I. Executive summary
This thirty-first report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the human rights situation in Ukraine covers the period from 1 August 2020 to 31 January 2021. It is based on the work of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU).1 2. The security situation significantly improved compared to the previous reporting period, following the agreement on measures to strengthen the ceasefire that took effect on 27 July 2020. Active hostilities caused injuries to three civilians by light weapons and small arms fire, while 36 civilian casualties (eight killed and 28 injured) were caused by mines and explosive remnants of war. Since the beginning of the conflict, OHCHR has recorded a total of 3,375 conflict-related civilian deaths. The number of injured civilians is estimated to exceed 7,000.
Four attacks affecting civilian objects, notably water and sanitation facilities, occurred during the reporting period. While this is much lower than the previous period, OHCHR is concerned that attacks continued to put workers at these facilities at risk.
Freedom of movement in the conflict zone was severely restricted due to COVID-19 measures, which negatively impacted the civilian population’s rights to family life, health, work, social security, and an adequate standard of living. Improving freedom of movement would contribute to maintaining inter-connectivity across the contact line, strengthen social and family links and decrease the negative impact of the conflict on the civilian population.
While the number of cases of conflict-related torture and ill-treatment, notably those alleged to be perpetrated by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), has decreased in recent years, OHCHR identified a persistent pattern of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials in cases unrelated to the conflict, particularly due to police violence. The lack of accountability in such cases is concerning.
In territory controlled by self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’,2 OHCHR documented 12 cases of conflict-related arbitrary detention, in most cases by the ‘ministry of state security’. In territory controlled by self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’,3 OHCHR documented eight cases of arbitrary incommunicado detention by the ‘ministry of state security’ or ‘police’. While OHCHR enjoyed unimpeded access to places of detention in territory controlled by the Government, OHCHR operations in territory controlled by self-proclaimed ‘republics’ have been severely restricted since June 2018. The continued denial of access to detention facilities, despite repeated requests, prevents OHCHR from monitoring the treatment of detainees and detention conditions. This is particularly concerning given the widespread credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment of both conflict and non-conflict related detainees. OHCHR reiterates its call for independent international observers, including OHCHR, to have unimpeded, confidential access to places of detention and detainees.
Additional restrictions on OHCHR operations in territory controlled by ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ enforced during the reporting period should be also lifted.
OHCHR continues to identify flaws in the administration of justice in conflict-related cases, including the absence of possibility for a full retrial for those tried in absentia. OHCHR is also concerned about developments with the Constitutional Court of Ukraine (CCU) and how this may negatively affect the rule of law and the human rights situation in Ukraine, since its October 2020 decision finding unconstitutional certain regulations relating to officials’ financial declarations.
Over the reporting period, OHCHR documented 18 new attacks against journalists and other media workers, human rights defenders, civil and political activists, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons or their supporters, members of national minorities, and political actors from opposition political parties considered “pro-Russian”. Lack of accountability for past attacks was also concerning. While the police largely successfully protected peaceful assemblies, OHCHR notes that COVID-19 restrictions were selectively applied.
Four of the attacks documented by OHCHR targeted women human rights defenders (WHRD)4 and environmental activists due to their public activities, one of which occurred in territory controlled by ‘Donetsk people’s republic’. Media workers, journalists and bloggers, notably working on corruption or on pandemic prevention measures, also suffered threats and attacks. In territory controlled by self-proclaimed ‘republics’, armed groups arbitrarily detained individuals for their social media publications.
Several religious communities in territory controlled by armed groups continued to face limitations on the enjoyment of their freedom of religion or belief.
In Government-controlled territory, OHCHR noted incidents of hate speech against national minorities, including those speaking Russian and Hungarian, Roma, and foreign students.
Noting the entry into force of certain provisions of the Law on State Language on 16 January 2021 and related incidents, OHCHR recommends the swift adoption of a law on the protection of national minorities that will specifically protect their language rights.
The first round of nationwide local elections took place on 25 October 2020, with the exception of 18 newly-established communities in Donetsk and Luhansk regions where it was deemed too dangerous by the Central Electoral Commission, and in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation5 (hereinafter Crimea) and armed group-controlled territory. The lack of clarity as to authorities in place in Donetsk and Luhansk regions may negatively impact the provision of social, administrative and other essential services to local residents.
The COVID-19 crisis continued to exacerbate existing inequalities, discrimination and social exclusion in Ukraine, notably of homeless people. OHCHR also examined the situation of the more than forty thousand persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities who are deprived of legal capacity, denying them the enjoyment of basic rights.
OHCHR is concerned that the right to education may be impacted by the decision to introduce Russian as the ‘official’ language in education ‘institutions’ in territory controlled by self-proclaimed ‘republics’.
In Crimea, freedom of religion, notably that of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and Jehovah’s Witnesses, was affected by the unlawful application of Russian Federation legislation by the occupation authorities of the Russian Federation6 in the occupied territory. Courts continued to issue deportation and forcible transfer orders against Ukrainian citizens considered by the Russian Federation as not holding residency rights in Crimea. OHCHR also documented human rights violations in relation to detention conditions and treatment of Ukrainian citizens held in places of detention in Crimea and the Russian Federation.
OHCHR worked to increase Ukraine’s capacity to strengthen human rights standards in governance, including through advocacy for implementation of its previous recommendations related to the impact of COVID-19 and on the administration of justice in conflict-related cases. OHCHR’s technical expertise was also provided to a variety of national actors, such as ministries, the Parliament, courts, the Ombudsperson institution, the military and law enforcement, and civil society including human rights defenders.