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Latest UN Human Rights Report on Ukraine, Explained
20 March, 2017
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What You Need To Know:

The Head of the UN Monitoring Mission Fiona Frazer says the mission works directly with victims and witnesses of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law;
“We verify this information, document it, advocate with relevant authorities, refer cases to humanitarian organizations, undertake interventions and then issue these public reports,” – Fiona Frazer;
The recent report saw an increase in civilian casualties, compared to a year ago, particularly during the spike of hostilities around the triangle of Avdiivka, Yasynuvata, and the Donetsk airport;
“We have also seen that there has been openness and willingness to address some very specific violations, and I think that was is also important is that there is legislation being put in place,” – Fiona Frazer;

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission has been in Ukraine for over three years, reporting on the situation in the conflict-affected areas on both sides of the contact line. Its latest quarterly report covers the period between 16th November 2016 – 15th February 2017. The Head of the UN Monitoring Mission Fiona Frazer says they work directly with victims and witnesses of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law: “We verify this information, document it, advocate with relevant authorities, refer cases to humanitarian organizations, undertake interventions and then issue these public reports.”

Photo by UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

The recent report saw an increase in civilian casualties, compared to a year ago, particularly during the spike of hostilities around the triangle of Avdiivka, Yasynuvata, and the Donetsk airport. Frazer points out that apart from resulting deaths and injuries, the conflict in the last three months “particularly had an impact on critical civilian infrastructure – that is the continuous impact that it has, for example, on hospitals, schools, but also on various, water pipes, and also on electricity power lines.”

While the conflict has led to some systemic human rights abuses becoming more acute, Frazer does acknowledge Ukraine’s effort to meet its human rights obligation: “We have also seen that there has been openness and willingness to address some very specific violations, and I think that was is also important is that there is legislation being put in place.”

Hromadske spoke to Fiona Frazer, Head of the UN Monitoring Mission in Ukraine in March 2017.

We know that you are preparing the report for November-February, this three-month period, on the human rights situation in Ukraine, including the so-called occupied territories of the Donetsk and the Luhansk regions. You mentioned in your report that you have undertaken actions to improve human rights. What exactly have you done?

As you have rightly pointed out, we have just launched our 17th quarterly public report that covers the period from 16th November 2016 to 15th February 2017. The Human Rights Monitoring mission in Ukraine – we have been here now for over 3 years, we have worked on both sides of the contact line, directly in the conflict-affected area. We work day in and day out with victims and witnesses of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and then we verify this information, document it, advocate with relevant authorities, refer cases to humanitarian organizations, undertake interventions and then issue these public reports.  
 
You single out the sexual violence and gender-related violence. Why are these concerns raised in these reports?

The conflict related sexual violence report that we did covered a period from April 2014 to February 2017 – so it’s looking at the whole time-frame of the armed conflict and so the recent visits that we undertook to places where people were detained were not directly linked to this report. Conflict-related sexual violence is part of gender-based violence. Conflict-related sexual violence is not only about violence that is acted against women; it is also about violence, which perpetrators commit against men as well. The issue is that obviously it is in the scope of a conflict, both in the time frame, the location, the geography, and again, as I say, we are particularly focused on people that have been detained, and were in detention and faced sexual violence during the conflict.

Photo by UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

Also, the report provides a very important figure that you have the documented data of 23 civilian casualties within this period under monitoring. How do you document this?

We have been consistently documenting civilian casualties that have occurred during the conflict. When we talk about the civilian casualties, it’s clearly about the people who have died and people who have been injured. We give an estimated total figure for the civilian casualties, and the figure that you are referring to, the 23 civilian deaths during the last time frame of this report, came about because of shelling, again on both sides of the contact line. There was a particularly critical moment during the spike in hostilities between the 28th of January and the 5th of February around the triangle of Avdiivka, Yasynuvata, and the Donetsk airport where we saw a high number of civilian casualties. We make the point in the report, that while this is actually a decrease in the number of civilian casualties since our last reporting period, the three months prior to November 15th, it is actually an increase in the number of civilian casualties in comparison to one year ago. And also, the majority of those individuals who were killed, some 12, were mostly killed due to shelling. With regards to your question about how we gather the information, we go to the sites where the civilian casualty has unfortunately occurred. If they are injured we talk to the individual, we talk to witnesses, we go to the morgues if necessary, hospitals. We cross-reference with law enforcement bodies, so we really try to verify, from a number of different sources, the information that we have. And we also work very closely with other international partners on this issue, including the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission.   

The UN Mission also raises concerns over the chemical industry in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, for example the Donetsk filtration station. What is the basis for these concerns?  

What we saw in this last three month period, this last three months of reporting, was that the conduct of hostilities, while there were a number of resulting deaths and injuries, both from armed forces, fighters and also civilians, it also particularly had an impact on critical civilian infrastructure – that is the continuous impact that it has, for example, on hospitals, schools, but also on various, water pipes, and also on electricity power lines. And as you can well imagine, this can have severe consequences for individuals, again, living on both sides of the contact line, which can be particularly severe, if for example, concern during the winter – so severe cold. But it’s really about the consequences for civilians who live in that area and the impact that there may be on the infrastructure that is present in the area if it is shell-damaged.  

Your report mentions 16,000 out of the 25,000 people that are queuing every day for an unreasonably long time to get to the other side of the territory of Ukraine. How do you perceive this problem? What are the recommendations for the Ukrainian authorities to improve the process of crossing the contact line?

We fully recognize that that there are security concerns, but it also very important that both sides of the contact line put in place mechanisms that really ease and facilitate the flow of individuals from one side to another, in order to be able to access services to be able to stay in touch with family and friends, for some it is about crossing the contact line in order to go to school, for some it might be that they have to have access to a doctor that they have been seeing for many, many years of their life. What we believe is needed is that there are more crossings required, particularly in the Luhansk region. Also that the crossings stay open for longer, and also that there is more capacity given to the structures at the crossings, because there is such a high number of individuals crossing back and forth that the capacity there also needs to be strengthened. For us I think it is a positive thing that so many people do wish to cross and do cross back and forth every day, some 25,000 every day. It shows that the contact line is very artificial, that there is still an eagerness on both sides of the contact line for communities, families to maintain the links, and I think that’s a very important factor not to see further division of the communities on both sides of the contact lines.

What are your recommendations to improve the human rights situation and protection in those territories that are controlled by the Ukrainian government in the conflict zone?

We always issue recommendations for each one of our reports, so you can imagine, after 17 quarterly public reports, to the thematic reports we have a wealth of recommendations. Some of them are very general, so for example, we would say there needs to be investigations full effective into allegations of ill-treatment and torture. Others are more specific, so with regards to our last thematic report on conflict-related sexual violence, we particularly made the point that there needs to be an amendment in the legislation on the definition of rape, and then clearly, one that we keep making consistently with regards to the fact that there continues to be an armed conflict in the east of the country is that, all parties to the conflict need to adhere to the ceasefire, and that there needs to be some resolution so that we can actually see the end to the conflict that currently continues.

In general, what dynamic do you observe in terms of human rights protection?

Well what we’ve seen is that the conflict has led to some systemic human rights violations that were here in Ukraine before the conflict even started, becoming more acute.  I’ve mentioned one already; the use and practice of ill-treatment and torture whilst people are in detention. That’s a very specific one. But we have also seen that there has been openness and willingness to address some very specific violations, and I think that was is also important is that there is legislation being put in place particularly about the judicial reform that is also coming into place. This is absolutely key when it comes to questions about accountability for crimes that have taken place before the conflict, and also obviously in relation to the conflict. So it varies, but I think what’s essential in any country is that there is an openness and willingness of a state to actually discuss, address and try to make efforts to meet its human rights obligation. And I think that’s what we see here in Ukraine.