Press releasesOffice of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Civilians in Ukraine continue to suffer – UN report
08 December 2016
KYIV/GENEVA (8 December 2016) – Failure by the parties to the conflict in eastern Ukraine to implement the Minsk Agreements has continued to result in a host of human rights violations against civilians, particularly those living close to the ‘contact line’ between Government-controlled and armed group-controlled territory in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, according to a UN report released on Thursday.
The report covers the period between 16 August and 15 November 2016 and has documented information, based on in-depth interviews with 176 witnesses and victims, confirming that people living close to the ‘contact line’ suffer from a serious lack of security due to military engagement near their homes, the threat of mines and unexploded ordnance, and severe and disproportionate restrictions on their freedom of movement.
Between 16 August and 15 November, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine recorded 32 conflict-related civilian deaths and 132 injuries. The total death toll from mid-April 2014 to 1 December 2016 is 9,758, with another 22,779 people injured.* These figures include Ukrainian armed forces, civilians and members of armed groups. Over 2,000 of those killed were civilians, with an additional 298 passengers killed as a result of the MH-17 plane crash. The number of civilians injured due to the conflict is estimated at between 6,000 and 7,000.
“It is of deep concern that Government forces and armed groups operating in civilian areas do not take all feasible precautions against the effects of fighting, resulting in damage to schools, kindergartens, and medical facilities. Ukrainian military forces and armed groups continue to be positioned in civilian homes and buildings in villages and towns adjacent to the contact line. Agricultural land used for military purposes and contaminated by mines and explosive remnants of war has a detrimental impact on people’s access to livelihoods.”
Armed groups in the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ continue to deprive people of their basic rights and of any effective mechanism for redress. Despite repeated requests, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine was not provided full and unhindered access to places where these people are being held. The report refers to a number of penal and pre-trial detention facilities in the territory controlled by armed groups in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where pre-conflict detainees and prisoners are held, and other places in Donetsk and Luhansk regions where the armed groups hold or have recently held individuals captured in connection with the armed conflict. The lack of access to these facilities raises concerns that they may be subject to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including sexual and gender-based violence.
Hundreds of individuals also remain missing. While some of them could be dead with their bodies pending recovery or identification, it could be that some individuals considered missing by the Government are being held incommunicado in the territories controlled by the armed groups or vice versa. However in the absence of information, the families of those who are missing continue to suffer deeply, given the uncertain fate of their loved ones.
The UN Human Rights Office welcomes efforts of the Government to investigate human rights violations committed in the course of the armed conflict, noting insufficient progress in holding perpetrators from its own ranks to account. Perpetrators from among the armed groups continue to a high degree to enjoy impunity for the most severe human rights violations. A number of perpetrators are being tried for deaths during Maidan or 2 May 2014 Odesa events raising concerns that only low-ranking officials are being held responsible.
Meanwhile, people who have been internally displaced for up to two years continue to face onerous obstacles in obtaining their social entitlements especially due to the suspension of social and pension payments and the related verification process.
Disproportionate restrictions on freedom of movement across the contact line severely affect an average of 25,000 people per day, dividing families and communities.
“As families and communities in Donetsk and Luhansk regions struggle to remain connected, their movements are sharply constrained as they can only cross through five entry-exit points and are subject to arbitrary and long delays across mined and poorly marked areas. The wooden ramp for pedestrians connecting parts of a destroyed bridge at Stanytsia Luhanska remains the sole crossing for civilians in Luhansk region,” the report states. The report also contains accounts of sexual and gender-based violence at checkpoints.
“As temperatures fall and checkpoints operate for fewer hours, crossing the contact line for civilians who do not have personal transportation becomes more arduous. Buses cannot go through the ‘no man’s land’ between checkpoints, so civilians have to walk across the contact line by foot for approximately three kilometers. This disproportionately affects older persons and families with children. Persons with disabilities face even more difficulties while crossing the contact line,” the report states.
The impact of the conflict in eastern Ukraine on the human rights situation illustrates the need for the full implementation of the provisions of the Minsk Agreements, the report states. In both regions, prohibited weapons remain and continue to be used. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine also continued to actively monitor the human rights situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the status of which is prescribed by the UN General Assembly resolution 68/262. Several cases of abuses in detention and ongoing sanctions against members of the Mejlis have been documented. The continued prosecution of Crimean Tatars and members of groups banned in the Russian Federation, and the transfer of detainees from Crimea to penitentiary facilities in the Russian Federation raise serious concerns.
* The figures relating to casualties as stated here have been updated beyond the period covered by the report itself. This is a conservative estimate based on available data.