Human Rights Watch welcomes the new periodic report and update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Several concerns described in the report have been areas of extensive Human Rights Watch research.
First, we are gravely concerned about the safety of civilians living along the line of contact between areas controlled by the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed separatists. We received reports that both sides resumed the use of GRAD rockets and other heavy weapons that should not be used in populated areas, and continue to install military positions in densely populated areas. We urge both parties to cease the use of these weapons in civilian areas and do their utmost to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure from harm during hostilities.
Second, thousands of people crossing the contact line daily face endless waits, lack of adequate sanitary and other infrastructure at crossing points, and are exposed to landmines and regular exchange of fire, making an already grueling crossing very dangerous. All parties should uphold their international obligations and ensure that civilians are not exposed to undue hardship or unnecessary suffering.
Third, despite the release, as of mid-December 2016, of 18 detainees who had been forcibly disappeared in the Kharkiv security services facility, we remain concerned that Ukrainian authorities have acknowledged neither the detentions nor the releases. Russia-backed separatists have provided no information on incommunicado detention and ill treatment documented in separatist-held areas. We urge Russia’s leadership to press the de-facto authorities to stop these abuses.
Finally, we are alarmed by the human rights crisis taking place under Russia’s occupation of Crimea, including the persecution of people for publicly opposing the occupation and shrinking space for free speech. In December 2016, human rights activist Emir Hussein Kuku was subjected to forced psychiatric confinement. In January, two human rights lawyers, who are defending Crimean Tatar leaders, were arbitrarily detained by local law-enforcement. Although one of them, Nikolai Polozov, was released the same day, Emil Kurbedinov was sentenced to a 10-day administrative arrest on trumped-up charges. Just last week, on March 13, Russian security services (FSB) in Crimea detained three Ukrainian human rights defenders and questioned them for seven hours. Although the activists were eventually released, their detention and questioning appears arbitrary.
The Human Rights Council should condemn abuses by all parties to the conflict in eastern Ukraine as well as Russia’s abuses in Crimea. It should maintain its scrutiny of the situation in Ukraine and reflect in upcoming resolutions the concerns and recommendations of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.