KYIV/GENEVA (12 September 2017) – August 2017 bucked the trend of the past three years of the conflict in eastern Ukraine with a decrease in the number of civilian casualties, according to a report by the UN Human Rights Office published today. The “harvest ceasefire”, which began at the end of June, may have contributed to this. However, the ceasefire never fully took hold, with hostilities suddenly flaring and then easing. The report stresses that this unpredictability made daily life particularly dangerous for civilians living close to the contact line on both sides.
The report covers the period from 16 May to 15 August 2017, during which the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine recorded 26 conflict-related civilian deaths and 135 injuries.
At least 2,803 civilians have been killed, and between 7,000 and 9,000 civilians injured during the conflict overall. The UN Human Rights Office is concerned that there is no mechanism for victims to seek reparation and compensation, especially for those who have been injured and the families of people who have been killed. The report also highlights the need to develop a mechanism for compensation or restitution for property destroyed or damaged due to the conflict.
The report, which calls on all parties to immediately adhere to the ceasefire, describes incidents of shelling which damaged residential neighbourhoods, schools, hospitals, and water and power facilities. Such shelling has had an increasingly severe impact on people’s daily lives and posed environmental risks. The July agreement reached in Minsk on safety zones around two key water facilities at the contact line in Donetsk region has yet to be implemented. In Luhansk region, debts owed to the electricity company led to water and power supplies being disrupted. The report warns that if the water supply issues are not resolved well before the winter, there may be irreversible damage to infrastructure affecting hundreds of thousands of people on both sides of the contact line.
The report raises concerns about unlawful detentions, continued killings and enforced disappearances in the conflict zone. It highlights three emblematic cases, two from 2014 and one in 2017, when six individuals in territory controlled by armed groups were killed.
The report contains new allegations of the use of torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, to extract confessions from conflict-related detainees on both sides of the contact line.
The UN Human Rights Office reiterates that despite repeated requests, it has yet to have access to detainees in territory controlled by armed groups that would allow for confidential interviews in line with international standards to be conducted with them. The report underlines that the denial of such access, coupled with first-hand information received may indicate that those detained are facing torture and ill-treatment.
There are also further cases of individuals detained and held
incommunicado for approximately 24 hours by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, before being transferred to an official detention facility. In territory controlled by armed groups, the Monitoring Mission documented cases when individuals were held
incommunicado for at least a month, and sometimes placed in solitary confinement for weeks. The armed groups denied that the individuals concerned had been detained, heightening the suffering of families searching for their loved ones. For instance, a blogger in Donetsk city known as Stanislav Vasin, detained on 3 June 2017, was held
incommunicado until mid-July. He remains in detention.
The report also identifies a new development, namely business people being detained by law enforcement in government-controlled territory on charges of financing terrorism after they paid "taxes" in territory controlled by armed groups.
Since April 2017, there have been no transfers to government-controlled territory of pre-conflict prisoners in territory controlled by armed groups, despite the prisoners’ repeated requests. The UN Human Rights Office encourages the parties to re-start the transfers, as most inmates have lost contact with their families given the difficult procedures for relatives to cross the contact line.
A record 3.3 million people – on average 36,000 a day – faced such onerous procedures to travel across the contact line during the reporting period. Persons with disabilities suffered additional hardship from long queues and degrading conditions at the checkpoints, especially at the Stanytsia Luhanska footbridge – the only crossing route in Luhansk region – consisting of unsafe wooden ramps connecting the remnants of a destroyed bridge.
The socio-economic situation in eastern Ukraine continued to deteriorate. Hardships caused by the hostilities, measures hindering economic prosperity, and rising unemployment have led to increased levels of poverty on both sides of the contact line.
The report reiterates limited progress observed in bringing to justice those responsible for the killings at Maidan in 2014 and during 2 May 2014 violence in Odesa. These cases reflect the persistent lack of accountability for human rights violations and the prevailing sense of impunity. On a positive note, prosecutions brought against members of armed groups have begun to address specific human rights violations, including unlawful detention, torture and ill-treatment, rather than relying on more general charges related to terrorism. In armed group-controlled territory, people continued to be detained and “charged”’ in an arbitrary way, leaving no guarantees or safeguards for victims.
The UN Human Rights Office continues to monitor the human rights situation in Crimea on the basis of United Nations General Assembly resolution 68/262 on the territorial integrity of Ukraine and resolution 71/205 referring to the Russian Federation as an occupying power. Despite lack of access to Crimea, the Human Rights Monitoring Mission was able to document violations of fair trial rights and significant restrictions on fundamental freedoms. Later this month, the UN Human Rights Office will issue a report on the human rights situation in Crimea, as mandated by the General Assembly.