Human Rights in Eastern Ukraine, Examined
19 June, 2017

What You Need to Know:

✅ As the head of UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), under the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR), Fiona Frazer and her team collect data on civilian casualties and human rights issues along the contact line in Eastern Ukraine.

✅ According to the HRMMU's 18th Report published on June 13, the last three-month period (16 Feb to 15 May) had 36 civilian deaths and 157 injuries, a 48 percent increase from the last reporting period which "does not bode well" for the conflict as "we have always seen an escalation occurring in the summer."

✅ Frazer underscores the need "to see what the cumulative effects could be on individuals" of the ongoing conflict in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions with the Ukrainian government's refusal to pay pensions to those residing in occupied territories.

There's a significant rise in number in the Eastern Ukrainian war, Fiona Frazer, the head of UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) warns. Hromadske sat down with Frazer to discuss human rights in Donbas, ravaged by the conflict between Ukraine and Russia that has killed more than 10 000 people and displaced millions.

According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR), there has been a 48 percent increase in civilian casualties in the last three-month period (16 Feb to 15 May) with 36 civilian deaths and 157 injuries. “This increase does not bode well bearing in mind that over the previous years of the conflict, we have always seen an escalation occurring in the summer,” said Frazer.

The HRMMU collects its statistics on civilians based their team's visits to locations of reported shelling and casualties, and interviews with witnesses. This information is verified with partners such as the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, and with hospitals and morgues.

Frazer stressed that the 10,090 deaths reported in the war so far is an underestimation. The most important humanitarian issues in the war-torn Ukrainian territories, according to Frazer, are related to security issues in the daily lives of individuals, especially for those crossing the contact line has become a necessity. “The Ukrainian government needs to review how it dispenses pensions and provide civil services, especially civil registration," Frazer stated.

With some 400,000 being de-registered under the government’s position of refusing pensions to individuals residing in Russian-occupied territories, Frazer underscores the need "to see what the cumulative effects could be on individuals." This applies in particular to vulnerable sections of the population including pensioners.

How do you manage to document the number of casualties in the occupied territories?

Fiona Frazer: There were some 36 civilians who were killed and 157 who were injured. For us, this identifies that there are 48 percent increase in civilians casualties in comparison to the previous three-month reporting period. And the majority of the cases are due to shelling. And also what concern us is this increase does not bode well bearing in mind that over the previous years of the conflict, we have always seen an escalation occurring in the summer. So we are worried that, based on the previous three year trend of the conduct of hostilities and where the spike was particularly, in the month of August, and bearing in mind that we have seen an increase in the number of civilian casualties, this all doesn’t bode well to the fact that we have an ongoing conflict and there appears to be no end in sight.

We document casualties on armed-group controlled territory as we do anywhere along the contact line. It is done based on visits that our teams take to locations where that have been shelling, where there is a reported casualty. Interviews the teams undertake with either witness, or if we were capable of speaking with someone who’s been injured on what actually took place. We then seek to verify the information with partners, for example, the OSCE special monitoring mission, or/and also with hospitals , and with morgues. And the information we present is only information that has been double-checked, verified, and in all cases that we do report on in the report, we have the name, the address of the actual individual.

I want to clarify that this also applies to those who fight, those who are called militants. I mean the deaths and injuries.

Fiona Frazer: We focus on civilian casualties. We understand and we also receive the official information that comes the government of Ukraine with regard to casualties on the side of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. And we also receive, and we see, the information that is provided by the armed groups, whether it is the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic or the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic. So we leave that information to those, both those parties, and we just look at the civilian casualties.

Within these numbers, 10,090 killed, there were 2,777 civilians. We have the numbers of Ukrainian soldiers killed, which are around 5000, the rest are representatives of illegally armed groups. Am I understanding this correctly?

Fiona Frazer: As I have said, the overall figure is based, when it comes to Ukrainian Forces, it is based on official information that comes from the government of Ukraine. When it comes to, we also receive information from members of the armed groups, the official spokespersons. And the work we are doing is documenting, when it comes to civilian casualties. So it is really when we have gone out and we have seen, following reports of a shelling incident or a mine incident that has effected a civilian. That is where we are calculating. We always stress that we believe that this is an estimate and we believe that it is probably an underestimate as well.

What do you think is the biggest problem in the controlled and uncontrolled territories? We know that now there are huge problems with water supply in those areas.

Fiona Frazer: The ongoing conflict in the East continues to raise huge risks for individuals from a purely security perspective, from how they are able to live their lives and go about their lives. As in, the risks they do face, as we have just discussed, are basically their right to life. We have two very different situations, depends where an individual is on which side of the contact line. We have a situation where for an individual that continues to live in a government-controlled area, there is some form of means to access justice. Whereas for those who continue to reside on armed group-controlled territories, in this report we have documented. So we have concerns for access to justice, and the means an individual can raise a complaint, raise a concern. And then, on top of that, you have situations that individuals about how they are able to move back and forth across the contact line as we have all seen over the last three-month period.

Again, huge numbers of people go back and forth across the contact line and they go for many different reasons. I was recently, last week, in Stanitsa Luhanska and there when I was in the middle of the bridge, I was able to speak to individuals who were speaking that they were going to get their pensions, they were going to get money from the bank, there were people who have returned back from government-controlled areas to the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic who actually found that they were no longer entitled to receive their pension because of this verification process that is being implemented. Which is actually seen over 400,000 pensioners no longer entitled to their pensions. We have an ongoing concern also with the fact that you have people who continue to reside in armed group-controlled territories to whom children are being born, unfortunately, people are dying. People need their civil registration documentation. And that is very important aspect for them, for how they are able to live their lives. So that is actually one thing we are working on with other partners; how there could be an administrative procedure put in place that could ease this. And therefore, enable all those who continue to reside there to really feel that they are continue to be a part of Ukraine.

Going back to the issue of pensions. I know that the UN mission is currently trying to persuade or convince the government that pensions have to be paid in the occupied territories, not just to those who have IDP status. How are you currently working on this topic?

Fiona Frazer: There are a number of points around what is a very complicated issue, we appreciate the different perspectives that have been raised in order to fulfill this obligation towards individuals. So they may receive their pensions. Simply put, we do believe it is very important to separate the issue of receiving a pension and in order to receive a pension, the need to registered as an IDP [Internally Displaced Person–ed.]. They are two very different things that we would like to see these separated and we would also like see put in place a mechanism that simplifies the means by which individuals can cross the contact line to government-controlled areas, and there receive their pensions.

I see that it is important to recognize what may be other constraints, but we also see it as an opportunity which the government could really reach out and send a message to individuals who are entitled to such payments, as pensioners, to show that there is an openness and a willingness to really reach out to them and ensure they do receive what they are entitled to after the many years they have spent working as a citizen of Ukraine.

The official government position is that they will not pay pensions on the pretence that the money will go to the terrorists and supporting them. What do you, as part of an organization that communicates and works with the occupied territories say about this? Do you focus on cases where people without pensions are going hungry? How many people are experiencing difficulties without these legal benefits?

Fiona Frazer: Well, I think we are dealing with a segment, if you like, of the population; those who have reached pension age which can be vulnerable for many other reasons. Because, it might have to do with health care, to name just one, and we know that also that it is the older person who has actually not moved so much during the conflict. They have really remained there. And for many, this is their only form of income coming in, a means of carrying on with their living, and so forth. I don’t think we have seen the full accumulative effect, if I can say that, of what does the impact mean for those now, as I say, some 400,000 that are being de-registered. We need to see what the cumulative effects could be on individuals. But for us it is a concern that people will face increased hardship, loss of potential employment which will then add up to the fact that you have a population who no longer receiving pensions. Overall, general concerns about how the situation is moving for those who remain in armed group-controlled territories, but also the impact that will have on the other side of the contact line, and for the broader population of Ukraine.

We know that there really is a problem with water supply and that the liberated territories do not supply water to the occupied ones. What kind of water quality are you seeing there? Could there be a public health threat as a result of people using this water?

Fiona Frazer: The concern is that with the shelling, with then the cessation of supply of water as result of that, it can either result in less quantity of water being supplied to individuals, or the question regarding the quality of the water. Clearly, as we are going into the peak months of summer, this is of concern for a number of reasons. No less of which is the question of health care for individuals.

What would be your main recommendation right now?

Fiona Frazer: I think that major one is the need for the end of the conflict. Our concern is that, as we have documented, the current trend would actually show that we are moving not in that direction, but actually to the risk of a potential escalation.

/Interview by Anastasiia Stanko

/Written by Chen Ou Yang