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Ukraine: Fragile Ceasefire

Hostilities Down, but Civilians Remain at Risk

(Berlin) – The armed conflict in Eastern Ukraine is taking a terrible toll on civilians, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2016.

The September 2015 ceasefire has significantly reduced hostilities, during which violations of international humanitarian law had led to serious civilian harm, but those who remain in conflict-affected areas face repeated threats to their security and rights.

A man holds a photograph of his daughter and son-in-law who were killed when a shell struck their garage in Oleksandrivka on January 16, 2015. © 2015 Human Rights Watch

“An active conflict may be transforming into a frozen one, but in eastern Ukraine, the need to protect civilians and guarantee their rights should remain paramount for all sides,” said Yulia Gorbunova, Europe and Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Both Ukrainian authorities and rebel authorities should not ignore – or worse, trample over – human rights in their operations in eastern Ukraine.”

In the 659-page World Report 2016, its 26th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that the spread of terrorist attacks beyond the Middle East and the huge flows of refugees spawned by repression and conflict led many governments to curtail rights in misguided efforts to protect their security. At the same time, authoritarian governments throughout the world, fearful of peaceful dissent that is often magnified by social media, embarked on the most intense crackdown on independent groups in recent times.

Mines and other unexploded remnants of war are killing and injuring civilians, including children, Human Rights Watch said. Government restrictions on movement to and from rebel-held areas create obstacles for civilians who need to get social services, government benefits, and medicine. Rebel groups ban, or otherwise interfere with, the work of humanitarian groups in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, impeding civilians’ access to humanitarian assistance.

Both rebel forces and government forces have committed indiscriminate attacks that killed and injured civilians. Rebels and government forces were implicated in credible reports of torture and cruel and degrading treatment of detainees. The abuses are rarely investigated.

During 2015, the government took controversial steps restricting freedom of expression, including through legislation banning communism symbols and criminalizing propaganda of communist ideology. The authorities have a mixed record on their response to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) movement, and homophobia and intolerance remain widespread.

The human rights climate in Crimea under Russian occupation remains repressive, with critical voices routinely silenced. People who declined Russian citizenship and retained their Ukrainian citizenship have faced difficulties and discrimination in accessing education, work, or government benefits.

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