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Ukraine: More than 14,000 casualties to date but ‘actual numbers are likely higher’

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image source: photo: Vadim Ghirda

Nearly 5,800 people have been killed in the conflict in Ukraine and the situation of prisoners of war in Russian-held areas is “worrying”, the head of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in the country said on Friday. 

Matilda Bogner was presenting some of the findings of its latest report to journalists in Geneva, Switzerland. 

The conflict is now in its seventh month and her team has corroborated 14,059 civilian casualties to date, with 5,767 people killed and 8,292 injured. 

“As we have repeatedly said, we know that actual numbers are likely considerably higher,” she added. 

Hearing from victims 

Ms. Bogner was speaking from the city of Odesa in southern Ukraine. The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission has been in the country since 2014, following the start of fighting in the east between government forces and separatists.  

Its latest report will be issued on 27 September. 

Other findings reveal at least 416 verified victims of arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearance in Russian-occupied territory or areas under its control. Sixteen were found dead, while 166 were released. 

Meanwhile, 51 arbitrary arrests and 30 more cases that may amount to enforced disappearance were perpetrated by Ukrainian law enforcement bodies. 

Status of prisoners of war 

The Mission has also documented a range of violations against prisoners of war. While staff have been granted unimpeded access to places of internment and detention in Ukrainian-controlled territory, Russia has not provided access to prisoners of war held on its territory or in territory under occupation. 

“This is all the more worrying since we have documented that prisoners of war in the power of the Russian Federation and held by the Russian Federation’s armed forces or by affiliated armed groups have suffered torture and ill-treatment, and in some places of detention lack adequate food, water, healthcare and sanitation,” said Ms. Bogner. 

They have also been informed of the dire health situation at the penal colony in Olenivka, located in the east.

Many Ukrainian prisoners of war there are reportedly suffering from hepatitis A, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. Additionally, many have not been allowed to contact their relatives, depriving their families of the right to know what has happened to them.   

Appeal to Russia

“We have also been following the cases of several pregnant prisoners of war interned in places controlled by Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups. We urge the Russian Federation, as the detaining power, to consider the immediate release of these women on humanitarian grounds,” said Ms. Bogner. 

The Mission has also documented cases of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners of war in Government-controlled territory, usually upon capture, during initial interrogations or transportation to internment camps.  

“Our Mission has been able to visit a Ukrainian prisoner of war camp. We note, however, that most prisoners of war continue to be held in penitentiary facilities, violating the rule that prisoners of war shall not be interned in close confinement.” 

Crimea concerns 

Ms. Bogner also reported on the “significant deterioration” in the situation in Crimea, occupied by Russia since 2014.  

She cited restrictions on the exercise of fundamental freedoms, torture and ill-treatment, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests, and violations of the right to a fair trial, as well as lack of accountability for such human rights violations.  

The Mission is concerned that patterns of human rights violations documented there may be repeated in territory newly occupied by Russia. 

“In Crimea, the Russian Federation continues to clamp down on freedom of expression by applying vague and ill-defined legislation, penalizing real or perceived criticism of the Russian Federation and its armed forces,” she said.  

“Since March, we have documented the prosecution of 89 individuals in Crimea for – and I quote – ‘public actions directed at discrediting the armed forces of the Russian Federation’”. 

Retaliation, arrests, intimidation 

Meanwhile, teachers who have refused to endorse what Russia has called its “special military operation” in Ukraine, face retaliation and sanctions. Human rights activists have been arrested and prosecuted for their work, and defense lawyers intimidated.  

“We have documented arbitrary arrests and torture of individuals apprehended in the Russian-occupied Kherson region and transferred to Crimea,” said Ms. Bogner. 

“In addition, men who cross the administrative boundary line from mainland Ukraine to Crimea have been subjected to so-called ‘filtration’ by the Russian Federal Security Service at checkpoints. According to credible reports received by our Mission, this exposes them to the risk of enforced disappearance, arbitrary arrest, torture and ill-treatment.” 

Commitment to reporting 

She added that Crimean Tatars continue to face intimidation and harassment, police raids and house searches, and prosecution under terrorism and extremism-related offences in proceedings that “which often fall short of human rights standards”.

Furthermore, detainees from the ethnic group continue to be deported to remote areas of the Russian Federation to serve their sentences.  

Ms. Bogner said the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission will continue to document and report the facts on the ground, including the voices of victims.  

“We consider this to be an essential part of seeking to prevent further violations and to hold those accountable for the violations already committed.”

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Fight against human trafficking must be strengthened in Ethiopia

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A group of internally displaced people due to the Tigray conflict gather in a site in Ethiopia's Afar region, Ethiopia. © UNHCR/Alessandro Pasta

Throughout Ethiopia’s Tigray, Afar and Amhar regions, women and girls are becoming increasingly vulnerable to abduction and sex trafficking as they flee ongoing armed conflict, a group of UN-appointed independent human rights experts warned on Monday.

The protracted conflict in the three northern regions have heightened risks of trafficking for sexual exploitation as a form of sexual violence in conflict, the experts said in a statement.

“We are alarmed by reports of refugee and internally displaced women and girls in the Tigray, Afar, and Amhara regions being abducted while attempting to move to safer places,” they said.

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“We are concerned at the risks of trafficking, in particular for purposes of sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery.” 

Women and children in crosshairs

Amidst abductions and displacement, the UN experts raised serious concerns over Eritrean refugee women and children being at particular risk of sex trafficking.

“Urgent action is needed to prevent trafficking, especially for purposes of sexual exploitation, and to ensure assistance and protection of all victims, without discrimination on grounds of race or ethnicity, nationality, disability, age or gender,” they said.  

Meanwhile, the hundreds of children who have been separated from their families, especially in the Tigray region, are particularly vulnerable, warned the independent experts.

“The continuing lack of humanitarian access to the region is a major concern,” the experts continued, urging immediate national, bilateral and multilateral measures to prevent all forms of trafficking of children and to ensure their protection.

Identifying victims

They added that sufficient measures were not being taken to identify victims of trafficking, or support their recovery in ways that fully takes account of the extreme trauma being suffered.

“The failure to provide accountability for these serious human rights violations and grave crimes creates a climate of impunity, allows trafficking in persons to persist and perpetrators to go free,” underscored the six UN experts.

They urged all relevant stakeholders to ensure that victims of trafficking can adequately access medical assistance, including sexual and reproductive healthcare services and psychological support.

The experts said they had made their concerns known to both the Governments of Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea.

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35 years of Cultural Routes: Safeguarding European Values, Heritage, and Dialogue

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A Europe rich in history, heritage, dialogue and values: the Council of Europe Cultural Routes’ programme celebrates its 35th anniversary, on the occasion of the 11th Advisory Forum in Minoa Palace Hotel, Chania, Crete (Greece) on 5-7 October, with a special event to highlight the relevance of Cultural Routes for the promotion of cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and sustainable tourism.

The Forum is organised by the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Cultural Routes of the Council of Europe and the European Institute of Cultural Routes, in co-operation with the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports, the Hellenic Ministry of Tourism, the Greek National Tourism Organization, the Region of Crete, the Municipality of Chania, the Chamber of Industry and Commerce of Chania, and the Historic Cafes Route. The 2022 edition will be the opportunity to underline the growing relevance of the Cultural Routes methodology and practices in promoting Europe’s shared cultural heritage while fostering viable local development.

Deputy Secretary General Bjørn Berge will participate in the high-level dialogue, together with Minister of Culture and Sports of Greece Lina Mendoni, Minister of Tourism of Greece Vassilis Kikilias, Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Vice-President and Chairperson of the Greek Delegation Dora Bakoyannis and Chair of the Statutory Committee of Cultural Routes Ambassador Patrick Engelberg (Luxembourg). 

Over three days of workshops and interactive debates, three main general sessions will be explored:

  1. Promoting European Values and Intercultural Dialogue;
  2. Safeguarding Heritage in Times of Crisis;
  3. Fostering Creative Industries, Cultural Tourism, Innovative Technologies for Sustainable Communities.

The Forum will discuss trends and challenges in relation to Cultural Routes, providing a platform for sharing experiences, reviewing progress, analysing professional practices, launching new initiatives and developing partnerships across Europe and beyond. Participants range from managers among the 48 cultural routes to representatives of national ministries, International Organisations, academics, experts and tourism professionals.

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Little progress combating systemic racism against people of African descent

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More than two years since the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the United States sparked the global Black Lives Matter movement, there’s been only “piecemeal progress” in addressing systemic racism, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) said on Friday, in a new report.While more people have been made aware of systemic racism and concrete steps have been taken in some countries, the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights called on States to demonstrate greater political will to accelerate action.

“There have been some initiatives in different countries to address racism, but for the most part they are piecemeal. They fall short of the comprehensive evidence-based approaches needed to dismantle the entrenched structural, institutional and societal racism that has existed for centuries, and continues to inflict deep harm today,” said Nada Al-Nashif, who will present the report to the UN Human Rights Council on Monday.

Triggering change

The report describes international, national and local initiatives that have been taken, towards ending the scourge of racism.

These include an Executive Order from the White House on advancing effective, accountable policing and criminal justice practices in federal law enforcement agencies; an Anti-Racism Data Act in British Columbia, Canada; measures to evaluate ethnic profiling by police in Sweden; and census data collection to self-identify people of African descent in Argentina.

The European Commission has issued guidance on collecting and using data based on racial or ethnic origin; formal apologies issued, memorialization, revisiting public spaces, and research, to assess links to enslavement and colonialism in several countries.

‘Barometer for success’

The report notes that poor outcomes continue for people of African descent in many countries, notably in accessing health and adequate food, education, social protection, and justice – while poverty, enforced disappearance and violence continues.

It highlights “continuing…allegations of discriminatory treatment, unlawful deportations, excessive use of force, and deaths of African migrants and migrants of African descent by law enforcement officials”

The barometer for success must be positive change in the lived experiences of people of African descent,” continued Ms. Al-Nashif.

“States need to listen to people of African descent, meaningfully involve them and take genuine steps to act upon their concerns.”

Higher death rates

Where available, recent data still points to disproportionately high death rates faced by people of African descent, at the hands of law enforcement, in different countries.

“Families of African descent continued to report the immense challenges, barriers and protracted processes they faced in their pursuit of truth and justice for the deaths of their relatives”, the report says.

It details seven cases of police-related deaths of people of African descent, namely George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (US); Adama Traoré (France); Luana Barbosa dos Reis Santos and João Pedro Matos Pinto (Brazil); Kevin Clarke (UK) and Janner [Hanner] García Palomino (Colombia).

While noting some progress towards accountability in a few of these emblematic cases, “unfortunately, not a single case has yet been brought to a full conclusion, with those families still seeking truth, justice and guarantees of non-repetition, and the prosecution and sanction of all those responsible,” the report says.

Ms. Al-Nashif called on States to “redouble efforts to ensure accountability and redress wherever deaths of Africans and people of African descent have occurred in the context of law enforcement, and take measures to confront legacies that perpetuate and sustain systemic racism”.

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