In Digest, Human rights reports on Ukraine, Ukraine

New Cold, Nov 16, 2015

On November 3, 2015, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Nils Muižnieks, published a 23-page report on the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine. The report is based on a five-day visit by him in late June, early July 2015 to different cities and regions of Ukraine as well as to the city of Donetsk in the People’s Republic of Donetsk.

Nils Muižnieks of Council of Europe examines shelling in yard of hospital N 21 in Kuybyshev district of Donetsk, summer 2015

Nils Muižnieks of Council of Europe examines shelling in yard of hospital N 21 in Kuybyshev district of Donetsk, summer 2015

The commissioner reports that in the conflict zone in the east of Ukraine, more than 8,000 people have lost their lives in the period since April 2014. Approximately five million people urgently need assistance to meet their basic needs. Two million of those are particularly vulnerable. Access to clean water is a pressing issue for up to 1.3 million people. The commissioner says there are 1.4 million people internally displaced in Ukraine. His report does not cite the estimated one million people who are displaced in Russia.

The report is sharply critical of Ukrainian government actions, including the cessation of social payments to the residents of the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, restrictions of freedom of movement and many other measures it has taken.

The Commissioner calls on the Ukrainian authorities to ratify the 2008 UN Convention on Cluster Munitions and to ensure its effective implementation.

And he writes, “The declared Ukrainian derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights and other international human rights instruments weakens the level of protection of several rights guaranteed by these instruments. This decision should be reviewed and reconsidered on a regular basis.”[1]

Altogether, the Commissioner makes 89 recommendations for the improvement of human rights in eastern Ukraine. The bulk of those recommendations are directed at the Ukrainian government.

The Commissioner also writes a four-page ‘guidance note’ for the announced intention of the government in Kyiv to prepare a ‘national human rights action plan’. The latter is is being undertaken to assuage concern over the regime’s derogation from international human rights obligations (see note one below).

Considering that Commissioner Muižnieks’ report constitutes a refutation of the claim of ‘equivalent’ human rights violations occuring on both sides of the conflict in Ukraine, it is no wonder that the report has been ignored in Western corporate media. Nothing in the New York Times or The Guardian. Nothing in Canada’s Globe and Mail. Nothing in the BBC. Perhaps “censored”, rather than “ignored”, is the operative word to describe Western media’s non-reporting of the report?

Nils Muižnieks was interviewed on Democracy Now! on October 27, 2015. Here is the transcript of the question he was asked concerning Ukraine:

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, a ceasefire agreed in the east of Ukraine—has been agreed—between the separatists and Ukrainian government forces, has been holding. But fears remain that fighting could resume. On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Kiev was not upholding its end of the Ukraine peace deal.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: [translated] It is useless to endlessly blame Russia for not fulfilling or not urging the authorities of unrecognized republics in the southeast of Ukraine to do something in fulfillment of the Minsk agreements, if the key positions of the Minsk agreements are not fulfilled by the Kiev authorities. And they are not fulfilled by the Kiev authorities.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Putin of Russia. Nils Muižnieks, you’ve been spending a lot of your time on Ukraine. What should we understand about it?

NILS MUIŽNIEKS: Ukraine is a human rights disaster zone. Crimea has been annexed. The human rights situation there has deteriorated very seriously in the last year. The east of the country, which is held by the rebels, supported by Russia—I was in Donetsk, in rebel-occupied Donetsk, in July. There are very serious human rights issues there, but the humanitarian situation there is also catastrophic. You have a lot of people who have been displaced. You have a lot of people who are going hungry, who don’t have access to clean water, to medicine. You have allegations of enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture. And the West needs to support Ukraine, but it also needs to hold it to account for its human rights violations, because it also has not done everything it can. And sometimes there are some—there are some military groupings which are also involved in or implicated in human rights violations.

Below is the text of the summary and introduction to the report. The full report can be read online here. It is appended here: Humanitarian report eastern Ukraine, by Council of Europe Nov 2015

Report by Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, following his visit to Ukraine from June 29 to July 3, 2015

Table of contents of report
Summary                                                                               3
Introduction                                                                           5
1  Humanitarian situation in the east:                               6

1.1 Access to clean water
1.2 Access to healthcare
1.3 Social benefits

2  Situation of Internally Displaced Persons                      9
3  Human rights of children                                                11
4  Freedom of movement                                                    12
5  Access of international humanitarian organisations  14
6  Investigations into serious human rights violations   15
7  Police and judicial reforms                                             16
8  Systematic work to implement human rights              17
9  Conclusions and recommendations                              18

Commissioner Muižnieks visited Ukraine from 29 June to 3 July 2015. In the course of this visit he travelled to Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Kramatorsk and the non-government controlled city of Donetsk in the east of the country. He held discussions with state and regional authorities, local decision-makers in Donetsk, representatives of human rights structures, civil society organisations and international intergovernmental and humanitarian organisations. The present report draws on the themes of the Commissioner’s visit and focuses on the following issues:

Humanitarian situation
More than a year after the outbreak of the armed hostilities in the east of the country, the on-going conflict continues to have a severe impact on the lives of ordinary people in the conflict-affected areas. The humanitarian situation is particularly difficult. More than 8000 people have lost their lives in the period since April 2014. Approximately 5 million individuals urgently need assistance to meet their basic needs. Access to clean water is a pressing issue for up to 1.3 million people. Military activities have resulted in extensive damage to infrastructure, including medical facilities, schools and kindergartens. After the disruption of regular medical supplies to conflict-affected areas, the medical institutions and affected population have become increasingly dependent on the aid provided by humanitarian organisations and other actors. The suspension of the payment of social benefits, including pensions, to individuals living in the territories outside governmental control has exacerbated the hardship of the population, which has already been severely affected by the armed hostilities, food insecurity, higher prices for basic goods and non-functioning banking sector. The ability of humanitarian actors, including international humanitarian organisations, to reach out to the most vulnerable groups without impediments to their access and work is becoming critical for the survival of many affected individuals.

Situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs)
The national authorities, in co-operation with the international community, must step up their efforts to ensure that the basic needs of the large number of people who remain displaced are met on a regular basis. The relentless efforts by volunteers, business leaders and local governments cannot substitute for a government-led humanitarian response. To this end, the authorities should develop a detailed Action Plan for IDPs, which would include measures aimed at providing them with durable housing solutions and livelihood opportunities. It should also outline concrete steps for the integration of IDPs in their host communities, pending solutions which would create a favourable environment for their safe and voluntary return. Other important measures to be addressed in the Action Plan include protection against discrimination, access to justice, protection of property rights and safeguarding the right to vote. The Action Plan should be developed in an inclusive manner, with the participation of both registered and less visible, unregistered, groups of IDPs.

Human rights of children
The government should adopt regulations for a simplified procedure allowing children and parents living in non-government controlled areas to acquire identity documents and legally valid educational certificates. In view of a likely increase in cases of statelessness, it is advisable to develop and put in place an effective statelessness determination procedure. The conditions of social care institutions in conflict affected areas should be regularly monitored and effective strategies should be devised to meet the basic needs of their residents. There is a need for an information campaign to raise awareness of the risks of land mines and unexploded ordnance among children and their parents on both sides of the contact line.

Freedom of movement
Freedom of movement is not sufficiently protected and there is a need to find a solution which will reconcile appropriate security measures with the legitimate interest of the population to move freely between government-controlled and non-controlled territories. Improved movement of persons and goods would help prevent the further isolation of conflict affected territories. The existing restrictions on the movement of cargo and public transportation should be brought to the necessary minimum and revised on a regular basis.

Access of humanitarian organisations
The restrictions on the movement of goods and related administrative obstacles introduced by the government of Ukraine are hampering the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable groups residing in the buffer zone and in the territories outside governmental control. Other factors affecting access are the registration and accreditation requirements for international humanitarian organisations applied by the local decision-makers in non-government controlled areas and the closure of certain checkpoints for cargo transportation. There is an urgent need to establish humanitarian corridors and to simplify the administrative procedures for humanitarian aid. The decision-makers in Donetsk and Luhansk should allow unhindered access of humanitarian aid to the affected groups living in these non-government controlled territories and reconsider any decisions which may result in the discontinuation of the work of international humanitarian missions on the ground.

Investigations into serious human rights violations
Concerted efforts are needed to step up the fight against impunity for serious human rights violations and ensure accountability for the most urgent pending cases. To this end, both structural and operational deficiencies in the independence and effectiveness of investigations, as identified by the International Advisory Panel in its report on the Maidan investigations, should be fully and urgently addressed. The prosecutorial and other relevant law-enforcement authorities at all levels are required to have a thorough understanding of international standards for effective investigations and their practical application. There is a need to raise awareness among the judiciary of their central role in efforts to combat impunity. All military formations in the country should be fully integrated in the regular army and any groups acting outside the normal chain of command should be disarmed and disbanded without delay.

Police and judicial reforms
The government should keep the momentum on police reform and take additional steps with a view to strengthening the rule of law, improving public trust and ensuring the efficient functioning of law-enforcement and justice systems. The reforms in the judiciary should aim to protect judges from any form of intimidation and undue pressure and influence. The law on the police should be further revised to include all necessary safeguards concerning the use of firearms in line with international standards. The establishment of an independent complaints mechanism for police activities would improve accountability and public trust in the law-enforcement system.

Systematic work to implement human rights
The declared Ukrainian derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights and other international human rights instruments weakens the level of protection of several rights guaranteed by these instruments. This decision should be reviewed and reconsidered on a regular basis. The adoption of a National Strategy on Human Rights was an important step in promoting a comprehensive approach towards addressing human rights challenges facing Ukraine. The consequent National Human Rights Action Plan should provide a concrete road map for the implementation of the key policies envisaged by the National Strategy. The Action Plan should be prepared in an inclusive manner, through the participation of all relevant stakeholders, including representatives of civil society and the groups concerned.

1. Commissioner Nils Muižnieks and his delegation visited Ukraine from 29 June to 3 July 2015.1 This was the Commissioner’s fifth visit to the country since February 2014. The main focus of the visit was the humanitarian situation in the conflict-affected territories in the east. As part of his continuous dialogue with the Ukrainian authorities, the Commissioner also raised issues related to the on-going investigations into serious human rights violations, reforms in the police and the judiciary and systematic work to implement human rights.

2. During the mission, the Commissioner travelled to Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk and Kramatorsk. His visit to the city of Donetsk was facilitated by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine.

3. In Kyiv, the Commissioner met with the Prime Minister, Mr Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the Speaker of the Parliament, Mr. Volodymyr Groysman and representatives of several parliamentary factions; and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Pavlo Klimkin. He also held meetings with the Deputy Minister of the Interior, Mr Tigran Avakyan; the Deputy Minister of Justice, Ms Nataliia Sevostianova; and the Deputy Prosecutor General and Chief Military Prosecutor, Mr Anatolii Matios. In addition, the Commissioner met with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Valeria Lutkovska, and representatives of non-governmental and international organisations (including the UN OHCHR and OSCE).

4. In Donetsk, the Commissioner held discussions with Mr Dmitriy Trapeznikov, first deputy head of the local administration; Mr Alexandr Kofman, in charge of foreign affairs; Ms Yana Chepikova, local commissioner for children’s rights; and Ms Varvara Burlasova, deputy to the local commissioner for human rights. The Commissioner also met with representatives of international humanitarian and intergovernmental organisations operating on the ground and their local partners. He visited hospital No 21 in Kuybyshev district and a traumatology unit in the city centre as well as residential areas in the vicinity of the contact line.

5. In Kramatorsk, the Commissioner had a meeting with Mr Pavlo Zhebrivskyi, the head of the state civil and military administration in Donetsk region.

6. The Commissioner would like to thank the Ukrainian authorities for their co-operation and efforts to ensure that this visit was carried out in full compliance with his mandate. In particular, he would like to express his gratitude to the Permanent Representation of Ukraine to the Council of Europe, as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for facilitating the visit. The Commissioner would also like to thank the local decision-makers in the city of Donetsk for their efforts to ensure that this visit took place as planned and for providing security for the delegation. Furthermore, he would like to extend his sincere gratitude to international organisations operating in Ukraine, most notably the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU) and the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, for their advice and assistance in the preparation and conduct of this mission. The Commissioner would like to express his gratitude to all of his interlocutors for their willingness to share their knowledge and views on human rights issues.

7. The human rights challenges Ukraine is facing are vast both in scope and substance and require systemic changes, including constitutional, legislative and institutional reforms as well as changes in everyday practice. While several positive initiatives were undertaken in the months following his previous visit to Ukraine in December 2014, many pressing issues still remain to be addressed effectively by the authorities to meet both old and new challenges. The Commissioner trusts that his dialogue with the authorities will be further facilitated by the present report and its recommendations. The present report covers developments until the end of September 2015.

Read the full report at the weblink above or by clicking the attachment.

Note by New Cold
[1] Earlier in 2015, Ukraine derogated from its human rights obligations in the east of the country under the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Other cases of countries that have derogated include Britain during its war in Northern Ireland and Turkey during its long war against the Kurdish people. In all these cases, the Geneva conventions prohibiting torture, war crimes and other rights violations still apply.


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