Nada Al-Nashif United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
54th session of the Human Rights Council
Good morning, Mr President,
One and a half years after the Russian Federation's full-scale armed attack on Ukraine, we continue to bear witness to blatant and unabated violations of human rights.
Documented abuses range from widespread torture and arbitrary detention to conflict-related sexual violence and denial of the right to an adequate standard of living.
Our thirty-sixth report on the human rights situation in Ukraine reveals that within a span of just six months, from the first of February to the thirty-first of this year, another 4,621 civilians fell victim to this conflict, with 1,028 killed and 3,593 injured. Most of these documented casualties occurred in territory controlled by Ukraine. The actual figures are likely higher, as many reports of civilian casualties are still pending corroboration and OHCHR does not have access to the occupied territory of Ukraine and limited access to the areas close to the frontline.
Our Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has diligently prepared this report, which paints a disturbing picture of civilian suffering and infringements of rights. Our dedicated staff work relentlessly in the field, venturing into high-risk and de-occupied areas.
Our findings are the result of 117 field visits, 27 inspections of detention centres, 28 visits to care institutions or shelters, the observation of 23 trial hearings, 6 assemblies, and invaluable insights gained from 1,226 interviews, including with victims, witnesses, relatives and legal representatives. We have also combed through court documents, official records, and other pertinent sources, including open-source reporting. As the Russian Federation continues to deny access to occupied territory, we have redoubled our remote monitoring efforts to ensure robust findings.
Torture remains a brutal reality for civilians and prisoners of war held by Russian authorities.
Our March report on the treatment of prisoners of war and persons hors de combat as well as our June report on detention of civilians in the context of the armed attack by the Russian Federation against Ukraine show that Russian authorities’ use of torture and ill-treatment against both civilians and prisoners of war has been widespread. The testimonies of survivors describe unimaginable cruelty, including terrifying accounts of electric shocks, sexual violence and severe beatings, which in some instances led to broken bones and smashed teeth. Countless detainees were also forced to praise the Russian Federation, learn and sing Russian songs, and suffered severe beatings for failing, or speaking Ukrainian. Appalling detention conditions, including food and medical shortages, poor living conditions, and sleep deprivation, persisted.
Between February and July 2023, we also documented that the pattern of arbitrary detention and incommunicado detention of civilians continued in Russian-occupied territory of Ukraine, with a recorded 35 men and 8 women arbitrarily detained by the Russian armed forces. Since February 2022, we have documented that Russian armed forces have arbitrarily detained nearly 1,000 people, 85 of whom were found dead with signs of violence and 463 who remain detained. Many of these cases may amount to enforced disappearance. Six cases of arbitrary detention by Ukrainian security forces, mainly law enforcement authorities, were also documented.
Between 1 February to 31 July 2023, OHCHR documented five acts of conflict-related sexual violence by members of Russian armed forces and Russian penitentiary services against four women, sorry, four men and one woman. These cases are consistent with previously documented patterns of sexual violence, primarily involving Russian armed forces, law enforcement authorities and penitentiary staff.
In territory controlled by Ukraine, the Ukrainian authorities have opened nearly 6,000 criminal cases for collaboration activities and continued to render a high number of guilty verdicts. OHCHR is concerned that many of those arrested and even convicted were targeted for conduct that could, in principle, be lawfully compelled by the occupying Power under international humanitarian law.
In the territory of Ukraine occupied by the Russian Federation, we have observed with deep concern a policy of mass conferral of Russian citizenship on residents. Individuals who opt not to accept Russian passports find themselves ensnared in a web of exclusion, denied access to essential public services such as social security and healthcare. This has also heightened the risk of arbitrary detention for those who resist.
OHCHR remains gravely concerned that there is no established system to return Ukrainian children who were transferred to other regions in Russian-occupied territory or to the Russian Federation. Among the children who reunited with their family after relatives travelled to the Russian Federation to retrieve them, some have described experiencing or witnessing psychological or physical violence by educational staff there.
Accountability for violations and crimes is crucial to prevent their recurrence and provide justice for victims. The deaths of 51 Ukrainian prisoners-of-war in a penal colony near Olenivka in July 2022 is just one of many incidents that demand a comprehensive and impartial investigation, including necessary access by international investigators to the site.
More broadly, Russian authorities have taken no discernible steps to ensure accountability for violations committed by their own security forces. On the contrary, a new law adopted in June of this year effectively grants amnesty to Russian servicepersons for an overly broad range of crimes, reinforcing an atmosphere of impunity.
While Ukrainian authorities have launched criminal investigations into allegations against their own forces, which is welcome, we are still waiting to see the concrete results.
The severe damage inflicted on civilians' rights on an adequate standard of living, including access to food and housing, is particularly alarming in the wake of the breach of the Kakhovka dam. This catastrophic event not only immediately disrupted lives but also jeopardized the rights to water, health, and a clean, safe environment for countless individuals.
Devastating long-term effects will also be felt by the collapse of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
Following its withdrawal from this lifeline agreement, we have seen an increase in the number of attacks by the Russian Federation that affect infrastructure related to grain export. Some of these attacks also caused damage to surrounding civilian infrastructure and Odesa’s historic buildings.
These strikes will likely significantly affect the livelihoods of persons working in the agricultural sector, which compounds effects on the right to adequate standard of living in rural communities.
We are all too aware of how this situation threatens the right to food globally, particularly in developing countries. I cannot stress enough the urgency for immediate international action to address this challenge.
The Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine continues to deploy teams across the country, including in high-risk areas, to document violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. For this work to be carried out safely and without unnecessary delays, it is important that our agreement with the Government of Ukraine on the deployment of the mission be extended. We would very much welcome prompt and longer extensions to enhance our operational and programmatic sustainability.
The urgency and gravity of the situation in Ukraine is undeniable. With each passing day, the toll on human lives and rights escalates, painting a somber picture of a conflict that continues to erode the foundations of dignity and humanity. It is imperative for the international community to heed these findings and recommendations, and act decisively to halt the violations of rights and protect those caught in the crossfire of conflict.