“The armed conflict in Ukraine has yielded many reports of serious human rights violations, including unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and torture on both sides of the contact line. The perpetrators of such grave crimes must be brought to account. The participation of victims of human rights abuses, as well as their families, in the relevant criminal proceedings should be ensured”, stated the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, following his visit to Ukraine from 21 to 25 March 2016. As part of this visit, the Commissioner travelled to Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk and the non-government controlled city of Donetsk. In Donetsk, the Commissioner went to a psycho-neurological hospital and a home for elderly persons.
The Commissioner and his delegation interviewed at length more than a dozen people who claimed that they had been subjected to various forms of ill-treatment on either side of the contact line. Most of them were civilians who were apparently detained or held in captivity in 2014 and/or 2015 by either law enforcement officials or pro-government volunteer battalions on one side, or by armed groups in the east opposed to the government on the other side. Prosecutorial authorities in Kyiv informed the Commissioner that a large number of criminal cases implicating members of government forces and volunteer battalions had been initiated. In view of persistent reports of ill-treatment and incommunicado and even unacknowledged detention, it is of paramount importance to ensure unimpeded access of relevant international mechanisms to detainees on both sides. Whilst on the government-controlled territory such access is generally granted, the Commissioner urged his interlocutors in Donetsk to ensure a reciprocal approach.
The Commissioner was informed that a few hundred people remained on the lists of missing persons compiled in Kyiv and Donetsk. “The families of the victims, as well as society at large, have the right to know the truth”, stated the Commissioner. “NGOs and associations of relatives of missing and disappeared persons should be supported in their efforts to clarify their fate. The establishment of an independent mechanism for the search of missing persons may further enhance this process”.
“People’s freedom of movement has worsened since my previous visit to Ukraine in the summer of 2015”, the Commissioner noted. While there were some improvements to the infrastructure on and near the check-points, the lines of cars with people waiting for many hours and sometimes even days to cross the contact line have grown longer. To prevent further isolation of the population living on territories outside government control and along the contact line, practical steps should be taken to facilitate freedom of movement across that line, as well as to ensure the unhindered access of international humanitarian organisations to people in need.
In the course of his meetings with the President and the Minister of Finances, the Commissioner expressed his concern about the suspension of payment of pensions to people residing on territories outside government control and once again called on the authorities to ensure a pragmatic and proactive approach to reaching out to people there. “The payment of pensions and social benefits should not be linked to a person’s IDP status”.
The report on the Commissioner’s visit is forthcoming.