Statement by Nada Al-Nashif UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
Human Rights Council 46th Session
22 March 2021
It is my honour to present, on behalf of the High Commissioner, the 31st periodic report on the Human Rights Situation in Ukraine, covering key human rights developments from 1 August 2020 to 31 January 2021.
I start with the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Since the agreement on measures to strengthen the ceasefire took effect on 27 July 2020, OHCHR has noted a significant improvement in the security situation in eastern Ukraine. During the reporting period, three civilians were injured by active hostilities, but fortunately not one civilian was killed. Nevertheless, other civilian casualties continued, including among children, caused by mines and explosive remnants of war, which killed eight people and injured 28 others. Furthermore, active hostilities continued to affect essential civilian structures, including water and sanitation facilities.
I urge the parties to the conflict to fully respect the ceasefire and comply with international humanitarian law.. I underline the need to strengthen mine awareness measures, including for children and young people.
As in many countries, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed or exacerbated human rights issues and social shortcomings, emerging or pre-existing. For instance, OHCHR has found vulnerability among underpaid healthcare workers, 83 per cent of whom are women. COVID-19-related restrictions on freedom of movement in eastern Ukraine have had the largest impact on older persons, in particular older women, who comprised the majority of those crossing the contact line prior to COVID-19. In addition, families living in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘republics’ are struggling to register the births of their children. UNHCR estimates that up to 65,000 children do not have Ukrainian state-issued birth certificates, which will affect their ability to exercise the full range of rights as Ukrainian citizens. I urge the Government to establish an accessible administrative procedure for the registration of births occurring outside of government-controlled territory.
OHCHR continues to enjoy unimpeded access to official places of detention in Government-controlled territory, allowing for confidential interviews with detainees, while fully respecting COVID-19 prevention measures. OHCHR is concerned, however, that the State Security Service continues to detain individuals believed to be linked to or affiliated with the self-proclaimed ‘republics’ in unofficial places of detention, in violation of Ukraine’s international human rights obligations.
While the number of conflict-related cases of torture and ill-treatment has decreased in recent years, OHCHR has documented a pattern of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials in cases that are not related to the conflict - in particular, police violence.
In territory controlled by self-proclaimed ‘republics’, OHCHR continues to be denied access to detainees and places of deprivation of liberty. OHCHR nevertheless continued to document conflict-related cases of arbitrary and incommunicado detention in this territory, which in most cases, was carried out by the so-called ‘ministries of state security’. Those apprehended face inadequate conditions of detention, and are at risk of torture and ill-treatment, as well as of other human rights violations.
I turn now to the administration of justice. COVID-19 restrictions have compounded delays in proceedings, leading to prolonged trials. In addition, judges and court staff have expressed concerns to OHCHR about the lack of funding for courts to implement measures necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19, placing their health at risk.
OHCHR welcomes the decision by the Constitutional Court to annul criminal liability of judges for delivering “deliberately unjust decisions”, which came into force on 11 December 2020. OHCHR strongly recommends to Parliament to refrain from re-introducing this provision into the Criminal Code, which would jeopardize the independence of judges.
OHCHR is concerned about continuing attacks infringing upon the freedom of expression and opinion. Over the reporting period, OHCHR documented eighteen cases of threats and attacks against journalists and other media workers, human rights defenders, civil and political activists, LGBTI people or their supporters, and members of national minorities. In the lead up to local elections in October 2020, a wave of attacks targeted members and staff of political parties, mainly two opposition parties considered by many to be “pro-Russian”. OHCHR also documented incidents of hate speech and threats against Roma and those speaking Russian and Hungarian, as well as hate-motivated attacks and threats against those expressing criticism of the “Law on the State Language”.
The authorities must strongly condemn all such attacks, threats, intimidation and hate speech, and law enforcement agencies must ensure prompt, impartial and effective investigations which take into account the motives of attacks when based on a victim’s identity.
On 2 February, the President of Ukraine signed a decision of the National Council for Security and Defense, resulting in the immediate repeal of the broadcasting licenses of three TV channels, who were forced to cease broadcasting. While it is a legitimate aim for States to protect their national security, including by countering disinformation, OHCHR is concerned that this decision may unduly impact freedom of expression in Ukraine, and recalls that States are under the obligation to respect, protect and ensure the right to freedom of expression, including the right to seek, receive and impart diverse information and ideas.
In territory controlled by armed groups, fundamental freedoms continued to be curtailed, with individuals being detained for their social media posts. In addition, several religious communities continued to face limitations on the enjoyment of their freedom of religion or belief.
In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation, we continued to document violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law.
OHCHR received reports of inadequate conditions of detention facilities in Crimea, as well as in the Russian Federation where current and former detainees from Crimea have been transferred to serve sentences. This included poor hygiene conditions, denial of access to medical care, inadequate heating, lack of ventilation and inadequate nutrition. We also continued to receive reports of incommunicado detention imposed on Crimean detainees serving sentences in the Russian Federation.
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine has come under increasing pressure, including the potential loss of its two largest places of worship in Crimea. Individuals of other faiths have also come under pressure, notably Jehovah’s Witnesses who face extremism-related criminal charges and prosecution for practicing their faith.
Our report contains specific recommendations, addressed to the Government of Ukraine, to the parties of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, to the Russian Federation as the occupying Power in Crimea, and to the international community. We urge the implementation of these recommendations, and stand ready to support the efforts of the authorities in this regard.