2.7 million people on occupied territories don’t enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms – Ivan Simonovic,  UN Assistant Secretary-General human rights


Kyiv, June 6, 2016. Fundamental freedoms are severely limited for 2.7 million people living in armed group-controlled areas. “Limits to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association as well as lack of any space for dissenting views casts doubt on the prospects of holding free and fair elections in these areas until the situation improves”, stated Ivan Simonovic, UN Assistant Secretary-General human rights, presenting the 14th report of the UN Human Rights Office on the human rights situation in Ukraine at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. Mr Simonovic added that only respect for civil and political rights could bring these territories closer to the elections whose results can be recognised.

According to UN Assistant Secretary-General for human rights, human rights situation in Crimea has considerably deteriorated since its annexation by Russia. “Anti-extremism and anti-terrorism laws have been used to criminalize non-violent behaviour and stifle dissenting opinion, while the judicial and law enforcement systems have been instrumentalized to clamp down on opposition voices. Worst affected are Crimean Tatars”, Mr Simonovic argued. He urged the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to overturn the prohibition decision to outlaw the Mejlis. Mr Simonovic noted that in Government controlled areas, there are also complaints about the curbing of civil and political rights, especially in the conflict zone.

Assistant Secretary-General for human rights believes Ukraine needs a justice reform, which will strengthen the system both in sense of resolution of disputes, fight against corruption and addressing conflict related violations. “This report marks two years since the violence of Maidan in Kyiv and 2 May violence in Odesa. There has been no meaningful progress in bringing those responsible to justice, in particular those in authority”, he followed. Mr Simonovic stated that the adoption by Parliament of constitutional amendments related to the judiciary would create “a rare opportunity to break with the past”. “Now it is vital that Ukraine’s Government fulfils the promise of an independent judiciary”, he added.

According to Mr Simonovic, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices continued to account for about half of civilian casualties in recent months. Mines, booby traps, and unexploded remnants of war represent a major threat to civilians. Many people are missing as a result of the conflict. By April 2016, 3,687 criminal investigations were initiated into cases of missing persons in Donetsk and Luhansk regions since the beginning of the conflict. The Government is in the process of developing a law on missing persons, which we welcome.

Mr Simonovic stated, that armed groups continue to deny all international organizations access to places of deprivation of liberty. He argued that the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) was also not always providing access to all places where detainees may be kept. “We have credible information of illegal and incommunicado deprivation of liberty by armed groups, as well as torture and ill-treatment. We also continue to receive extensive accounts about torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary and incommunicado detention by the SBU, especially in the conflict zone”, Assistant Secretary-General for human rights elaborated.

He expressed concerned with the overall decrease of standard of living and quality of social services in government-controlled areas. “[Meanwhile] in Donetsk, I strongly urged those in command to register humanitarian organisations and stop depriving the population from humanitarian assistance that is sometimes available and ready to be distributed right away. I wanted to do the same in Luhansk but I was not let in”. Mr Simonovic said.

According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights information, the conflict on Donbas has led to 31,000 casualties as of 31 May. This includes 9,404 people killed and 21,671 injured. Up to 2,000 civilians have been killed, primarily as a result of indiscriminate and/or disproportionate shelling of residential areas. “This is a conservative estimate, we believe that the real casualty figures are higher”, Mr Simonovic concluded.