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First of all, I want to note that the conflict in the east continues. This means that civilians continue to be killed, they are injured, especially taking into account two moments of aggravation of the conflict: the first in December of last year, and the second, when we saw an escalation of hostilities near Avdiivka, Donetsk airport and Yasynuvata. People are losing housing, and those who live close to the line of contact on both sides are experiencing significant problems related to access to medical care, food, school facilities, and social services. Sometimes, in order to get to the school, they have to go for a very long time and even cross the contact line.
The question of crossing the contact line remains a big challenge, because people are exposed to significant risks. The new trend is that there have recently been legislative changes that have the potential to improve the situation with respect for human rights. This applies to the protection of persons with disabilities. Also, an action plan was adopted for Donbas and those people who close to the line of contact to ensure equal rights for all, without discrimination. Also, the General Prosecutor's Office of Ukraine and the Military Prosecutor's Office are investigating cases of human rights violations.
Now let us speak about Crimea. UN General Assembly adopted the resolution from December 19, 2016, and the UN Monitoring Mission on Human Rights assesses the situation in Crimea from the standpoint of international human rights law and from the standpoint of international humanitarian law, since Russia is recognized as occupying country.
Does the mission record cases of tortures, deaths in places of detention of prisoners both on one side and on the other?
We continue to document the cases, conduct interviews with those who have experienced cruel treatment, torture, and kidnap.
How does the mission work on the other side of the conflict line? How do you manage to get to places of detention of prisoners through checkpoints of armed groups?
We work in Donetsk and Luhansk, and we work there with the self-proclaimed authority. We raise issues that relate to human rights, with a view to improving the human rights situation.
Have there been cases when the mission staff were in danger, were injured?
No, we give a very high priority to the security issues of our employees.
Issue of the return of prisoners detained in Donetsk and Luhansk before the conflict has been topical for a long time. Has the mission been to their places of detention? Is there any progress in this matter?
This is the work carried out by Ms. Lutkovska, the Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, and we support her in this work and support the contacts she has with the self-proclaimed authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Regarding access to places of detention, in 2014 we had wide access, and now we continue to work to get the same level of access that we had at that time.
Why are there problems with access now?
First, we cannot get full and unhindered access. Secondly, we do not have an opportunity to conduct confidential interviews with those who are there are. We can do this on the territories that are controlled by the government, and we are working to make it possible on the uncontrolled territories. More than a hundred prisoners, who were held there before the conflict, were transferred to the territory controlled by the government. But none of this transfer occurred during the reporting period, that is, in the last three months. And now there are many appeals from the people who are there and who would like to be transferred to the territory controlled by the government.
Why do prisoners want to come here?
Many of those people, who were imprisoned there before the conflict began, as well as their family members, live in the territories controlled by the government of Ukraine. In a penitentiary system, prisoners receive a lot of support from their relatives. Medicines, clothes, and food. And if they are on the other side of the line of contact, then, accordingly, they receive nothing. And, in general, their connections with families are simply interrupted.
Is Donbas blockade a violation of human rights?
We are looking at the potential consequences of this blockade. We explore this, and so far we have no ready-made results. But we could say that people might lose their jobs, revenue sources, their access to necessary services is limited. This is one question. Second question. If people lose their jobs, how will this affect their families, influence society, all those territories as a whole?
Speaking about the incident that occurred last night, when a group of people (blockade activists in Kryvyi Torets, - Ed.) was detained. We always look at what happens to people after detention: whether they have access to a lawyer, what are general conditions. Last night there were also protests provoked by this incident, and here we again looked at them from the point of view of human rights, looked at how law enforcement bodies were working during the protests, how they ensured the safety of the rally participants.
The media report on the so-called secret prisons of the Security Service (SBU). Journalists assure that they exist, but in the Security Service deny. And what could the mission say on it?
In 2016, we documented such cases when people were held in unrecognized places of detention. We know that the SBU has one official place of pre-trial detention - an investigative isolator. But in addition, there are some administrative buildings throughout Ukraine. From our point of view, when a person is deprived of liberty, it is very important that this person should have access, regardless the place of detention. And we documented cases when we knew that a person was detained, but we did not have access to it, we did not know where she could be. Although she was detained by the officers of the SBU.
Scandalous site "Myrotvorets" is working in Ukraine. Do you think that the publication of personal data of these people is a violation of their rights?
We have repeatedly voiced our concerns about the operation of this resource. Firstly, it is not entirely clear how these lists were drawn up, because both journalists and civilians of those territories were included there. Secondly, a very big question arises about the protection of the personal data. And there have also been cases, when people from territories that are controlled by armed groups, tried to cross the contact line in the direction of the territory controlled by the government of Ukraine and were detained at checkpoints for the fact that their names were on that list. We also studied this question, looked at how a person's entry into this list affects her life, the possibility of movement.
If compared with the previous report, are there any new data in the process of investigating crimes on the Maidan and the tragedy in Odesa in 2014?
Maidan a complicated matter. As for the alleged performers, the fighters of the "Berkut", we know that the investigation continues. Svyatoshinsky District Court of Kyiv is considering criminal proceedings regarding the murder of 48 protesters on Instytutska street on February 20, 2014. In the dock, there are five servicemen of "Berkut" special unit, both sergeants and senior officers. The hearings are held, however, because of the significant number of victims and evidence, this process is lengthy. The situation with bringing to responsibility those officials, who are allegedly given corresponding orders, is much more difficult. They, along with some other employees of the special forces, were able to travel outside Ukraine, including the Russian Federation.
Regarding the events in Odesa on May 2, 2014, as a result of which 48 people died, the investigation is moving very slowly. For almost three years, the main efforts were aimed at investigating the riots in the center of the city. Almost three years after the tragic events, we see no progress in bringing to justice the perpetrators of the deaths: five people who are accused of unrest in the center of the city have been detained since the beginning of May 2014, while the only suspect in the murder remains at large, and the court has not yet begun consideration of his case.
Actually, there is also a third aspect on the Maidan: who killed the law enforcers?
In general, during the protests, 13 law enforcers were killed, dozens were wounded. The Prosecutor General's Office collects the available evidence, and the investigation continues. However, as far as we know, no one has been informed of suspicion. At the same time, the existing law on preventing the persecution of participants in mass protests, which was adopted in early 2014, does not allow the criminal prosecution of persons who committed an attempt on the life of a law enforcement officer. We recall this in our thematic report on the responsibility for the killings in Ukraine, which was published in July 2016. According to the law, all persons who took part in mass protests that are accused or suspected of committing crimes, including violence or murder of law enforcement officers between November 21, 2013 and February 28, 2014, should be exempted from criminal responsibility.
How does the mission checks the information? For example, in 2014 it was reported that a lake with hundreds of bodies was found in the occupied territories, and then the militants assured that they found mass graves in Debaltsevo. Was the mission working with this information?
Yes, for the time that the conflict lasts, there were a lot of different messages in the media. We will never rely solely on what is said in the media. If certain information appears, we will always check it by other sources. We will conduct a double or even triple check of the facts. When we prepared our thematic report on sexual violence in the context of the conflict, we checked a lot of cases and denied certain myths. For example, that in the summer of 2014 sexual violence occurred on a very large scale, there were mass rapes; That only women were victims, and only members of armed groups were violators. But in fact, every case is individual.
The mission studies the legislation of Ukraine, in particular the criminal legislation, and issues recommendations. Name the top 3 most necessary changes that the Ukrainian authorities need to do to improve the situation with human rights in Ukraine.
The first is the reform of the judicial system. And in order to reform the judicial system, amendments to the Constitution and amendments to the codes are needed. Second: the bill on missing persons. Third: bringing Ukraine's legislation into line with the Rome Statute. And I will also give you the fourth recommendation. It is necessary to change the definition of rape in the Ukrainian legislation.
Ukraine is suing Russia in the UN court. Have you cooperated with the Ukrainian authorities in the preparation of the claim?
No, this is not our competence.
Thank you for the interview.