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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Remarks by Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, to the Human Rights Council on Cooperation and assistance to Ukraine in the field of human rights, Geneva, 22 March 2016

Cooperation and assistance to Ukraine in the field of human rights

23 March 2016

Mr. President,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Resolution 29/23 of 3 July 2015 of this Council invited the High Commissioner for Human Rights to present orally to the members and the observers the findings of each of the periodic public reports of his Office on the situation of human rights in Ukraine.

Our last quarterly public report, which is circulated in the room under A/HRC/31/CRP.7, covers the period 16 November 2015 to 15 February 2016, and is the 13th report of this kind.

Mr. President,
The ceasefire in the east – agreed upon on 1 September 2015 and strengthened by the “regime of complete silence” introduced on 23 December 2015 – is at risk of unravelling. Since the beginning of the conflict, we have recorded 30,346 casualties in eastern Ukraine, among civilians, Ukrainian armed forces, and members of armed groups – including 9,208 people killed and 21,138 injured. This is a conservative estimate and the real number of conflict-related casualties is considered to be higher.

We are now observing the longest period of time since the beginning of the conflict when no large-scale indiscriminate shelling of populated areas is taking place, and reports about people killed by shelling are singular. However, military objects continue to be embedded in residential areas on both sides of the contact line, endangering residents and disrupting their daily lives. People’s homes continue to be damaged by artillery and shrapnel, damaging their roofs, making it too dangerous to stay – or too difficult to return. People continue to die; increasingly from explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices. We recorded 58 civilian casualties since 1 January 2016, including 13 killed and 45 injured. More than half of these casualties – eight killed and 23 injured – were caused by explosive remnants and improvised devices. Therefore, we call for the urgent implementation of demining activities along major transport routes to checkpoints, and to remove explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices from roadsides.

The implementation of the Minsk Agreements is the only way forward; the only viable strategy for achieving a peaceful solution in the east, which is crucial for the protection of the human rights of those who reside in the conflict affected area. According to the OSCE, men and women in military-style clothing have continued to cross the border between Donetsk and the Russian Federation. The restoration of the full effective control by the Government of Ukraine over parts of the border with the Russian Federation (in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions) would be the key to ending any possible inflow of ammunition, weaponry and fighters from the Russian Federation.

The humanitarian consequences of conflict are very dire. The Government has registered 1.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), who have fled their homes as a result of the conflict. IDPs face discrimination in accessing basic services. The Parliament however has recently passed laws which should ease their situation.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to stress the situation of the missing. Up to 1,000 bodies in Government morgues remain unidentified. We urge that the Government, as well as the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’, exchange information relevant for the identification of these and other mortal remains, as well as to establish the whereabouts of all missing persons

We are aware that the Ministry of Justice is at the early stages of drafting a law on missing persons, which envisions the creation of a National Information Bureau to centralize information on missing persons. This could be a welcome and important development, and we look forward to engaging with the Government.

Mr. President,
Some 3 million people still live in conflict-affected areas. Between 8 and 15 thousand civilians cross the contact line on a daily basis. At most of these crossings, which sometimes are closed depending on the security situation, they have to pass through six checkpoints: three operated by the Government, and three by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’, with a stretch of no-man’s land in between. When crossing the contact line, our observers report that hundreds of cars, minivans and buses are waiting in rows on either side of the road. Passengers sometimes spend the night in freezing temperatures and without access to water and sanitation. It is imperative that those manning the checkpoints ensure safe and unhindered passage of civilians across the contact line.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
People who live in the territories under armed group control are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses. We hear first-hand accounts of arbitrary and incommunicado detention, and torture by armed groups. Cases remain under-reported, as access is denied to any international body, including the HRMMU.

We are also increasingly concerned about the lack of space for civil society actors to operate, and for people to exercise their rights to freedoms of expression, religion, peaceful assembly and association. In January 2016, a wave of arrests and detention of civil society actors in the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ was carried out.

We have been granted access to official pre-trial detention facilities throughout areas under Government control. In Kharkiv, Odesa, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhya, we have documented allegations of enforced disappearances, arbitrary and incommunicado detention, and even cases of torture by Ukrainian law enforcement officials and the SBU. Following some interventions, we have noted improvements in conditions of detention and access to medical care for some detainees in pre-trial detention. In some cases, our intervention also led to investigations into violations of human rights in custody. These improvements confirm the importance for OHCHR to enjoy unfettered access to all places of detention.

Mr. President,
Two years after the Maidan events, we are particularly concerned about the lack of progress in the investigations and proceedings into the killings that happened there, as well as the killings on 2 May 2014 in Odesa and 9 May 2014 in Mariupol. The slow progress in these cases undermines public confidence in the criminal justice system. It is essential that they be addressed promptly and with impartiality.

We also have serious concerns regarding the circumstances leading to the conviction of Nadiia Savchenko to 22 years of prison in the Russian Federation. There are reports that the court dismissed evidence in support of Ms. Savchenko, and other allegations of breaches of due process and fair trial rights, including elements pointing to a lack of impartiality of the court.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Despite being denied access to the peninsula, we have continued to closely follow the situation in Crimea, in accordance with UN General Assembly resolution 68/262 on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Non-governmental organizations, media outlets, and religious organizations in Crimea continue to face restrictions on freedom of association and freedom of the press. The imposition of the citizenship and the legislative framework of the Russian Federation, including penal laws, and the resulting administration of justice, have affected human rights in Crimea, especially for those who refused the Russian citizenship, minority groups, and indigenous peoples, such as Crimean Tatars. In a significant and worrying development, on 15 February, the prosecutor of Crimea filed a request with the supreme court of Crimea to recognize the Mejlis, the self-governing body of the Crimean Tatars, as an extremist organization and to ban its activities. We urge that the request to ban the Mejlis be lifted, in order to prevent irreparable damage to this institution crucial for the preservation of Tatar identity.

Mr. President,
Through our public reports, OHCHR defines priority areas of interventions and advocacy, and supports the implementation of the recently adopted National human rights action plan – which reflects UN and Council of Europe standards. We will endeavour to work hand in hand with the Council of Europe, the UN system in Ukraine and other international partners to assist the Government through the provision of more technical assistance and to build the capacities of national and local actors in order to contribute to strengthened human rights protection for all.

Thank you for your attention.