A new coalition: seeking justice for peace in eastern Ukraine

Mar 2, 2015

DURING A PRESS CONFERENCE IN KYIV, LUHANSK STUDENT VALERIA KULISH TELLS THE STORY OF THE KIDNAPPING OF HER PARENTS BY AN ILLEGAL ARMED GROUP. photo: UNDP UKraine

Kyiv, Ukraine – To better respond to the growing need to record human rights violations in the east of Ukraine, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) is supporting a number of civic human rights monitors and investigators to ensure that human rights are upheld and violations are accounted for.

According to UN official estimates more than 5,358 people have been killed as a result of the conflict in the east of Ukraine and more than 12,235 have been wounded since mid-April last year. Indiscriminate shellings of residential areas and human rights violations have been reported both on territories controlled by Ukrainian authorities and those not under government control. These violations include: abductions, taking and holding hostages, torture, and extra-judicial executions.

According to a statement last month from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Bus stops and public transport, marketplaces, schools and kindergartens, hospitals and residential areas have become battlegrounds in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine – in clear breach of international humanitarian law which governs the conduct of armed conflicts.”
    
Since 2012, UNDP in Ukraine has been active in building capacity of human rights actors, in particular civil society organizations (CSO) and Ombudsperson’s offices. As the armed conflict brought new human rights challenges, the UNDP stepped up its targeted assistance in the east of Ukraine and Crimea.

With the support of UNDP, two civil society organizations - the Center for Civil Liberties and the Luhansk Human Rights Defense Group – have now launched human rights monitoring and documentation projects covering the war-torn oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Roughly 100 trained monitors and journalists gathered evidence through interviews, photo and video footage in 27 monitoring visits to over 50 cities and villages. This ensures that aggregate findings and individual cases are documented for possible further use by national and international justice mechanisms.

Consultations and a skill-building workshop were organized with UNDP-commissioned experts who had previously worked documenting rights violations during the Balkans crises. Apart from the information received during the workshop, participating organizations decided to come together. It was at this workshop that the idea of a potent coalition was born. Within weeks, UNDP and its partner, the International Renaissance Foundation were approached by to form a coalition to consolidate efforts focused on cataloguing and systematizing accounts of human rights abuses in eastern Ukraine.

The major areas of the coalition’s work includes collection and protection of raw data on cases of human rights abuses, systematization of such data for quick access, launch of impartial reporting on cases of human rights violations, monitoring the right to a fair trial, and preparing reviews of the facts of human rights violations among others.

The 14-strong “Justice for Peace in Donbas” coalition has united organizations from both Kyiv and the combat-affected oblasts, thus benefitting from capital-level insights and access, as well as first-hand knowledge of the situation as it develops on the ground.

“While each member seeks to take a lead in documenting violations, the coalition adds value in bringing a more comprehensive picture of the human rights violations in the east,” says Volodymyr Shcherbachenko, Director of the Eastern-Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives and elected coordinator of the coalition.

The immediate plans of “Justice for Peace in Donbas” include the launch of a protected database of human rights violations for information recording, storage, and analysis. At a later stage, this data will help to investigate cases and ensure that justice is restored in the affected areas.
 
The name of the launched coalition, as well its core mission is just that – to bring about reconciliation through the process of truth finding and justice. Much future work remains, but the ardent willingness of this brave coalition is helping them get their country on the road to recovery today.

Inita Pauloviča, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative says, “Protection of human rights is fundamental to crisis resolution and reconciliation. Without  ensuring them, it can be difficult for people to start a dialogue, realize their full capabilities, explore opportunities and live a peaceful and safe life.”

UNDP Around the world