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Human RightsUN report details climate of fear in Russian occupied areas of Ukraine

UN report details climate of fear in Russian occupied areas of Ukraine

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United Nations News
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Russia has instilled a pervasive climat of fear in the occupied areas of Ukraine, perpetrating egregious violations of international humanitarian and human rights laws in an attempt to cement its control, according to a new report from the UN human rights office, OHCHR, released on Wednesday.

Based on over 2,300 testimonies from victims and witnesses, the report details measures taken by Russia to impose Russian language, citizenship, laws, court system and education curricula in the occupied areas, while at the same time suppressing expressions of Ukrainian culture and identity, and dismantling its governance and administrative systems.

“The actions of the Russian Federation have ruptured the social fabric of communities and left individuals isolated, with profound and long-lasting consequences for Ukrainian society as a whole,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk.

Although the Russian Federation initiated its annexation of Ukrainian territory in Crimea in 2014, the report concentrates on the aftermath of the full-scale invasion in February 2022.

Widespread violations

Russian armed forces, operating with “generalized impunity”, committed widespread violations, including arbitrary detentions often accompanied by torture and ill-treatment, sometimes culminating in enforced disappearances.

“While Russian armed forces initially targeted individuals perceived as posing a security threat, over time a wider net was cast broadly to include any person perceived to oppose the occupation,” OHCHR said in a news release accompanying the report.

Peaceful protests were suppressed, free expression curtailed and residents’ movements severely restricted, it added, noting also that homes and businesses were pillaged and Ukrainian internet and communication networks were shut down, severing ties with independent news sources and isolating the population.

“People were encouraged to inform on one another, leaving them afraid even of their own friends and neighbours.”

Children worst affected

According to the report, children bore the brunt of the impact, with Ukrainian curricula replaced by Russian curriculum in many schools and introduced textbooks with narratives seeking to justify the armed attack on Ukraine.

Russia also enlisted children into youth groups to inculcate Russian expression of patriotism.

The report added that residents of occupied areas were coerced into taking Russian passports. Those who refused were singled out, facing harsher restrictions on their movement, and were progressively denied employment in the public sector, access to healthcare and social security benefits.

A landmine warning sign behind a fence of a destroyed house in Posad-Pokrovske in the Kherson region of Ukraine. (file)

Collapsed local economy

The report also detailed the situation in areas recaptured by Ukrainian forces in late 2022, including Mykolaiv and parts of Kharkiv and Kherson regions.

“The invasion, occupation and subsequent recapture by Ukraine of these areas left behind damaged homes and infrastructure, land contaminated by mines and explosive remnants of war, pillaged resources, a collapsed local economy and a traumatized, mistrustful community,” the report said.

It added that the Ukrainian Government faced the challenge of rebuilding and restoring services in these areas, while having to contend with legacies of violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law during the occupation.

‘Overly broad’ Ukrainian legal provision

The report also expressed concern that an “overly broad and imprecise provision” of the Ukrainian Criminal Code led to people being prosecuted under charges of collaboration with the occupying authorities for actions that can be lawfully compelled by the occupying authorities under international humanitarian law, such as work to ensure essential services.

“Such prosecutions have tragically led to some people being victimized twice – first under the Russian occupation and then again when they are prosecuted for collaboration,” High Commissioner Türk cautioned, urging Ukraine to revise its approach to such prosecutions.

He further reiterated his call on Russia to immediately cease its armed attack against Ukraine and withdraw to internationally recognized borders, in line with the relevant UN General Assembly resolutions and international law.

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