Almost 1,000 people have been killed in Ukraine since a tenuous ceasefire was established there in early September amid efforts to end the violence between armed rebel groups and the Government, the United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) said today as it released its latest report on the situation in the country.
According to the report, violations of international human rights and humanitarian law “persist” as the situation in the conflict-affected area in Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk becomes “increasingly entrenched, with the total breakdown of law and order and the emergence of parallel governance systems.” The result, continued the report, has been a simmering conflict which has left 957 people dead in defiance of a 5 September ceasefire.
“The list of victims keeps growing,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement from his Office on the release of the report. “Civilians, including women, children, minorities and a range of vulnerable individuals and groups continue to suffer the consequences of the political stalemate in Ukraine.”
With an average of 13 people a day being killed by outbursts of fighting and shelling, respect for the ceasefire was “sporadic at best,” Mr. Zeid added.
In late February 2014, the situation in Ukraine transcended what was initially seen as an internal Ukrainian political crisis into violent clashes in parts of the country, later reaching full-scale conflict in the east. The situation has since continuously deteriorated, with serious consequences for the country’s unity, territorial integrity and stability, culminating in the recent 2 November separatist vote described by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a “breach of the constitution and national law.”
The crisis has also spawned a sharp increase in the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs). In the two-month period spanning 18 September to 19 November, the number of Ukrainians fleeing the fighting surged from 275,489 to 466,829. As the bitter cold of winter descends on the country, humanitarian concerns are also rising regarding the living conditions of those displaced, particularly as the Ukrainian population at large faces a “severe curtailment” of economic, social and cultural rights.
The OHCHR document – the seventh produced by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine – covers the period between 17 September and 21 October 2014 during which serious human rights abuses by the armed groups were reported, including torture, arbitrary and incommunicado detention, summary executions, forced labour and sexual violence as well as the destruction and illegal seizure of property.
At the same time, allegations of cluster munitions use in both urban and rural areas have surfaced. As a result, the report calls for the urgent and thorough investigation of the claims as well as of all reported violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
Nevertheless, the report notes, a number of positive measures have been adopted by the Government in Kiev amid the pressures of the crisis. Laws on IDPs, on corruption, and on reform of the Office of the Prosecutor have all passed the country’s legislature while Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko recently signed a decree tasking the Government to develop a national human rights strategy for Ukraine by 1 January 2015.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights welcomed the decree in his statement accompanying the report, declaring his hopes that it would place “a greater, sustained emphasis on the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.” But, Mr. Zeid added, “good laws and policies need to be accompanied by genuine political commitment to implement the.”
“All parties need to make a far more whole-hearted effort to resolve this protracted crisis peacefully and in line with international human rights laws and standards.”