The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report yesterday that reveals evidence of very little responsibility being taken on either side of the two-year old Ukraine conflict with descriptions of the country’s widespread killings since January 2014.
Since the start of the separatist conflict in the eastern regions of Ukraine in April 2014, 9,300 people have died–2,000 of them civilians in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, deployed by OHCHR in March 2014, put together the report, stating that in these two regions they have found “accounts for the majority of violations of the right to life in Ukraine over the last two years,” with indiscriminate shellings in residential areas making up 90% of civilian deaths. The report focuses on more than 60 cases, mostly on incidents when armed hostilities were not in the general vicinity of the conflict zone, yet civilians were killed.
The Mission reports that the killings are “fueled by the inflow of foreign fighters and weapons from the Russian Federation,” and that there has been little accountability for the conduct of hostilities against civilians which may reach the criteria for war crimes and/or crimes against humanity. Additionally, the report shows that a large number of hostilities and citizens have been summarily executed, or died in the custody of both sides of the conflict. “Impunity for killings remains rampant, encouraging their perpetuation and undermining prospects for justice,” the report says.
Russian-backed separatist groups have been found to summarily execute civilians and surrendered, or injured Ukrainian soldiers with forthright “pro-unity” views. Meanwhile Ukrainian forces committed the same actions against those supporting “separatist,” or “pro-Russian” views. These findings lend to the report’s assertion that both the Ukrainian and separatist forces, which are partly made up of rapidly mobilized soldiers and volunteer battalions, lack discipline. Known criminals are joining both sides of the conflict which leads to “an unbridled rule of the gun with armed men readily resorting to violence towards civilians, especially to those who ‘disobeyed’ their orders.”
Even execution, torture, ill-treatment, and inadequate, or complete lack of medical assistance allegations have been brought against the Ukrainian government, and their investigations and prosecutions of some militants were “protracted deliberately so that alleged perpetrators are provided with opportunities to escape justice,” according to the report. The Mission also found approximately 121 cases of internal homicides against Ukrainian servicemen. Those caught whistle-blowing, or practicing other forms of misconduct were often punished with execution.
55 individuals have been charged in the Maidan massacre of civilians. Ten of whom are senior Government officials and 29 former commanders and servicemen of the Berkut special police regiment. The killing of 13 law enforcement agents at Maidan, however, was hindered by the Ukrainian law that legally shields mass protestors and those suspected, or accused of crimes between November 21, 2013 and February 28, 2014. The Mission requests the law be amended so further prosecutions may take place regarding the massacre.
“Accountability will be key to the establishment of sustainable peace in Ukraine, including in the eastern part of the country,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “This is the only way forward, as has been fully and tragically demonstrated by the many countries which have not dealt properly with serious international crimes and human rights abuses, and as a result have sooner or later toppled back into violence,” he added.
If the crimes committed on both sides of the conflict continue without consequences and discipline by the armed groups’ authority, indiscriminate killings will only escalate and may prompt further international intervention. How will both sides be pressured into owning up for their crimes? Looking forward, these potential war crimes and crimes against humanity must not go unabated, otherwise we will surely see more military actors attempt to get away with breaking international humanitarian law–a criminality the world simply does not need any more of.