NEW YORK – The number of people killed in Ukraine has topped 3,000 and could be “significantly higher,” a senior United Nations human rights official said today, as he urgently appealed for a sustainable peace to spare the country “a winter of horrors.”
“The trend is clear and alarming,” said Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, to a special session of the Permanent Council of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), held in Vienna, Austria.
Also speaking at the meeting was Jeffrey Feltman, UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who said: “We need to be demanding and critical with ourselves to ensure that Ukraine does not slide deeper into the abyss and our common values with it.”
“Secretary-General Ban [Ki-moon] remains personally fully committed to doing his part,” Mr. Feltman said.
He reminded the delegates of a meeting of foreign ministers in the margins of the UN General Assembly later this month under the theme “The Ukraine Crisis, the OSCE, and the Future of European Security,” noting that the upcoming meeting at UN Headquarters “demonstrates our shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the future of UN-OSCE cooperation.”
Mr. Šimonović, presenting the 5th report of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine covering the period from 16 July to 17 August, said: “There is a significant increase in the death toll in the east.”
“The current registered number of killed is 2,729, or over 3,000 if we include the 298 victims of the [Malaysian Airlines] MH17 plane crash in eastern Ukraine,” he said, adding “the actual number may be significantly higher.”
He said the sharp increase in civilian casualties during the last month is largely due to “the intensified fighting, including the use of heavy weaponry and indiscriminate shelling in densely populated areas.”
The UN official also drew attention to the armed groups continuing to commit abductions now numbering more than 460, physical and psychological torture, ill-treatment and other serious human rights violations, which have been well documented.
He said the Monitoring Mission will also be facilitating – together with the International Committee of the Red Cross – the exchange of lists of detainees and the provision of information on missing persons between the armed groups and the Government.
“Regular visits to the detained are also envisaged as an additional human rights and humanitarian law centred confidence-building measure,” he said. “Hopefully, the mentioned activities will not only help alleviate human suffering, but also pave the way for meaningful political dialogue and a peaceful settlement of the conflict.”
He also noted the rise of displaced people inside and outside Ukraine due to the conflict. “About half of the population of Luhansk and one-third of Donetsk have fled,” he said There are more than 200,000 registered internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the east. “The actual number of unregistered IDPs may however be two or three times higher… Reportedly, over 800,000 have crossed the border [into Russia] in recent months.”
And he warned that the escalation of hostilities and opening of a new front in the south-east, including the “alleged large-scale participation of foreign troops, may cause a new wave of displacement further exacerbating the human rights situation.”
Finally, he noted that top-level discussions on the ceasefire are encouraging, but that “sustainable peace in eastern Ukraine can only be based on a political settlement that respects the country’s territorial integrity and ensures human rights for all.” “Ukraine should be spared of a winter of horrors!” he said.