UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet
As we enter the fifth month of hostilities, the unbearable toll of the conflict in Ukraine continues to mount.
With daily killings, widespread destruction, arbitrary detention and mass displacement, civilians are bearing the brunt of hostilities that seemingly have no end in sight.
Pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 47/22, I present my Office’s report on the human rights situation in Ukraine in the context of the armed attack by the Russian Federation, covering the period between 24 February and 15 May 2022.
The report contains findings and recommendations regarding the impact of the conflict on the human rights situation, some of which my Office has previously shared both in this Council, and elsewhere.
The findings are based on information gathered by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine during 11 field visits, visits to 3 places of detention, and 517 interviews with victims and witnesses of human rights violations, as well as other sources of information.
In the meantime, my colleagues and the head of my Office’s Field Operations and Technical Cooperation Division are in this moment in Irpin and are sending me photos from there.
My Office has maintained an uninterrupted presence in Ukraine since 2014, and we are increasing our presence in the country.
And while we have yet to be provided with access to territory occupied by Russian armed forces, we document violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law (IHL) committed by all parties, and we remain fully committed to monitoring the human rights situation across the entire territory of Ukraine.
The high numbers of civilian casualties and the extent of destruction caused to civilian infrastructure continue to raise significant concerns that attacks conducted by Russian armed forces are not complying with IHL.
While on a much lower scale, it also appears likely that Ukrainian armed forces did not fully comply with IHL in eastern parts of the country.
As of 3 July we have documented over 10,000 civilian deaths or injuries across Ukraine, with 335 children among the 4,889 documented as killed.
I stress that the actual figures are likely considerably higher.
Most of the documented civilian casualties were caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Shelling from heavy artillery, such as multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes, including weapons that can carry cluster munitions, were used repeatedly. Even though the civilian toll from such weapons, used in the manner they have been, has become indisputable, Russian armed forces have continued to operate the same way – with predictable consequences on the civilian population and its infrastructure.
The placement of military objectives near civilian objects and the use of human shields by both parties to the conflict – as documented in the case of a care house in Stara Krasnianka (Luhansk region) for instance – also raise concerns.
The mass displacement of the civilian population – including over 8 million within the country – has had disproportionate impact on women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities.
Restrictions on freedom of movement to and from regions occupied by Russian armed forces or affiliated armed groups are reducing access to basic services.
To date, we have recorded damage or destruction to over 400 medical facilities and educational facilities, while the actual numbers are likely higher. Thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed. My Office notes Ukraine’s efforts to establish a comprehensive compensation mechanism for damaged or destroyed homes, but regrets that the relevant draft law excludes residents of territories controlled by Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups. All victims have right to equal access to remedy.
Concerns persist about unlawful killings, including summary executions. Growing evidence gives my Office reasonable grounds to believe that serious violations of IHL in this regard have been committed by Russian armed forces.
As of 15 May 2022, over 1,200 civilian bodies have been recovered in Kyiv region alone, with my Office working to corroborate over 300 allegations of killings by Russian armed forces in situations that were not linked to active fighting.
The arbitrary detention of civilians has also become widespread in territory controlled by Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups. Despite restrictions on access, we have documented 270 cases of arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance. 8 of the victims were found dead.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and National Police have reportedly arrested over one thousand individuals suspected of supporting Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups. We have concerns that arrests may not have been carried out in line with Ukraine’s international human rights obligations. We have also documented 12 cases which may amount to enforced disappearance by Ukrainian law enforcement bodies.
And appalling reports of torture and ill-treatment by both parties continue, including of prisoners of war, with little progress in holding those responsible to account.
We remain concerned for people, among them Mariupol residents, who have not passed the so-called ‘filtration’ process by Russian armed forces in evacuations. Absent any confirmation about their whereabouts or treatment, based on information gathered, we consider that they may be detained and at high risk of being subjected to torture or ill-treatment.
We are also concerned about confirmed allegations of forced conscription by Russian-affiliated armed groups at the end of February 2022, in Donetsk and Luhansk.
My team has verified 28 cases of conflict-related sexual violence, including cases of rape, gang rape, torture, forced public stripping, and threats of sexual violence. The majority of cases were committed in areas controlled by Russian armed forces, but there were also cases committed in Government controlled areas. The extent of violations is not yet clear given the active hostilities, limited access to services, mass displacement and persistent stigma, with survivors often not willing or able to report such crimes. I do welcome in this context Ukraine’s recent ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.
Freedom of expression has drastically deteriorated.
We have documented 17 cases of deaths of journalists, media workers and bloggers from hostilities, and recorded 14 cases of injured journalists.
In Crimea, new legislation is curtailing the already limited space to express dissenting opinions. 41 cases of prosecution of Crimean residents for “discrediting” or “calling for obstruction” of Russian armed forces are documented.
Multiple media outlets have been blocked, and Russian authorities have restricted access to websites addressing human rights and IHL issues.
These issues compound the ongoing human rights concerns as detailed in the Secretary-General’s interim report on the situation of human rights in the temporarily occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, pursuant to General Assembly resolution 76/179, which calls on the Russian Federation to respect its obligations as an occupying Power under international human rights law and under IHL. My Office continues to call for independent, impartial and effective investigation of all allegations of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, enforced disappearance, arbitrary arrest and detention in Crimea. Additional concerns relate to respect for the rights to freedoms of expression, conscience, religion and belief, without discrimination.
We find ourselves yet again at a critical moment, with the devastation in Ukraine and the impacts far beyond its borders continuing to widen, day by day.
In the name of every victim of this senseless war, the killings, the torture, the arbitrary detentions must stop.
The parties to the conflict must ensure full compliance with their obligations under international human rights and international humanitarian law and commit to protecting every civilian and people hors de combat.
I encourage the international community to help support those actors working with survivors of sexual violence, torture or ill-treatment, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas.
I also urge the parties to provide unimpeded confidential access to my Office and independent monitors to all places of detention, including wherever prisoners of war are located.
And I cannot stress enough the need for both parties to ensure timely and effective investigations into all allegations of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights.