UN human rights monitors say freedom of expression, assembly and other civil and political rights are restricted in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine, including Crimea. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has submitted its latest report on the situation in Ukraine to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Since its last update in July, UN observers report a dramatic escalation in the war in Ukraine. They document the widespread and ongoing destruction of civilian infrastructure and report civilian casualties caused by Russian attacks in populated areas using explosive weapons. Russia has denied targeting civilians.
UN monitors say reports of torture and ill-treatment, as well as enforced disappearances of civilians and prisoners of war, continue. They add that certain human rights violations could constitute war crimes.
The report finds that civilians continue to bear the brunt of hostilities. It documents 6,114 civilians killed and over 9,000 injured. However, he notes that the actual numbers are likely to be considerably higher.
Christian Salazar Volkmann, director of the Division of Field Operations and Technical Cooperation, says UN monitors report that the rights to freedom of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly have been curtailed in the territories occupied by the Russian Federation or controlled by the Russian Armed Forces and affiliated armed groups.
“Ukrainian TV channels and radio stations have been disconnected and replaced with channels from the Russian Federation or self-proclaimed republics,” he said. “In Crimea, the Russian Federation enforced legislation criminalizing a wide range of expression deemed critical and teachers were pressured to approve of the armed attack.”
Volkmann says he is concerned that this highly restrictive environment deters people from reporting the human rights abuses they witness.
“As the alleged annexation of the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, following the so-called referendums, the Russian Federation has taken measures that deepen, rather than resolve, the conflict and exacerbate violations of human rights associated with moving away from peace towards escalation,” Volkmann said.
It notes that any annexation of the territory of a State by another State is a violation of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and of international law.
Ukraine’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Yevheniia Filipenko, said the Kremlin’s plan to conquer Ukraine continues to fail, prompting Russia to threaten to use nuclear weapons. This, she says, leaves people around the world in a state of fear and insecurity.
Despite all the threats, she says Ukraine will not stop fighting until all territories are liberated and Russia is held accountable for its crimes.
Guzal Khusanova, First Secretary of Russia’s Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva, calls the report biased and unbalanced. She accuses the High Commission of lacking the courage to report on war crimes allegedly committed by Ukrainians.