“The conflict in the east of Ukraine remains the cause of enormous human suffering and loss of life. It is high time to put an end to it and ensure the effective prosecution and sanctioning of those responsible for human rights violations” said today Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, while releasing the report of his visit to Ukraine carried out last March. In the course of that visit the Commissioner travelled to Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk and the non-government controlled city of Donetsk.
The report highlights pressing human rights issues that have to be addressed urgently in both the government-controlled and non-government controlled territories. The Commissioner underscores in particular the need to uphold the right to life, the prohibition of torture and protection from enforced disappearance.
“All parties to the conflict in the east must respect the right to life, which implies ending the fighting and violence and seeking a peaceful solution on the basis of the Minsk Agreements” says Muižnieks. “The provisions of international humanitarian law should be fully and rigorously respected by all sides and at all times.” The Commissioner also regrets the reintroduction of the death penalty in the non-government controlled area and recommends reversing this decision.
The Commissioner received credible allegations about cases of torture and ill-treatment which have occurred in 2014 and 2015 on both sides of the contact line. He calls for urgent and sustained measures on both sides to put an end to such abuses and bring the perpetrators to account. “Power-holders at the highest levels of responsibility should deliver the unequivocal message that ill-treatment will not be tolerated.” He also underscores that everyone claiming to be a victim of conflict-related crimes should have access to justice and be provided with effective remedies and reparation. Programmes of assistance should be available to all victims of ill-treatment and their families, striving to ensure their rehabilitation to the highest extent possible.
Expressing concerns about practices whereby certain individuals have been held incommunicado and/or in unacknowledged places of detention, the Commissioner emphasises that there must be unimpeded access to all persons deprived of their liberty – irrespectively whether they are being held in official or “informal” places of detention – on both sides of the contact line. “All individuals who have been deprived of their liberty in an arbitrary manner should be immediately released” he says, regretting the impossibility for him and representatives of other international organisations to access places of deprivation of liberty on non-government controlled territories.
The Commissioner further emphasises that to establish lasting peace and reconciliation in society it is of paramount importance to hold to account those responsible for serious human rights violations. To this end, a number of significant shortcomings as regards the investigations into such abuses must be addressed as a matter of priority. It is also important to ensure an effective investigation in every case where there are indications that a serious human rights violation may have occurred. “There is a multitude of challenges related to the investigation and prosecution of all those implicated in such abuses, including in the cases indicating the possible involvement of mercenaries and/or foreign fighters. This is why it is important to fully co-operate with the relevant international mechanisms which may provide assistance and expertise in this regard.”
This international cooperation should also be reinforced to solve cases of hundreds of missing persons. “The national legislation regulating the punishment for enforced disappearances and the rights of the victims and their families should be reviewed to ensure that it is fully compatible with the relevant international standards.”
Furthermore, the Commissioner underscores the need to ensure freedom of movement of civilians across the contact line, including by revising the Temporary Order with a view to lifting the most restrictive provisions. He also recommends amending the regulatory framework related to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in order to de-link the payment of pensions and other entitlements from a person’s IDP status. The Commissioner also calls on the Ukrainian authorities to develop a separate procedure enabling those who permanently reside on the territories outside government control to have access to their pensions and other social entitlements.
The Commissioner also stresses the need to remove all barriers impeding the access of humanitarian aid, as well as those affecting the ability of international organisations and missions to reach out to the most vulnerable groups of the population, most notably those residing in the non-government controlled territories and in the “grey zone” between the check-points.
Lastly, the Commissioner observes that there is an acute need to promote a message of reconciliation and tolerance and calls on the media to report on the conflict according to the highest standards of journalistic ethics and professionalism.
This is the fourth Commissioner’s report on Ukraine since 2012. To know more about his work on human rights in Ukraine, please visit this page.