Another Flawed Ukraine Report From the UN Human Rights Office

This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared at New Cold

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has released its first report in four months purporting to provide an overview of the human rights situation in Ukraine. It is the eleventh such report of the OHCHR on Ukraine since 2013.

The UN body has revised its estimate of the numbers of people killed and wounded by the civil war launched in April 2014 by the governing regime in Kyiv.[1] It now says close to 8,000 civilians and military combatants have been killed and nearly 18,000 injured.

The UN body provides no information of how its casualty numbers are arrived at. The numbers are lower that the estimates of officials on the Donetsk and Lugansk republics. For example, the human rights ombudsperson of the Donetsk People’s Republic reported in August 2015 that in the year to date in the territory under its control, 1,287 people died and 1,100 were injured. These figures were drawn from medical records at hospitals and emergency health care centers. reported on Feb. 8, 2015 that the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper in Germany was reporting casualty figures on the Ukrainian side to be ten times those of UN and Kyiv officials. It wrote:

Germany’s special services estimate the probable number of deceased Ukrainian servicemen and civilians at up to 50,000 people. This figure is about ten times higher than official data. Official figures are clearly too low and not credible,” the newspaper reported on Sunday, citing its source.

RT also reported on an estimate by DPR military officials of Ukrainian army losses in Donetsk after Kyiv launched a new military offensive in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine in January 2015, definitively breaking a ceasefire agreement it was obliged to sign in September 2014. Eduard Basurin of the DPR said the Ukrainian army lost 1,569 servicemen in just three weeks after it restarted its offensive. [2]

Ukraine suffered a large military blow in early February 2015 when some 8,000 of its soldiers became trapped in and around the small city of Debaltseve. Kyiv refused an offer of free passage for its soldiers out of their entrapment provided they leave their weapons behind. Instead, it ordered them to fight their way out, causing heavy losses. The defeat of its offensive obliged Kyiv to sign a second ceasefire agreement in Minsk on February 12.

The UN report is typical of past reports by the same body in that it is deeply hostile to the people and governing authorities in the the rebel territories of Donetsk and Lugansk. Here is an example of the language of the UN, contained in the UN News Center press release of September 8:

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.

Thus, according to the UN, the Donetsk and Lugansk republics are supposed to “conform” to the national legislation of a regime in Kyiv which labels them “terrorists”, has declared war upon them, and for the past 18 months has levelled all manner of war crimes against the civilian population of the territories. The republics  are, in turn, supposed to “conform” to the international law of the international agencies such as the UN Security Council whose majority is backing Kyiv.

In fact, there is an international law, of sorts, which can serve as a fine roadmap out of the present political and military impasse in Ukraine. It is the Minsk-2 ceasefire agreement of Feb. 12, 2015. Its terms were negotiated with the direct participation of Russia, Germany and France. But nowhere does the OHCHR report suggest that Minsk-2 provides such a roadmap, still less whether Kyiv has lived up to its terms. The report refers to Minsk-2 at various points in its text, but only in passing.

The UN press release says: “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’.” But then it goes on to make equivalent accusations of human rights abuses against the governing authorities in Donbas and Crimea (whose authority the OHCHR does not recognize). Claims of such equivalency are unproven and not credible.

The release devotes three of its 18 paragraphs to the trial in Russia of Oleh Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko. They were convicted last month of organizing violent attacks on the government and people of Crimea in 2014. But the same release says little specific of the jailings of opposition political figures, journalists and activists in Ukraine, whose numbers are in the hundreds. (See Western hypocrisy over convictions in Russia of Oleg Sentsov and Alexander Kol’chenko, by Victor Shapinov, Aug 28, 2015.)

The full OHCHR report contains two and a half pages of  attention to “Unlawful and arbitrary detention, summary executions and torture and ill- treatment” by the governing authorities in Kyiv. As it happens, that’s less than the space devoted to equivalent claims against Donetsk and Lugansk authorities, but in any event, the report’s cited examples consist of anecdotal reports of individual cases with no attempt to discern a pattern or overall numbers. High-profile cases of journalists and political activists jailed or killed, including that of journalist Oles Buzina, murdered in broad daylight in Kyiv in front of his home on April 16, 2015 by right-wing extremists, do not earn mention.[3]

Concerning the banning of political parties by the Kyiv regime and other grave infringements on the right of political expression and assembly, the report contains a few anecdotal examples but no analysis of the deeply troubling overall trends or the most high profile cases, for example, the ongoing effort to outright proscribe the large Communist Party and other, smaller, parties with ‘communist’ in their name.

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