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Human Rights Council discusses oral update on the human rights situation in Ukraine

AFTERNOON

3 July 2018

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with Kate Gilmore, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, on an oral update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Ukraine.  

Presenting the High Commissioner’s oral update, Ms. Gilmore expressed great concern about the human rights situation in Ukraine.  Noting that the conflict in eastern Ukraine was in its fifth year, she stated that the ongoing violence continued to claim lives, assault communities, destroy families, and damage and disrupt critical civilian infrastructure.  The Office had recorded 81 civilian casualties, which was a nine per cent increase on the previous reporting period and was the result of a sharp increase in fighting as of April.  Since the beginning of the conflict, over 3,000 civilians had been killed.  Ms. Gilmore also remained deeply troubled by the human rights situation of the Roma, the violations of which had not been held accountable.  In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, the Russian Federation continued to apply its laws in violation of the obligation under international humanitarian law to respect the legislation of the occupied territory.  

Ukraine, speaking as the concerned country, informed that in the illegally occupied Crimea, Russia maintained a policy of racial discrimination and cultural erasure directed against those ethnic communities that dared to oppose its purported annexation.  Such measures included the ban on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis; kidnapping and murdering of Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian activists; banning cultural gatherings and suppressing media outlets; and restricting opportunities for children to be educated in their native languages.  

In the ensuing discussion, participants expressed concern about the treatment of the Crimean Tatar population and of prisoners transferred to Russia, and called on the authorities to allow international observers full access to the peninsula.  They called for the immediate release of all Ukrainian citizens who were illegally detained in Russia and in illegally annexed Crimea.  They also called on Russian authorities to assist in bringing those responsible for the downing of flight MH17 to account, and to enable Special Procedure mandate-holders access to Crimea.  Participants also regretted continued reports of violations of the freedoms of expression, religion and association in Crimea.  Many reiterated that any sustainable resolution of the conflict in Ukraine had to be based on respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty, its political independence, and its unity and territorial integrity.  They called for the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements.  Some noted with concern the rise of civilian casualties in certain parts of Ukraine, including crimes committed by the Ukrainian authorities.  

Speaking were European Union, Canada, Poland, Iceland, Finland, Czechia, Croatia, Estonia, Belgium, France, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, Australia, Spain, Netherlands, Lithuania, Slovenia, New Zealand, Bulgaria, Latvia, Sweden, Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, Council of Europe, Georgia, Germany, Turkey, Slovakia, Austria, Republic of Moldova, Hungary, Ireland, and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations, Minority Rights Group, Human Rights House Foundation, and United Nations Watch.

The Council will reconvene on Wednesday, 4 July, at 10 a.m. to conduct its annual thematic discussion on technical cooperation on the theme of “Human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals: enhancing human rights technical cooperation and capacity-building to contribute to the effective and inclusive implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

It will then hear an oral update from the Independent Expert on the Central African Republic followed by an interactive dialogue.  Later in the afternoon, it will hold an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on his oral update on the situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar, followed, time permitting, by an oral update by the High Commissioner on Burundi and Georgia and a general debate on technical assistance and capacity building.

Presentation by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the current presentation on the situation of human rights in Ukraine covered the period 16 February to 15 May of this year.  Ongoing violence in eastern Ukraine continued to claim lives.  In the period covered, 81 civilian deaths were recorded and 40 per cent of all civilian casualties were women and children.  In more than four years of fighting, 3,000 civilians had been killed and over 7,000 injured.  Yet barely any remedy and reparation was available to civilian victims.  The United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine had documented 112 cases of credible allegations of human rights violations during the reporting period.  United Nations entities were limited in their work by a complete lack of access to detention facilities and to detainees in certain areas.  Interlocutors in some armed group-controlled areas were told not to speak with international organizations.   The Mission found the Government of Ukraine to be responsible for 61 per cent of the human rights violations that occurred in the reporting period, armed groups for 17 per cent and the Government of the Russian Federation, as the occupying power in Crimea, for 22 per cent.  The Mission was able to access official places of detention in Government-controlled areas.  However, denial of access continued in the self-proclaimed “Donetsk Peoples’ Republic” and “Luhansk Peoples’ Republic”.  The Deputy High Commissioner voiced concern over the high rate of attacks on the exercise of freedoms of opinion and expression.  Brutal attacks and threats against Roma were also deeply troubling.  Extreme right-wing groups were perpetrating attacks against Roma settlements in Kyiv.  

In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastapol, the Russian Federation continued to apply its laws in violation of its obligations under international humanitarian law with respect to legislation of occupied territories.  Against that backdrop, 28 human rights violations were documented during the reporting period, including enforced disappearances and restrictions on fundamental freedoms.  The Office of the High Commissioner had repeatedly asked the Russian Federation for permission to access the region in line with relevant United Nations resolutions and responses from the Government were incompatible with the applicable texts.  

Capacity-building efforts in Ukraine were steadily increasing with the aim to foster national reconciliation and strengthen the rule of law.  Human rights training was also being provided to military personnel set to be deployed to eastern Ukraine.  These partnerships with Ukraine functioned well.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Ukraine, speaking as the concerned country, said that last June, Ukraine had submitted its Memorial to the International Court of Justice documenting serious violations of international law by the Russian Federation.  The Memorial, accompanied by voluminous evidence, established that the Russian Federation had violated the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  Last May, reporting within the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review, the Russian Federation had pretended to have eradicated racial discrimination, but the reality was quite the opposite.  In the illegally occupied Crimea, Russia maintained a policy of racial discrimination and cultural erasure directed against those ethnic communities that dared to oppose its purported annexation.  Russia had trampled on the political, civil, and cultural rights of these communities, including through the ban on the Crimean Tatar Mejlis; kidnapping and murdering of Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian activists; banning cultural gatherings and suppressing media outlets; and restricting opportunities for children to be educated in their native languages.  Russia continued to ignore the International Court of Justice order to refrain from imposing restrictions on these peoples’ cultural rights.
 
Interactive Dialogue on the Oral Update on Ukraine

European Union said it continued to follow with utmost concern the ongoing human rights violations in eastern Ukraine, controlled by the so-called “separatists”, and in the illegally annexed Crimea.  It called for the immediate release of all Ukrainian citizens who were illegally detained in Russia and in illegally annexed Crimea.  Canada regretted the deliberate targeting of the water filtration factory in Donetsk.  It also expressed concern about the treatment of the Crimean Tatar population and of prisoners transferred to Russia, and it called on the authorities to allow international observers full access to the peninsula.  Poland said that despite the steps taken by the international community, the military situation in eastern Ukraine remained very tense.  The conflict continued with no end in sight and with civilian casualties on the rise.  Poland called on the Russian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Ukrainian political prisoners.

Iceland regretted that there had not been any meaningful progress in the human rights situation in the conflict-affected parts of Ukraine.  It called on Russia to turn the page and assist in bringing those responsible for the downing of flight MH17 to account, and to enable Special Procedure mandate-holders to access Crimea.  Finland called for full and unimpeded access of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission to Crimea, and said that it followed carefully the worrying human rights situation in the conflict-affected eastern Ukraine.  It regretted continued reports of violations of the freedoms of expression, religion and association in Crimea.  Czechia reiterated that any sustainable resolution of the conflict in Ukraine had to be based on respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity.  The Minsk Agreements had to be honoured by all parties, including Russia.

Croatia regretted that after five years, the conflict still raged on in Ukraine with no end in sight.  The increased number of human rights violations during the reporting period was a serious concern.  All parties must fully implement their Minsk Agreement obligations.  Croatia remained concerned about the rising number of civilian casualties.  Estonia said civilians in Russian-controlled territories faced detention for expressing pro-Ukraine sentiments.  Estonia condemned the fact that the Russian Federation continued to implement its laws in Crimea in violation of international law.  Russia must release all political prisoners detained in illegally annexed Crimea.  Belgium said it had supported the United Nations monitoring mission in Ukraine since its inception.  Belgium noted with concern that civilians in eastern Ukraine faced human rights violations.  All sides to the conflict must abide by international obligations.  Allegations of torture and sexual violence must be investigated and prosecuted.  

France remained concerned about violence and human rights violations aimed at civilians in eastern Ukraine.  In particular, France condemned arbitrary detentions committed by all parties to the conflict.  The situation in Crimea, including of Tatars, was a major concern.  All parties must respect human rights and international humanitarian law.  Switzerland said grave violations of human rights were taking place in the conflict zone.  All parties to the conflict must implement recommendations made by the High Commissioner as quickly as possible.  Switzerland condemned all attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure and the laying of anti-personnel mines.  United Kingdom said fighting continued in and around civilian areas.  All sides must better protect civilians, including people from ethnic minorities.  Russia must grant access to Crimea in line with relevant United Nations resolutions and release political prisoners.  Ukraine must take action to protect the Roma community.  

Norway noted that protecting civilians had to be a priority for all parties in Ukraine.  The Government of Ukraine needed to ensure freedom of expression and investigate all attacks against journalists.  In view of next year’s elections, the role of a vibrant civil society must be safeguarded.  Denmark deeply regretted the continuation of hostilities in Ukraine, adding that the general situation of human rights was disturbing.  Only a full implementation of the Minsk Agreements would bring an end to the suffering of civilians and allow respect for human rights.  Australia deplored the ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine and its impact on civilians and vital infrastructure.  It reiterated support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and urged the illegitimate authorities in occupied Crimea and eastern Ukraine to cease politically motivated violence and repression.

Spain voiced concern about the fact that four years after the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia, the situation in Ukraine had not only showed little improvement, but had deteriorated.  Investigations into human rights violations were crucial for achieving peace and reconciliation.  Netherlands stressed the importance of the freedom of movement for people living in Donetsk and Luhansk.  That could be improved by increasing the number of crossing points.  It requested the Government of Ukraine to revoke e-declaration obligations for civil society organizations as soon as possible.  Lithuania remained deeply concerned about widespread systematic violations and abuses of human rights by Russian de facto authorities in illegally occupied Crimea and by Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Donbas region.  It was particularly worried about the continuous illegal flow of troops and weapons from Russia.  
 
Slovenia pointed to the increasing number of civilian casualties and shelling of civilian infrastructure.  Victims had limited access to reparations.  Serious human rights violations continued with impunity and cases of torture were on the rise.  Slovenia asked what short-term measures could alleviate the suffering of conflict-afflicted populations.  New Zealand was increasingly concerned about the prospects of stability and reconciliation as the conflict continued.  New Zealand called on de-facto authorities in Crimea to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people in the region.  In the lead up to elections in Ukraine, the Government must denounce acts of violence against minorities. Bulgaria remained deeply concerned about the continuing ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine and the rising number of civilian casualties.  The shelling of civilian infrastructure must be halted.  Implementation of the ceasefire would allow for progress in the improvement of the human rights situation.  Bulgaria firmly supported Ukrainian sovereignty.

Latvia was particularly concerned over the human rights situations in territories controlled by armed groups and in the illegally annexed Crimea.  The Human Rights Council could not stand idle in the face of civilian suffering.  Human rights violators must be held accountable.  Despite United Nations resolutions, access to human rights mechanisms was not being granted to Crimea.  Sweden said that over four years since the start of the Russian aggression, innocent people remained trapped in the conflict.  The ceasefire agreement must be observed and demining efforts must be undertaken.  Russia was urged to immediately release illegally detained Ukrainian citizens.  Russian Federation noted with concern the rise of civilian casualties in certain parts of Ukraine.  Seventy-five per cent of crimes along the contact line were attributable to Ukrainian law enforcement agencies.  Displays of anti-Ukrainian sentiments were being prosecuted.  Russia shared concerns over attacks on the media and journalists and the increase in hate speech in Ukraine.  

Azerbaijan said it was unfortunate that the world continued to witness ongoing and protracted armed conflicts resulting, inter alia, in long-term suffering of civilian populations, accompanied by significant refugee and internally displaced person situations and large-scale violations of human rights, which marked alarming global trends.  Council of Europe aimed to ensure that the rights protected in the European Convention on Human Rights were fully respected in Ukraine like in any other Member State of the Council of Europe.  It worked closely with the authorities on the implementation of the constitutional reforms and the effective functioning of the judicial system, the fight against corruption as well as the execution of the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights.  Georgia regretted to note that the death toll had increased.  Russia continued to restrict the exercise of freedoms in occupied Crimea.  Regrettably the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights continued to be denied access.  Georgia reiterated its call for full and unhindered access of humanitarian organizations to Crimea and for the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements.

Germany urged all parties to immediately respect their obligations under the Minsk Agreements.  Together with France, Germany would continue to be highly engaged in the “Normandy-Format” in order to stabilize the security situation and to further discuss the parameters for a possible United Nations Mission for eastern Ukraine, to be deployed if conditions allowed for it.  Turkey said that unfortunately, the conflict in Donbas region continued, causing severe humanitarian problems.  In this vein, it called on all parties to implement the requisites of the Minsk Agreements and ensure a complete and comprehensive cease-fire.  Unfortunately, pressure and intimidation targeting vulnerable groups in Crimea, including Crimean Tatars, continued.  Slovakia echoed its disappointment that the Minsk Agreements remained to be fully implemented, and that hostilities were still ongoing and the death toll was on the rise.  It called upon all parties to lay down their arms and return to compliance with their international obligations and commitments.  It was disturbed by the allegations of ill-treatment by Ukrainian authorities.

Austria was concerned that the United Nations Monitoring Mission in Ukraine continued to be denied confidential access to detainees and places of detention in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.  The continued practice of incommunicado detention created a further risk of torture and ill-treatment.  Republic of Moldova commended the open and constructive engagement of the Ukrainian authorities with the international human rights mechanisms.  It shared concerns regarding human rights violations in the territories controlled by armed groups, such as torture and ill-treatment, incommunicado detention, failure to ensure fair trial rights, and restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression.  Hungary said that it was alarming that the High Commissioner’s Office had documented credible allegations of arbitrary detention, torture, ill-treatment, sexual violence and threats to physical integrity on both sides of the contact line in Ukraine.  It further called attention to the recent education law adopted by the Ukrainian authorities which severely restricted opportunities to learn and receive education in minority languages.  

Ireland stated that it did not recognize the annexation of Crimea and that it remained unwavering in its support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  It was clear that thousands of civilians in eastern Ukraine urgently needed humanitarian assistance and protection.  Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia regretted the overall negative impact of human rights abuses and the declining economic situation, particularly on people living along the contact line in Ukraine.  It called on the armed groups in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to allow unhindered access to all places of detention.

World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations said dramatic constraints on the freedom of expression had been introduced following the Russian occupation of Crimea.  The independent media had been blocked and no criticism of the de-facto power was tolerated.  Scores of Ukrainian media outlets had shut down or left Crimea.  The international community must work to restore the freedom of expression in Crimea.  Minority Rights Group International expressed deep concern at the outbreak of violent and fatal assaults against members of the Roma community.  State failure to prosecute past violations had led to an environment of impunity.  Ukraine was called on to promptly investigate recent incidents of violence and to bring perpetrators to justice.  

Human Rights House Foundation said that after the occupation of Crimea, Russia had seized control of the communications infrastructure.  Such infrastructure was now being used to disseminate disinformation and hate speech.  Medical treatment in penitentiary facilities was poor and detainees in need of assistance had no prospect of transfer to medical facilities.  Ukraine must ensure that people from Crimea had access to Ukrainian citizenship.  United Nations Watch said thousands had died in the past four years.  The severity of the conflict required the Human Rights Council’s full attention.  Due to the conflict, all sides had imposed serious restrictions on numerous rights and freedoms.  All sides must respect the human rights of the people of Ukraine.  The Council must help bring those responsible for the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 to justice.

Concluding Remarks

KATE GILMORE, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, in concluding remarks, stated that it was the duty of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor human rights and not military action.  Regarding the significant impact of the conflict on the daily lives of people, in particularly in east Ukraine, she noted that access to even the most basic services was impeded.  This included access to schools, work places, and water.  Approximately 600,000 civilians, including 100,000 children’s lives had been worsened with the destruction of infrastructure and the deterioration of the basic economic environment.  These circumstances required reflection on short-term and immediate measures for alleviation.  In this respect, the Minsk Agreements offered an immediate solution, including a cease-fire.

Ms. Gilmore acknowledged that many countries had noted the importance of allowing humanitarian access.  As to the situation of the Tatars in Crimea, the disproportionate impact on these was evidenced, inter alia, by police raids by the Russian authorities.  Tatars were denied their freedom of association.  The Office continued to monitor respect for language rights in Crimea.  On the capacity to report on human rights violations, Ms. Gilmore highlighted a report by the Office that expressed concern on ongoing impunity regarding sexual violence, noting that the lack of accountability fuelled fear.  She urged the Government of Ukraine to demonstrate zero tolerance by publicly condemning such acts.  As to the political prisoners in Crimea, Ms. Gilmore highlighted the health consequences of hunger strikes.  She stressed that under international law, these prisoners must be returned.  She emphasised the dependence of the Office on human rights defenders, families and others to provide information where access was restricted.  Finally, she called on the Russian Federation and on Ukraine to allow their Ombudspersons access to the prisons.
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For use of the information media; not an official record
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