Statement by UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore
Distinguished Members of the Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my privilege, on behalf of the High Commissioner, to present this report to this distinguished Council.
This is OHCHR’s 26th Quarterly Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine, covering the period from 16 February to 15 May. It was launched in Kyiv on 13 June and is available on OHCHR’s website.
I wish to start by thanking the Government of Ukraine for its cooperation and constructive engagement with the Office and the Monitoring Mission in the country.
For the past five years, my colleagues – located in different parts of Ukraine, including in territory that the Government does not currently control – have monitored the human rights situation and on this basis recommended concrete actions to relevant authorities, the United Nations and the international community to help address human rights concerns, prevent further human rights violations and mitigate emerging risks.
Thanks to joint efforts, some of these recommendations have been implemented, furthering the protection of human rights for all throughout Ukraine.
The country’s new leadership and its upcoming parliamentary elections present a unique opportunity to place human rights at the centre of the Government’s priorities and public policy.
Over the reporting period, OHCHR documented 230 human rights violations and abuses, affecting 220 victims. Violations recorded included violations of the rights to physical integrity and to fair trial, but also of the rights to life, non-discrimination, fundamental freedoms, and of social and economic rights.
Five years on, the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine continues to impact on the population throughout the country, with five million people directly affected by ongoing hostilities along the contact line.
The consequences for the people are grave. A woman resident in the conflict zone expressed it by asking: “What is the value of my son’s childhood? What is the cost of my family separation for three years? What is the cost of my father’s early death because he could not obtain proper medical assistance during the armed conflict”?
Shelling, use of small arms and light weapons, mines and explosive remnants of war continue to kill and injure civilian men and women, boys and girls. From 1 January to 30 June 2019, OHCHR recorded 91 conflict-related civilian casualties, with 13 people killed and 78 injured. Though this is a 52 per cent decrease compared with the same period of 2018, it is still 91 too many.
We believe it is possible to prevent civilian casualties even while a sustainable solution to the conflict is yet to be found. The parties to the conflict must take all possible measures to spare civilian lives and civilian infrastructure.
We welcome the Government’s decision, taken in March 2019, to develop a national policy framework for the protection of civilians in conflict, and call for the development of a related action plan.
As you are aware, after the Maidan events and at the Government’s invitation, in 2014 OHCHR established a human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine.
This reporting period marks the fifth anniversary of the culmination of the 2013-2014 Maidan protests and the violent events of 2 May 2014 in Odesa. Yet, no individual responsible for acts of killing or violent deaths has been brought to justice in these cases, raising concerns about the authorities’ genuine intention to ensure accountability and justice for victims. This continued impunity hampers the long-standing objective of reinforcing justice and peace.
The socio-economic situation in Ukraine continues to be jeopardized by the ongoing conflict in the east. People living in isolated villages and near the contact line are especially affected due to the lack of access to quality services. Divisive and discriminatory policies, legislation and practices continue to hamper freedom of movement and access to pension and social benefits.
Since the beginning of this year, over 30 people have died while crossing the contact line. We do welcome efforts by the Government to facilitate travel across the contact line, notably the recent removal of expiry dates of permits to cross
However, there was little actual improvement in crossing conditions and there remains an acute need for more crossing points. We commend the recent efforts for disengagement of forces and weapons to allow the long-awaited reconstruction of the bridge at Stanytsia Luhanska.
Our long-standing recommendation to de-link the payment of pensions and social benefits to IDP registration is yet to be implemented. It means that over 700,000 people living in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ have no effective access to their pensions.
We welcome the transfer, in March, April and May 2019, of 180 pre-conflict prisoners from territory controlled by ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ to Government-controlled territory. We strongly encourage the continuation of this practice.
Despite the restriction placed on our operations in territories controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’, OHCHR welcomed the resumption of field visits to document civilian casualties and conflict-related damage to civilian property in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’.
It is essential for the international community, including OHCHR, to have regular, unimpeded and confidential access to places of detention. To date, international monitors continue to be denied this access in the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ – where we know of on-going cases of arbitrary and incommunicado detention, and reported torture and ill-treatment, in territory that the Government does not currently control.
In Crimea, we continued to document violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by the Russian Federation, including the application of Russian Federation laws, notably legislation imposing citizenship on Crimean residents, the forcible transfer of Ukrainian citizens, and the deportation of prisoners to the Russian Federation.
Those who criticize the occupation or advocate for human rights are intimidated and even imprisoned. Crimean Tatars have been subjected to arrests or convictions for affiliation with Muslim groups declared as “extremist organizations” under Russian law, including their representative body, the Mejlis.
We renew our calls on the Government of the Russian Federation to comply with its obligations as a duty-bearer under international human rights law and as an Occupying Power under international humanitarian law.
In less than two weeks, Ukrainians will elect their parliament. We commend the peaceful, competitive and largely inclusive presidential elections held in April and we trust that parliamentary elections will be held in an atmosphere fully respectful of human rights.
We are alarmed about interference in the work of media professionals, including physical attacks and acts of intimidation – including the recent death of a well-known investigative journalist on 20 June. To foster an environment conducive to peaceful and inclusive elections, steps should be taken to ensure accountability for previous attacks on journalists, as well as on activists and minorities, notably Roma and LGBTQI.
We are convinced that the recommendations outlined in our 26th Quarterly Report, along with the recommendations from other parts of the human rights system, can effectively contribute to peaceful resolution of the conflict, and a means to ensure justice for all in Ukraine - and stand ready to continue to assist further in this endeavour.
Thank you for your kind attention.