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“Accountability Vacuum” for the right to life in Ukraine

last modified Jul 06, 2017 09:25 AM
18th September 2015


The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, today called on the Ukrainian Government and the armed groups operating in the country to put into place a proper system of accountability in order to bringing the current cycle of violence to an end.

This call came at the end of his official ten-day country visit, on which he was accompanied by CGHR Research Associate Thomas Probert, who works as a research consultant to his mandate.

Thousands of people have died in Ukraine over the last two years, both in the context of a brutal armed conflict in eastern Ukraine and in the rest of the country. This armed confrontation, which has a strong international dimension, has taken an especially heavy toll on civilians. During his ten-day visit to the country, the Rapporteur was able to visit both sides of the ‘contact line’. He met with officials and others, and observed the effects of the shelling, raising concerns that many civilian causalities could have been avoided if parties to the conflict had taken stronger measures to mitigate such losses.

During the visit, the Special Rapporteur and his team held meetings here in Kyiv, as well as traveling to Zaporizhzhia, Mariupol, Donetsk, Kramatorsk, Kharkiv and Odesa.  They met with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Office of the Military Prosecutor, the Security Service of Ukraine, the Headquarters of the Anti-Terrorism Operation, the National Security and Defence Council, the High Specialised Court on Civil and Criminal Cases, the Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsperson) including her National Preventive Mechanism (NPM).

In addition they also met with the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, the General Consulate of the Russian Federation in Odesa, and with other international and national monitors or non-governmental organisations, civil society, and families of victims.

They crossed the so-called “contact line” and travel to Donetsk, where they met with representatives of various monitoring missions, with representatives of the ‘Office of the commissioner for human rights’ (‘ombudsperson’) of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and with representatives of the ‘bar association’. Unfortunately, despite significant efforts to arrange meetings, no other ‘officials’ of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ would meet with me. They were however able to visit some of the outskirts of the city of Donetsk, including the area surrounding the airport, and to see some of the extensive damage that had been caused, particularly to civilian infrastructure and domiciles, by heavy shelling.

“I am particularly concerned by the allegations of indiscriminate shelling, armed forces of both sides taking positions and placing artillery in civilian-populated areas (including at schools and hospitals) and the use of weapons with indiscriminate effects,” Heyns said in his statement. “There is however very little evidence that either the Government or the armed groups investigate any of these allegations – instead they point fingers at each other. Those allegations ring hollow if not contrasted with investigations on their own side.”

Global attention was drawn to Ukraine nearly two years ago when a mass demonstration in the centre of Kyiv resulted in the deaths of more than 100 people. Only a few months later groups of demonstrators participating in another mass demonstration clashed in Odessa, resulting in the deaths of at least 48 people, many trapped in a burning building. “Ukrainian authorities – former and present - had responsibilities to protect life both at Maidan and during the events of 2 May in Odesa, and their failure to do so had tragic results,” Heyns said. “Those shortcomings are only exacerbated by the subsequent failure properly to investigate the cause of these deaths in the aftermath, and to take steps aimed at redress.”

According to the expert, the legal framework for the protection of the right to life is largely in place, but its implementation seems highly problematic as there are accountability failures for violations of these norms on many levels. “The Security Service of Ukraine has been the subject of widespread allegations—and seems to be above the law,” he noted.

The Special Rapporteur made a range of recommendations to improve the level of accountability in the country. “Ukraine faces serious challenges, and violations will almost inevitably occur,” he said. “The only way forward is for all parties actively to confront that fact and to ensure that a functioning system of accountability for a common set of standards is put into place.”

You can read the full end of mission statement here.

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