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Despite Russian aggression, respect of human rights should remain the priority for Ukraine – Human Rights Watch

Київ, January 13, 2017.

Situation with human rights is predictably bad in Donetsk and Luhansk regions and Crimea, although there is a certain progress with secret detentions, Euromaidan and minorities’ rights.

The worst cases of human rights violations in Ukraine are ill-treatment and arbitrary detention of civilians in Donbas and in Crimea, states Human Rights Watch country summary for 2016 that has been presented at a press-briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. “Both Ukrainian forces and the forces of the so-called “DPR” practiced arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of civilians,” said Tanya Cooper, Ukraine researcher of Human Rights Watch. Most of them were detained on suspicion of collaboration with the other side.

Secret detention places of the SBU
Six month ago Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found that 18 people had been held in secret detention in the Security Service of Ukraine premises in Kharkiv through the end of July. They were held in prolonged detention, deprived of contact with lawyers and family. One of them spent 16 month there. Thirteen were released after presentation of the report, the rest were released four month later. “The Military Prosecutor General promised to investigate the case, however, there are no tangible results,” Tanya Cooper noted.

Situation in Donbas and in Crimea
In the so-called “DPR-LPR” “people are arbitrary detained and tortured, in most cases they have no possibilities to stand for their rights,” said Tetyana Cooper. “We are deeply concerned with growing isolation of these territories from international attention of human rights activists, mass-media and others. Unfortunately, the situation is likely to become even worse,” she added.

Human rights situation in Crimea worsened. Russian continues persecution of Crimean Tatars for opposing its occupation of Crimea and ruled to shut down Mejlis, the elected representative body of Crimean Tatars. “Disloyal” journalists and human rights activists are under pressure. “We have been calling and will continue to call Russian authorities to stop violating rights of these people. In is very important that human rights activists and journalists, international as well as local, constantly kept focus on this issue,” emphasized Tanya Cooper.  Hugh Williamson, Human Rights Watch director for Europe and Central Asia, said that Human Rights Watch is going to organize a monitoring mission to Crimea in the first half of 2017.

Freedom of Expression and Media
There were cases of pressure on journalists. For instance, “Myrotvorets” website released and put in open access contact phone numbers and email addresses of all Ukrainian and international journalists who received accreditation to the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (“DPR”) in 2014-2016. There was attempt to set on fire the building of TV station “Inter”, widely perceived as pro-Russian, and a number of attacks on journalists. “In our opinion, the government response to these cases was not adequate,” noted Tanya Cooper. There is no tangible progress in investigation of killing of Pavlo Sheremet, a prominent journalist.

Positive trends
There was some progress in investigation of crimes against Euromaidan activists and crimes committed by combatants of the volunteer battalions “Aidar” and “Tornado”. The court acquitted blogger Ruslan Kotsaba who had been previously prosecuted for calling to boycott conscription. The advocates mentioned as positive trends introduction of a number of regulations improving situation for LGBT community and a peaceful Equality March in Kyiv. “However, anti-LGBT sentiment remains strong among officials and in the society, there is still much to be done,” added Tanya Cooper.

«Despite the difficult political situation and aggressive actions of Russian authorities, reforms and respect of human rights should remain the priority for Ukraine. Progress in these fields and strengthening democracy is the only way for Ukraine to remain an example of a democratic country in the region where authoritarian regimes dominate,” stressed Human Rights Watch representative.

Situation in the world
Human Rights Watch monitored human rights situation in 90 countries around the world, said Hugh Williamson. The biggest challenges of the past year were war in Syria, refugee crisis and other problems related to it, massive crackdown of opposition after a failed coup in Turkey. Human rights situation in Russia is the worst comparing to previous 25 years. “We express a very deep concern about the rise of populist leaders in the US and in Europe, in government and outside government, as we feel they pose a threat to the protection of human rights in their countries and around the world, – noted Hugh Williamson. – We call on governments around the world […] to stand for human rights values.”

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