UN rights report finds atmosphere of fear in eastern Ukraine, warns of escalating crisis

McClatchy Foreign StaffMay 16, 2014 


A pro-Russian militant smokes a cigarette as he takes his position preparing to fight against Ukrainian government troops at a checkpoint blocking the major highway which links Kharkiv, outside Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Friday, May 16, 2014.


— There has been an “alarming deterioration” in the human rights situation in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russia armed groups have engaged in killings, torture and forced disappearances, the United Nations said Friday.

Pro-government forces, including Ukrainian army units in eastern Ukraine, also have engaged in killings and disappearances, according to the findings of a 34-member human rights monitoring team. Some of those detained by Ukraine’s security service have been transferred to Kiev, the team’s report said.

Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights whose office coordinates the human rights monitoring team in Ukraine, warned that the actions had created a climate of fear in the region.

“The continuing rhetoric of hatred and propaganda, coupled with killings and other acts of violence, is fueling the escalation of the crisis in Ukraine,” she said in a statement.

The monitoring team’s report also expressed concern about attacks on gay, lesbian and transgender people, urged the Kiev government to investigate the role of Right Sector activists in the the deaths of 46 pro-Russia demonstrators in a May 2 fire in the city of Odessa, and questioned the wisdom of a new law that allows the dismissal of judges.

The report said the immediate dismissal of judges “may put in jeopardy the administration of justice.”

The law also has been criticized by the advocacy group Human Rights Watch. “Rather than helping to restore confidence, the law adopted to purge judges is overly broad, tainted with political bias, and violates the independence of the judiciary, which can only deepen mistrust in an already fractured society,” said Hugh Williamson, Human Rights Watch’s Europe director.

The team also said it had found signs that minorities, such as Tatars, have been subjected to intimidation in Crimea since Russia took control of the region in March. It said Tatars had found their movements restricted and their parliament headquarters attacked in what the U.N. called “worrying developments.”

It said that more than 7,200 people from Crimea, most of them Tatars, had fled the Black Sea peninsula for Ukraine since the annexation.

In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the report’s findings as biased.

“The report has little to do with the overall real situation in the human rights field in Ukraine,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said, according to the state-owned Ria-Novosti news agency.

The U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine includes nine international experts and 25 Ukrainians. With offices in Kiev, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Lviv and Odessa, it monitors reports of human rights violations by conducting on-site visits and interviewing witnesses and local authorities.

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