The latest report by the United Nations describes a shocking deterioration in Ukraine’s human rights situation and increase in civilian casualties in the Donbas.
The 36-page report produced by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says a staggering 321 cases of human rights violations took place between February 16 and May 15 affecting as many as 252 people.
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“Of the 321 human rights violations and abuses documented, 112 occurred during the [three-month] reporting period; the Government of Ukraine was responsible for 68 violations (61%), armed groups for 19 (17%) and the Government of Russia (as the Occupying Power in Crimea) for 25 (22%),” it reads.
Unsurprisingly, eastern Ukraine remains to be the hot spot for human rights abuse with 93 cases (on both sides of the contact line) taking place in the reporting period.
Civilian casualties are “on the rise,” the report reads, with 81 civilian casualties in the Donbas, including 19 deaths. That’s a 9% increase from the previous reporting period.
“Half of the total (56.7%) occurred in April, as casualties from shelling, light weapons, small arms and mine-related incidents increased sharply,” the OHCHR report states. “Shelling and small arms fire continued to damage civilian infrastructure, in particular, the Donetsk Filtration Station causing disruptions in the public water supply. OHCHR documented four incidents where DFS civilian staff may have been intentionally targeted, which if proven, constitute a war crime.”
Overall, OHCHR reports that 2,725 civilians died in the Donbas between April 14, 2014, and May 15, 2018.
The OHCHR report expresses concern over the justice system in Ukraine in relation to crimes committed by armed groups and against the national security of Ukraine and notes “systemic violations of fair trial rights and interference with the independence of the judiciary.”
60 violations of fair trials were recorded by the OHCHR. These cases involve the failure to provide access to lawyers and extortion of confessions. This is particularly true of conflict-related crimes, where suspects are kept in detention for long periods of time as a result of delayed trials.
For example, 17 people suspected in the cases relating to the May 2, 2014 massacre in Odesa, in which 48 people lost their lives, have been in pre-trial detention for two-three years.
The reason for this, as stated in the OHCHR report, is the ongoing judicial reform and issues with re-appointing judges.
The OHCHR reports 28 cases of human rights violations affecting democratic and civil spaces.
In particular, the report comments on the increasing activity of both far-right groups and law enforcement against individuals, public events, and peaceful demonstrations.
It points out the recent attacks on Ukraine’s Roma community carried out by the ultranationalist organization C14.
In total, the OHCHR report notes 25 attacks from far-right groups. What’s more, in these instances, impunity is also an issue. Many of the attacks perpetrated by these right-wing groups, or law-enforcement, remain unpunished.
“If left unaddressed, these restrictions of the democratic/civic space may compromise the integrity of the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019,” the report warns.
The UN report also expresses concern over the media situation in Ukraine, highlighting the fact that the number of attacks against journalists and media workers has increased, as well as other incidents that have precluded their work.
12 cases of freedom of speech or freedom of media violations are also mentioned in the report. Two cases were carried out by the police and three involved members of extreme right-wing groups. According to the report, the victims of said attacks were “journalists who were investigating allegations of corruption on a regional or national scale.”
Four separate cases, in which the state had taken measures against journalists and publications in response to their work, are also highlighted:
“One journalist was arrested and charged with state treason, two female journalists were deported and one individual was charged with trespassing against the territorial integrity of Ukraine in relation to his social media re-posts,” the report reads.
Over the past three years, there have been a number of cases in which the state has failed to properly investigate the murders of Ukrainian journalists. Most notably, the report mentions the murder of Pavel Sheremet, who died when a bomb exploded in his car.
However, the report also highlights that generally, Ukraine did not obstruct the OHCHR from accessing victims of human rights violations, with “the exception of access to some detainees in Kharkiv in cases related to investigations by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), which was unreasonably delayed.”