Ukraine-Russia Conflict Sparks Human Rights Debate

A U.N. report on extensive human rights violations in the Russian-backed separatist regions of eastern Ukraine and in the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula has triggered a fiery debate at the U.N. human rights council.  

The conflict between Russian-backed rebels and the Ukrainian government in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk is entering its sixth year. U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kate Gilmore says 5 million people are directly affected by ongoing hostilities along the contact line, the area that separates the two warring forces.

“Shelling, use of small arms and light weapons, mines, explosive remnants of war — these continue to kill and injure civilian women and men, girls and boys,” she said.

FILE – Men speak outside a residential building, which locals said was damaged during recent shelling, in the suburb of the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine, June 28, 2019.

Thirteen people have been killed and 78 injured this year, Gilmore said, adding that people in the rebel-controlled areas also suffer from extreme poverty because they do not receive their pensions from the government in Kyiv. She criticized the self-proclaimed authorities in eastern Ukraine for denying human rights monitors access to the detainees, many of whom she said have been subjected to torture.

She also accused the Russian Federation of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in March 2014.

“Those who criticize the occupation or advocate broadly for human rights are intimidated, even imprisoned,” she said. “Crimean Tatars have been subjected to arrests [and] convictions for affiliation with Muslim groups declared as ‘extremist organizations’ under Russian law.”    

Reaction from Ukraine

Following Gilmore’s statement, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Yuri Klymenko, lashed out at Russia’s occupation of Crimea. He accused the Kremlin of violating international humanitarian law in support of the separatists in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.

“The temporary occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, as well as in Crimea, Russia stubbornly imposes its citizenships on the local population, thus violating the norms of international humanitarian law and the sovereignty of Ukraine,” Klymenko said. “Russia has not come to Donbas to protect anyone.  Russia, as an aggressor state, has come to kill.”  

Ukraine’s criticisms did not sit well with the Russian representative at the council. Second secretary at the Russian mission to the U.N. in Geneva, Kristina Sukacheva, sneered at Ukraine’s efforts to blame Russia for violations in the Donbas and Crimea. She called the accusations unsubstantiated and farcical.

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