Intense and sustained fighting, as a result of the continuing violence by the armed groups and the ongoing security operation being undertaken by the Ukrainian Government, took a heavy toll on the human rights and humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine during the past month, with at least 36 people being killed on average every day. The number of casualties has more than doubled in total since the last report issued one month ago. As of 17 August, the total number of people killed (civilians, military personnel and some members of armed groups) is at least 2,220 since the fighting began in mid-April.
At least 5,956 people have been wounded.
As previously noted, the armed groups are now professionally equipped and appear to benefit from a steady supply of sophisticated weapon ns and ammunition, enabling them to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft such as helicopters, fighter jets and transport planes. The Ukraine Government claims that the Russian Federation is providing such equipment as well as fighters. The Ukrainian military has reported shelling from the territory of the Russian Federation, and of the illegal use of landmines in Ukraine territory near the border area.
During the past month, the Ukrainian armed forces have tightened their blockades around the main strongholds of the armed groups ("боевики", "сепаратисты", "ополченцы","террористы") – the cities of Luhansk, Donetsk and to a lesser extent Horlivka – and the situation in these cities has further deteriorated.
Armed groups have continued to prevent residents from leaving, including through harassment at checkpoints where residents report being robbed, and firing at vehicles conveying fleeing civilians. The armed groups are locating their military assets in, and conducting attacks from, these densely populated areas, thereby putting the civilian population at risk. Targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure as well as indiscriminate attacks are violations of international humanitarian law and more must be done to protect them. Responsibility for at least some of the resulting casualties and damage lies with Ukrainian
armed forces through reported indiscriminate shelling.
All those involved must make a greater effort towards achieving a lasting and peaceful political solution which “is the most effective way to save lives and avoid a humanitarian disaster.”
The situation was particularly dire in Luhansk as the fighting increased. On 1 August, the Luhansk City Council warned that the city was on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe: its residents were without water, electricity or gas, food sources were unreliable, cell phone communication was cut off and medical services were virtually non-existent. It reported that 93 civilians had been killed and 407 injured between 1 and 28 July. There had been extensive damage to buildings, including schools, residences, factories and stores.
Starting on 30 July, a “safe corridor”, unilaterally established by the Ukrainian forces, enabled people to leave the city daily between the hours of 10am and 2pm; many thousands did so. Similar corridors were created for Donetsk and Horlivka. But the corridors traverse areas where the fighting is ongoing and casualties have been reported. This raises concerns about the security of such corridors to ensure safe passage for those wishing to flee the hostilities.
The armed groups have obstructed the international investigation into the crash of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 that on 17 July killed all 298 passengers on board, despite an order by the President of Ukraine to implement a 40 kilometre ceasefire zone around the crash site, which is under the control of armed groups. Sporadic fighting made it impossible for international investigators to properly conduct their search, which had to be suspended on 6 August.
In addition to the fighting, armed groups continued to commit killings, abductions, physical and psychological torture, ill treatment, and other serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law continued to be committed by the armed groups. It is unknown how many people remain in captivity, although it is estimated to be, at least, 468 people as of 17 August: some have been released by Ukraine forces as they regained control of territory; others have been released through negotiation, including through an exchange of detainee process, the payment of ransom or other means.
The HRMMU also received reports of human rights violations committed by territorial battalions under the Ministry of Defence or special battalions under the Ministry of Internal Affairs. This includes cases of arbitrary detention , enforced disappearances and torture.Allegations of such activities by these volunteer battalions must be investigated and the perpetrators held accountable. In addition, the relevant Ministries should exercise more control over these volunteer battalions, in particular instructing them in international humanitarian law.
Everyone is reminded that efforts will be made to ensure that “anyone committing serious violations of international law including war crimes will be brought to justice, no matter who they are.”
The Ukrainian forces increased operations to arrest people it allegedly suspects of subversive or terrorist activity, both in the east and in other regions of Ukraine. The Security Service of Ukraine and police have detained more than 1,000 people in the Donbas region, as of 16 August, because of “irrefutable evidence of their participation in terrorist activities.”
The procedural rights of these people have not always been observed and there are reports of ill-treatment during arrest or while in custody.
Parliament approved three laws during its 12-15 August session that would significantly expand the powers of law enforcement bodies in relation to the security operation in the east.
These include laws to expand the powers of the prosecutor and extending the period of preventive detention of suspects, which appear to be in conflict with international human rights standards, and to restrict the rights of due process and presumption of innocence. While acknowledging that security measures might require the adoption of specific provisions limiting certain guarantees, they must always be consistent with the norms, standards and procedures of international law.
A new round of peace talks initiated by the President of Ukraine was held in Minsk on 31 July, with representatives of Ukraine, the Russian Federation and the armed groups, under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Agreement appeared to have been reached on securing safe access for the international investigators to reach the Malaysian Airlines crash site and on the release of a “sizeable number” of persons deprived of their liberty – the latter being one of the key pre-conditions for establishing another ceasefire. Some detainees were subsequently released but it is not known if this was a result of the Minsk agreement.
As the Government regains territory formerly seized by armed groups, it must ensure that all allegations of human rights abuses and violations by armed groups and its forces are fully investigated in accordance with international human rights norms and standards. Particular attention must also be paid to ensure that those people who remained in the areas under the control of armed groups do not face false claims of collaboration, with any such allegation being met with due process and the avoidance of reprisals. Military prosecutors and the Security Service of Ukraine have already investigated over 1,500 cases of various offences committed by local officials and citizens in the east, and more than 150 people have been prosecuted.
In Slovyansk, the Ministry of Internal Affairs launched 86 criminal investigations into allegations of kidnapping and enforced disappearance.
The police in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions have come under scrutiny with 80% - about 20,000 police officers - requiring ‘re-qualification’ to ascertain they were not involved in any crimes while under the control of armed groups. The remaining 20% were dismissed for misconduct or for not returning to work.
It was reported that all police officers were subjected to a lie detector test to determine their possible affiliation with the armed groups.
Residents of these regions back under the control of the Government report the fear of
reprisals, the lack of confidence that their own cases will be investigated, and fear that impunity
will continue with no accountability.
By 3 August, the Government stated it had regained control of 65 towns and villages in eastern Ukraine that had been held by the armed groups. Some 20,000 residents who had fled the fighting have since returned home to Slovyansk. Government ministries and volunteer groups began working on restoring essential services, clearing away the rubble and unexploded ordinances and rebuilding areas that had been ravaged by months of fighting. By the end of July, the acting mayor of Slovyansk reported to the HRMMU that the city no longer required humanitarian aid and electricity, gas and water supply had resumed to 95% of the normal level. Residents started receiving pensions and other social welfare benefits that had not been paid during May and June while the city was under the control of armed groups.
The continued violence by the armed groups and the ongoing security operation being undertaken by the Government of Ukraine, will leave deep psychological scars on Ukrainians living in the affected areas. Many residents, especially children, who have been affected by this atmosphere of fear and intimidation and the prolonged fighting, may need psychological assistance to heal and rebuild their lives. Many others, such as victims of torture and formerhostages, especially those held for long periods, will also need help to recover. In order to ensure accountability and an end to impunity, all such grave human rights violations must be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice, and victims provided with remedies and reparations. Only then will effective national dialogue and reconciliation be possible.
The effects of the four months of fighting are not restricted to the Donbas region. In addition to receiving increasing numbers of internally displaced persons leaving the conflict area, the other parts of Ukraine have also been affected by the conflict. Partial mobilization, decreed by Parliament on 23 July, is expected to call up an additional 50,000 men and women aged between 18 and 60, including eligible IDPs. This has triggered protests especially from relatives of people being mobilized, but also on social media.
There has been a rise in violent incidents in Ukraine targeting local officials that would seem to be coordinated. For example, the mayor of Kremenchuk (Poltava region) was shot dead and a rocket attack was launched on the home of the mayorof Lviv; both incidents occurred within 24 hours of each other, on 25 and 26 July. Bomb threat s have increased in most of the major cities in Ukraine over the past month. In reaction, law enforcement measures and emergency preparedness have been increased.
Ukrainians will also be facing more economic difficulties due to the financial implications of the continuing security operation in the east, which is now entering its fifth month. On 31 July, Parliament authorized changes to the national budget allocating an additional 9 billion UAH (about 607 million USD) for the conduct of the security operation in the east and 2 billion UAH (about 140 million USD) for the rebuilding and revitalization of the east.
Investigations into the Maidan violence of November 2013 – February 2014 continued; 445 cases of unlawful acts against demonstrators have been open of which 114 cases of unlawful police or other law enforcement actions are under investigation. The investigations also continued into the 2 May violence in Odesa. The impartiality of the ongoing processes must be assured to dispel any concerns related to the investigations.
In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, harassment and discrimination continued against Ukrainian nationals, Crimean Tatar and other minorities. No serious attempts have been made to investigate allegations of human rights abuses committed by the so-called Crimean self-defense forces following the March “referendum”. Meanwhile complaints against the self-defense forces continued. The number of IDPs from Crimea is now more than 16,000 according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The continued flow could be attributed to increasing human rights restrictions, which particularly affect members of minorities, and more broadly to the tense security environment, compounded by fighting in the east of Ukraine.
The transformation of Ukraine into a fully democratic society, with no place for corruption, was among the key demands of the Maidan protestors and civil society activists, who have since been advocating for reforms. However, many in civil society consider that the central Government has been unreceptive to private initiatives and recommendations.
As part of its European Union aspirations and required reforms, and in order to address the multiple issues raised in this and previous reports by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR) the Government should develop a multi-year human rights national plan of action. OHCHR reiterates its readiness to work with the Government in this regard, in close cooperation with the international community, regional organizations and the United Nations Country Team.