UN Says Torture, Ill-Treatment Of Detainees Continues ‘Systematically’ In Eastern Ukraine

A prison guard at the 32nd Penal Colony in Makiivka, a town controlled by Russia-backed forces in Ukraine's Donetsk region. (file photo)  

The United Nations said torture and ill-treatment of detainees in territory controlled by Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine is happening every day.

Deputy UN rights chief Nada al-Nashif said on July 9 that there are “egregious violations” committed in the Izolyatsia prison in Donetsk and other places of detention in separatist-controlled parts of eastern Ukraine.

The violations “continue on a daily basis, and are carried out systematically,” Nashif told the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.

Kyiv has been battling pro-Russia separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions since 2014, when Moscow also seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. The conflict has killed more than 13,000 people.

The report highlights the continuing failure of the Russian Federation to uphold its obligations as the occupying power in Crimea under international human rights law and international humanitarian law." — Nada al-Nashif, deputy UN rights chief

Nashif was presenting reports on detention, torture, and ill-treatment in eastern Ukraine, as well as on human rights in Crimea.

The deputy high commissioner for human rights said the report estimated that since the beginning of the conflict, around 4,000 conflict-related detainees have been subjected to torture or ill-treatment in both government-controlled territory and separatist-controlled territory.

“There has been little accountability for violations committed on either side of the contact line. While we can count victims in the thousands, perpetrators who have been brought to account only number in the dozens,” she said.

Nashif said torture and ill-treatment was greater in the initial stages of the conflict and has decreased over time, especially in government-controlled areas.

“From late 2016, the use of unofficial places of detention to hold conflict-related detainees for longer periods, lasting more than a few days, substantially decreased" in government areas, she said.

However, she said the UN was still able to document cases in government areas of arbitrary detention of conflict-related detainees in rented apartments or hotels lasting up to several days before they were transferred to official facilities.

But in separatist-controlled territory, “a large majority” of conflict-related detentions amounted to arbitrary detention and this practice continues, she said.

“In armed group-controlled territory, detention during the initial stages of the conflict lacked any semblance of legal process and often amounted to enforced disappearance,” Nashif said.

On Crimea, Nashif said her office was unable to conduct its mission on the ground and had to rely on information collected remotely.

Nonetheless, the report said Russian authorities regularly harassed lawyers defending clients and that courts delivered guilty verdicts in high-profile cases without a fair trial.

There were also documented allegations of torture and ill-treatment committed by Russian authorities against individuals in their custody in order to coerce them into self-incrimination or to testify against others.

“The report highlights the continuing failure of the Russian Federation to uphold its obligations as the occupying power in Crimea under international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” Nashif said.

Other issues of concern include poor conditions in detention facilities and the arbitrary arrests of 19 persons, including 11 Crimean Tatars.

Members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which is banned in Russia, faced extremism-related charges and convictions for practicing their faith, the report said.

The Orthodox Church of Ukraine is also under threat, Nashif said, with the number of church parishes decreasing from 49 prior to Russia’s occupation of Crimea to only five in 2020.

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