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UN Monitors: Eastern Ukraine Casualties Rose After Cease-Fire Ended

FILE - Ukrainian government soldiers walk past a destroyed home near the line separating Ukrainian forces from Russia-backed separatist rebels, near Donetsk, Ukraine, May 4, 2021.

United Nations monitors have found a significant rise in casualties in eastern Ukraine since Russia-backed separatists ended a cease-fire agreement with the government in Kyiv earlier this year. The findings are part of a report by the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The report covers human rights developments in Ukraine from February to the end of July of this year. It found 15 civilians have been killed and 47 injured since fighting escalated in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions. It noted that the number constituted a 51% increase over the previous six months.

U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif said U.N. monitors have documented 13 cases of arbitrary detention related to the conflict between government forces and rebels in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics. She added that 11 remain in detention.

“Both self-proclaimed republics issued decrees, in March and April, establishing the forced recruitment of 400 men into armed groups. Another decree issued on October 1 established the recruitment of a further 500 men. This exposes male civilians to involuntary lethal danger, stripping them of the protection afforded to civilians by international humanitarian law, and opens them to the risk of criminal prosecution,” Al-Nashif said.

The report says an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship prevails in territory controlled by the separatist rebels. It underscores that the self-proclaimed republics continue to restrict freedom of religion, especially that of evangelical Christians.

Al-Nashif said that the government of Ukraine also has a checkered human rights record. As an example she cited 22 documented cases of threats and attacks against journalists, human rights defenders, LGBTI people and national minorities among others.

“Hate speech was also directed against Roma, LGBTI persons, women, persons with disabilities and people perceived to have pro-Russian views. It is imperative that the authorities effectively investigate each such incident, fully acknowledging any bias motives,” Al Nashif said.

The U.N. monitoring mission accused Russia of multiple violations of civil liberties and fair trial rights in the Crimean Peninsula, which it illegally annexed in 2014. The report documents cases of torture and ill-treatment against Ukrainian citizens in Crimea.

Ukraine's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Yevheniia Filipenko, said millions of Ukrainians living in de facto Russian-occupied territories continue to be deprived of their fundamental rights and freedoms. She also criticized efforts by Russia to legitimize its annexation of Crimea.