“The conflict in the east of Ukraine has resulted in the loss of thousands of lives and severe hardship for ordinary people living in the conflict-affected areas. All measures must be taken to prevent further deaths and provide urgent assistance to meet the basic needs of the affected population,” said today Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, releasing a report following his visit to Ukraine from 29 June to 3 July 2015. In the course of this visit the Commissioner travelled to Kyiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Kramatorsk and the non-government controlled city of Donetsk.
On both sides of the contact line the Commissioner heard alarming stories about civilian casualties and the continuing destruction of infrastructure, including the impact of indiscriminate shelling on schools and medical facilities. Around 2 million people who live in the areas adjacent to the contact line between the government forces and armed groups, including in the buffer zone, are in the most vulnerable situation. Access to clean water has been a pressing issue for up to 1.3 million people.
Individuals living in the non-government controlled areas have been affected by the suspension of the payment of social benefits, food insecurity, higher prices for basic goods and a non-functioning banking sector. Restrictions on freedom of movement have further exacerbated their situation. While recognising the challenges imposed by the security situation, the Commissioner urges the Ukrainian authorities to apply a balanced approach which reconciles security measures with the need of the local population to move freely across the contact line. The authorities should also take proactive and pragmatic measures to facilitate the payment of social benefits to people living in these areas. “I call on the authorities to work in close co-operation with international organisations to facilitate the speedy delivery of humanitarian aid, including through the establishment of special humanitarian corridors and the simplification of administrative procedures,” said the Commissioner, stressing the need to address the allegations of corruption at the checkpoints. “The decision-makers in non-government controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions should also remove the barriers impeding the access of humanitarian aid and create an enabling environment for the work of international humanitarian organisations,” the Commissioner pointed out.
The Commissioner is dismayed by persistent reports of cases of unlawful and arbitrary detention, including incommunicado detention and detention in secret places, summary executions, torture and ill-treatment, and the lack of accountability for these grave human rights violations in eastern Ukraine. “All perpetrators of serious human rights violations in the east, irrespective of the side of the conflict they stand on, must face justice,” emphasised the Commissioner. Combatting impunity should be accompanied by a security sector reform undertaken with full respect for human rights and the rule of law. “Any remaining military formations which have not been fully integrated in the regular armed forces or the police and continue to act outside the normal chain of command should be disarmed and disbanded without further delay. The litmus test for the success of the reforms in the law-enforcement system will be its ability to combat impunity and crimes committed by law-enforcement officials.”
The Commissioner is alarmed by the devastating impact of the conflict on children and their development due to indiscriminate shelling of civilian objects and the presence of land mines and unexploded ordnance. Because of restrictions on freedom of movement and the disrupted delivery of administrative services, children born or currently residing in non-government controlled areas face difficulties in obtaining birth certificates, passports, school diplomas and other documents. “Minors residing in non-government controlled areas run the risk of becoming stateless with all the negative consequences this can have on their development and enjoyment of human rights. I urge the Ukrainian authorities to adopt without further delay regulations simplifying the acquisition of valid identity documents, birth and education certificates for minors and newly-born children and to develop an effective statelessness determination procedure.”
The Commissioner repeats his concerns about the situation of 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) whose plight has been a focus of his attention since the beginning of the conflict. Difficulties in access to durable housing and livelihood opportunities are the key problems. These issues should be addressed in a systematic manner through the preparation of a specific Action Plan covering the most pressing needs and protection gaps for IDPs.
Lastly, Commissioner Muižnieks renews his call for an effective investigation into the events on Maidan and in Odesa and urges the authorities to fully address the operational and structural deficiencies in the investigative proceedings revealed by the Council of Europe’s International Advisory Panel in its review of the on-going Maidan investigations. “Impunity for serious human rights violations must be combated as a matter of justice for the victims, as a deterrent to prevent new violations, and to uphold the rule of law and public trust in the justice system,” concluded the Commissioner.