Human Rights Council
14 September–2 October 2020
Agenda item 10 Technical assistance and capacity-building
I. Executive summary
This thirtieth 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 16 February to 31 July 2020. It is based on the work of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU).1 2. Ukraine introduced quarantine restrictions on 16 March, following its first confirmed COVID-19 case on 29 February. OHCHR remained fully operational during the reporting period, adjusting its work to minimize the risk of spreading the virus, carrying out its activities in person only when possible to do so safely, and remotely when there was no alternative.
During the reporting period, several spikes in hostilities, most notably in March and May, brought the number of civilian casualties during the first seven months of 2020 to 107 (18 killed2 and 89 injured3), a ten per cent decrease compared with the same period in 2019. Hostilities also resulted in at least 75 incidents of damage to civilian objects (excluding civilian housing). Following the agreement reached by the Trilateral Contact Group on 22 July, the Joint Forces Operation of Ukraine and armed groups of self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’4 enacted a package of additional measures to strengthen the ceasefire that took effect on 27 July. It is hoped this will contribute to a progressive decrease in civilian casualties, which by 31 July 2020 totaled at least 3,367 killed and more than 7,000 injured since the beginning of the conflict.
No tangible progress was achieved in establishing a mechanism of remedy and reparation for civilian victims of the conflict.5 The hardships and deprivations faced by the conflict-affected population for more than six years, were further exacerbated by COVID-19-related restrictions on freedom of movement and by the overall impact of the pandemic on the enjoyment of economic and social rights.
The closure of all five entry-exit crossing points (EECPs) from late March to mid-June resulted in the decrease of monthly crossings of the contact line from 1.3 million to a few hundred. As a result, thousands of people found themselves separated from their families, and lost access to quality healthcare, pensions and jobs. From mid-June, when crossings partially resumed through two EECPs, until 31 July, the total number in Donetsk and Luhansk regions comprised 43,000 crossings, which was substantially lower than during the pre-COVID-19 period, and particularly low in the Donetsk region. Thousands of people with pressing humanitarian needs remain unable to cross.
Following the simultaneous release of detainees under the Minsk agreements on 16 April 2020, OHCHR interviewed eight men released by self-proclaimed ‘republics’. Their testimonies confirmed patterns of torture and ill-treatment, as previously identified by OHCHR. This once again underscores the need for access by independent international monitors, including OHCHR, to detainees and places of detention in territory controlled by self-proclaimed ‘republics’.
Torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials remained a systemic problem in Government-controlled territory. OHCHR notes that though the number of investigations into acts of torture or ill-treatment has increased, their effectiveness remains very low, with less than two percent of investigations resulting in criminal charges.
OHCHR welcomes the Constitutional Court’s ruling on the unconstitutionality of article 375 of the Criminal Code, which provides for criminal liability of judges for rendering “deliberately unjust” decisions. However, concerns persisted that conflict-related criminal trials are delayed due to the lack of judges resulting inter alia from the dissolution of the High Qualification Commission of Judges in October 2019. Delays have also continued in criminal proceedings related to accountability for grave human rights violations. Fair trial rights were further affected by quarantine measures introduced to prevent the spread of COVID-19, as it led to the exclusion of observers from courtrooms.
While law enforcement bodies continued to adequately secure assemblies, they sometimes applied quarantine measures arbitrarily to prevent a variety of protests. OHCHR is also concerned that attacks by extreme right-wing groups (ERWG) against assemblies and offices of political parties and political activists and their homes have increased, in the context of upcoming local elections in October. In territory controlled by self-proclaimed ‘republics’, coal miners were reportedly arrested after protesting delays in salary payments.
OHCHR documented seven incidents affecting four female and five male media workers, including those undertaking investigations in relation to COVID-19. In territory controlled by ‘Luhansk people’s republic’, OHCHR observed that fewer critical views were published on social media following amendments to ‘regulations’ introduced in December 2019. OHCHR also received information that indicates some employees of ‘public institutions’ of ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ holding Russian Federation citizenship were asked to justify their failure to participate in the referendum on amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation.
OHCHR documented five attacks against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and feminist activists, including by ERWG. OHCHR is also concerned by hate speech directed against LGBTI people, notably online and against individuals in the street. Roma have also been subjected to hate speech by the authorities and in the media.
The lack of progress in elaborating a law on the realisation of the rights of indigenous people and national minorities continues to be of concern.
OHCHR welcomes the adoption of a procedure to facilitate voting by internally displaced people (IDPs) and internal labour migrants, although the Parliament’s recent adoption of amendments to the Electoral Code, which entered into force less than 100 days before local elections, gives little time to authorities and voters to adjust to the new regulations.
OHCHR monitored the impact of COVID-19 on the economic and social rights of those most affected by the pandemic. Groups that are in particularly vulnerable situations include Roma communities; older persons and persons with disabilities living in long-term care facilities: persons with disabilities living in the community; and persons living in homelessness. The rights most affected were the rights to health, work, education and an adequate standard of living. Women were also disproportionally affected by the pandemic.
In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and the city of Sevastopol, temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation6 (hereinafter Crimea), courts continued to pass judgments in apparent disregard of fair trial guarantees. Freedom of religion of different religious groups, notably Jehovah’s Witnesses, was also affected by the application of Russian Federation legislation in the occupied territory, contrary to international humanitarian law.
During the reporting period, OHCHR worked to increase Ukraine’s capacity to ensure a human-rights based approach to mitigating the impact of the pandemic. OHCHR also continued its technical cooperation efforts with various national actors, such as ministries, the Parliament, courts, the Ombudsperson institution, the military and law enforcement, and civil society including human rights defenders.
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 reiterates its call for independent international observers, including OHCHR, to have unimpeded, confidential access to places of detention and detainees.
The report concludes with targeted recommendations aimed at improving the overall human rights situation in Ukraine.