GENEVA (15 April 2014) – Misinformation, propaganda and incitement to hatred need to be urgently countered in Ukraine to avoid the further escalation of tension in the country, according to a UN human rights report* issued on Tuesday.
The report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights looks at the root causes of the protests that have taken place since November 2013, including corruption and widespread economic inequality, as well as the lack of accountability for human rights violations by the security forces and weak rule of law institutions. It also assesses the human rights situation in Crimea, including in the context of the 16 March referendum, and makes recommendations for the way forward.
“It is critical for the Government to prioritise respect for diversity, inclusivity and equal participation of all – including minorities – in political life,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
“Facts on the ground need to be established to help reduce the risk of radically different narratives being exploited for political ends. People need a reliable point of view to counter what has been widespread misinformation and also speech that aims to incite hatred on national, religious or racial grounds,” she added.
The report, which is based on information collected during two missions to Ukraine in March by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović and a team of UN human rights monitors on the ground since 15 March, analyses events up to 2 April. It also anticipates and draws parallels between what happened in Crimea and events currently unfolding in eastern Ukraine.
“In eastern Ukraine, where a large ethnic Russian minority resides, the situation remains particularly tense,” the report says. “It will be important to immediately take initial measures to build confidence between the Government and the people, and among the various communities, and reassure all people throughout Ukraine that their main concerns will be addressed.”
Excessive use of force by the Berkut special police and other security forces led to the radicalisation of the protest movement, the report found. “Violations related to the Maidan protests should be investigated and addressed in order to ensure accountability of perpetrators,” the report states.
Information gathered so far indicates that 121 people were killed in violence between December 2013 and February 2014. Most acts of severe beatings, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment were reportedly attributed to the Berkut.
The political aspects of recent developments in Crimea, which Mr Šimonović visited on 21 and 22 March, are beyond the report’s scope. However, the report notes that the situation created before and after the referendum of 16 March, which the General Assembly concluded had “no validity”, raised a number of human rights concerns pertaining to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and other civil and political rights.
The presence of paramilitary and so-called self-defence groups as well as soldiers without insignia, was not conducive to an environment in which the will of voters could be exercised freely, and the UN Human Rights’ Office delegation received many reports of vote rigging.
“A number of measures taken in Crimea are deeply concerning from a human rights perspective,” the report says. These include the introduction of Russian citizenship, making it difficult for those who opt to maintain their Ukrainian citizenship to stay in Crimea. “The current situation also raises concerns with regard to land and property ownership, wages and pensions, health service, labour rights, education and access to justice,” the report adds.
The authorities in Crimea should also publicly condemn all attacks or harassment against human rights defenders, journalists or any members of the political opposition, the report urges, and ensure full accountability for such acts, through prompt, impartial and effective investigations and prosecutions.
It is widely assessed that while there were some attacks against the ethnic Russian community, these were neither systematic nor widespread. There are also allegations that some participants in the protests and clashes in eastern Ukraine were not from the region, and that some had come from the Russian Federation.
“What is clear from our findings is that there is an urgent need to ensure full respect for the rule of law and human rights in Ukraine and thus guarantee the enjoyment of all human rights for all, including minorities,” Pillay said.
“The international community, including the UN, can play a role in supporting the creation of such an environment. My Office and its monitoring team can provide impartial and authoritative human rights assessments to contribute to establishing the facts, de-escalating tension, and paving the way for an environment that is conducive to the holding of free and fair elections on 25 May,” the High Commissioner noted.
Among the report’s recommendations to the Government of Ukraine:
· Ensure accountability for all human rights violations committed during the unrest.
· Ensure inclusivity and equal participation in public affairs and political life.
· Prevent media manipulation by issuing timely and accurate information.
· Combat intolerance and extremism.
· Implement as a matter of priority measures to effectively eradicate corruption.
Among the recommendations to the authorities in Crimea:
· Actively resolve cases of missing persons, grant access to places of detention.
· Take all measures needed to protect the rights of persons affected by the changing institutional and legal framework, including citizenship.
· Investigate all allegations of hate speech and media manipulation.
· Ensure the protection of the rights of all minorities and indigenous peoples.
Regular reports shall be issued by the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), with one forecast for 15 May that will examine in greater depth the situation in eastern Ukraine.
* Full report available here.