 12 December. The findings it presents are based on: 59 visits undertaken by the Human Rights Monitoring Mission to settlements along the contact line; 21 visits to places of detention; the monitoring of 151 trial hearings and of 19 assemblies as well as 117 in-depth interviews with victims and witnesses of human rights violations and abuses, relatives of victims, lawyers, Government representatives, civil society and other interlocutors.

I am very pleased to advise, that since the presentation of the previous quarterly report, we have continued to see positive measures taken that are mitigating the impact of the conflict on civilians.

At the diplomatic level, on 9 December, the leaders of Ukraine, the Russian Federation, France and Germany met in Paris under the Normandy Four format and agreed to full and comprehensive implementation of the ceasefire, additional disengagement areas, and the development and implementation of an updated mine clearance plan. Implementation of these agreed measures will enhance protection of the population and create the necessary safe environment for neighbours once again to be neighbours, for families once again to reach each other across the contact line safely and for all to begin the pressing work of rebuilding social cohesion.

On the ground, in eastern Ukraine, the bridge repairs at the Stanytsia Luhanska crossing point have been completed, and the parties to the conflict have disengaged from the contact line near Zolote in Luhansk region and Petrivske in Donetsk region. These steps significantly facilitate freedom of movement of the civilian population, reduce physical risk to the civilian population, and pave the way for sustainable resolution of the conflict as foreseen under the Minsk agreements.

Nevertheless, so long as active hostilities continue, and the ceasefire is not fully respected, civilians remain at risk. Indeed, during this reporting period, OHCHR recorded 42 civilian casualties as a result of the conflict – six civilians killed and 36 injured. This brings the total number of civilian casualties recorded in 2019 as of 15 November to 162. I note that this is a forty per cent decrease when compared with the same calendar period of 2018, and the lowest figures for the entire conflict period; but it is still 162 too many.  We therefore challenge the parties to the conflict to make 2020 the year of zero civilian casualties.

Easing the burden of the conflict on civilians, however, extends beyond the immediate impact of violent conflict.

We therefore welcome the several positive legislative developments during the reporting period, such as the resubmission of the Electoral Code to Parliament to ensure that it would enfranchise Internally Displaced Persons in the coming 2020 local elections, and the Cabinet of Ministers resolution which allows for children under 14 to cross the contact line with a birth certificate instead of a passport. We are also pleased to see the registration of two draft laws which would have significant impact on economic rights: The draft law on pensions would simplify the process for payment of pensions to those living on the other side of the contact line and in Crimea, and start a process of paying pension arrears; and the draft law on remedy and reparation offers a comprehensive solution for protecting the rights of civilians who suffered as a result of armed conflict.

In other areas, however, human rights progress and protection remained elusive.

Excellencies,

OHCHR is deeply concerned by allegations during the reporting period of killings and extrajudicial executions committed on both sides of the contact line. For instance, there are suspicions that the death of a Ukrainian soldier held in custody in Makiivka penal colony, in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’, may have been the consequence of violence.

We also continued to document cases of arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and ill-treatment of Ukrainians occurring in Government-controlled territory and in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘republics’, as well as in the Russian Federation.

Meanwhile, the lack of accountability for past human rights violations remains - for cases of torture and ill-treatment documented by OHCHR, for attacks on journalists, activists and members of minority groups; and for the killings and violent deaths which occurred during the Maidan protests and on 2 May 2014 in Odesa. We note the arrests last week of suspects in the 2016 killing of journalist Pavlo Sheremet and we will follow the associated legal proceedings with interest. Accountability is crucial to ensure all other rights and it must be served, regardless of the affiliation of the perpetrator or the identity of the victim.

Excellencies,

OHCHR’s operations in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ continues to be severely restricted. Nevertheless, we continued to document human rights abuses, including arbitrary and incommunicado detentions, and to observe a restrictive human rights climate in this territory. We reiterate our call for unimpeded, confidential access to places of detention and detainees, particularly in light of the recent death of a man held in custody in Donetsk. 

The protection of civic space and fundamental freedoms are another key focus for OHCHR. Sixteen new attacks were documented during this reporting period, against journalists, members of the LGBTI community and civil society. These attacks must be promptly and impartially investigated, and the perpetrators brought to account, with due consideration given to the motives of these attacks so that the prosecution and punishment reflect the true gravity of the crimes.
OHCHR has been informed that, in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘republics’, organisations and civil society activists representing the LGBTI community refrain from public displays out of fear of persecution. In addition, OHCHR has observed the absence of critical media content in this territory, and that residents are limited to expressing their views on the only platform available to them: social media.

With regard to linguistic rights, we are concerned that the Cabinet of Ministers and the Parliament have not begun to elaborate a draft law on the realization of the rights of indigenous peoples and national minorities although the law on State language sets out that the Cabinet must submit this draft law to the Parliament by January 2020. The preparation of this law, through an inclusive and consultative process, should be prioritized to ensure effective protection of language rights of linguistic minorities.

Despite repeated requests, OHCHR has still not been granted access to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol by the Russian Federation, as the occupying Power. We nonetheless continued to document violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. In particular, the report outlines cases of Ukrainians who were apprehended and detained in Crimea, and subsequently deported to the Russian Federation. Some of these detainees reported being subjected to torture and ill-treatment and being denied access to medical care, and to Ukrainian consular visits while held in detention facilities in the Russian Federation.

Mr. President,

As the year comes to a close, we can look back over a year of change for Ukraine.  We can be heartened by the efforts and progress made to improve the human rights situation of the conflict-affected population, and by President Zelenskyy’s stated objectives of bringing peace to Ukraine and to protect all lives.

As we look forward to 2020, we must not relent in our determination to continue to seek even more improvement for the people of Ukraine in terms of peace, development and human rights. Adoption of a new national human rights strategy and action plan is anticipated, while Ukraine will undergo a voluntary national review of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. There is a brighter future within reach. We need only for all political leaders, all parties to the conflict, and all other stakeholders, national and international - to reach out, grasp it and refuse to ever let go.

Thank you for your kind attention.