This twenty-fifth report on the situation of human rights in Ukraine by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is based on the work of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU),1 and covers the period from 16 November 2018 to 15 February 2019.
OHCHR documented 315 human rights violations during the reporting period, which affected 202 victims.2 This represents an increase of documented violations compared with those documented during the previous reporting period of 16 August to 15 November 2018.3 Of the violations documented in this report, 221 violations occurred during the reporting period.
Of the violations documented by OHCHR, the Government of Ukraine was responsible for 126 violations, the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and selfproclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’4 for 154, and the Government of the Russian Federation (as the occupying Power in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation5 ) for 35.
Throughout the reporting period, OHCHR operations in territory controlled by ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ continued to be restricted.
Ongoing discussions through regular meetings with representatives of both ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ have yet to secure the full resumption of OHCHR operations in the territory they control, as well as unimpeded confidential access to detainees in this territory.
The armed conflict in eastern Ukraine continued with ongoing hostilities in a number of hotspots along the contact line. Overall, OHCHR noted a trend of decreasing conflict-related civilian casualties, which in 2018 were 53 per cent lower than in 2017, and were at their lowest for the entire conflict period. 6 The total civilian death toll of the conflict reached at least 3,321 as of 15 February 2019. More than 80 per cent of these occurred before mid-February 2015, reflective of the long-term positive impact of the Package of Measures to implement the Minsk Agreements on the decline of hostilities and civilian casualties since the adoption of the latter and United Nations Security Council Resolution 2202 in February 2015.7 6. During the reporting period, OHCHR documented 16 conflict-related civilian casualties: two people were killed and 14 injured, which represents a 68 per cent decrease compared with the previous reporting period from 16 August to 15 November 2018.
Shelling and small arms and light weapons (SALW) fire injured ten civilians – one of the lowest figures for the entire conflict period. Of these, nine were recorded in territory controlled by armed groups8 and are attributable to the Government, and one was recorded in government-controlled territory and is attributable to armed groups of ‘Donetsk people’s republic’. During the reporting period, OHCHR did not record any mine-related civilian casualties.
More than five million people,9 including over 1.3 million registered internally displaced persons (IDPs)10 and persons living in isolated communities along the contact line in eastern Ukraine continue to bear the brunt of the armed conflict and its consequences.
The hardship they endure is exacerbated by the lack of access to basic services, social support, as well as remedies and reparations for injured persons and relatives of those killed and for destroyed property. A dozen civilians died in the first few weeks of 2019, mainly due to serious health complications, while crossing the contact line. During the winter months, the lack of adequate heating remained one of the main challenges for civilians, especially those living along the contact line. Despite consistent court decisions in favour of individuals who lost access to their pensions, the Government has failed to implement the judgments and continues to link access to pensions to IDP registration. Further, OHCHR noted the continued need for broader protection of conflict-affected civilians, including IDPs, regardless of where they reside in Ukraine, and realization of their economic and social rights to pave the way for restoring peace and stability in eastern Ukraine.
In government-controlled territory, OHCHR had access to official places of detention and conducted confidential interviews with detainees in accordance with international standards. In territory controlled by ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’, OHCHR continues to call for confidential access to detainees to be granted to OHCHR and international observers.
OHCHR welcomes the transfers of 88 pre-conflict prisoners from territory controlled by ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ to governmentcontrolled territory that took place in December 2018 and February 2019. Of them, seventyfive were transferred from territory controlled by ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ for the first time since the outbreak of the conflict.
OHCHR is concerned about the practice of arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, torture and ill-treatment of civilians in government-controlled territory. During the reporting period, OHCHR documented two cases of arbitrary detention of civilians allegedly by officers of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). Individuals in territory controlled by ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ continued to be subjected to ‘administrative’ arrest and ‘preventive’ arrest, respectively, which may constitute enforced disappearance.
In conflict-related cases, due process and fair trial violations persist as a result of the pervasive practice of prolonged pre-trial detention, and the use of force and coercion to obtain confessions or to accept plea bargains. Interference into the work of courts in conflict-related and other high-profile trials continued during the reporting period. Five years after violent clashes between law-enforcement and Maidan protestors, the killings of protestors and law-enforcement officers remain largely unaddressed by the Government.
Delays in the investigation and trial proceedings related to the 2 May 2014 violence in Odesa continue.
Safeguarding civic space and protecting people’s rights to freedom of opinion and expression, media and peaceful assembly and association is key in ensuring that the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukraine are peaceful and inclusive.
OHCHR documented 16 violations of the afore-mentioned freedoms, as well as the right to non-discrimination, a decrease in keeping with the seasonal lull occurring every New Year period. 11 OHCHR remains concerned about the failure of the Government to bring perpetrators of attacks against media professionals, political and civil society activists to account. Space for freedom of expression and freedom of the media remains highly restricted in territory controlled by ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic.’ 13. During the reporting period, OHCHR followed closely the developments around the granting of autocephaly to the newly established Orthodox Church in Ukraine and the introduction of a 30-day martial law in some regions of Ukraine on 26 November 2018, following the naval incident near the Kerch Strait.
The Russian Federation, the occupying power in Crimea, has still not granted OHCHR access to the peninsula in line with UN General Assembly resolution on the territorial integrity of Ukraine 68/262 and resolutions 71/205, 72/190 and 73/263. OHCHR monitors the human rights situation on the peninsula from mainland Ukraine. The Russian Federation continues to apply its laws, in violation of international humanitarian law applicable to an occupying power, resulting in grave human rights violations, disproportionately affecting Crimean Tatars. OHCHR also notes that Ukrainian crew members apprehended by Russian authorities in the Kerch Strait on 25 November 2018 could be considered as prisoners of war and protected under the Third Geneva Convention.