I. Executive Summary
This twenty-ninth report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the human rights situation in Ukraine covers the situation from 16 November 2019 to 15 February 2020. It is based on the work of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU).
During the reporting period, OHCHR recorded two civilian deaths (both men) and 17 civilian injuries (13 men, three women, and one boy), a 54.8 per cent decrease compared with the previous reporting period (six killed and 36 injured). The total civilian casualties recorded in 2019 (27 killed and 140 injured) were 40.6 per cent lower than in 2018 (55 killed and 226 injured), and were the lowest annual civilian casualty figures for the entire conflict period.
Parliament continued to develop draft laws on remedy and reparation for deaths and injuries of civilians, and for the loss of property, including housing, which could lead to a comprehensive state policy of remedy and reparation to civilian victims of the conflict. This has been lacking since 2014.
The armed conflict continued to negatively impact the enjoyment of economic and social rights by the civilian population, especially the more than five million residents of the conflict-affected area and internally displaced persons (IDPs). Children, older persons and persons in vulnerable situations are at increased risk of being left behind in achieving sustainable development because of the conflict.
Linking the payment of pensions to IDP registration deprives hundreds of thousands of pensioners access to their pensions. OHCHR regrets that the Parliament has not yet adopted legislation that would enable pensioners residing in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’, and in localities along the contact line as well as IDPs to access their pension payments in Government-controlled territory without having to complete processes of registration and verification as IDPs.
While crossing of the contact line has been facilitated for children under the age of 16, it remained a major challenge for civilians. OHCHR continued to observe long lines at crossing points and winter conditions exacerbated physical difficulties for people. The number of crossings of the contact line during the reporting period (1.3 million in both directions per month) was comparable with those reported throughout 2019.
OHCHR remains gravely concerned by continued arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment of conflict-related detainees, both in Government-controlled territory and in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘republics’. Fifty-two of the 56 people released by the self-proclaimed ‘republics’ and interviewed by OHCHR described having been subjected to torture and/or ill-treatment, including in some cases sexual violence, predominantly perpetrated by members of the ‘ministries of state security’ of the self-proclaimed ‘republics’. While OHCHR was not able to interview any of the 124 people released by the Government by the cut-off-date of this report (due to restrictions imposed on OHCHR operations in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘republics’), OHCHR had previously documented the cases of 75 of them. Fifty-seven of these individuals had earlier reported having been subjected to torture or ill-treatment, including in some cases sexual violence, perpetrated mainly by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). OHCHR is also concerned that ad hoc arrangements of the Government to enable the release of detainees who had not been sentenced by the time of the release may jeopardize their due process rights and fair trial guarantees, as well as undermining the right to justice of victims and their relatives.
Human rights violations within the administration of justice in conflict-related criminal cases continued. Impunity also remained pervasive, notably in cases related to the conflict, the violent deaths and killings at Maidan and in Odesa on 2 May 2014, and attacks on human rights defenders, activists and media workers. By contrast, National Police apprehended three suspects in the 2016 killing of journalist Pavel Sheremet.
OHCHR welcomes the adoption of revisions to the Electoral Code which will facilitate voting by IDPs and economic migrants in the upcoming local elections. This will require the Central Electoral Commission to adopt a procedure to manage requests made by people who wish to change their voting address.
Civic space was restricted by violent attacks and other incidents targeting civil society activists, media workers, and individuals perceived as belonging to minority groups, with nine incidents documented during the reporting period. Despite the risk of repercussions, in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘republics’, social media remains the only platform available to express critical views. More positively, journalists Stanislav Aseyev and Oleh Halaziuk were released from detention in Donetsk, as a part of the simultaneous release on 29 December 2019.
Law enforcement agencies, in general, successfully policed assemblies. However, as described in previous reports, in a number of documented cases, they failed to respond adequately to attacks by extreme right-wing groups and their affiliates, such as when journalists were attacked after attending a hearing in the Sheremet case.
Despite the conclusions of the Venice Commission, which echoed OHCHR’s concerns regarding the State Language Law, and the legal deadline of 16 January 2020, the Cabinet of Ministers and Parliament have not yet drafted legislation on the realisation of rights of national minorities and indigenous people.
In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and the city of Sevastopol, temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation (hereinafter Crimea), the tenth conscription campaign drafted approximately 3,000 men into the armed forces of the Russian Federation, in violation of international humanitarian law. Criminal prosecution was used as a means of pressure and punishment for draft evasion. In further violation of its obligations under international humanitarian law, the Russian Federation deported or forcibly transferred at least 186 individuals considered foreigners under Russian law, including 107 Ukrainian citizens whom the Russian Federation considered did not have residency rights in Crimea.
During the reporting period, OHCHR provided the Government of Ukraine and other stakeholders with technical cooperation and capacity-building, such as trainings for members of the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), the Civil-Military Coordination Unit of the Ministry of Defence (CIMIC) and other law enforcement agencies, as well as technical expertise on human rights issues, including during the human rights week in Parliament.
While OHCHR enjoyed unimpeded access to places of detention in territory controlled by the Government, OHCHR operations in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘republics’ have been severely restricted since June 2018 despite ongoing discussions.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 nature of credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment. OHCHR therefore reiterates its call for independent international observers, including OHCHR, to have unimpeded, confidential access to places of detention and detainees.