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UN Human Rights Council: Human Rights situation in Ukraine

Oral Presentation of the Periodic Report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Human Rights Watch welcomes the new periodic report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and this important opportunity to discuss the situation in Ukraine with member states of the Human Rights Council.

In line with recommendations already made by the High Commissioner in his previous report, Human Rights Watch urges the Government of Ukraine to take the very practical, humanitarian step of signing a decree that would allow delivery of certain types of medicines, including opioid substitution therapy (OST) medicines, from government-controlled territory to rebel-held areas. As of April 2015, OST medications have run out in Donetsk and Luhansk regions and about 800 extremely vulnerable OST clients have been cut off from their medication.

Hundreds of schools on both sides of the contact line in eastern Ukraine have been damaged or destroyed by intensive fighting and shelling between April 2014 and September 2015, resulting from indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas, targeted attacks on schools and use of schools for military purposes by both Ukrainian solders and Russia-backed rebel forces. Human Rights Watch urges the Ukrainian government to heed Security Council Resolution 2225 (2015) and “take concrete measures to deter … use of schools by armed forces and armed groups.”.

Human Rights Watch has gathered evidence of the use of cluster munitions by pro-government forces and Russia-backed rebels during the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. Since the September 2015 ceasefire, the fighting has subsided. An investigation was launched by Ukraine’s military prosecutor, but was incomplete. Human Rights Watch urges a full investigation into the use of such weapons over the course of the conflict, and clear action to prevent them being deployed in future.

Similarly, no significant progress has been achieved in holding accountable perpetrators of abuses during the 2014 Maidan protests, during which over 100 protesters and 13 law enforcement officers died and many were injured. There needs to be an adequate and transparent investigation resulting in the perpetrators of these crimes held to account.

The existing IDP registration procedure for the 1.5 million people internally displaced since April 2014 is unnecessarily cumbersome and bureaucratic. We urge President Poroshenko to sign a proposed law, which he regrettably vetoed in November, that improves the registration procedure and means of accessing employment and state benefits for those displaced by the conflict.

Human Rights Watch concerned by the entry into force in June 2015 of a package of laws dubbed ‘anti-communist legislation’ that ban Nazi and communist symbols and criminalize denial of the “criminal nature of the communist totalitarian regime.” These laws could have very negative implications for freedom of expression and association in Ukraine and may lead to increased tensions between far-right and far-left groups in Ukraine. We call on Ukraine to repeal this legislation.

We welcome the adoption by the Ukrainian Parliament in November of an amendment to the labor code that banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, which is a very positive delopment. However, anti-LGBT sentiment remains strong and public in Ukraine, including among high-level government officials. We urge Ukraine’s leadership to ensure that the anti-discrimination provision is included in the newer version of the amended labor code which is being currently prepared for adoption.

Finally, Human Rights Watch once more calls on Ukraine to ratify the Rome Statute and join the International Criminal Court as a full member. This would send the clear message that there is no space for impunity and that all parties should respect their international legal obligations to protect civilians and other non-combatants.

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