Geneva, 9 July 2021, Palais des Nations
Madam Vice President,
It is my honour to present, on behalf of the High Commissioner, two reports on Ukraine – the OHCHR thematic report on “Arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment in the context of armed conflict in eastern Ukraine from 2014 to 2021” and the Secretary-General interim report on the “Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine” covering key human rights development between 1 July and 31 December 2020. Both reports are based on the work of our Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.
I will start with the OHCHR thematic report. This report is based on the analysis of over 1,300 conflict-related individual cases documented by the Mission since 2014, which allowed us to estimate the overall scope and prevalence of human rights violations that fell within the purview of the report. According to our estimate, around 4,000 conflict-related detainees have been subjected to torture or ill-treatment in Ukraine since 2014 - in both Government-controlled territory and armed group-controlled territory. The prevalence of the torture and ill-treatment was highest at the initial stages of the conflict, and has decreased over time.
In Government-controlled territory, in the early stages of the conflict, cases of arbitrary detention included enforced disappearances, detentions without court warrants, and confinement in unofficial places of detention, often secret and incommunicado. From late 2016, the use of unofficial places of detention to hold conflict-related detainees for longer periods, lasting more than a few days, substantially decreased. We continue, however, to document cases of arbitrary detention of conflict-related detainees for shorter periods, lasting up to several days. These men and women were often held in rented apartments, hotel rooms or similar places, before being transferred to official detention facilities, where their detention was then recorded.
In armed group-controlled territory, detention during the initial stages of the conflict lacked any semblance of legal process and often amounted to enforced disappearance. Such detentions were formalized with the introduction of so-called “administrative arrest” in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’, and “preventive detention” in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’. We found that a large majority of the conflict-related detentions documented amounted to arbitrary detention. This situation continues today.
We are gravely concerned that egregious violations of torture and ill-treatment documented in the ‘Izoliatsiia’ facility in Donetsk, as well as in other places of detention in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘republics’, continue on a daily basis, and are carried out systematically. These violations must stop. A confidential and unimpeded access of OHCHR and other independent international monitors to places of detention and detainees in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘republics’ must be granted as a priority.
Also, there has been little accountability for violations committed on either side of the contact line. While we can count victims in the thousands, perpetrators who have been brought to account only number in the dozens. Remedy and reparation, such as compensation and rehabilitation, for victims, are also woefully absent. It is often NGOs who are called upon to help fill these gaps.
I turn now to the Secretary-General interim report on Crimea, mandated by U.N. General Assembly resolution 75/192. Despite its efforts, our Office has not been able to find appropriate modalities to conduct a mission to Crimea in line with relevant General Assembly resolutions on Crimea. Therefore, the report is based on information collected through remote monitoring conducted by our Office through its human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine.
The report highlights the continuing failure of the Russian Federation to uphold its obligations as the occupying Power in Crimea under international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
In the administration of justice, the Office documented cases of deliberate hindrance and harassment of lawyers who actively defended the rights of their clients in high-profile cases investigated by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation in Crimea. Furthermore, courts continued to deliver guilty verdicts in high-profile proceedings during which fair trial guarantees were not fully respected.
Our Office received new allegations of torture and ill-treatment committed by members of the Russian Federal Security Service and other law enforcement entities against individuals in their custody, in particular to coerce them into self-incrimination or testifying against others.
Detainees from Crimea complained about poor conditions of detention in penitentiary institutions in Crimea and in the Russian Federation, which could amount to ill-treatment. Arbitrary placement in disciplinary cells, often in the form of solitary confinement, was used as a form of punishment for minor disciplinary offences or as a method to coerce statements from detainees to incriminate third parties.
Our Office recorded the arbitrary arrests of 19 persons in Crimea, including 11 Crimean Tatars. The majority of these individuals were suspected of terrorism, illegal possession of explosives, and membership in religious groups banned by the Russian Federation but lawful under Ukrainian law.
Congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses remain under a blanket prohibition, and individual Jehovah’s Witnesses face extremism-related criminal charges and prosecution for practising their faith. On 29 March 2021, a Jehovah’s Witness from Sevastopol was convicted and sentenced to 6 and a half years in prison, which is the harshest sanction applied in Jehovah’s Witnesses cases in Crimea to date.
The Orthodox Church of Ukraine came under increasing pressure, and is threatened with the loss of its two largest places of worship in Crimea. Two separate legal cases resulted in final court decisions to evict the parish in Simferopol and to demolish the place of worship in Yevpatoria. Overall, the number of the Church’s parishes has decreased from 49 prior to the temporary occupation to only 5 in 2020, with a parallel decrease in the number of priests from 22 to 4.
OHCHR’s ongoing monitoring since the end of the reporting period indicates that the human rights situation in Crimea has not improved.
Thank you for your attention.