The pandemic has further exacerbated existing inequalities and vulnerabilities in Ukraine, says UN Human Rights

  • A new United Nations (UN) report highlights the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and response measures on human rights in Ukraine. It shows that inequalities and human rights concerns that existed before were further exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report is based on six months of monitoring, covering the period from 16 February to 31 July 2020.

“COVID-19-related restrictions have deepened the hardships faced by the conflict-affected population in eastern Ukraine. The closure of entry-exit crossing points has separated families, left people without access to social benefits, and limited access to medical care and education”, said Matilda Bogner, Head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. “We welcome the Government decision allowing internally displaced pensioners not to undergo identification checks every second month. However, we are concerned about reports that some regions have begun to request this, despite the continuation of the pandemic and related restrictions”, she added.

Since the conflict started, the total death toll for civilians has reached at least 3,367, and more than 7,000 civilians have been injured. From 1 January to 31 July 2020, the Mission recorded 107 civilian casualties: 18 killed (ten men, seven women and one boy) and 89 injured (49 men, 30 women, six girls and four boys).

While the report highlights spikes in hostilities resulting in civilian casualties in March and May, it welcomes the package of additional measures to strengthen the ceasefire that took effect on 27 July. These measures contributed to easing the effects of the conflict on the civilian population with zero civilian casualties or damage to civilian infrastructure resulting from active hostilities recorded since 1 August 2020. “We urge parties to the conflict to respect the ceasefire indefinitely and to fully comply with international humanitarian law. Zero civilian casualties must remain the objective”, reiterated Ms Bogner.

The report says that arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment remained a systemic problem both in territory controlled by the Government and in territory controlled by self-proclaimed ‘republics’. “Efforts by the State Bureau of Investigation to investigate events at Kaharlyk police station and other allegations of torture and ill-treatment are encouraging, but more needs to be done. We recommend ensuring the effective documentation and investigation of all allegations of torture in accordance with the Istanbul Protocol, and prosecution of alleged perpetrators, including persons in position of command ”, said Ms Bogner. She also reiterated that international organisations must be granted unimpeded access to places of detention in territory controlled by self-proclaimed ‘republics’ as soon as possible.

Those who were already in vulnerable situations have suffered even more since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, says the report. Groups such as Roma, persons with disabilities living in the community, those living in homelessness, or older persons and persons with disabilities living in long-term care facilities, already faced limited enjoyment of the rights to health, work, education and an adequate standard of living before the pandemic, and have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and Government measures to address the pandemic.

The report outlines that the number of attacks against peaceful assemblies, political activists and offices of political parties increased as Ukraine approaches local elections in October 2020. Seven physical attacks were recorded against journalists, and others occurred in the form of online threats and acts of intimidation. In Government-controlled territory, some LGBTI pride events held since the end of the reporting period also faced violence. “We are concerned that impunity for attacks against journalists and political actors, as well as members of minorities, such as Roma and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, creates a climate where more attacks can occur. Such attacks have a chilling effect on civic space and the exercise of fundamental freedoms which are so important for the holding of free and fair elections”, said Ms Bogner. In a broader context, justice also remained elusive. During the reporting period, victims’ struggle for justice has, in far too many cases, not resulted in accountability for perpetrators, including for conflict-related human rights violations and for the killings and violent deaths during the Maidan events and on 2 May 2014 in Odesa.

The report also highlights the lack of freedom of peaceful assembly in territory controlled by self-proclaimed ‘republics’, referring to protests by coal miners over salary delays, which reportedly resulted in a series of arrests of participants.

Concerning the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, temporarily occupied by the Russian Federation1, the report highlights, amongst other human rights violations, limitations on the manifestation of religious practices. “We call on the Russian Federation, as the occupying Power in Crimea, to end the prosecution of Crimean residents for peaceful manifestation of their religious beliefs and to stop conscripting Crimean residents into the Russian Federation’s armed forces”, added Ms Bogner.

The report provides a set of specific recommendations to the Ukrainian authorities, to all parties involved in hostilities, and to the Russian Federation, as the occupying Power in Crimea.

The full text of the report is available in EnglishUkrainian and Russian.

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