What You Need To Know:
✅ “We came here to look at accountability — Maidan, the violence, the killings—and we need to still do that. We need to support the government and the state to do that. And it’s even more needed, the question of accountability and that will be important when we get to a situation where there will be peace. We will be looking at whole question then, of justice for victims and holding perpetrators to account,” says Fiona Frazer, Head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, explains her mission’s role.
✅ Without speculating on possible secret SBU prisons on Ukrainian territory, Frazer says that the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission relies on firsthand information from victims and witnesses to produce their reports. She stresses that what is important is that nobody should be held incommunicado, and once detained, people should be given access to communicate with their families and lawyers.
✅ The Government of Ukraine, as in line with the General Assembly resolution 68/262 on territory integrity, has an obligation to all those who live within its jurisdiction.
✅ Dealing with IDPs: “We need a comprehensive strategy for the country, but also, let’s try and look at how we can resolve individual cases.”
You mentioned in your report that at least 5 people might still be detained in SBU prisons in Kharkiv. According to your information, how many illegal detention places are on the territory controlled by Ukraine, where people are imprisoned with no court ruling?
Well, we don’t actually honestly know. We hope that there would be very few and it would be incorrect to speculate on this issue. The main point is that nobody should be held incommunicado. Once someone is detained they should be given access to communicate with families and with a lawyer. So that’s what we should be aiming for and definitely trying to ensure that if there are such places that they no longer exist. And really to ensure that people… in Ukraine for over two-and-a-half-years we’ve been closely following issues relating to detention. So we have a range of contacts but as with everything we do, it’s the firsthand information that is critical for us and this will come from victims themselves or witnesses of violations and in this case when someone is detained. So it would be different actors who might give us the information and we will verify our findings with representatives of the state security services—we have an ongoing discussion with them. It’s not only ourselves. It’s many others who have also raised concerns with them. And according to them, they have one official place of detention that’s based here in Kyiv. So when we request to go into Kyiv, that’s not a problem right now.
Why are they unsuccessful? Because of no access, or because there is no information about such prisons, except for in Kharkiv?
There’s probably a range of those points, but I have to say that the UN subcommittee on the prevention of torture that was recently here in the late summer, they were able to access the various facilities that they wanted to go into, under the auspices of the SBU. So there are different factors, I believe. And we also have to recognize that some access was gained by one UN body from the Minsk talks, and there are further discussions going on. So we know as much as you know. And I think the main thing is that we would very much hope that there will be, as soon as possible, this release.
People who have been freed told us that the Military Prosecutor’s Office is investigating cases like these. Do you know anything about it? Can people, who are detained in such prisons, go to the European Court of Human Rights?
That’s a very welcomed development. With regards to the second point, of whether those individuals being held in detention, I these unofficial places, can go to the European Court. I mean the European Court is a last instance. First of all, you have to go through all the domestic instances in any country. So that would be something that they would need to look at. First, discuss with a lawyer and work out a strategy on how they want to take any case to court. And on the final point, the staff members of the mission, all the documentation that we do is, as you know, part of public reports, it’s part of the advocacy we do but it’s there for—then asked to go and discuss further with the Government of Ukraine, for example. And we make certain recommendations to the various—either government ministries or agencies. It’s not there to set the ground for….
Talking about separatist territories -- the so-called LNR and DNR-- according to your report, there are at least eight places of illegal detention in the LNR and three in the DNR. Have you been to these places? Where did you get this information?
As the basis for analysis, through firsthand information, so that’s where it all comes to us. And no, we haven’t had access to the detention facilities in territories under the control of armed groups. It’s more complicated. We, as are others, are seeking to have access—more comprehensive access—and also the access means meeting with individuals and having confidential discussions with these people. And the point it then, we would have a clearer idea of what exactly the conditions are, what is the situation like for those people who are detained.
Hromadske made a report about displaced people who were temporarily living in the “Kyialnyk” health camp in the Odesa region. They spent two years there. Since the utility bills were not paid, they had to return to the Donetsk region, which was under the control of Ukraine. In your opinion, why is there still no system for the internally displaced people? There is a law but has the situation improved over the past year?
I mean, I think what we need to do, maybe not think about why it’s taking so long, but really try to give some practical aspects to what can be done. We know there needs to be a big nationwide comprehensive strategy but at the same time--and this is what we had hoped for the “Kyialnyk” in Odesa—is that there can be individual solutions to assist IDPs so they don’t, for example, face secondary displacement. And maybe that can be done as an example for how it could be done in other parts of the country. So yes, of course, we need a comprehensive strategy for the country, but also, let’s try and look at how we can resolve individual cases. And maybe in the work that you do here at Hromadske TV, there are examples that you actually come across that can be shown an illustrated where actually the system is working and can be used as a good example for other regions or places. To focus also on how much has been done by Ukrainian society as a whole, to support those people who have become displaced. I think it’s one of the positive elements if you want to say that, from everything that’s happened in the last two-and-a-half years…the amount of support that civil society broadly gave to those who have faced displacement—volunteerism and so on and so forth. So I think there’s a huge amount to learn from the actions of the civil society that have taken place over the last two-and-a-half years.
What are the three main directions Ukraine should follow? And what are the three main human rights violations, in Ukraine, that should be taken into consideration by authorities, journalists and civil society organizations?
The Government of Ukraine, as in line with the General Assembly resolution 68/262 on territory integrity, does still have obligations to all those who live within its jurisdiction. And I think that one of the most important things—and actually it’s the reason that the Human Rights Monitoring Mission came in the first place—is to look at the whole question of accountability. We came here to look at accountability—Maidan, the violence, the killings—and we need to still do that. We need to support the government and the state to do that. And it’s even more needed, the question of accountability and that will be important when we get to a situation where there will be peace. We will be looking at whole question then of justice for victims and holding perpetrators to account.
Hromadske’s Anna Tokhmakhchi spoke to Fiona Frazer, Head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine in December 2016 in Kyiv.