ASG Ivan Simonovic delivers report on human rights in Ukraine to the UN Security Council

19 Mar 2014

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Statement to Security Council by Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights on human rights situation in Ukraine

Madam President,

Distinguished Members of the Council,

Introduction

Thank you for this opportunity to brief you on my mission to Ukraine. I joined the DSG in Kyiv on 9 March, at the urgent request of the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

My mandate was to make an initial assessment of the human rights situation, highlight the critical importance of respect for human rights in working towards the de-escalation of tensions, and to make recommendations on the way forward.

I met with individuals from across the cultural, ethnic, linguistic and political spectrum in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Lviv, including legislative and executive officials, the Ombudsperson, civil society organizations representing various communities including victims of human rights violations, as well as members of regional organizations and the diplomatic community. My team has also collected numerous written materials, including about the situation in Crimea.

I was not able to go to Crimea, as the authorities there initially would not receive the mission, nor ensure its security. Eventually, on Sunday I received an invitation to visit Simferopol. I hope that a visit to Crimea possibly by the Head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission, Mr. Armen Harutyunyan, will soon take place. I also welcome the request made on 19 March, by the Independent Expert on the Minority issues, to visit Ukraine, and hope that the mission will take place as soon as possible and contribute to decreasing tensions.

Chronic Violations

Chronic human rights violations were among the major reasons for the upheaval in Ukraine in recent months. For many years there have been concerns about weak rule of law, lack of accountability and resulting impunity. The right to a fair trial, equal access to justice, cases of torture and ill-treatment and poor detention conditions, are all matters of longstanding concern. The lack of independence of the judiciary must be remedied and the reform of the security sector and of the Prosecutor’s Office are also urgent tasks. Corruption is a cross-cutting problem that affects the rule of law as well as equal access to public services, and this also needs to be addressed swiftly.

All reforms and new policy measures must be adopted without any spirit of revenge and in a consultative, transparent and inclusive manner. It is crucial to ensure that one does not respond to human rights violations with other human rights violations. In the context of ongoing legislative measures concerning lustration, these must fully respect human rights and the rule of law, including the right to individual review and to appeal.

Protest related violations

In the context of the recent protests in Kiev and elsewhere, I am deeply concerned about alleged gross human rights violations, including excessive use of force and extra-judicial killings, torture, disappearances and arbitrary arrests and detentions. The actions of snipers on the Maidan are of particularly grave concern and need to be fully investigated. More than 100 people, mostly protesters , but also some members of the security forces have also lost their lives and many more were injured.  I visited protest-related victims in hospital. I also spoke to physicians who helped victims in makeshift hospitals, including the current Minister of Health, Mr. Oleh Musiy and Ms. Olga Bogomolets. All of them confirmed that sniper killings of protesters were undertaken in an execution -style aiming for heads and chests.

The perpetrators of these and other human rights violations against all victims must be promptly brought to justice, whatever their background, status or affiliation, following independent, impartial and thorough investigations.

There has been an increase in instances of intolerance and incitement to hatred as well as violence throughout Ukraine. This has been particularly the case between ethnic Ukrainians and Russians, as well as pro-Maidan and anti-Maidan groups. I believe that these incidents further increased after the recent developments in Crimea.

Ukraine

I have urged all authorities I encountered, to ensure inclusivity in governance, and, while ensuring freedom of expression, to curb hate speech. Ukraine is a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-cultural country. Nationalistic rhetoric and policies will be counter-productive and will further deepen the internal dividing lines within society. All views should be expressed freely in a democracy, as long as their expression does not incite to hatred and violence against others. Any attempt at escalation of violence and hatred should be prevented or stopped when it has occurred, before it escalates into further violence. It is incumbent upon all authorities to ensure equal protection for all, especially of minority groups. 

The hasty repeal of the Law on Languages by Parliament was a mistake. The decision of Parliament was fortunately not approved by the acting President, so that the old law will continue to be in force while a new text is prepared. This process should be done in full consultation with all concerned, and be fully participatory, transparent and inclusive.

During my visit, I met with a wide range of representatives of civil society, including with representatives of ethnic Russians. There seem to be some cases where members of the Russian minority have been harassed or even attacked, such as in the case of the attack against a member of Parliament. All allegations of human rights violations, in particular against  minorities have to be thoroughly  investigated. However, it seems that these violations are neither widespread nor systemic.

Crimea

I have serious concerns about the situation in Crimea, where the situation remains tense with respect to the protection of human rights. I have met with victims of arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and ill-treatment, and other human rights violations.

I spoke to representatives of displaced Tatar persons in Lviv, the chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, Mr. Refat Chubarov, and Mr. Nadir Bekirov, president of the Foundation for Research and Support of Indigenous Peoples of Crimea and I am deeply concerned about the human rights of those who oppose recent political events in Crimea. It has been reported that a local Crimean Tatar activist  who disappeared after participating in a protest on 3 March,  was found dead on 16 March in a forest near the town of Belogorsk. According to reports from credible sources his body bore marks that suggest he had been subjected to mistreatment.

In addition to cases of violence, between various political Ukrainian and Russian groups with alleged participation of groups from outside of the region, resulting in recent deaths and injuries, the spreading of rumours, including through the media, particularly in eastern Ukraine, is adding to a sense of insecurity among the population. I understand that this is partly due to rumors and perceptions about whether the new authorities in Kyiv would ensure decentralization policies, an inclusive government and protect and support the use of the Russian language.    

UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission

There is an urgent need for independent monitors to objectively assess and report on human rights violations as well as on the implications of recent events and to monitor the current human rights situation throughout the country. An independent, objective establishment of the facts and circumstances surrounding alleged human rights violations can help investigation, can prevent further occurrences and can counter the spread of false information.

We have received a request from the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine to dispatch human rights monitors and we have immediately begun their deployment. The team will be composed of 9 international and some 25 national staff. The Head of the Human Rights Monitoring Mission already arrived last week, others are gradually joining him. By Friday, monitors will be in place in Khariv and in Donetsk.

In the roll-out of this mission we will work very closely with the OSCE, which has plans for a larger monitoring mission. Both the DSG and I have maintained close contacts with the OSCE leadership in this regard, and this will be replicated on the ground.

Madam President, Distinguished Members of the Security Council,

The UN stands ready to help ensure human rights are respected and protected in Ukraine - with the support of international and regional organizations, including the OSCE, the Council of Europe and others. In addition to monitoring the human rights situation, the UN can assist by providing technical assistance for legislative and other reforms necessary to ensure that the recommendations received by Ukraine from UN human rights mechanisms are fully implemented so that they can effectively contribute to both peace and development efforts.

Thank you.