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UN: As Ukraine Fighting Dwindles, Rights Abuses Rise

  • Lisa Schlein

FILE - An Orthodox priest views bodies of killed Ukrainian soldiers at a checkpoint captured by pro-Russian rebels at the eastern Ukraine town of Krasniy Partizan, Jan. 24, 2015. Fighting has eased but continues despite several cease-fires.

FILE - An Orthodox priest views bodies of killed Ukrainian soldiers at a checkpoint captured by pro-Russian rebels at the eastern Ukraine town of Krasniy Partizan, Jan. 24, 2015. Fighting has eased but continues despite several cease-fires.

While the United Nations has found a marked decrease in fighting between Ukraine’s forces and Russian-backed rebels in the country’s east, it also reports an increase in abuses of civilians in the insurgent-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Monitors for the U.N.’s Human Rights Office in Ukraine reported Wednesday that the number of civilian casualties dropped between mid-August and mid-November, when 47 people were killed and 131 wounded. That’s a 230 percent decrease from the previous reporting period of mid-May to mid-August.

Since war between the government and rebels broke out in mid-April 2014, more than 9,000 people have been killed and nearly 21,000 wounded, according to the report.

The U.N. report notes fewer people are dying in large-scale and indiscriminate shelling of populated areas in Donetsk and Luhansk. New casualties result mainly from explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices.

Recent flare-up

But Gianni Magazzeni, chief of the U.N. office’s Americas, Europe and Central Branch, cited a recent increase in cease-fire violations in areas controlled by armed groups. Activity includes renewed use of artillery in the conflict areas.

"This is worrisome," he said. "An inflow of ammunition, weaponry and fighters from the Russian Federation into the territories controlled by the armed groups continues, leaving the situation highly flammable."

Magazzeni told VOA a monitoring mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe found that about 10,000 people – adults, families and young men in military clothing – are moving across the Russian border with eastern Ukraine in both directions daily.

Rights abuses

The report reveals an increase in serious human rights abuses against people in Donetsk and Luhansk. It accuses the rebels of killings, torture, ill treatment, illegal detention and forced labor. It describes pervasive self-censorship by the media, which has no freedom of expression.

Nearly 3 million residents in rebel-held territories face great difficulties in getting quality medical care, social services and benefits, and they remain without effective protection of their rights, the report said.

The report also documents cases of human rights violations perpetrated by the Ukrainian government’s Security Service and details ongoing repressive measures against Crimean Tatars since Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in March 2014.

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