15 December 2014 – With the onset of winter, more than five million people living in conflict affected areas of Ukraine are facing mounting hardship and some are struggling to survive, according to a report issued on Monday by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The breakdown in law and order as well as the violence and fighting in the eastern regions, fuelled by the inflow of heavy and sophisticated weaponry as well as foreign fighters, including from the Russian Federation, has had “a direct impact on all fundamental human rights, including the security, liberty and well-being, of individuals living there,” the report says.
“The conflict is in its ninth month and the situation is becoming increasingly dire for the population still living in the east,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
The report is the eighth in a series by the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission (HRMMU) and covers the period from 1 to 30 November 2014. It details how significant damage to infrastructure, economic breakdown, and the disruption of social and medical services are particularly affecting the most vulnerable, including older people, children and individuals in state institutional care.
According to the latest figures* from the UN Human Rights Office and World Health Organization, from mid-April to 12 December, at least 4,707 people were killed and 10,322 wounded in the conflict-affected areas of eastern Ukraine. Since the ceasefire began, from 6 September up to 12 December, at least 1,357 fatalities were recorded, although some may have occurred prior to the ceasefire.
In the wake of the 2 November ‘elections’ organised (in defiance of Ukrainian law, the Minsk Protocol) by armed groups in areas they control, the Government of Ukraine decided to temporarily relocate all state institutions, including medical and educational facilities and nursing homes, to territory under its control. The situation of citizens under the protection of the State, or dependent on such services, who have been unable or unwilling to move to locations where those services are now provided remains of great concern.
This decision is likely to exacerbate the economic and social vulnerabilities of people in the east, the report says, noting the institutional vacuum has the potential to create a severe protection gap, as rule of law, social care, healthcare and educational institutions and other services disappear.
Residents from Donetsk and Luhansk regions will have to register by 31 December in Government-controlled areas to receive social benefits. However, IDP registration points, already overwhelmed, did not have sufficient capacity to cope with the increased inflow of IDPs following the adoption of this policy.
“The situation of many people, including those held against their will, in areas under the control of the armed groups may well be life-threatening,” said High Commissioner Zeid. “The Government of Ukraine remains responsible for protecting the human rights of all Ukrainians, including the right to health, education and social security, in all its territory, including areas it does not fully control. I urge the Government to carefully consider the human rights impact of this decision.”
The High Commissioner also renewed a call for the hostilities in eastern Ukraine to be brought to a definitive halt to stop the continuing loss of life, noting this would only be possible if all provisions of the Minsk Protocol are faithfully implemented.
The report points out that a resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine – as envisioned in the Minsk Protocol, agreed on 5 September and set out in a 12-point peace plan – appeared to recede in November. Large-scale offensives were halted, but skirmishes and indiscriminate shelling of populated areas continued, amid increasingly entrenched political positions.
While the Government of Ukraine had undertaken most required legislative steps, including enacting an amnesty and a special status law (both later withdrawn) for certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, the armed groups have not implemented or abided by key provisions of the Minsk Protocol, the report says. These include ensuring the permanent monitoring of the Ukrainian-Russian border and its verification by the OSCE (Organisations for Security and Cooperation in Europe); holding local elections in compliance with the law of Ukraine; and the withdrawal of all illegal armed groups, military equipment, militants and mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine.
Under the Minsk Protocol, all hostages and illegally held persons were to be released immediately but this provision has not been implemented. On 19 November, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) reported that out of 2,027 people on a list of missing persons, about 1,000 had been “found and freed”, while 378 Ukrainian servicemen, two journalists, and an unknown number of civilians were believed to remain in the hands of armed groups.
On the Government side, efforts to safeguard Ukraine’s territorial integrity and to restore law and order in the conflict zone “have been accompanied by arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and ill-treatment of people suspected of separatism or terrorism,” the report says. “Most of such human rights violations reported since May appear to have been conducted by certain voluntary battalions or by the SBU.” Criminal investigations are on-going in connection with violations of art 146 of the criminal code covering ‘illegal deprivation of freedom.’
The report notes the lack of progress made by investigations into human rights violations committed during the Maidan protests in Kyiv, the 2 May violence in Odesa, and the shootings at Rymarska street in Kharkiv and in Mariupol on 9 May.
There have, however, been some welcome developments on the legislative front. Ukraine is in the process of elaborating a five-year human rights strategy, due to be completed by 1 January 2015. A law in force since 22 November has brought positive advances in the legal protection of IDPs, while important initial steps were taken to improve the anti-corruption legal framework, in line with international recommendations.
In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, there are systemic human rights violations affecting, for the most part, people who opposed the March ‘referendum’, including the Crimean Tartar minority. There have been increasing violations of property rights, including forcible seizure of property, and citizenship issues. The human rights concerns deriving from these issues continue. Unlike previous months, there were no reports of enforced disappearances in November.