Lives lost in an accountability vacuum: the UN preliminary report on human rights situation in Ukraine


Kyiv, 18 September, 2015. During the ten-days visit to Ukraine, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings and summary executions or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns travelled to Kyiv, Mariupol, Kramatorsk, Kharkhiv and Odessa, and also crossed the contact line and visited Donetsk, where he met the representative of monitoring missions there and ombudsman of so-called “DPR”. The main purpose was to examine the level of right to life protection, Mr Heyns told at the briefing at Ukraine crisis media center. He, though, wasn’t able to visit the Crimea. “I’m aware that there are allegations of serious human rights violations in that territory”- he added.

Mr Heyns is to present his detailed findings on right to life protection in Ukraine and his recommendations in this regard at the UN Human Rights Council meeting in June 2016.

According to preliminary report in the media statement presented today, many of legal provisions are in place, international treaties are ratified. The main problem is accountability: in many cases, there are no proper mechanisms, or they are not functioning properly.

Such “accountability vacuum” applies both to Government controlled areas and temporary occupied territories, Mr. Heyns said.

In conflict affected eastern Ukraine, the expert raised concerns regarding the allegations of indiscriminate shelling, armed forces of both sides taking positions and placing artillery in civilian-populated areas and use weapons with indiscriminate effects. Another concern is whether the sufficient attention is paid to the humanitarian law principle of distinction: obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants. In the self-proclaimed “DPR” and “LPR” the UN representative examined cases of summary executions of detainees and quasi-judicial executions by so-called “military courts”, calling them the violation of the right to life.

Outside the conflict area, UN official also looked into events that took place on Maidan in Kyiv and those of May 2 in Odessa and subsequent investigations of these situations. “My concerns applying to both of these incidents were that many pieces of evidence were destroyed directly after the events, making it very difficult to have the proper follow-up, and the processes of accountability have been very slow in terms of identifying the perpetrators” – explained Mr Heyns.

UN Special Rapporteur made a range of recommendations to the Ukraine’s Government. Among them to observe and monitor the cease-fire, to report on exchange of fire if any, to move the conflict out of build-up areas,  to take concrete measures to reduce civilian casualties, to provide proper investigations of events at Ilovaisk of August 2014, etc.