In Digest, Feature Articles, Human rights reports on Ukraine, Ukraine

New Cold, Sept 9, 2015

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner  for Human Rights (OHCHR) has released its first report in four months purporting to provide an overview of the human rights situation in Ukraine. It is the eleventh such report of the OHCHR on Ukraine since 2013.

UN's Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, speaking to media in March 2015 (AP photo)

UN’s Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonović, speaking to media in March 2015 (AP photo)

This latest report covers the period from May 16 to August 15, 2015. The report is based on the work of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine and it focuses on the situation in eastern Ukraine. The 44-page report of the OHCHR is here. As with past such reports, it is heavily biased towards the governing regime in Kyiv. (All the mentioned UNHRMM reports on Ukraine are here.)

The UN body has revised its estimate of the numbers of people killed and wounded by the civil war launched in April 2014 by the governing regime in Kyiv.[1] It now says close to 8,000 civilians and military combatants have been killed and nearly 18,000 injured.

The UN body provides no information of how its casualty numbers are arrived at. The numbers are lower that the estimates of officials on the Donetsk and Lugansk republics. For example, the human rights ombudsperson of the Donetsk People’s Republic reported in August 2015 that in the year to date in the territory under its control, 1,287 people died and 1,100 were injured. These figures were drawn from medical records at hospitals and emergency health care centers. reported on Feb. 8, 2015 that the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper in Germany was reporting casualty figures on the Ukrainian side to be ten times those of UN and Kyiv officials. It wrote:

Germany’s special services estimate the probable number of deceased Ukrainian servicemen and civilians at up to 50,000 people. This figure is about ten times higher than official data. Official figures are clearly too low and not credible,” the newspaper reported on Sunday, citing its source.

RT also reported on an estimate by DPR military officials of Ukrainian army losses in Donetsk after Kyiv launched a new military offensive in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine in January 2015, definitively breaking a ceasefire agreement it was obliged to sign in September 2014. Eduard Basurin of the DPR said the Ukrainian army lost 1,569 servicemen in just three weeks after it restarted its offensive. [2]

Ukraine suffered a large military blow in early February 2015 when some 8,000 of its soldiers became trapped in and around the small city of Debaltseve. Kyiv refused an offer of free passage for its soldiers out of their entrapment provided they leave their weapons behind. Instead, it ordered them to fight their way out, causing heavy losses. The defeat of its offensive obliged Kyiv to sign a second ceasefire agreement in Minsk on February 12.

UN Security Council discusses Ukraine, March 6, 2015 (UN photo, Loey Felipe)

UN Security Council discusses Ukraine, March 6, 2015 (UN photo, Loey Felipe)

The UN report is typical of past reports by the same body in that it is deeply hostile to the people and governing authorities in the the rebel territories of Donetsk and Lugansk. Here is an example of the language of the UN, contained in the UN News Center press release of September 8:

Meanwhile, the development of more centralized civilian administrative structures and procedures in the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ continued during the reporting period, although they do not conform with either international law or the national legislation of Ukraine.

According to the report, civilians living in the conflict-affected area, particularly near the contact line, bear the brunt of the armed conflict, facing uncertainty and hardship on a daily basis. Their overall situation is reportedly worsening, including in terms of access to food and water, and is of particular concern with winter approaching.

Thus, according to the UN, the Donetsk and Lugansk republics are supposed to “conform” to the national legislation of a regime in Kyiv which labels them “terrorists”, has declared war upon them, and for the past 18 months has levelled all manner of war crimes against the civilian population of the territories. The republics  are, in turn, supposed to “conform” to the international law of the international agencies such as the UN Security Council whose majority is backing Kyiv.

In fact, there is an international law, of sorts, which can serve as a fine roadmap out of the present political and military impasse in Ukraine. It is the Minsk-2 ceasefire agreement of Feb. 12, 2015. Its terms were negotiated with the direct participation of Russia, Germany and France. But nowhere does the OHCHR report suggest that Minsk-2 provides such a roadmap, still less whether Kyiv has lived up to its terms. The report refers to Minsk-2 at various points in its text, but only in passing.

The UN press release says: “The report notes a ‘persistent pattern of arbitrary and incommunicado detention by the Ukrainian law enforcement, mainly by the Security Service of Ukraine, and by military and paramilitary units’.” But then it goes on to make equivalent accusations of human rights abuses against the governing authorities in Donbas and Crimea (whose authority the OHCHR does not recognize). Claims of such equivalency are unproven and not credible.

The release devotes three of its 18 paragraphs to the trial in Russia of Oleh Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko. They were convicted last month of organizing violent attacks on the government and people of Crimea in 2014. But the same release says little specific of the jailings of opposition political figures, journalists and activists in Ukraine, whose numbers are in the hundreds. (See Western hypocrisy over convictions in Russia of Oleg Sentsov and Alexander Kol’chenko, by Victor Shapinov, Aug 28, 2015.)

The full OHCHR report contains two and a half pages of  attention to “Unlawful and arbitrary detention, summary executions and torture and ill- treatment” by the governing authorities in Kyiv. As it happens, that’s less than the space devoted to equivalent claims against Donetsk and Lugansk authorities, but in any event, the report’s cited examples consist of anecdotal reports of individual cases with no attempt to discern a pattern or overall numbers. High-profile cases of journalists and political activists jailed or killed, including that of journalist Oles Buzina, murdered in broad daylight in Kyiv in front of his home on April 16, 2015 by right-wing extremists, do not earn mention.[3]

Concerning the banning of political parties by the Kyiv regime and other grave infringements on the right of political expression and assembly, the report contains a few anecdotal examples but no analysis of the deeply troubling overall trends or the most high profile cases, for example, the ongoing effort to outright proscribe the large Communist Party and other, smaller, parties with ‘communist’ in their name.

The Sniper Massacre on Maidan Square on Feb 20, 2014 and the Odessa Massacre of May 2, 2014

Among the various tropes which the UN report repeats is the false claims about the sniper fire that killed dozens of police and protesters on Maidan Square on February 20, 2014. The report repeats the increasingly discredited claims that snipers of the ‘Berkut’ special police units of the elected Ukrainian president who was overthrown on February 22 committed a massacre. It notes simultaneously that the “investigation” by the Ukrainian justice system of this claimed, heinous crime is apparently going nowhere:

Limited progress has been achieved in the investigation into the incidents of excessive use of force during the dispersal of protestors at Maidan on 30 November 2013 and the killing of protestors in Kyiv between 18 and 20 February 2014, when special police units used firearms.

Concerning the Odessa Massacre of May 2, 2014, in which at least 48 people protesting the illegal regime change in Kyiv on Feb. 22, 2014 were killed in an arson attack, the report dryly notes, “only limited progress has been observed in the investigations”.

Researcher Ivan Katchanovski at the University of Ottawa has responded to the UN report with a comment on Facebook:

The UN human rights report also failed to notice revelations from the Maidan massacre trial pointing to falsification of the Maidan massacre case. The same concerns the Odessa massacre [of May 2, 2014]. The politically-motivated misrepresentation of the Maidan mass killing now rivals the Katyn massacre.

Katchanovski has published his extensive research into the Sniper Massacre on Maidan Square and concludes that it was paramilitary forces of the Maidan (Euromaidan) movement which perpetrated the killings.

He also comments on the coincidental announcement of a propaganda documentary film to be premiered next month on Netflix. The film is titled Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom. Katchanovski writes:

Its trailer and advance reviews suggest that this Netflix documentary also misrepresents the Maidan massacre in Ukraine. The trailer highlights excerpts from highly publicized videos to suggest that the government forces massacred the protesters even after my study showed how these videos were misrepresented.

My paper presented last week to the  American Political Science Association comments on these videos as follows:

Another publicized but misrepresented video shows that Dmytro Holubnychyi, a teenage protester, and some other protesters fled from the barricade on Instytutska Street within two minutes after Iosyp Shyling was killed in the head at the same barricade at 10:28 am and immediately after a loud call by one of the protesters that ‘they [shooters] are behind.” Holubnychyi confirmed in his media interview that he and other protesters came under live ammunition fire by the shooters from the Hotel Ukraina.

Oleh Sukhinsky, a protester in a lilac cover who is seen in the 55 minute video shortly before and shortly after his wounding, said in his interview that he saw that he was shot from the Hotel Ukraina. His wound on the right leg coincided with the position of advancing protesters and the shot from the direction of the hotel. However, he was then carried out at 9:27 am to the make-shift hospital, which was organized with direct involvement of Svoboda deputies on the ground floor of the same Hotel Ukraina from which he was shot at. Later many other killed and wounded protesters were carried out to this hotel and Zhovtnevyi Palace. These seemingly irrational decisions from a point of a view of personal safety turn to be rational if both buildings were controlled by the Maidan protesters and the concealed shooters there were from the Maidan side.

Belgian VTM TV and BBC videos shows Ihor Dmytiv being shot dead on the right side of Instytutska Street at 9:21 am and Andrii Dyhdalovych being hit and killed on the same spot one minute later. Reported entry wounds and an analysis of testimony by two protesters who witnessed these shooting indicate that in both cases they were shot from the Hotel Ukraina. Dmytriv reported four wounds included one in his shoulder, and he was positioned with his back towards the hotel at the moment of his shooting. Mykhailo Khomik, who is seen in the videos at that place and time in a while helmed stated that Dmytiv was shot from the hotel. A protester in his interview to a Dutch television soon after this happened said that Dyhdalovych was killed from the hotel, but the Maidan leaders and the media claimed that he was killed by the government snipers. Similarly, videos showing the Omega sniper lying on the ground and then pointing his rifle into the direction of the Hotel Ukraina exactly when Dyhdalovych was shot dead in front of the barricade were misrepresented as a definite proof of government snipers killing him and other protesters.

A video from the police side of the barricade depicts several Berkut policemen with 7.62mm caliber AKMs and many armed members of the Omega special Internal Troops unit with 5.65 caliber AKS-74 taking cover from live ammunition fire during the height of the massacre of the protesters starting at 9:55 am. It shows that several Omega snipers arrived there at a later stage of the massacre. One Omega sniper was filmed targeting an open window of the Hotel Ukraina, and another sniper pointing his rifle in an upward direction, likely toward Zhovtnevyi Palace around 10:40-10:45 am. A Ukraina TV journalist, who filmed this video, confirmed that they came under a fire and were looking for a sniper in the Hotel Ukraina. All these buildings and the protesters on Instytutska Street were located downslope from this police barricade. A previously unreported radio intercept of the Omega commander (Strelchenko ) and servicemen from his unit informed at 10:37 am on February 21 about gunshots coming from the Hotel Ukraina.

Mustafa Nayem, an initiator of the Euromaidan protests and a widely known journalist from Ukrainska Pravda, an openly pro-Maidan online newspaper, twitted at 11:58 am a photo of snipers on the police side of this barricade located at the intersection of Instytutska and Bankova streets. This photo was presented by the Ukrainian media as evidence that these were snipers who massacred the protesters. However, these snipers and Berkut special company shooters generally did not hide, and they allowed the media and bystanders to film themselves during the massacre.

A compendium of Katchanovski’s research and writing on the Sniper Massacre of Feb. 20, 2014 on Maidan Square can be found on the New Cold website here. It includes The ‘Snipers’ Massacre’ on the Maidan in Ukraine (revised and updated version), originally published by the author in October 2014 and revised and updated in September 2015.

A comprehensive human rights report on war crimes by Ukraine armed forces and paramilitaries in eastern Ukraine, including widespread use of torture, was prepared by the Moscow-based Foundation for the Study of Democracy and published on March 1, 2015. It was the second such report by the agency. Its findings have been ignored by Western governments, media and human rights agencies. The reports of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights do not indicate if the body has read the Foundation reports or how it judges their findings.

This article also appeared on Counterpunch, Sept 9, 2015.

[1] Kyiv titles its civil war an ‘Anti-Terrorist Operation’. The title comes with a catchy acronym used in the everyday language of the regime: ‘ATO’.
[2] The UN office claims that approximately 8,000 people have died in the war during the past 18 months. Yet a Sept 10, 2015 news report in Vesti.ukr cites the Ukrainian government as saying in 2014 alone, 3,394 of its soldiers died in the war! Kyiv keeps a very tight lid on reporting its war deaths.
[3] The previous, tenth, report of the OHCHR on Ukraine, for the period ending May 15, 2015, did devote one paragraph to the case of Oles Buzina. The paragraph highlighted a statement of the Kyiv regime calling the murder a “provocation”, meaning an act perpetrated by forces favorable to Russia, if not the Russian government itself, with a view to destabilizing Ukraine.


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