Statement by Nada Al- Nashif
UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights
5 October 2021
Geneva, Palais des Nation, Room XX
It is my honour to present, on behalf of the High Commissioner, OHCHR's 32nd report on the human rights situation in Ukraine, covering key human rights developments from 1 February to 31 July 2021. The findings in the report are based on the work of our Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.
The deteriorating security situation in eastern Ukraine has seen an increase in civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects resulting from active hostilities. OHCHR recorded a total of 62 civilian casualties – 15 killed and 47 injured. This is a 51 per cent increase compared with the preceding six months.
This trend is continuing, with nine civilian casualties caused by active hostilities recorded in August and nine in September, the highest monthly figures since June 2020.
This contrasts with a period of very low civilian casualties, resulting from the strengthened ceasefire of 27 July 2020. Our records clearly demonstrate the value of the ceasefire, which resulted in a six-fold decrease in civilian casualties caused by active hostilities during the 12 months following the ceasefire, when compared with the 12 months preceding it. I once again call on the parties to the conflict to fully respect the ceasefire, which protects civilian lives, and to comply with international humanitarian law.
Restrictions on freedom of movement due to the COVID-19 crisis continued to place a heavy burden on civilians who needed to cross the contact line in eastern Ukraine. This predominantly impacted older persons, specifically women, who were the majority of those crossing prior to the COVID-19 lockdown. Residents on both sides of the contact line expressed frustration about access to water, sanitation, healthcare, public transport and passable roads.
OHCHR documented 13 cases of conflict-related arbitrary detention in territory controlled by armed groups, eleven of whom remain in detention today. In one case, a woman was held
incommunicado for 22 days at a temporary detention facility.
Both self-proclaimed 'republics' issued decrees, in March and April, establishing the forced recruitment of 400 men into armed groups. Another decree issued on 1 October established the recruitment of a further 500 men. This exposes male civilians to involuntary lethal danger, stripping them of the protection afforded to civilians by international humanitarian law, and opens them to the risk of criminal prosecution.
In a positive development, on 5 August, OHCHR was granted confidential access to four detainees in the Luhansk pre-trial detention facility. We welcome this development, and regular confidential access to detainees in territory controlled by both self-proclaimed 'republics'.
In the context of the administration of justice in Ukraine, violations of the rights to fair trial and liberty in conflict-related criminal cases continued through the unlawful application of
in flagrante arrests without court warrants and the denial of prompt access to legal aid.
We welcome the adoption on 20 May 2021 of a law which harmonizes the definitions of international crimes in line with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. We are concerned, however, that as of today, the law has not yet been signed by the President.
I turn now to civic space. OHCHR documented 22 cases of threats and attacks against journalists and other media workers, human rights defenders, environmental activists, LGBTI people or their supporters, and members of national minorities. Hate speech was also directed against Roma, LGBTI persons, women, persons with disabilities and people perceived to have pro-Russian views. It is imperative that the authorities effectively investigate each such incident in full acknowledgement of any bias motives.
Government sanctions imposed in February and in August resulted in the closure of three television channels and restrictions of public access to online media outlets. OHCHR is concerned that the decisions on sanctions are not in line with international standards on the right to freedom of expression, as they were not taken by an independent authority and the restrictions have not been demonstrated to meet the requirements of necessity and proportionality.
OHCHR continued to monitor economic and social rights, and is concerned about the lack of social housing and social services to address the needs of homeless persons. Our monitoring also showed that persons with disabilities were at risk of homelessness when discharged from hospitals and long-term care facilities. Persons with intellectual and psycho-social disabilities in long-term care facilities faced a number of difficulties, such as lack of access to adequate medical care and contact with the outside world.
In territory controlled by armed groups, an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship continued to prevail, stifling the exercise of freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly. In addition, the self-proclaimed 'republics' continued to restrict freedom of religion, in particular, of evangelical Christian denominations.
The adoption of a regulation in April by the self-proclaimed 'Donetsk people's republic' would allow the expropriation of immovable private property considered abandoned or left unclaimed. This not only risks violating housing rights, but may also endanger future restitution and create additional constraints for the return and reintegration of internally displaced persons.
OHCHR found insufficient support and resources to protect victims of domestic violence, usually women, and their children. The self-proclaimed 'republics' do not allow funding from international organizations to finance services or shelters for domestic violence survivors, and very few organisations were able to operate shelters or provide other services to victims of domestic abuse.
In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, occupied by the Russian Federation, OHCHR continued to document violations of civil liberties and fair trial rights.
In June, the Supreme Court of Crimea convicted
in absentia the Chairman of the Mejlis for organizing "mass disturbances" in February of 2014, amounting to a retroactive application of law in violation of general principles of law.
The Russian Federation's blanket requirement of pre-authorization for public assemblies severely restricted freedom of peaceful assembly on the peninsula. Crimean Tatars were issued warnings from Russian law enforcement agencies ahead of commemorative dates that they celebrate.
On 3 and 4 September, the homes of five Crimean Tatars, including the Deputy Head of the Mejlis, were searched. The men were arrested and held
incommunicado, without access to their lawyers. People who had gathered peacefully in support of the men were also arrested and subjected to administrative sanctions.
OHCHR also continued documenting cases of torture and ill-treatment against Ukrainian citizens in Crimea, including the case of journalist Vladyslav Yesypenko, who was apprehended on 10 March 2021 on suspicion of illegal possession of explosives, following which he was tortured. As of today, the Investigative Committee has yet to launch a formal investigation into Mr. Yesypenko's allegation of torture.
Our report includes recommendations addressed to the Government of Ukraine, as well as to the parties of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, to the Russian Federation as the Occupying Power in Crimea, and to the international community. OHCHR stands ready to support the implementation of these recommendations.
In closing, I would like to commend the Government's adoption of the national human rights strategy and action plan, which incorporated recommendations made by the UN in Ukraine.
Thank you for your attention.