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UN report reveals Ukraine’s ‘grim’ human rights record

Introductory note by New Cold War.org:

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has issued a new report on the human rights situation in Ukraine. Released on June 3, 2016, the report is the 14th such report on Ukraine issued since March 2014 by the OHCHR’s Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. The report is announced in the UN press release below.

The report explains that Ukraine’s secret service, the SBU, systematically uses torture, ill-treatment and intimidation against critics of the Kyiv government. The SBU also runs secret detention centers, the UN human rights body says.

Although the UN report criticizes the actions of the Ukrainian government, it does not provide a balanced view of the human rights situation in Ukraine. This is a familiar reporting pattern by the UN body. This website has analyzed in some detail several of the previous such human rights reports by the UN. See, for example: Another flawed and biased report on Ukraine by the UN human rights office, by New Cold War.org, Sept 15, 2015

The OHCHR accords no official recognition to the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics, referring to them as “self-proclaimed”. Yet it assigns to them the same responsibility for human rights observation as it does to the governing regime in Kyiv. The UN recognizes the government in Kyiv as the formal government of Ukraine yet acts as though what it calls “self-proclaimed” republics in Donetsk and Lugansk must equally act as though there were officially recognized. But how can the UN be expected to fairly monitor and report the actions of governments whose legitimacy it flatly repudiates?

Even more provocative in the UN human rights body’s conduct is what it exposes about its attitude to the Minsk-2 ceasefire agreement and peace process of February 2016. The Minsk-2 agreement obliges the Ukrainian government to negotiate with the duly constituted authorities of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics. The agreement was endorsed by no less than the UN Security Council. And yet the reports of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights encourage Ukraine’s flagrant violations of the Minsk-2 agreement by consistently dismissing the legitimacy of the “self-proclaimed” republics.

To add insult to injury, the UN human rights body recognizes the government in Kyiv even though that government issues from a coup d’etat against the elected president and Parliament of Ukraine in February 2014.

The UN agency further muddies the waters through deliberate vagueness in who, exactly, it holds responsible for human rights violations in Ukraine. For example, the UN report speaks in positive terms of the official “investigation” of the arson massacre in Odessa on May 2, 2014. It says, “While there has been some progress in the investigation into the 2 May 2014 violence in Odessa and the resulting death of 48 individuals, serious concerns remain.”

The report also states, “OHCHR welcomes the progress made in the investigation into failure of the police to ensure public safety [in Odessa] on 2 May 2014.”

But word that investigations by the Kyiv regime represent “progress” will come as news to the families of the victims of the massacre. They are condemning the absence of a serious investigation and calling on the OHCHR to step in and conduct an investigation. The Council of Europe has equally condemned the failure to investigate the Odessa Massacre as well as the sniper killings on Maidan Square in February 2014.

The UN report does say that  some individuals have been criminally charged in relation to the Odessa massacre and that they are all supporters of autonomy (‘federalism’) for the regions of Ukraine. That is, the individuals were protesting against the governing region in Kyiv on the fateful day in Odessa. But the report fails to report the exact number of falsely accused and how many, exactly, remain in detention two years after the events.

Concerning Crimea, the UN report restates a familiar story – that systematic human rights violations are taking place in Crimea against the Tatar people of the peninsula, who number some 270,000 people out of a total Crimea population of 2.3 million residents. The source of the UN’s information, says the report, are officials of the Tatar ‘Mejlis’ organization. The report explains that the Mejlis  has been banned in Crimea, but it does not explain that the reason for the banning is that the main spokespeople of the organization, who happen to live in Ukraine, not in Crimea, and who are appointed members of the Ukrainian Rada, have routinely incited acts of terrorism against the Crimean people. These acts include the road transport blockade of Crimea initiated by Ukrainian extremists militias in September of 2015 and endorsed by the Ukrainian government three months later, and the blowing up of electricity cable pylons by the same forces on November 20-21, 2015.

The full archive on New Cold War.org of human rights reports on Ukraine is here.

Torture, intimidation, secret jails: UN reveals Ukraine’s ‘grim’ human rights record

RT.com, Friday, June 3, 2016

Ukraine’s secret service, the SBU, systematically uses torture, ill-treatment and intimidation, also running secret detention centers, the UN human rights body says. It describes spiraling violence and abuse on either side of the two-year conflict.

The UN has documented “hundreds of cases” of illegal detention, torture, summary executions and ill-treatment of captives both by Ukrainian government and pro-Russian armed groups in the east, Ivan Simonovic, UN assistant secretary-general for human rights, told the Financial Times in an interview on June 3. [The Times interview is behind a paywall, here.]

He said the UN documents for the first time expose the “scale and brutality” of Ukraine’s government-run torture program as well as existence of five secret detention centers.

In one case, Simonovic said, a suspect was picked up by “masked men” believed to be SBU agents. He was then repeatedly shot in the head with a Taser pistol and had his left hand, head, back and knee smashed with a hammer. “He was forced to confess to being an armed group member on camera. Then his captors took him to the state security services where he was arrested,” Simonovic went on.

In another incident, the man claimed, SBU operatives chained a man – allegedly member of a rebel group or a sympathizer – to a radiator, stifled him with a gas mask, gave him electric shocks and waterboarded him while kicking and punching his genitals.

Simonovic explained that the UN had been forced to cease an anti-torture inspection last week as SBU had denied it access to five secret detention centers. [Story below.] On June 1, Sir Malcolm Evans, head of the four-member delegation of the UN’s Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) said in a statement: “This denial of access … meant that we have not been able to visit some places where we have heard numerous and serious allegations that people have been detained and where torture or ill-treatment may have occurred.”

The head of the SBU, Vasily Gritsak, has denied the allegations, saying he allowed “inspections of SBU pre-trial detention facilities,” which did not mean that “international monitors could visit local SBU units” in area where the so-called “anti-terrorism operation” is going on, Ukrainskaya Pravda newspaper reported.

He claimed there are no detainees kept in captivity by the local secret service’s units, “but there are communications security equipment, weapons and [classified] documents”. The SBU later said it denied access for the UN observers because “a Russian was taking part in the mission,” according to the newspaper.

Simonovic also accused Ukrainian authorities of “lack of substantial progress” in investigating tragic events on southern port city of Odessa, where on May 2, 2014 as many as 48 supporters of Ukraine’s federalization were burnt alive in the arson of the House of Trade Unions.

Earlier on Friday, the UN human rights body, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a comprehensive report on Ukraine. While criticizing the human rights violations by rebel groups in Donetsk and Lugansk, the two breakaway regions of Ukraine, it also took special note on “hundreds of people accused of involvement in or affiliation with the armed groups” by the Ukrainian authorities. [See below the UN press release of its human rights report.]

Ukraine has deliberately restricted “fundamental freedoms and socio-economic rights” to those living in the conflict area, and derogated from a number of important international treaty obligations, the report said.

The SBU denied the UN’s allegations later in the day, RIA Novosti Ukraine reported. “We don’t use any tortures; the Security Service of Ukraine complies with the [national] legislation and all international human rights conventions and treaties,” Elena Gitlyanskaya, spokeswoman for the secret service, told the news agency, adding that the SBU’s chief, Gritsak, is set to meet with Simonovic on Friday to “settle all issues that surfaced in the [UN] report.”

After two years of conflict, situation in eastern Ukraine remains ‘grim’ – UN report

UN News Center, June 3, 2016

A new report by the United Nations human rights office shows that after two years of conflict, the situation in eastern Ukraine remains volatile and continues to have a severe impact on human rights, especially for those living near the contact line and in territories controlled by armed groups.

According to the latest report on Ukraine by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), some 9,371 people have been killed and 21,532 others have been injured in eastern Ukraine since the conflict began in mid-April 2014. [Report here, 53 pages.]

“The situation in east Ukraine remains deeply worrying. Without additional efforts and creative solutions ton implement the Minsk agreement, it could well develop into a ‘protracted conflict’ that would be harmful to human rights for many years to come; or it could escalate again, with dire consequences for a civilian population which has already suffered terribly,” warned the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonovic, at the end of a seven-day visit to Ukraine.

“The increase in heavy weaponry near the contact line, and the hostilities around Avdiivka and Yasynutava, in the Donetsk region since early March, are all indicators that the crisis is far from over and should not fall off the radar of the international community,” he added.

OHCHR said that civilians living close to the contact line and in territories under the control of armed groups are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations and abuses. Many are exposed to the risk of explosive remnants of war and mines.

Their freedom of movement continues to be severely curtailed, with more than 20,000 people trying to cross the contact line each day, often facing long lines and precarious conditions for hours on end, OHCHR said.

On 27 April, for example, four civilians were killed and eight others were injured by shelling while waiting at a checkpoint in armed group-controlled territory on the road between Mariupol and Donetsk city. These restrictions on movement have a direct impact on the daily life of civilians, who also have difficulties obtaining official civil documentation, receiving pensions and securing access to proper medical care, according to OHCHR.

The 2.7 million people living in armed group-controlled areas are also suffering from the severe curtailing of their freedoms of expression, assembly and association, and are faced with tough living conditions.

“During my mission to Donetsk, I urged the representatives of the self-proclaimed [sic] ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ to allow access for humanitarian actors and to stop depriving the population of humanitarian assistance,” Mr. Šimonovic said.

The new UN report also documents persistent patterns of human rights violations in eastern Ukraine. “Enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment remain deeply entrenched practices, both in the territories controlled by the armed groups and in the territories controlled by the Government,” the report concluded.

“Independent visits by international experts to all places where people are deprived of liberty are a must, firstly to prevent torture, and secondly as a pre-condition for a successful ‘all for all’ release of detainees, as envisaged by the Minsk Agreement,” said Mr. Šimonovic.

OHCHR also said that UN human rights staff has documented several cases of conflict-related sexual violence in Ukraine. “The majority of allegations suggest that threats of rape and other forms of sexual violence are used as a method of ill-treatment and torture in the context of arbitrary or illegal detention, both towards men and women,” the report found.

Impunity continues to be a key pattern of the conflict, according to the report. “Impunity of law enforcement and security elements for human rights violations remains widespread, and is often justified by the challenges posed by the ongoing armed conflict. In territories controlled by the armed groups, law and order has collapsed and illegal parallel structures have developed,” it says.

Two years after the Maidan events in Kyiv, there has been no meaningful progress in the investigation and high-level officials that bear responsibility for ordering and overseeing the violence have so far eluded justice. The report also highlights that “interference in the independence of the judiciary remains the key obstacle to the prosecution of identified perpetrators in the 2 May 2014 Odesa violence.”

“It is also imperative to clarify the fate of the many people who have gone missing since April 2014 and I have strongly argued for exchange of information and cooperation between Government and armed groups on this critical issue during my mission,” said Mr. Šimonovic, welcoming the draft law on missing people that has been prepared by the Ministry of Justice.

He also highlighted the deteriorating human rights situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. “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, whose main representatives bodies, Mejlis, has been banned, and whose representatives I met during my visit,” said Mr. Šimonovic.

“After two years of conflict, the human rights picture in eastern Ukraine remains extremely grim. This crisis started with demands for human rights and freedoms, and these demands remain today on either side of the contact line. Leaders should listen to their people on both sides. I have heard them loud and clear: they want peace, human rights and rule of law,” he added.

“Only the full implementation of the Minsk agreement will allow for the respect of everyone’s human rights, and a chance to lead a normal life and even a decent living,” he said.

The report is the 14th in a series produced by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, which was deployed by the OHCHR to Ukraine in March 2014 upon the invitation of the Government of Ukraine.

The report, which covers the period from 16 February to 15 May 2016, documented 113 conflict-related civilian casualties in eastern Ukraine, with 14 people killed and 99 others injured.

Read also:
Citing obstruction, UN torture prevention panel suspends Ukraine visit, UN News Center, May 25, 2016

Petition calling for United Nations investigation into May 2, 2014 massacre in Odessa, Ukraine

Kiev allows torture and runs secret jails, says UN, by Maxim Tucker, Financial Times, June 3, 2016 (paywall)

Ukraine’s spy agency, the SBU, is systematically rounding up and torturing suspected rebel sympathisers, the United Nations has told The Times. Ivan Simonovic, UN assistant secretary-general for human rights, said that in some areas Kiev’s “disregard for human rights” had become entrenched and systemic and needed to be urgently addressed.

The UN report documents hundreds of cases of illegal detention, torture and ill-treatment of detainees — both by pro-Russian armed groups and by government agencies. It draws attention to prisoner abuse and murders by pro-Russian rebel groups, but also exposes the scale and brutality of Ukraine’s government-backed torture programme for…

UN report reveals Ukraine’s ‘grim’ human rights record

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