Hu­man rights on decline in Ukraine

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY JOHN J. MET­ZLER

De­scrib­ing the sit­u­a­tion as a “col­lapse of law and or­der” on the ter­ri­to­ries con­trolled by the self­pro­claimed rebel Re­publics, and amid on-go­ing hos­til­i­ties be­tween the Ukrainian gov­ern­ment troops and Rus­sian backed sep­a­ratists, a scathing new U.N. re­port over­views a fast de­te­ri­o­rat­ing hu­man rights sit­u­a­tion in Ukraine. The sur­vey speaks of “se­ri­ous hu­man rights abuses, in­tim­i­da­tion and ha­rass­ment of the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion per­pe­trated by armed groups” as part of a larger plan to break away Rus­sian-eth­nic re­gions from the cen­tral gov­ern­ment.”

The re­port comes amid flare­ups in fight­ing and warn­ings by Ukraine’s Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko that his coun­try should pre­pare for a pos­si­ble “full scale” Rus­sian in­va­sion.

The Re­port by the Of­fice of the U.N. High Com­mis­sioner for Hu­man Rights de­tails a sys­tem­atic plan of for­eign fighters and sup­plies from the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion openly in­fil­trat­ing Ukraine’s eastern fron­tier where armed groups from the “so­called gov­er­nance struc­ture of the ‘Donetsk Peo­ple’s Repub­lic’ and the ‘Luhansk Peo­ple’s Repub­lic’ area (are) accountable for hu­man rights abuses com­mit­ted on ter­ri­to­ries un­der their con­trol.”

The re­port states that since the be­gin­ning of hos­til­i­ties in midApril 2014, at least 6,362 peo­ple were killed and 16,000 wounded in Ukraine’s trou­bled eastern re­gions. And de­spite cease-fires, the in­dis­crim­i­nate shelling and shoot­ing con­tin­ues from both sides of the con­flict.

Trag­i­cally more than 1.2 mil­lion peo­ple have been in­ter­nally dis­placed from their homes since the fight­ing started thus cre­at­ing yet an­other hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis, this time in Eastern Europe.

Much of the re­cent trou­bles stem from Ukraine’s own torn eth­nic­ity in which a siz­able mi­nor­ity along the eastern fron­tier bor­der­ing Rus­sia fa­vor some sort of as­so­ci­a­tion with Moscow. Yet, a larger ma­jor­ity in demo­cratic Ukraine fa­vors the West and would like to in­te­grate closer into Euro­pean in­sti­tu­tions rather than with Rus­sia.

Ukraine was a cru­cial eco­nomic and strate­gic re­gion dur­ing the for­mer Soviet Union, and there’s lit­tle ques­tion that Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s hy­per-na­tion­al­ist gov­ern­ment wishes to bring Ukraine back into Moscow’s po­lit­i­cal or­bit.

Since re­gain­ing its full sovereignty from the Soviet sys­tem in 1991, an in­de­pen­dent Ukraine has never been far from Rus­sia’s shadow. Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko told par­lia­ment the “Ukraini­ans were the first to feel the ef­fects of two to­tal­i­tar­ian sys­tems, Nazi and com­mu­nist.” Since in­de­pen­dence Ukraine has seen its free­doms chal­lenged do­mes­ti­cally by poor gov­ern­ment, cor­rup­tion and po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing.

Just last year the strate­gic Crimean Penin­sula, home to a large and nos­tal­gic Rus­sian pop­u­la­tion, be­came the fo­cus of Putin’s at­ten­tion. Moscow en­gi­neered a “ref­er­en­dum” on the re­gion’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture, pre­dictably won the vote, and cer­e­mo­ni­ously an­nexed the re­gion, al­low­ing Putin a po­lit­i­cal pro­pa­ganda victory. Crimea is home to large Rus­sian naval fa­cil­i­ties.

‘Rhetoric not seen since the

Cold War

The Crimean cri­sis brought a new chill to East-West re­la­tions but at the same time gave Vladimir Putin a po­lit­i­cal victory. Yet, the po­lit­i­cal back­lash saw Rus­sia buf­feted in the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil with rhetoric not seen since the Cold War and more sub­stan­tively the U.S. and Europe slap a new se­ries of eco­nomic sanc­tions on Rus­sia which have come to put an in­creas­ing strain on its econ­omy.

The U.N.’s Hu­man Rights re­port puts a fo­cus on Crimea, warn­ing of “hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions tar­get­ing mostly those who have op­posed the un­law­ful ‘ ref­er­en­dum’ in March 2014 and the ar­rival of au­thor­i­ties ap­ply­ing the laws of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion.” The re­port stresses that Crimean me­dia out­lets as well as re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions have faced ha­rass­ment.

The re­port un­der­scores “the im­pact of the con­flict on the eco­nomic and so­cial rights of civil­ians con­tin­ues to be dra­matic.” Dur­ing the past few years Ukraine’s econ­omy has gone into free fall with pro­jected growth this year ex­pected to be neg­a­tive 9 per­cent.

The sur­vey calls on both sides to seek com­mon ground and ob­serve the cease-fires, but tasks the Kiev gov­ern­ment to “in­ves­ti­gate vi­ola- tions of hu­man rights and in­ter­na­tional law com­mit­ted in the east, in­clud­ing by gov­ern­ment forces.” It calls on Rus­sia to “put an end to ar­bi­trary ar­rests and de­ten­tions of po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents in Crimea.”

Most of th­ese lo­cal­ized “peo­ple’s re­publics” are run by ill-dis­ci­plined vodka-lubri­cated lo­cal mili­tia who are loosely in align­ment with Moscow. Though Rus­sia has armed and, in many cases, sent troops to aid the sep­a­ratists, it is likely Putin has cre­ated a po­lit­i­cal Franken­stein by al­low­ing such a dis­rup­tive force along an in­ter­na­tional bor­der.

The new chill be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Moscow makes a mock­ery of for­mer U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton’s wish­ful “re­set with Rus­sia,” and equally chal­lenges the Euro­pean Union to find a cre­ative so­lu­tion to a per­co­lat­ing prob­lem in­side Europe. John J. Met­zler is a United Na­tions cor­re­spon­dent cov­er­ing diplo­matic and de­fense is­sues. He is the au­thor of “Di­vided Dy­namism The Diplo­macy of Sep­a­rated Na­tions: Ger­many, Korea, China” (2014) con­tact jjm­col­umn@earth­link.net

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