Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Ukraine: Türk reiterates call for a just peace
12 July 2023
Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
53rd session of the Human Rights Council
Mr Vice President,
The Russian Federation’s senseless war on Ukraine continues to generate severe and far-reaching violations of human rights.
Last Friday, on the 500th day of this conflict, our Human Rights Monitoring Mission outlined the horrendous civilian cost of the war in Ukraine. More than 9,000 civilians, including over 500 children, have been killed since the war began on 24 February 2022. The real figures are very likely to be much higher.
Report A/HRC/53/CRP.3, which is before you, examines the situation of civilians who have been detained in the context of the war. Its sources include 274 site visits by my colleagues, including 70 visits to official detention facilities, and interviews with 1,136 people.
Before addressing further this particular report, I would again underline that the monitoring work of our Office – which is core to our mandate - follows the highest standards of impartiality, professionalism, objectivity and non-selectivity. These principles have guided the collection of the data set out in this report, as in all other reports produced by my Office. It is through rigour and painstaking care in the collection and analysis of data and evidence that we make the strongest case for establishing facts, and for accountability.
In the report before you, we have documented the arbitrary detention of more than 900 individual civilians, including eight children, between 24 February 2022 and 23 May 2023.
The Russian Federation gave no access to places of detention, which leads inevitably to undercounting. Even so, we were able to interview 178 detainees who had been held by the Russian Federation, after their release. In total, 864 of the cases that we documented were perpetrated by the Russian Federation. Many of them were incommunicado detentions, tantamount to enforced disappearances. We also documented the summary execution of 77 civilians while they were arbitrarily detained by the Russian Federation. Over 90 per cent of detainees held by the Russian Federation whom we were able to interview stated they had been subjected to torture and ill-treatment -- including sexual violence, in some cases -- by Russian security personnel.
The civilians detained by the Russian Federation whom we interviewed included local public officials, humanitarian volunteers, former soldiers, perceived political opponents, priests and teachers. In 26 per cent of cases, they were transferred to other locations in occupied Ukraine or the Russian Federation, without information provided to their families. We have also documented several cases that suggest detained civilians have been used by Russian armed forces as “human shields” in order to render certain areas immune from military attacks.
These findings are shocking. They call for concrete measures by the Russian Federation to instruct and ensure their Russian personnel comply with international human rights and humanitarian law.
My Office was given extensive and unimpeded access to places of detention under the control of the Ukrainian authorities. I acknowledge and thank the Government for this cooperation, occurring in a context of national crisis and survival. We documented 75 cases of arbitrary detention. Most of them were people suspected of criminal offences related to the war, and many arbitrary detentions arose from excessively broad amendments to criminal legislation under martial law. We also found that Ukrainian personnel in unofficial places of detention or – to a much lesser extent – in official pre-trial detention facilities, engaged in torture or ill-treatment, including sexual violence, mostly involving threats.
In particular, I am concerned that the so-called “law on collaboration activities” adopted in March 2022 criminalizes a wide range of conduct, including conduct that may be permitted under international humanitarian law, and has led to cases of arbitrary detention.
Mr Vice President,
The Secretary-General’s report A/HRC/53/64 outlines human rights violations in the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, as well as Russian-occupied areas of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.
From 1 July to 31 December 2022, my Office has documented 60 arbitrary arrests in these areas by Russian security personnel, as well as enforced disappearances and torture.
Regarding forced conscription, Russian officials have announced that 2,500 men from Crimea were conscripted during the reporting period, and the Office has documented 112 criminal prosecutions for so-called draft evasion in 2022.
I am also deeply concerned about population transfers of civilians. During the reporting period, my Office collected information about 23 residents who were arrested by Russian security forces and transferred across the Administrative Boundary Line to Crimea, reportedly handcuffed and blindfolded. In parallel, the Russian authorities have continued transferring Ukrainian citizens whom they consider “foreigners” out of Crimea.
In Crimea and occupied areas of Ukraine, we have documented extensive violations of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association, including new sanctions for publicly voicing opinions that “discredit” the Russian armed forces, and a further deterioration of the operating environment for human rights defenders. Teachers were pressured to actively endorse the Russian invasion and encourage a positive attitude towards it among children.
Denial of the rights to due process and fair trial remain a systemic issue in Crimea. My Office verified 16 cases where courts convicted Ukrainian citizens following proceedings that disregarded fair trial guarantees.
Mr Vice President,
Accountability for the violations and abuses committed in this war continues to be conspicuous by its absence. I am aware of no ongoing investigations by the Russian Federation in relation to arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture or ill-treatment perpetrated by its forces in Ukraine against civilians.
I am deeply concerned that the Parliament of the Russian Federation recently adopted a federal law that would potentially exempt from criminal liability the perpetrators of international criminal offences committed in occupied regions of Ukraine. International law prohibits the granting of such amnesty in relation to serious violations of international humanitarian law or gross violations of international human rights law.
In Ukraine, while numerous proceedings have been initiated, I am aware of no completed criminal investigations of Ukrainian personnel for arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance or torture against civilians. I welcome that Ukraine has created a mechanism to compensate victims of conflict-related arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance.
The issues outlined in our reports are profoundly harmful to the human rights of Ukrainians and must be addressed with urgency. I also sympathise deeply with all those affected by last month’s destruction of the dam at the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Plant, in occupied Kherson region, whose rights will be affected long into the future by this cruel act of war. The environmental damage more generally is one of the horrific by-products of this war which will have grave repercussions for generations to come. I continue to be deeply disturbed by the potentially enormous human rights implications of the precarious situation at Zaporizhzhia and other nuclear plants.
These and other human rights issues have very far-reaching impacts across the region, and the world, given Ukraine’s essential role in global food supplies and other key trade sectors.
There is only one solution to this immense tragedy: that all those with influence on the situation work to ensure a just peace, in line with the United Nations Charter and international law.