While the security situation significantly improved in eastern Ukraine in the second half of 2020, a new United Nations (UN) report highlights a series of conflict and non-conflict related human rights violations throughout the country. The report is based on the work of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) and covers the period from 1 August 2020 to 31 January 2021.
“Since the agreement on measures to strengthen the ceasefire that took effect on 27 July 2020, we saw a significant improvement in the security situation and a continued decrease in civilian casualties caused by active hostilities,” said Matilda Bogner, Head of HRMMU.
Notwithstanding this improvement, from 1 August 2020 to 31 January 2021, active hostilities caused injuries to three civilian men. At the same time, mines and explosive remnants of war killed eight people (seven men and one woman) and injured 28 (20 men, five boys, and three women) over the reporting period. Since the beginning of the conflict, HRMMU has recorded a total of 3,375 conflict-related civilian deaths.
The number of injured civilians is estimated to exceed 7,000 over the same period. “Even one death or injury is too many. Zero civilian casualties should be the objective. We urge parties to the conflict to fully respect the ceasefire and comply with international humanitarian law. We also underline the need to strengthen mine awareness work, including for children and young people,” Ms. Bogner added.
COVID-19 effects and violations of human rights
The combined effects of the conflict and COVID-19 pandemic have been particularly difficult for those who need to cross the contact line. From 1 August 2020 to 31 January 2021, the number of crossings of the contact line in both directions decreased by 96% compared with the same period in 2019-2020.
“People need to cross the contact line. Even during the pandemic people still have basic needs, the sick need to access essential medical care, families need to see each other, and older persons need to access their pensions. Everything should be done to facilitate civilians to cross the contact line safely in order to meet their needs and decrease the negative impact of the conflict on them,” Ms. Bogner said.
While the number of cases of conflict-related torture and ill-treatment has decreased in Government-controlled territory in recent years, accountability remains lacking. HRMMU stressed the need for the Government to ensure accountability for human rights violations, not only in relation to the armed conflict, but also for all other violations. On this note, the report underlines that seven years after the end of the Maidan protests, accountability is yet to be achieved for the related deaths and killings that occurred.
Twelve cases of arbitrary detention in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and eight cases of arbitrary and incommunicado detention in territory controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ were documented.
“The continued denial of access to detention facilities by independent monitors places detainees at particular risk. HRMMU and other international organisations should be granted unimpeded access to places of detention there as soon as possible,” Ms. Bogner added.
Over the reporting period, HRMMU documented 18 cases of threats and attacks against journalists and other media workers, human rights defenders, civil and political activists, LGBTI people and their supporters, and members of national minorities.
Attacks and persecution
The document also reveals the information about attacks against members and staff of political parties ahead of the local elections, mainly targeting two opposition parties considered by many to be “pro-Russian.” In territory controlled by self-proclaimed ‘republics,’ armed groups arbitrarily detained individuals for their social media posts. HRMMU continued to document incidents of hate speech and threats against national minorities, including Roma and Hungarian, and recorded a new wave of hatred and threats against critics of the “Law on the State Language.”
“Since the entry into force of certain provisions of the Law on State Language on 16 January, we have seen a surge of hate-motivated attacks and threats against critics of the law and those who expressed positive views about the Russian language. A law on the protection of national minorities and their languages needs to be adopted swiftly in a consultative and inclusive manner,” Ms. Bogner said.
The enforcement of so-called ‘legislation’ in territory controlled by self-proclaimed ‘republics’ discriminates against a number of religious communities, says the report. The report expresses concern that in territory controlled by self-proclaimed ‘republics,’ the right to education may be impacted by the decision to introduce Russian as the ‘official’ language in educational ‘institutions.’
The report also urges armed groups of self-proclaimed ‘republics’ to refrain from taking any measures that prevent study of Ukrainian and minority languages. The document also highlights vulnerabilities that the pandemic in Ukraine has revealed among underpaid healthcare workers, 83% of whom are women, as well as among homeless persons and people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities who continue to be deprived of legal capacity in Ukraine.
Concerning the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation, the report highlights, amongst other human rights violations, that deportations and forcible transfers continued. “We recall that international humanitarian law prohibits individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the occupying Power or to that of any other country, regardless of the motive,” Ms. Bogner said. Unlawful application of Russian Federation criminal legislation by the occupation authorities of the Russian Federation on the peninsula also affected freedom of religion, notably that of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
HRMMU also notes that the Government of Ukraine has fully implemented 12% of the Mission’s recommendations made in its previous periodic and thematic reports on Ukraine, and partially implemented 57%, leaving 31% unimplemented. Meanwhile, self-proclaimed ‘republics’ have fully implemented three per cent of recommendations and partially implemented 19% of recommendations, leaving 78% unimplemented. The Russian Federation as the occupying Power in Crimea have not implemented any of the assessed recommendations, and partly implemented 3% of these recommendations, leaving 97% of recommendations unimplemented.