Statements Multiple Mechanisms
Item 10: Oral update on the situation of human rights in Ukraine (Human Rights Council resolution 47/22)
04 October 2022
Mr. Christian Salazar Volkmann, Director of Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division
51st session of the Human Rights Council
Pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 47/22, it is my honour to present OHCHR’s 34th report on the human rights situation in Ukraine. It covers the period between 1 February and 31 July 2022. The findings in the report are based on the work of our Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.
Since the start of the reporting period, the Russian Federation’s wide-scale armed attack on Ukraine has resulted in a dire human rights situation across the country. The people in Ukraine have experienced unspeakable suffering and devastation, as the armed conflict has led to a wide range of human rights and international humanitarian law violations affecting both civilians and combatants.
Since OHCHR’s last update to this Council in July, our Human Rights Monitoring Mission has continued its work and increased its presence in Ukraine.
We currently have staff deployed in six locations throughout the country. The current report is based on information gathered by the Mission through 78 field visits, 20 visits to places of detention and more than 1,000 interviews with victims and witnesses of human rights violations, their relatives and lawyers, Government representatives and other interlocutors, as well as other relevant sources assessed as credible and reliable.
Every day, our staff hears from victims who have suffered violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law in the context of the armed conflict in Ukraine, which has escalated dramatically since the Russian armed attack began on 24 February. I myself visited Ukraine in July, and saw the sites of destruction and serious human rights violations in Irpin and Bucha.
Our Office’s commitment to monitoring the human rights situation in Ukraine is unwavering, and we will continue to report publicly and amplify the voices of victims to this Council.
Civilians continue to bear the brunt of the hostilities. As of yesterday, we have documented 6,114 civilians killed, including 390 children, and 9,132 injured, including 690 children. We again stress that the real figures are likely considerably higher.
The vast majority of civilian casualties that OHCHR has documented were caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, for the most part by Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups. This has included shelling from heavy artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, missiles and air strikes, and the use of cluster munitions.
While OHCHR has not been able to assess compliance with international humanitarian law for each individual incident, the sheer scale of damage and destruction is a strong indication that violations have occurred.
The hostilities have also damaged and destroyed homes and critical civilian infrastructure on a scale which strongly suggests failure to comply with the rules of IHL governing the conduct of hostilities, including the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution, and the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks.
People, including those in situations of vulnerability, have been forced to live in degrading conditions, unable to access their rights to housing, education, health, food and water. It is very likely that many people, particularly older persons, will face the upcoming winter in damaged homes or without heating supplies.
During the reporting period, OHCHR recorded damage or destruction to 252 medical facilities and 384 educational facilities. Intense shelling has also negatively impacted the exercise of the right to freedom of religion or belief, with 90 places of worship destroyed or damaged.
Beyond the direct impact of the hostilities, OHCHR also has concerns about the rights to freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly. Such rights have been restricted in territory occupied by the Russian Federation or controlled by Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups.
Ukrainian television channels and radio stations have been disconnected and replaced with channels from the Russian Federation or self-proclaimed ‘republics’.
In Crimea, the Russian Federation has applied legislation penalizing a wide spectrum of expression deemed critical, and teachers have been pressured to endorse the armed attack.
There are concerns that the shrinking civic space and highly restrictive environment in these areas deter people from reporting the human rights violations that they have experienced or witnessed.
We also note that the Parliament of Ukraine has introduced a ban on Russian publications, which has not yet been signed by the President. Although freedom of expression and information can be restricted in times of public emergency, we caution that such bans must be exceptional, necessary and time-bound.
OHCHR has documented a range of violations of the rights to life, liberty and security.
Our Office continues to corroborate the alleged killings of hundreds of civilians in over 30 settlements in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Sumy regions, while they were controlled by Russian armed forces in February and March. We have documented that civilians were shot, sometimes by snipers, while fleeing in their vehicles, crossing the road by foot or gathering basic foodstuffs. In other cases, those killed were summarily executed, and victims were found with signs of torture on their bodies. In one case corroborated by OHCHR, three civilian men were found dead in a basement in Stoianka, Kyiv region, with bound hands and legs, knife wounds and severed fingers.
As the hostilities continue, disturbing accounts are emerging of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in the context of detention, of both civilians and prisoners of war. Enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention of civilians have become widespread in territory controlled by Russian armed forces or affiliated armed groups.
During the reporting period, OHCHR documented 407 such cases (359 men, 47 women, 1 boy), out of which 18 victims were eventually found dead. We also documented 47 cases of arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as 31 cases that may amount to enforced disappearance, by Ukrainian law enforcement bodies. Most of these victims were either released or their detentions formalized, although two of the victims remain disappeared.
Appalling reports of torture and ill-treatment, of both civilians and prisoners of war continue. In the majority of documented cases, Ukrainian prisoners of war were subjected to torture or ill-treatment by the detaining power. In two of these cases, Ukrainian servicemen were tortured to death.
While on a lesser scale, our Office has also documented cases of torture and ill-treatment by Ukrainian armed forces of prisoners of war, during their capture or while in transit to camps of internment.
While our human rights officers have enjoyed unimpeded access to places of internment of prisoners of war controlled by the Government of Ukraine, we have regretfully still not been granted confidential access to prisoners of war interned by the Russian Federation and affiliated armed groups, despite requests.
In addition, our Office has not been granted access to individuals detained following so-called ‘filtration’ processes, nor have we been granted access to the Russian Federation to consider allegations of displaced Ukrainians being deported to Russia.
The report also documents cases of conflict-related sexual violence, although it remains difficult to assess the breadth of this phenomenon. During the reporting period, OHCHR documented 43 cases of conflict-related sexual violence, the majority of which were committed by Russian security forces. We have since verified a further 13 cases and will continue to monitor this closely.
The Russian Federation’s armed attack has caused the death of thousands and brought about widespread destruction of civilian objects and infrastructure. With the purported annexation of the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, further to so-called referenda, the Russian Federation has taken steps which deepen rather than resolve the conflict, and exacerbate the human rights violations associated with it, moving further away from peace toward escalation.
As made clear by the UN Secretary-General, any annexation of a State’s territory by another State resulting from the threat or use of force is a violation of the principles of the UN Charter and international law.
The purported redrawing of international borders, cutting arbitrarily across families, communities and societies is not simply an abstract legal question, but one with concrete impacts on the human rights of persons on either side of lines so redrawn.
In the present circumstances, it risks imperilling freedoms of expression and peaceful protest; threatens religious freedom through potential restrictions on activities of certain religious groups; and creates real obstacles to access to health care, social services or continued employment, including government or municipal jobs.
I echo the Secretary-General’s words that “there is only one way to end the suffering in Ukraine – and that is by ending this war”. I appeal to this Council, and to the international community, to do everything possible to prevent further escalation, encourage all efforts at peace, and ensure respect for international human rights and humanitarian law in Ukraine.
Thank you for your attention.