This is the sixth monthly report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Ukraine, based on the work of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU). It covers the period from 18 August to 16 September 2014.
By 18 August, the Government of Ukraine regained control of some areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that had earlier been seized by the armed groups, and had restored law and order. Residents of these areas, who had fled the fighting, started returning home as of early August. Government ministries and volunteer groups began restoring essential services, clearing away rubble and unexploded ordinance, and rebuilding damaged areas. In Slovyansk, basic services were restored and residents started receiving social welfare benefits and pensions that had not been paid since April when the city first fell under the control of the armed groups. As the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk remained under the control of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’, (1) the Ukrainian armed forces tightened the blockade around both of the secities in an effort to take them back.
Between 24 August and 5 September, fighting escalated in the east. Armed groups of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ were bolstered by an increasing number of foreign fighters, including citizens of the Russian Federation (2).
On 27 August, the so-called ‘prime minister’ of the ‘Donetsk people’s republic’, Alexander Zakharchenko, stated on Russian State television that 3,000 - 4,000 Russians were fighting alongside the armed groups, including former or serving Russian soldiers, on leave from their posts.
Incursions were made by the armed groups into areas that the Government forces had recently regained particularly in the Donetsk region. In a number of areas, Ukrainian armed forces reported being bombarded by the armed groups with advanced weaponry. Ukrainian forces were pushed back from their positions in other areas of the southeast, including the border town of Novoazovsk, captured from Ukrainian armed forces on 27 August.
The escalation of hostilities led to a sharp increase in casualties among civilians, members of the armed groups and Ukrainian servicemen. From mid-April to 16 September, at least 3,517 people had been killed (including the casualties of the Malaysian airlines MH17 crash) and at least 8,198 wounded. (3)
[читаем далее]While the HRMMU has not been able to obtain disaggregated data on casualties among civilians and armed elements, it appears that the majority of civilian victims were killed due to indiscriminate shelling in residential areas and the use of heavy weaponry. There were continued reports of armed groups positioning, and intermingling, within urban communities, endangering civilians. Some of the reported cases of indiscriminate shelling in residential areas can be attributed to the Ukrainian armed forces. The unknown number of military casualties has increased anxiety within communities, and is fuelling protests. 5.
During the reporting period, international humanitarian law, including the principles of military necessity, distinction, proportionality and precaution continued to be violated by armed groups and some units and volunteer battalions (4) under the control of the Ukrainian armed forces. It is critical for all those involved in the conflict to comply with international humanitarian and human rights law, and to be fully aware of the consequences of their actions, and the concept of command responsibility.
In late August, the Trilateral Contact Group comprising senior representatives of Ukraine, the Russian Federation and the OSCE Chairperson -in-Office, established to facilitate a diplomatic resolution to the fighting and introduced into their talks the political representatives of the ‘Donetsk and Luhansk peoples’ republics’. After the first face to face meeting on 1 September, a consultation process began, during which the Presidents of Ukraine and the Russian Federation discussed and tabled elements of a peace plan. On 5 September, at a meeting in Minsk the representatives of Ukraine, the Russian Federation, and the ‘Donetsk and Luhansk peoples’ republics’ signed a 12-point Protocol (5), and declared a ceasefire, to be implemented on the same day.
This ceasefire is increasingly fragile, with daily reports of skirmishes, shelling and fighting. Although there have been fewer casualties, civilians and military personnel continue to be killed on a daily basis. Some areas in the conflict zone report calm, such as Luhansk city, while others have been the scene of increasing fighting and hostilities, such as Donetsk airport, which has seen a surge in fighting as of 13 September. Since the ceasefire, there are reports that the Ukrainian military has been shelled by the armed groups many times. Reportedly, 49 servicemen have been killed and 242 wounded.
Two key human rights priorities emerged from the 12-point -Protocol: the immediate release of all hostages and detainees (6) and an amnesty (7) in connection with the conflict in parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Both elements have been included in a draft law on ‘the prevention of persecution and punishment of participants of events on the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk regions’ adopted on 16 September pursuant to the Minsk Protocol. The law excludes amnesty for crimes, including genocide, terrorism, murder and infliction of serious bodily injuries, sexual crime, hostage -taking and human trafficking. Also on 16 September, Parliament adopted a law offering special status to parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, thereby fulfilling another requirement of the Minsk Protocol aimed at strengthening the ceasefire and advancing peaceful solutions. The two Bills need to be signed by the President to enter into force. While both have the potential to play a critical role in reconciliation and creating an environment for sustainable peace, strategies for their implementation need to be developed with the participation of victims and civil society more broadly. These should be designed to enable implementation of the legislation to be in accordance with international norms and standards,
including UN General Assembly resolution 68/262, through the assistance and guidance of relevant international organizations, and with a view to guaranteeing due process. The President publicly advocated for the two draft laws during their passage, both before the Government and Parliament. The response of the leaders of the so-called 'Donetsk and Luhansk peoples’ republics’ has been mixed, with the former stating that he found that the document contained ‘certain points to start a dialogue’, but he still challenged any measure to remain with Ukraine, while the latter stated that the draft law gave a ‘peaceful settlement its first chance’ (8).
Armed groups continued to terrorise the population in areas under their control, pursuing killings, abductions, torture, ill-treatment and other serious human rights abuses, including destruction of housing and seizure of property. They abducted people for ransom and forced labour and to use them in exchange for their fighters held by the Ukrainian authorities. The y also continued to practice forced mobilisation of civilians and threatened the local population with executions. Reports also continued of parallel governing structures being set up in the ‘Donetsk and Luhansk peoples’ republics’. An unlawful ‘criminal code’ was adopted by the so-called 'presidium of the council of ministers’ of the ‘Donetsk people’s republic’; and entered ‘into force’ on 18 August. Modelled on the criminal code of the Russian Federation, its provisions include the establishment of military tribunals to implement death sentences to be applied in cases of aggravated murder.
There have also been continued allegations of human rights violations committed by some volunteer battalions under Government control, which have been undertaking police functions in many of the liberated towns and villages. The Government needs to exercise more control over all of its forces, including the volunteer battalions, and to ensure accountability for any violations and crimes committed by their members.
With the increasing number of reports of grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed in the conflict area, it is crucial to establish accountability. The humanitarian situation in the areas controlled by the armed groups remained precarious, even after the ceasefire, especially in the Luhansk region. Humanitarian assistance largely depends on volunteers and a few international organisations, namely the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Despite the ceasefire, many people in the conflict area remained for a second month deprived of water and electricity, with limited access to health care and educational services.
On 22 August and 13 September, the Russian Federation authorities sent white-truck convoys to eastern Ukraine, without the consent of the Government of Ukraine. Such humanitarian convoys must be undertaken in full compliance with international standards, and the procedures of relevant international organisations, including proper inspections, before entering the territory of Ukraine.
The ceasefire encouraged many internally displaced persons (IDPs) to go back to their homes in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Some went back to their homes just to collect belongings, others have remained. Those who have returned face serious difficulties besides the volatile security situation, private property has been destroyed or damaged, and employment is limited as many business or industries have now closed down.
At the same time, more than 275,489 registered IDPs (9) remained partly without the commensurate assistance and care. Most IDPs still live from their savings and the generosity of family and friends willing to host them.The conflict in the east has triggered a wave of solidarity among Ukrainians, but the capacity of absorption within host communities has been weakening. There have been some reports of increased tensions between residents and IDPs mostly due to a growing distrust vis-à-vis persons coming from the areas controlled by the armed groups, and 6 suspicions of potential connections with such groups. It is crucial for the authorities to defuse such tensions. It is also important that the draft IDP law under review by Parliament be adopted promptly so as to allow the provision of basic services, including the possibility for IDPs to access health care, education and employment, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.
Some protests against mobilization have been reported and the lack of rotation for soldiers at the front is allegedly leading some servicemen, on ‘leave’, not to return.
Authorities and residents throughout Ukraine are particularly concerned about the coming winter months, especially because of the expected gas shortages. This is a particular issue for those living in temporary shelters and camp sites that are ill-equipped, and for those who have returned to areas affected by the conflict, where properties have been damaged.
On 27 August, a presidential decree announced the holding of extraordinary parliamentary elections on 26 October 2014. It is critical for these elections to be held transparently, freely and fairly in an environment which allows the participation of the electorate throughout the country. Ensuring the protection of freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association will be particularly crucial. Elections are an opportunity to encourage greater participation of women in political life, as they only constitute 10 per cent of all parliamentarians. How people will be able to exercise their right to vote in the eastern regions under the control of the armed groups is unclear.
The precedent of the Presidential election raises serious grounds, as well as with the ongoing curtailment on the freedoms of expressions and peaceful assembly in these areas , which are an essential element for a free and fair electoral process.
The investigations into the unlawful killing of protesters and the Maidan violence of November 2013 –February 2014 continued. On 5 September, an ‘Interim Parliamentary Commission’ report, including on the 2 May Odesa violence, was published and is now under consideration in Parliament. It has highlighted some new elements, such as the use of chloroform in the Trade Union Building. Other investigations into the 2 May violence continue, including by the Office of the General Prosecutor and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MoIA). It remains critical to ensure the impartiality of all ongoing judicial processes in order to guarantee accountability and justice for the victims.
In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the human rights situation continued to be marked by multiple and ongoing violations. As previously reported, the introduction of Russian Federation legislation, in contravention with General Assembly resolution 68/262, continued to curtail freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, religion or belief. Property rights have been violated through ‘nationalisation’ and the illegal seizure of property by decision of the de facto authorities and actions by the so-called ‘Crimean self-defence’. Law enforcement personnel continued to conduct searches, particularly among the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian population, claiming to look for ‘extremist’ material. The number of IDPs from Crimea on mainland Ukraine has further increased to 17,794.(10) The HRMMU continued to seek access to Crimea, and reiterated a request to establish a sub-office there.
On 16 September, the Parliaments of Ukraine and the European Union ratified the EU Association Agreement in simultaneous sessions, moving towards the establishment of political association and a free-trade area between the two parties. The key provisions on free trade will not be implemented until December 2015 at the earliest.
(1)Henceforth referred to as either the ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ or the ‘Luhansk people’s
(2) On 7 September, Amnesty International stated that it believed the Russian Federation to be fuelling the conflict through direct and indirect interference. It reported that it had compelling evidence that the fighting had burgeoned into what it considered to be an international armed conflict. It also accused both the ‘Ukrainian militia and separatist forces’ of being responsible for war crimes.
(3) These are very conservative estimates by the UN HRMMU and World Health Organization based on the official data, where available. These totals include: casualties of the Ukrainian armed forces as reported by the Ukrainian authorities; the 298 people killed in the crash of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 on 17 July; and casualties reported by civil medical establishments and local administrations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The casualties reported by medical establishments include civilians and some members of the armed groups (without distinguishing them). Only a fraction of them have been reported by medical establishments.OHCHR and WHO estimate that the actual numbers of fatalities may be much higher.
(4)This is a generic term applied to type of ‘military’ battalion s recently created, which are currently fighting in the conflict in the east. They have been formed on the basis of the voluntary participation of individuals. These battalions comprise those placed under the command of the Ministry of Defence (known as territorial battalions), and those under the Ministry of Internal Affairs (known as special police battalions).
(5)Protocol on the results of consultations of the Trilateral Contact Group with respect to the joint steps aimed at the implementation of the Peace Plan of the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko and the initiatives of the President of the Russia in Federation, Vladimir Putin. It was signed by the Swiss diplomat and OSCE representative Heidi Tagliavini, Former president of Ukraine and Ukrainian representative Leonid Kuchma, Russian Ambassador to Ukraine and Russian Federation representative Mikhail Zurabov,
‘Donetsk peoples’ republic and Luhansk peoples’ republic’ leaders Aleksandr Zakharchenko and Ihor Plotnytskiy respectively.
(6) Point 5, of the above -mentioned protocol ‘Release immediately all hostages and illegally detained persons’.
(7) Point 6, of the above -mentioned protocol ‘Adopt the law on non-prosecution of persons in connection with events that took place in some parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine’.
(8) According to the ‘prime minister’ of the ‘Luhansk People’s republic’, the law is "largely in line with our negotiating position ... Therefore, although there is still much uncertainty, it can be said that a peaceful settlement has its first chance".
(9) State Emergency Service, 18 September, 2014.