Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine

The office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights has issued a report on the human rights situation in Ukraine. For those of you who don’t have the time to read the whole thing, here is what I considered to be the main points:

Violations of international humanitarian law: Both sides continue to put civilians at risk by deploying armed forces in populated areas. For instance, ‘In Shyrokyne … OHCHR documented extensive use of civilian buildings and locations by the Ukrainian military and the Azov regiment, and looting of civilian property,’ while rebel forces also occupied civilian buildings in towns like Donetsk, ‘thereby endangering civilians.’

Summary executions, enforced disappearances, unlawful and arbitrary detention, and torture and ill-treatment: On the government side, ‘Throughout the country, OHCHR continued to receive allegations of enforced disappearances, arbitrary and incommunicado detention, and torture and ill-treatment of people accused by the Ukrainian authorities of “trespassing territorial integrity”, “terrorism” or related offenses … OHCHR documented a pattern of cases of SBU [Ukrainian security service] detaining and allegedly torturing the female relatives of men suspected of membership or affiliation with the armed groups. … OHCHR is also very concerned about the use of statements extracted through torture as evidence in court proceedings.’ On the rebel side, ‘OHCHR recorded new allegations of killings, abductions, illegal detention, torture and ill-treatment perpetrated by members of the armed groups. The accounts most often referred to incidents that took place outside the reporting period.’

Accountability for human rights violations and abuses in the east: ‘Civilians living directly on either side of the contact line are deprived of access to justice. Both Ukrainian authorities and the ‘parallel structures’ in the territories controlled by the armed groups systematically fail to investigate grave human rights abuses committed in the areas under their control.’

In government-held territory: ‘OHCHR has followed cases of residents of Government-controlled Donetsk and Luhansk regions who have been charged and tried for their alleged membership in and support of the armed groups, simply for being in contact with people (usually their relatives) living in territories controlled by these groups. … OHCHR has observed a worrying trend in criminal proceedings of people charged with “trespassing against the territorial integrity or inviolability of Ukraine.” Courts regularly and repeatedly extend the initial period of detention for individuals held on national security grounds for 60 days without providing sufficient and relevant reasons to justify detention. Grounds for continued detention are almost never provided, and conditional or interim release is rarely – if ever – granted. Many defendants are detained for long periods of time, up to 20 months, and eventually charged with minor offenses, such as “hooliganism”. This has been noted as a serious trend in Kharkiv and Odesa.’

In rebel-held territory: ‘OHCHR notes that members of the armed groups seem to enjoy a high level of impunity for a wide range of human rights violations … In the ‘Donetsk people’s republic’, a parallel ‘judicial system’ has been operational since 2014, largely composed of people with no relevant competence. … OHCHR considers that armed groups lack the legitimacy to sentence or deprive anyone of liberty.’

Violations of the right to freedom of movement: ‘According to the State Border Service of Ukraine, 8,000 to 15,000 civilians cross the contact line each day. They are forced to wait for long periods of time – often overnight … During the reporting period, two elderly people (a man and a woman) died while queuing at the checkpoints due to lack of timely medical care. … Corruption around the contact line continues to be reported as an enduring problem. Bribes by Government personnel and armed groups are often demanded for expediting passage or allowing cargo.’

Violations of the right to freedom of religion or belief: In government-controlled territory, ‘OHCHR followed the tensions between local communities, identifying themselves with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC KP) … Some parishioners and members of the clergy of both denominations reported to OHCHR their concerns about discrimination and use of derogatory and inflammatory language directed toward them on the basis of their affiliation to either UOC or UOC KP. Threats of physical violence, or coercion to force them to change their allegiance have also been reported.’ In rebel territory, ‘the situation of persons belonging to minority Christian denominations remained difficult. In particular, the persecution of Jehovah Witnesses – accused of “extremism” by armed groups – persisted.’

Violations of the right to freedom of association: Ukraine’s ‘“de-communization” law should be amended because it violates freedom of expression, speech, association and electoral rights.’ Also, ‘OHCHR remains concerned about the lack of space for civil society actors to operate in the territories controlled by armed groups, including to conduct vital humanitarian assistance. … In January 2016, several public figures were detained in the ‘Donetsk people’s republic’. On 29 January 2016, the female co-founder of the humanitarian organization “Responsible Citizens” was taken from her home by individuals believed to be members of the ‘ministry of state security.’ Her whereabouts are unknown. … The detention and expulsion of “Responsible Citizens” members followed the illegal deprivation of liberty and incommunicado detention of a blogger on 4 January, three Jehovah Witnesses on 17 January, and a religious scholar on 27 January 2016.’

6 thoughts on “Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine”

  1. Thanks for the summary, Paul!!

    I still have a hard time with that ‘using civilians as shields’ or the more pedestrian ‘endangering civilians’ when applied against citizens of the DPR. They are surrounded, in their homes, by the state’s military and are the only thing standing between that military and capture of the entire region. If the Ukrainian forces withdrew there is no reason to believe personnel from the DPR would launch attacks against territory considered to belong to rump Ukraine. Meanwhile, it is hard to envision how they will protect the civilians under their charge without fighting from among them, since freedom of maneuver is denied them and they are essentially confined to the cities they are defending. The same cannot be said of Azov Battalion’s plundering of residences in cities and towns of the region, because they do not live there and are there only to exert pressure on the DPR. One side is defending itself, while the other is an attacking force.


  2. Indeed, Mark. In a footnote, the UN report says that international humanitarian law ‘includes the obligation for each party to the conflict to avoid, to the extent feasible, locating military objectives
    within or near densely populated areas.’ The key words there are ‘to the extent feasible’. My own interpretation of this is that the law does not in all cases prohibit defending built-up areas and thus deploying troops close to civilians.


  3. I read it yesterday.

    For one thing, what about the nuremberg trials idea that the war itself is the cause of all the crimes committed in the course of it. The one who started the war – the Kiev regime, in this case – is responsible for all of it, whatever happens on either side. That’s how I feel, anyway.

    Also, they have something there about Crimea, protesting against the mejlis being declared an extremist organization. But, come on, have they missed the Crimea blockade, the energy blockade, including blowing up pylons? All this organized by the mejlis. How can they, then, consider the crackdown on the mejlis a rights violation?


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