This twenty-eighth report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the human rights situation in Ukraine covers the period of 16 August to 15 November 2019. It is based on the work of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU).
The report is based on 59 visits to settlements along the contact line, 21 visits to places of detention, 151 trial hearings monitored, 19 assemblies monitored, and 117 (with 80 men and 37 women) in-depth interviews, including with victims and witnesses of human rights violations and abuses, as well as relatives of victims and their lawyers, Government representatives, civil society and other interlocutors. It also considers the inherent link between human rights and sustainable development, noting that violations of economic, social, political, civil and cultural rights can impede Ukraine’s progress to deliver on the 2030 Agenda and its sustainable development goals (SDGs).
While political efforts to end the conflict continued, the civilian population residing close to the contact line experienced daily hardship due to ongoing hostilities, resulting in the continued degradation of their socio-economic rights. People living in remote communities close to the contact line that are considered “isolated”, due to disruption of road infrastructure, internal checkpoints, the contact line, as well as insecurity continued to experience difficulties accessing social benefits and essential public services, such as healthcare, medicines, and education.
During the reporting period, OHCHR recorded 42 civilian casualties (23 men, 12 women, two girls and five boys), six of whom were killed and 36 injured, representing a 38.2 per cent decrease in comparison to the previous reporting period. Twenty-one of these were caused by combat activities : 17 injuries (12 men and five women) were recorded in territory controlled by self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ , attributable to the Government of Ukraine. Two civilian injuries (a man and a woman) were recorded in Government-controlled territory, both attributable to armed groups of ‘Donetsk people’s republic’. A man was also injured in ‘no man’s land’ and a boy was injured in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ with the attribution of these casualties pending as of 15 November. Mines and explosive remnants of war killed three men and three women, and injured five men, three women, four boys and two girls, on both sides of the contact line. In addition, a man was injured in a road incident with the military.
The total civilian death toll of the conflict reached at least 3,344(1,807 men, 1,055 women, 98 boys, 49 girls and 37 adults whose sex is unknown, as well as 298 individuals who died on board of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17) as of 15 November 2019. The number of injured civilians is estimated to exceed 7,000.
Over 50,000 civilian homes have been damaged or destroyed due to hostilities on both sides of the contact line since mid-April 2014. The Government has failed to provide restitution or, compensation for civilian property lost or destroyed due to hostilities or military use of properties, although the inclusion of a budget line for this purpose in next year’s State budget is a positive sign.
OHCHR welcomes statements by various members of Parliament that pensions should be paid to all Ukrainian citizens without any discrimination as to their place of residence or registration. However, no practical mechanism has yet been established. As a result, hundreds of thousands of pensioners continued to be denied access to their pension payments.
While repairs were carried out at the bridge at Stanytsia Luhanska, the only entryexit checkpoint (EECP) in Luhansk region, freedom of movement along the contact line remained affected by the conflict. People in the conflict zone of eastern Ukraine, including in the isolated villages continued to face limitations accessing basic goods and services such as healthcare and medication, food markets, social services and education. The lack of public transportation, employment and livelihood opportunities, in addition to the physical and economic insecurity, including due to mine contamination, further aggravated their situation.
Several allegations of extrajudicial executions and killings were received by OHCHR during the reporting period. OHCHR also documented cases of arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment in Government controlled-territory and in territory controlled by ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’.
On 7 September 2019, a simultaneous release took place between Ukraine and the Russian Federation: 35 individuals were released by the Government of Ukraine, and 35 men by the Government of the Russian Federation, including the 24 Ukrainian crew members seized during the 25 November 2018 incident near the Kerch Strait.
Some of the men released informed OHCHR of having been subjected to, inter alia, torture, illtreatment, arbitrary detention, unlawful use of force and inadequate medical care while detained.
OHCHR welcomes the transfer of 54 pre-conflict prisoners (all men) from territory controlled by ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ to Government-controlled territory on 12 September 2019. OHCHR is aware of more prisoners who have expressed their desire to be transferred, and urges the continuation of this practice from territory controlled by both ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’.
Violations of the right to a fair trial continued, notably in conflict-related criminal cases, stemming from ineffective judicial control of pre-trial detention, protracted trials and the poor quality of legal aid.
OHCHR reiterates once again its concerns regarding lack of accountability for the killings and violent deaths during the Maidan protests and in Odesa on 2 May 2014.
The President vetoed the Electoral Code and returned it for revision by the Parliament to ensure that, inter alia, it would enfranchise internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the coming 2020 elections, in line with OHCHR’s past recommendations.
OHCHR is concerned that, at least, five new attacks against media professionals and four attacks on civil society activists were documented during the reporting period, while accountability for past attacks is still lacking. In territory controlled by ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’, OHCHR did not encounter any critical media content contradicting the political views supported by representatives of the ‘republics’ Social media is the only platform for public display of opinions, indicating that freedom of opinion and expression is severely restricted.
OHCHR commends the generally peaceful environment for OdesaPride and KharkivPride in August and September 2019 respectively. However, in Kharkiv, the police failed to provide sufficient security to participants before and after the event, when four men perceived to be members of the LGBTI community based on their appearance were attacked by extreme right-wing groups. OHCHR remains generally concerned about the human rights of LGBTI persons. During the reporting period, it documented in total eight physical attacks against LGBTI persons and individuals perceived to be members of the LGBTI community. Due to fears of retaliation in territory controlled by ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’, the LGBTI community is compelled to remain invisible. More generally, in territory controlled by ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’, OHCHR did not document any peaceful assembly organised on a voluntary basis. The ability to exercise freedom of religion also remained limited in both ‘republics’ due to restrictions imposed by self-proclaimed ‘authorities’.
OHCHR continued to document violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation6 (hereinafter Crimea), notably torture and ill-treatment and denial of medical care to persons apprehended and detained in Crimea and subsequently deported to the Russian Federation, and impunity in relation to these violations. Among the prisoners simultaneously released on 7 September 2019 were 29 men who had been initially detained in Crimea, including 24 crew members apprehended during the Kerch Strait incident in November 2018. The Russian Federation, as the occupying Power in Crimea, has still not granted OHCHR access to the peninsula, contrary to relevant UN General Assembly resolutions.
Technical cooperation and capacity-building activities continued over the reporting period, including regular training sessions for officers of the Civil-Military Cooperation Unit at the Ministry of Defence. Youth and minorities also benefited from OHCHR involvement at a variety of events.
While OHCHR has unimpeded access to places of detention in territory controlled by the Government, OHCHR operations in territory controlled by ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ have been substantively restricted since June 2018 despite ongoing discussions through regular meetings with representatives of both self-proclaimed ‘republics’.
The continued denial of access to detention facilities, despite repeated requests prevents OHCHR from monitoring the treatment of detainees and detention conditions. This is particularly concerning in the context of strong allegations of human rights violations. OHCHR therefore reiterates its call for independent international observers, including OHCHR, to have unimpeded, confidential access to places of detention and detainees, in accordance with international standards.