Five-year-old Nikita, whose father was killed during shelling while returning home from work, stands at his window in a district in the city of Pervomaysk in Donetsk Oblast (December 2014). Photo: © UNICEF/NYHQ2014-3507/Volpi
The report, which covers the period from 16 May to 15 August 2015, notes that the number of civilian casualties more than doubled by comparison with the previous three months, with at least 105 people killed and 308 injured compared to 60 killed and 102 injured between 16 February and 15 May.
“The shelling of residential areas on both sides of the contact line has led to a disturbing increase in the number of civilian casualties over the past three months,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned in a press release.
“More needs to be done to protect civilians and put a complete stop to the hostilities, in accordance with the February ceasefire agreement,” he added.
Since the conflict began in eastern Ukraine in mid-April 2014, a total of at least 7,962 people – including Ukrainian armed forces, civilians and members of the armed groups – have been killed, and at least 17,811 injured, the High Commissioner said, citing the latest figures available.
“The withdrawal of heavy weapons from the contact line as foreseen in the Minsk Agreements remained partial with the armed groups and the Ukrainian military using mortars, canons, howitzers, tanks and multiple launch rocket systems in daily clashes and exchanges of fire along the contact line,” the report states, noting that during the reporting period, the majority of civilian casualties caused by shelling occurred within the territories controlled by the armed groups.
The document further underlines that “the situation in Ukraine continued to be marred by ongoing armed hostilities in some areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions reportedly fuelled by the presence and continuing influx of foreign fighters and sophisticated weapons and ammunition from the Russian Federation.”
It also flags “concern that the Russian Federation has continued to send white-truck convoys without the full consent or inspection of Ukraine, and their exact destination and content could not be verified.”
Meanwhile, the development of more centralized civilian administrative structures and procedures in the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ continued during the reporting period, although they do not conform with either international law or the national legislation of Ukraine.
According to the report, civilians living in the conflict-affected area, particularly near the contact line, bear the brunt of the armed conflict, facing uncertainty and hardship on a daily basis. Their overall situation is reportedly worsening, including in terms of access to food and water, and is of particular concern with winter approaching.
The access and provision of humanitarian and medical aid to those living in the conflict area is being impeded by the security situation and by the Government’s prohibition on the transport of cargo, including food and medicine.
The UN report also states that despite the creation of a web portal for applying and receiving permits online, the ‘Temporary Order’ issued by the Ukrainian Government continues to severely restrict the freedom of movement. Due to long queues at check points, people are said to be forced to stay in areas where they are at risk of shelling for extended periods, or to seek alternative routes which may not be clear of mines and unexploded ordinance.
Cases of killings, abductions, torture and ill-treatment, sexual violence, forced labour, ransom demands and extortion in the territories controlled by the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ are also documented.
The report notes a “persistent pattern of arbitrary and incommunicado detention by the Ukrainian law enforcement, mainly by the Security Service of Ukraine, and by military and paramilitary units.”
Furthermore, the report warns that human rights violations continue to be committed by the de facto authorities in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
“I am particularly concerned at the recent sentencing to 20 years of prison of Ukrainian film-maker Oleh Sentsov by a Russian Federation Military Court,” High Commissioner Zeid said. “His trial was marred by irregularities.”
He noted that the court refused to look into credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment during his pre-trial detention and that the verdict was passed despite the main prosecution witness recanting his testimony in the courtroom, insisting that it had been extorted under torture.
A Crimean activist, Oleksandr Kolchenko, was also sentenced to 10 years for his alleged participation in the terrorist plot.