Kyiv, 2 March 2015 – The estimated number of people killed in eastern Ukraine since April 2014 has now passed the 6,000* mark, in spite of successive ceasefires, the UN Human Rights Office announced Monday during the press-briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center, saying the escalation in fighting in recent weeks, particularly near Donetsk airport and in the Debaltseve area, resulted in hundreds of deaths, both civilian and military, and an untenable situation for those trapped or held hostage in the areas controlled by armed groups.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the latest human rights monitoring report on the situation in Ukraine, released today, paints a picture of “merciless devastation of civilian lives and infrastructure.” Women, children, the elderly and vulnerable groups have been particularly badly affected.
“More than six thousand lives have now been lost in less than a year due to the fighting in eastern Ukraine,” Zeid said. “It is imperative that all sides comply with the provisions of the Minsk Agreements and halt the indiscriminate shelling and other hostilities that have created a dreadful situation for civilians – in stark disregard of international humanitarian law and human rights law.”
The ninth report of the UN Human Rights Mission in Ukraine, which covers the period between 1 December 2014 and 15 February 2015, refers to reports that heavy weaponry and foreign fighters, including from the Russian Federation, continue to flow into areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions controlled by the armed groups.
After a relative lull in December, the security and human rights situation in the east “dramatically deteriorated” in January and early February, the report states. Heavy civilian tolls of dead and wounded resulted from indiscriminate shelling of residential areas in both Government-controlled areas, such as Avdiika, Debaltseve, Popasna, Schastia and Stanychno Luhanske, as well as cities controlled by the armed groups, including Donetsk and Horlivka.
“The human rights situation in Ukraine remains grave,” the High Commissioner said, noting that recent challenges include a series of terrorist attacks in Kharkiv and Odesa, along with fears of another attack on Mariupol, where 31 people died on 24 January.
“Should this trend continue, this would represent a new and very deadly chapter in this conflict, expanding the areas where the rule of law and the protection of human rights are effectively absent,” Zeid said.
From mid-April 2014 to 28 February 2015, 5,809 people were documented as killed and 14,740 wounded in the east of Ukraine. Of these, 1,012 were killed and 3,793 wounded between 1 December 2014 and 15 February 2015. Given that full reports on casualties, especially near Donetsk airport and in the Debaltseve area, are still pending, the UN Human Rights Office estimates that the total number of people killed in eastern Ukraine by 2 March has almost certainly exceeded 6,000.*
“All aspects of people’s lives are being negatively affected, and the situation is increasingly untenable for the local inhabitants, especially in areas controlled by the armed groups. Many have been trapped in conflict zones, forced to shelter in basements, with hardly any drinking water, food, heating, electricity or basic medical supplies,” Zeid said.
Although driven by security concerns, travel restrictions imposed by the Government on 21 January on movement in and out of areas where security operations were taking place have created new difficulties for civilians already living extremely precariously, the report states.
“Yet the assumption that those who remain in territory controlled by armed groups do so by choice is both worrying and misguided. Many people stay because they fear for their lives if they try to move. Many others stay to protect children, other family members, or their property. And some are forced to stay against their will, or are simply physically unable to leave,” Zeid said.
“All those who remain have a right to protection according to international human rights and international humanitarian law, which must be respected by all relevant authorities. All violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law must be thoroughly investigated and perpetrators promptly brought to justice.”
The report details distressing examples of the suffering borne by civilians, including credible allegations of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearances, committed mostly by the armed groups but in some instances also by the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies.
The situation in eastern Ukraine is also increasingly impacting on human rights in the rest of the country. There are now one million registered internally displaced people. In many locations, reception centres for them are overwhelmed and under-resourced.
In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the status of which is prescribed by UN General Assembly Resolution 68/262, systematic human rights violations continued to take place, affecting mostly Crimean Tatars and those who opposed the March ‘referendum,’ the report states.
The report notes some positive developments, including the talks that resulted in the new ceasefire agreement. The UN Human Rights Office also welcomes the provisions regarding an “all-for-all” release of hostages and unlawfully detained people, the pullback of heavy weaponry from the line of contact, withdrawal of foreign armed formations, mercenaries and weapons from the territory of Ukraine and the reinstatement of full control of the state border by the Government of Ukraine throughout the conflict area.