Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine (16 May to 15 August 2018)
This twenty-third report on the situation of human rights in Ukraine by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is based on the work of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) , and covers the period from 16 May to 15 August 2018.
During this reporting period, OHCHR documented more than 160 violations and abuses which affected a total of 282 victims, representing a level of human rights violations and abuses similar to the previous reporting period. Of these, 85 human rights violations and abuses were committed during the reporting period. The Government of Ukraine was responsible for 53 violations (62 per cent of those recorded), armed groups for 10 (12 per cent of those recorded), and the Government of the Russian Federation (as the Occupying Power in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and city of Sevastopol ) for 22 (26 per cent of those recorded).
While OHCHR is fully operational in government-controlled territory, during the reporting period it faced increased restrictions in its operations in armed group-controlled territory of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ . OHCHR continues to monitor remotely the human rights situation in Crimea, under the temporary occupation of the Russian Federation which continues to disregard its obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention by failing to respect the laws of the occupied territory.
The active conflict in eastern Ukraine continues disrupting civilian life and causing deaths, injuries and destruction. The periodic spikes and lulls in civilian deaths and injuries reflect the volatile situation and sustained atmosphere of insecurity and anxiety that characterizes civilian life on both sides of the contact line. Between 16 May and 15 August 2018, OHCHR recorded 105 civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine (12 deaths and 93 injuries), which constituted a 30 per cent increase compared to the previous reporting period. Most of the incidents occurred between mid-May through June. Fifty per cent of casualties were caused by shelling or light weapons, the majority recorded in armed group-controlled territory and attributable to the Government. Following 1 July, when the “harvest ceasefire” took effect, the numbers of civilian casualties dropped significantly, demonstrating the importance of concerted efforts to secure a sustainable ceasefire.
This report stresses how the hostilities and extreme levels of landmine and explosive remnants of war contamination continue to have devastating effects on the protection of civilians, access to social and economic benefits, and freedom of movement for both, civilians living in the conflict zone and those who are internally displaced. Increased hostilities in May-June 2018 worsened the immediate and long-term human rights protection of people living in the affected areas, serving as a harsh reminder that the armed conflict directly affects more than 600,000 people, who live within the range of five kilometers on both sides of the contact line.
OHCHR examined the situation of civilians from the area of Chyhari on the contact line following the operations by Ukrainian forces to take control of the area in mid-May 2018. In addition to increased risks of death and injury from shelling and explosives, OHCHR observed impediments related to the rights to restitution and compensation for use, damage or destruction of private property.
Inextricably linked to the hostilities are the persisting conflict-related serious human rights violations and abuses attributable to all parties, including unlawful or arbitrary detention, incommunicado detention, torture, ill-treatment, sexual violence, and/or threats to physical integrity. OHCHR documented 74 such violations and abuses – 15 of which were committed during the reporting period. The Government of Ukraine was responsible for ten of these (67 per cent), armed groups for three (20 per cent); and the Russian Federation as the occupying power in Crimea for two (13 per cent).
In armed group-controlled territory, OHCHR is still denied access to the detention facilities for confidential interviews, which raises concerns about the detention conditions and treatment of detainees. In government-controlled territory OHCHR generally continued to enjoy access to official places of detention and the ability to conduct confidential interviews of detainees in line with international standards.
OHCHR continued documenting violations of fair trial rights in conflict-related cases, and is concerned that arbitrary implementation of plea bargains and in absentia proceedings may be used in a manner that risks circumventing essential judicial guarantees. OHCHR is further concerned by attacks on, and intimidation of, defence lawyers by members of extreme right-wing groups, and continuing interference with the independence of judges. On a positive note, some procedural hurdles were removed for genuine prosecution of murder charges concerning the 2014 Maidan protests, and indictments were filed against former police related to 2 May 2014 violence in Odesa.
The people living in territory controlled by ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ remained subject to the decisions of parallel structures of ‘administration of justice’. Pre-conflict prisoners whose appeals were not heard prior to the outbreak of the conflict and individuals who ‘appealed’ their ‘conviction’ by the armed-group ‘courts’ remain indefinitely detained without any remedy. In addition, the practice of conducting ‘proceedings’ in closed sessions, hidden from independent international monitors, denies individuals the important safeguard of a public hearing.
OHCHR observed 32 violations and abuses against 23 media and civil society activists during the reporting period, with 30 violations that occurred within the reporting period which is a 210 per cent rise in documented attacks compared to the previous reporting period of 16 February to 15 May 2018. OHCHR raises serious concerns regarding the erosion of civic space in the run-up to 2019 elections and encourages law enforcement and local governments to consistently address these attacks by taking steps to protect space for the safe and unhindered exercise of freedoms of expression, opinion and peaceful assembly. Although OHCHR access is limited within armed group-controlled territory, it has documented cases of ‘regulations’ and action indicating that expression of critical thought and free media are not welcome and are repressed.
OHCHR continued to remotely monitor the human rights situation in Crimea from mainland of Ukraine. The Russian Federation continued to apply its laws in violation of international humanitarian law and, in some cases, applied it retroactively to events preceding the occupation. In total, OHCHR documented 47 human rights violations, 25 of which were committed during the reporting period. The Government of the Russian Federation was responsible for 22 violations and the Government of Ukraine was responsible for three violations.
As part of its mandate to promote human rights, OHCHR advised the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine on their methodology to monitor and evaluate the National Human Rights Strategy and related Action Plan. OHCHR referred 30 allegations of human rights violations and abuses to specific duty-bearers.