Statement by the High Commissioner to the 35th session of the Human Rights Council
21 June 2017
Colleagues and friends,
I welcome this opportunity to present the latest findings by my Office on the situation of human rights in Ukraine. The 18th quarterly report of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine covers the three months between 16 February and 15 May 2017.
Within this period, the conflict entered its fourth year. Daily violations of the ceasefire, routine use of heavy weapons in breach of the withdrawal lines, and indiscriminate shelling continued to take a heavy toll on civilian lives and property, as well as critical public infrastructure. Basic human rights – including the rights to life, physical integrity, freedom of movement, access to medical care and education – continue to be violated. Key commitments made under the Minsk agreements continue to be largely ignored.
I note however that on 1 June – after the close of this reporting period – the Ukrainian Armed Forces and armed groups of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ agreed to a 24-hour renewed commitment to the ceasefire in honour of International Day for Protection of Children. No civilian casualties were recorded on that day, and this demonstrates that a real ceasefire can be ensured, with immediate beneficial impact.
I call on all parties to take inspiration from this 24-hour achievement and to honour the rights of all children – and adults – in Ukraine every day, by implementing their commitments under the Minsk accords. Respect for international humanitarian law is essential, by all parties. This includes an end to indiscriminate shelling of populated areas, an end to attacks on vital civilian objects and infrastructure, and an end to the placement of military objects in or near residential areas.
During the reporting period, the HRMMU recorded 193 conflict-related civilian casualties, including 36 deaths. This is a 48% increase over the last reporting period. The majority of these casualties resulted from shelling, explosive devices and remnants of war. So far this year, from 1 January to 18 June 2017, the HRMMU recorded 375 conflict-related civilian casualties: 67 killed and 308 injured. This is a 74% increase compared to the same period in 2016. The number of civilian casualties caused by shelling has doubled: 31 killed and 178 injured from 1 January to 18 June 2017, compared to 12 killed and 76 injured during the same period in 2016. These statistics speak to the changing nature of the conflict: it is intensifying, with both sides very close to each other and heavy weapons, soldiers and members of armed groups frequently embedded in civilian areas or alongside civilian infrastructure.
The associated trend of increased ceasefire violations suggests there is no political will to stop the fighting. However, civilian casualties do remain much lower than during the periods of open conflict in the summer of 2014 and early 2015 – demonstrating that even the current partial implementation of theMinsk agreementsis beneficial in terms of saving civilian lives.
My staff has repeatedly observed hospitals and schools damaged by shelling. During the last week in May, the central hospital in Krasnohorivka sustained a direct hit, rendering several of its units non-functional. The Donetsk Filtration Station and the South Donbas first pumping station were also repeatedly damaged due to shelling, endangering safe water supply to more than 1 million people on both sides of the contact line.
My staff continue to document cases of unlawful and arbitrary detention on both sides of the contact line, coupled with abuse amounting to torture or ill-treatment. Allegations indicate almost systematic use of torture and ill-treatment by the Security Service of Ukraine against conflict-related detainees, for purposes of extracting confessions. This is compounded by ineffective investigations of complaints made by victims.
However, following consistent monitoring, reporting and advocacy by our team, there have been fewer allegations of torture in the Zaporizhzhia branch of the Security Service, in south-eastern Ukraine. Prosecution offices in both Zaporizhzhia and Kyiv have initiated criminal investigations into incidents the HRMMU brought to their attention. This should, and must, become the general practice.
Although the HRMMU is able to access Government prisons and pre-trial detention facilities, armed groups in the east deny the mission full and unfettered access to detainees. I call on all parties to the conflict to allow regular and unhindered access to external monitors to all places of deprivation of liberty.
Three years after the killing of protesters and law enforcement officers at Maidan, the onset of violence in eastern Ukraine, and the violence in Odesa on 2 May 2014, no one has been held accountable. I urge the Government to ensure that investigations are effective and that trials are in line with international human rights standards.
Freedom of movement continues to be restricted across the contact line, affecting an average of 29,000 people a day. Socio-economic deprivation is deepening in the east, exacerbated by the Government’s ban on transportation of cargo over the contact line and the seizure of approximately 54 businesses by armed groups. The resulting hardship and uncertainty was further compounded when armed groups in Donetsk forcibly halted operations of a major private humanitarian organization, which was providing aid – mostly food – to some 500,000 people.
We continue remote monitoring of the human rights situation in Crimea, in line with General Assembly Resolution 68/262 on the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and General Assembly Resolution 71/205 recognizing Crimea as under the temporary occupation of the Russian Federation.
The report provides a detailed account of the human rights situation in Crimea. During this reporting period, there have been worrisome cases of disregard of fair trial guarantees, notably in court decisions against Crimean Tatars, and retroactive application of criminal law. Several cases of grave ill-treatment of persons in detention were also documented, as well as the transfer of persons from Crimea to detention facilities in the Russian Federation, in violation of articles 49 and 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. I welcome the efforts of the Ombudspersons of Ukraine and the Russian Federation, who have jointly contributed to the successful return to mainland Ukraine of 12 Ukrainian detainees.
The spring draft into the Russian Federation Armed Forces commenced two months ago. I emphasise that under the Fourth Geneva Convention, an occupying power may not compel persons from the occupied territory to serve in its armed forces.
In conclusion, let me emphasize my Office’s close cooperation with the Government of Ukraine, including technical cooperation, to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights for all people in Ukraine.