GENEVA/KYIV (15 September 2016) – A new UN report released on Thursday describes the deterioration of the human rights situation in eastern Ukraine, as a result of escalating hostilities between June and August, and the continued disregard for the protection of civilians by both sides of the conflict.
The report*, which covers the period from mid-May to mid-August, shows a 66 per cent increase of the number of conflict-related civilian casualties in the east, compared to the previous reporting period. In total, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine documented 188 civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine, including 28 dead and 160 injured, during the three months covered by the report.
By 15 September 2016, OHCHR recorded 9,640conflict-related deaths and 22,431 injuries among Ukrainian armed forces, civilians and members of the armed groups since the conflict began in mid-April 2014.**
“While the situation has improved since the ceasefire was restored on 1 September, the situation along the contact line remains deeply unstable, as demonstrated by the incidents which took place last week-end. In fact there is a real risk that a new outbreak of violence could happen at any time,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
The report describes how the close proximity of Government forces and armed groups at the contact line has contributed to rising tensions. In addition, the proliferation of arms and the positioning of their fighters and weapons in populated residential areas by both sides have heightened risks and harm to civilians.
While more than half of all civilian casualties recorded in June and July resulted from shelling across the contact line, considerable number of civilians were also killed and injured by mines, explosive remnants of war and booby traps. The number of civilians who died as a result of the secondary effects of violence, including lack of food, water, medicine or healthcare, remains unknown.
The report shows that civilians living in the conflict-affected area are deprived of protection, access to basic services and humanitarian aid, and that their freedom of movement is severely hampered.
UN human rights monitors also found that about 70 per cent of the alleged human rights abuses and violations they documented between mid-May and mid-August involved allegations of torture, ill-treatment and incommunicado detention.
The very limited accountability for these violations and abuses, which have been committed both by the Ukrainian armed forces and law enforcement agencies, and the armed groups in the east, remains a key issue. “Where conflict-related cases have been prosecuted there have been serious concerns about due process and fair trial rights,” says the report.
The report also notes that journalists have been particularly targeted, with reports of harassment and intimidation, leading to self-censorship. “Journalists who have reported on the conflict, or from armed group-controlled areas, have found themselves as targets of online attacks carried out with the tacit consent – and at times declared support – of high-ranking Government officials,” it says, noting that freedom of expression has become a political issue after the recent resignation of the Deputy Information Policy Minister over the unwillingness of Government authorities to investigate abuses against journalists.
The situation of more than 1.7 million people registered as internally displaced people (IDPs) is also a major source of concern. One of key issues lies in the decision by the Ukrainian Government to link the payment of pensions and social entitlements to IDPs to their registration and the verification of their place of residence. This has negatively impacted some 500,000 to 600,000 IDPs in eastern Ukraine. Cases of discrimination against IDPs in accessing employment, accommodation or banking services based on their place of origin have also been documented.
The report also highlights the gradual deterioration of the human rights situation and regression of fundamental freedoms in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the status of which is prescribed by UN GA res 68/262. With the increasing integration into the Russian Federation, there is a lack of accountability and redress for victims of human rights abuses, in particular detainees. The right to peaceful assembly has also been further curtailed by the de facto authorities and people continue to be interrogated and harassed by law enforcement agents for expressing views that are considered to be extremist.
“The escalation of hostilities along the contact line over the summer was a sharp reminder that the situation in eastern Ukraine deserves much more attention. Additional efforts are needed to find a lasting solution to this crisis and put an end the suffering of the civilian population. Human rights and justice are what people need, not further deaths and more intense hatred and destruction,” the High Commissioner said.
* The report is the 15th in a series produced by the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), which was deployed by the UN Human Rights Office to Ukraine in March 2014 upon the invitation of the Government of Ukraine.
** This is a conservative estimate OHCHR based on available data.