Header image for news printout

Briefing by ASG Ivan Šimonović to the UN Security Council

16 April 2014

Madam President,

Distinguished Members of the Security Council,

You were briefed over this past weekend on the latest political developments in Ukraine. My briefing today, at your request, will address the situation of human rights in Ukraine and update you on developments since my last briefing on 19 March. I will highlight key human rights issues, taking into account the most recent events in the East. My remarks are based on the findings of my two recent missions to Ukraine, as well as on the first few weeks of activities of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.

At the outset, I wish to emphasise the strong inter-linkages between chronic human rights violations in Ukraine, the Maidan protests and the current situation in the East.

Almost a third of the population in Ukraine reportedly lives under the poverty line. Huge disparities in standards of living and inadequate access to basic social services, attributed to corruption and mismanagement, were amongst the underlying factors that led to the Maidan protests. Protests that started in Kyiv and swept across the rest of the country from November 2013 to February 2014 revealed a deep-rooted sense of dissatisfaction of the people of Ukraine.

Violence by the security forces against pro-European peaceful protesters in Kyiv on 30 November 2013, created outrage and led to the radicalisation of the protests and clashes between the protesters and police. Legislation that curtailed freedoms of expression and assembly and enhanced a sense of impunity by the police, was rushed through the Rada in mid- January and led to violent action by some radical protesters as well.

Progress is still to be made in bringing to justice the perpetrators of serious human rights violations committed during the period of the Maidan protests. During the protests, there were 121 persons killed and still over 100 persons remain unaccounted for. The General Prosecutor’s Office has initiated criminal proceedings and it is important to ensure accountability of the perpetrators.

During the Maidan protests, there were some expressions of national, racial or religious hatred by some groups and individuals. Some attacks against the ethnic Russian community, in particular ethnic Russians that were affiliated to the former Government, were also reported. However, these were neither systematic nor widespread. They were isolated incidents which were then exaggerated through some biased media reporting, fuelling fear and insecurity amongst the ethnic Russian community.

There have also been some cases of incitement to hatred coming from the right wing extremists groups, such as the so-called Right Sector. Fear and insecurity breed when incitement to hatred, discrimination or violence is not curtailed. It is therefore crucial that this issue be addressed as a matter of priority and I welcome steps already undertaken by the Government and the Prosecutor General Office of Ukraine to publicly condemn and investigate any such instances. In this context, it is clearly unacceptable that one presidential candidate calls his followers to arm themselves to defend the East o the country, while another is beaten because of his political views. Monitors are verifying these serious allegations.

Madam President,

My visit from 21 to 22 March was the most recent visit to Crimea by a senior UN official. During my mission, I interacted with a wide range of interlocutors, including local authorities, civil society and especially victims themselves. This allowed me to obtain a first-hand impression of the situation.

The media manipulation significantly contributed to a climate of fear and insecurity in the period preceding the referendum.

The presence of paramilitary and so called self-defence groups, as well as soldiers in uniform without insignia, was not conducive to an environment in which voters could freely exercise their right to hold opinions and the right to freedom of expression during the referendum on 16 March. There were credible allegations of harassment, arbitrary arrests and torture by these groups that targeted activists and journalists who did not support the referendum.

While reiterating GA resolution 68/262 on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, I stress the obligations of the authorities in Crimea to respect international human rights norms.

It is also of concern that on 11 April, authorities in Crimea have rushed the adoption of a new constitution. The Crimean Tatar Mejlis has raised important human rights concerns about the total lack of public debate as well as the exclusion of Crimean Tatars from the drafting process of the new constitution. Concerns also continue to be raised with regard to citizenship issues, in particular that those who do not accept Russian citizenship will reportedly face many obstacles in guaranteeing their property and land rights, access to education and healthcare and the enjoyment of other civil and political rights.

Madam President,

When I visited eastern Ukraine in March, the situation was already very tense. Meanwhile, the situation has significantly deteriorated.

Reportedly, armed pro-Russian activists established a ‘People’s Republic of Donetsk’, taking control of a number of Government buildings in several cities of the Donetsk region, using violence, including against law enforcement officers. In Luhansk, pro-Russian protesters continue to occupy the local building of the security services, and in Kharkiv participants of a pro-Ukrainian rally were attacked and beaten by pro-Russian demonstrators who broke through the police cordon, resulting in some 50 persons being injured.

Ongoing incidents and clashes between various groups of protesters, as well as with security forces, are of serious concern. While reports indicate that the number of protesters, including some allegedly from outside of the region, has not significantly increased- we are speaking of a couple of thousand- the level of violence and the proportion of armed protesters has. This has significant human rights implications.

While protest-related human rights violations need to be urgently investigated and verified, security forces must play their role in maintaining public order in accordance with human rights standards. There are clear lines between what can be considered the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly and the violent behavior of armed protesters. However, in all cases, security forces should not use force unnecessarily or excessively.

The situation in the east, if not adequately addressed as a matter of priority, risks seriously destabilizing the country as a whole. Those who exercise influence over the situation should take immediate action to halt the violence. The arming of the protesters and their transformation in to quasi- paramilitary forces must be stopped. Anyone inciting violence and providing arms to protesters can be held accountable for the resulting tragic consequences.

In order to deescalate tensions across the country, all parties should be encouraged to start an inclusive, sustained and meaningful national dialogue based on the respect of legal obligations of Ukraine under international human rights treaties already ratified. Such a process should take into consideration the concerns of all those who live in Ukraine, including minorities, and address issues such as language rights and decentralisation of the country.

Finally, I cannot stress enough the important role that accurate human rights reporting can play in preventing violence and defusing tensions. Yesterday, we have issued our first report on the human rights situation in Ukraine, based on my two visits and the first month of the human rights monitoring. We intend to issue our second report on 15 May. Anyone with relevant information on human rights violations should share it with us, so that we can verify it, further investigate if necessary, and include it in our next report.

Thank you, Madam President.