Ukraine: UN deploys human rights monitors amid ‘troubling’ signs in east, Crimea
United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Ivan Šimonovic, announced today the immediate deployment of a UN monitoring team throughout crisis-torn Ukraine to help establish the facts surrounding alleged human rights violations, including in Crimea, and serve to de-escalate tensions in the country.
Speaking via video conference from Kiev, Mr. Šimonovic told reporters in New York that during his short visit to Ukraine, he had identified chronic human rights violations; some dating from the Soviet era, and others, such as excessive use of force and arbitrary detentions, having taken place in the wake of the popular protests that erupted in the country a few months ago.
The newly deployed human rights monitoring team, which will be headed by Armen Harutyunyan, who is also the UN Regional Representative for Central Asia, will focus on current violations and, in that regard, he said “the situation is particularly troublesome in the eastern part of the country and in Crimea.”
“It also seems particularly dangerous that there are rumours about large-scale human rights violations,” said Mr. Šimonovic, noting that such innuendo was stoking concerns regarding outside military intervention.
He emphasized therefore that the UN monitoring team will investigate violations as they occur and prevent any cover up. It will also aim to prevent the use of rumours “or any incidents, for manipulation, promotion of political agendas or to spread fear and insecurity in the country.”
In an earlier press conference in Kiev, he said that what became clear very quickly during his discussions in Ukraine was the preponderance of competing narratives about what exactly has transpired in the country since November 2013.
“Warning signs about systemic human rights violations were neglected for many years, including the concerns and recommendations of international human rights bodies,” he said.
Initially due to return to New York over the weekend, Mr. Šimonovic, who has been in Ukraine for the past nine days, was asked by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay to extend his mission through Tuesday, 18 March.
“Without an independent, objective establishment of the facts and circumstances surrounding alleged human rights violations, there is a serious risk that these competing narratives could be manipulated for political ends, leading to divisiveness and incitement to hatred,” he said, stressing that the UN human rights monitoring team, as an impartial player, would serve to establish the facts, thus helping to de-escalate tensions.
The deployment of the monitors comes as senior UN officials have been appealing to all parties to calm the situation and to engage in direct and constructive dialogue to forge a peaceful way forward in Ukraine, which has been witnessing unrest for several months.
Tensions heightened last week as lawmakers in Crimea, where additional Russian troops and armoured vehicles have recently been deployed, voted to join Russia and to hold a referendum on 16 March to validate the decision.
Mr. Šimonovic himself has been travelling through the country with a team from Geneva-based human rights officers holding meetings with political officials and prominent religious figures. However, local authorities denied his access to Crimea, citing the lack of readiness to receive him and inability to provide security.
However, he said that denial of access did not prevent the team from assessing the human rights situation in Crimea. They had access to several reliable sources and extensive one-on-one discussions with individuals who are in and from Crimea.
“I am gravely concerned about the situation in Crimea, where there appears to be no rule of law at present, and therefore a drastic deterioration in the protection of human rights, as well as rampant fear and insecurity due to misinformation, blocking of information and total uncertainty about what is coming next,” he said.
Mr. Šimonovic went on to highlight the cases of several activists who are unaccounted for, including Andrey Shchekun, Anatoliy Koval'skiy and his son Sergey Koval'skiy, Mr. Taneev and Mikhail Vdovchenko.
“I have also met with activists and journalists who were stopped at paramilitary check points, detained between 9 and 11 March, interrogated, beaten, robbed of their equipment, harassed, humiliated and subject to mock executions, allegedly by a Berkut unit officer,” he said.
“I have been informed about cases of arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and ill-treatment, and other human rights violations committed by members of unidentified armed groups. Paramilitary forces must be disarmed and the rule of law must be re-established in Crimea by those who have the power to do so.”
Mr. Šimonovic noted that the situation of minorities and indigenous peoples in Crimea, in particular Crimean Tatars, was very vulnerable. He stressed that the human rights of all must be respected throughout Ukraine, including in Crimea, particularly the right of all to participate in public affairs and political life without discrimination.