We are human beings, not animals. We only want peace!! - Resident of a village near the contact line.
This twenty-first report on the situation of human rights in Ukraine by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is based on the work of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine1 and covers the period from 16 November 2017 to 15 February 2018.
This report is based on data collected by OHCHR through 276 in-depth interviews with victims and witnesses of human rights violations and abuses, and visits in both governmentcontrolled and armed-group-controlled territory. OHCHR also carried out 546 activities to facilitate the protection of human rights connected with the cases documented, including trial monitoring, visit of places of detention, advocacy with duty-bearers, humanitarian organizations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and cooperation with United Nations human rights mechanisms.2 3. During the period under review, OHCHR documented 205 cases involving violations and abuses of the right to life, deprivation of liberty, enforced disappearance, torture and illtreatment, sexual violence, fair trial rights, fundamental freedoms, and economic and social rights. In 66 out of these 205 cases, the alleged violation or abuse occurred within the reporting period; the Government of Ukraine bore responsibility for 38 of these cases, and armed groups for 28 cases. The overall continuation of human rights violations and abuses suffered by the civilian population in the conflict area, Crimea and across Ukraine, underscores the cumulative impact and the human cost of the ongoing conflict.
Out of the total 205 documented cases, 121 cases involved credible allegations of torture, ill-treatment and/or sexual violence, committed in the context of unlawful or arbitrary detention. Fifteen of these cases occurred during the reporting period, on both sides of the contact line. OHCHR interviewed 113 persons held in 13 detention facilities in government-controlled territory.3 While OHCHR continued to enjoy unimpeded access to official places of detention and conflict-related detainees in government-controlled territory, it continued to be denied such access in territory controlled by the armed groups of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’. 4 This persistent denial of access raises serious concerns regarding detention conditions and possible further human rights abuses, including ill-treatment and torture. First-hand information received from a number of former detainees, including some individuals released as part of a simultaneous release on 27 December 2017, supports these concerns.
OHCHR also documented a total of 73 conflict-related civilian casualties, namely 12 deaths and 61 injuries. While this represents an overall decrease of 16 per cent compared with the previous reporting period, the number of civilian casualties resulting from shelling and light weapons fire increased by 66.7 per cent, indicating that the armed hostilities continued endangering the population on a daily basis. OHCHR was not able to attribute all civilian casualties to a specific party to the conflict. Yet, of the 47 civilian casualties resulting from shelling and small arms/light weapons fire, 35 (2 killed and 33 injured) were recorded in territory controlled by armed groups, and are likely attributable to the Government, and 12 (1 killed and 11 injured) were recorded in territory controlled by the Government, and are likely attributable to armed groups. Twenty-six civilian casualties could not be attributed to any party.5 6. OHCHR noted a lack of significant progress in achieving accountability for grave human rights violations in the killing of protestors at Maidan and the 2 May 2014 violence in Odesa. Furthermore, in conflict-related investigations and proceedings, OHCHR observed an unwillingness, both within law enforcement institutions and politically, to effectively investigate human rights violations alleged to have been perpetrated by State actors.
During the reporting period, under the framework of the “all for all” simultaneous release foreseen in the Minsk agreements,6 the Government of Ukraine released 234 conflictrelated detainees while armed groups released 75 individuals. As of 15 February 2018, OHCHR had interviewed 64 of these individuals, on both sides of the contact line. All of those interviewed described having been subjected to inhumane conditions of detention, torture or illtreatment, sexual violence, threats of violence, and/or violations of fair trial guarantees. These violations and abuses (most of which occurred prior to the reporting period) are emblematic of systemic human rights issues which have been further exacerbated by the conflict. Furthermore, the ad hoc procedures applied for the simultaneous release raise concerns regarding accountability and access to justice.
Mindful of the approaching commencement of the campaign year ahead of 2019 parliamentary and presidential elections, OHCHR has been monitoring the situation regarding freedoms of opinion and expression, and of peaceful assembly, as well as non-discrimination, as essential foundations of any functioning democratic system. OHCHR documented nine cases involving physical attacks or use of force against journalists and media professionals, and ten attacks on individuals, peaceful assemblies and social events. These attacks were either perpetrated by State actors or members of extreme right-wing groups acting with impunity. OHCHR notes that the proliferation of intolerance threatens constitutional democracy, rule of law and inclusiveness.
Restrictions on freedom of movement further isolated residents in villages located close to the contact line, cut off their access to basic goods, services, such as markets, education and healthcare facilities, and humanitarian aid, which has further intensified the general hardship for the population. While conditions at the Stanytsia Luhanska crossing route improved due to ramp repairs made by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the average 35,000 daily crossings of the contact line registered created long queues at the five official crossing routes, with people exposed to a dangerous environment due to shelling nearby the checkpoints and mine-contamination, amid freezing temperatures and with inadequate access to basic hygiene, heating and medical facilities.
Freedom of religion or belief continued to be infringed upon in territory controlled by armed groups, with particular targeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses. OHCHR has been monitoring the implementation of a ‘law’ adopted in territory controlled by ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ on 2 February, which bans all “religious groups” not directly linked to “traditional” religions.
The cumulative effects of the armed hostilities, infringements on freedom of movement and the declining socio-economic situation continued to further cement hardship, particularly for people living in conflict-affected areas close to the contact line. Villages situated in these zones remained isolated, with limited or no access to basic goods and services, including essential medical and emergency services. Furthermore, as we move towards the fifth year of the conflict, there was no progress in establishing a restitution and compensation mechanism for destroyed or damaged property remained one of the most pressing unaddressed socio-economic issues deriving from the conflict. Such a mechanism will be crucial for peace, stability and reconciliation.
Pensioners residing in territory controlled by armed groups continued to face restrictions in accessing their pensions due to the Government policy of linking pension payments with internally displaced persons (IDPs) and residence registration. In this respect, OHCHR welcomes recent Supreme Court decisions invalidating the termination of pension payments in individual cases, that had been based on Cabinet of Ministers resolution no. 365. OHCHR also welcomes the decision of the Kyiv Circuit Administrative Court recognizing the resolution as unlawful and providing for its cancellation, and is hopeful that this leads to a change in policy so as to ensure equal access to pensions by all Ukrainian pensioners.
OHCHR continued monitoring the human rights situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol despite lack of access to the peninsula, on the basis of United Nations General Assembly resolutions noting the territorial integrity of Ukraine and Crimea being under the temporary occupation of the Russian Federation.7 The Russian Federation authorities in Crimea continued to restrict fundamental freedoms, disproportionately affecting the Crimean Tatar community, and to forcibly conscript male residents of Crimea into the Russian Federation armed forces. OHCHR also noted a dramatic decrease, by 97 per cent, of the number of students receiving education in Ukrainian language since the occupation of the peninsula in 2014.
On 18 January 2018, the Parliament of Ukraine adopted a law8 describing the conflict in the east as an armed aggression and providing a new legal framework to re-establish control over certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, considered to be occupied by the Russian Federation. While several key recommendations jointly made by OHCHR and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) were integrated into the law, it retains elements that may adversely impact human rights, notably the possibility for the Government and military authorities to use “special powers” restricting fundamental freedoms in “security zones” adjacent to the “area of hostilities”.
Parliament also adopted legislative amendments granting stronger social protection to participants in the Maidan events who sustained injuries which did not qualify as disabilities, and to civilians who acquired disability in connection to the conflict in eastern Ukraine. While welcoming this development, OHCHR notes that this protection only extends to individuals in territory not controlled by the Government who sustained injuries before 1 December 2014.
As part of its human rights promotion mandate, and in addition to a range of advocacy measures undertaken to address human rights protection needs, OHCHR participated in 12 capacity-building and awareness-raising events for representatives of Government ministries, prosecution offices, the Security Service, National Police, the State Border Guards Service, the Ombudsperson’s office, military personnel and chaplains, and the Pastoral Care Council, as well as for civil society