More than 6,000 people have died in the nearly one-year-old Ukraine conflict; the United Nations human rights office said on Monday and warned that “deliberate targeting” of civilians may constitute a “crime against humanity”.
Decrying the “merciless devastation of civilian lives and infrastructure” in the war-torn country, the UN warned that “deliberate targeting of civilian areas may constitute a war crime, and if widespread and systematic, crime against humanity”.
“More than 6,000 lives have now been lost in less than a year due to the fighting in eastern Ukraine,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said, ahead of the 28th UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva.
Releasing the ninth UN report on the situation of human rights in Ukraine, Ivan Simonovic, Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, said that from the beginning of the conflict to the start of the Minsk II ceasefire, there was indiscriminate shelling of densely populated civilian areas in both government and rebel-controlled areas.
The findings also indicate that there are “credible reports of arbitrary detentions of civilians, torture and enforced disappearances on both sides”.
Calling on all sides to respect the fragile February 15 peace deal, Zeid warned that continuing hostilities “would represent a new and very deadly chapter in this conflict, expanding the areas where the rule of law and the protection of human rights are effectively absent”.
The number of registered Internally Displaced People now exceeds one million, of which, according to the UN, 60 per cent are pensioners.
Simonovic also appealed to both sides to address the needs of a group of 4,000 elderly people, who are highly vulnerable, “as a matter of obligation under international law”.
The report also suggests “a continuing flow of heavy weaponry and foreign fighters” from Russia, into the areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, controlled by pro-Kremlin rebel groups.
“It remains to be seen whether Boris Nemtsov's recent assassination in Moscow has also been triggered by this attitude,” Simonovic added.
Nemtsov, an open critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin's Ukraine policy, was shot dead in Moscow on Friday, just two days before he was to lead a major opposition rally against the government.
The peace talks held on February 11 and 12 mediated by French President Francois Hollande and German Cancellor Angela Merkel resulted in the second Minsk ceasefire which includes the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the contact line; the establishment of 50-140 km security zone; and the withdrawal of foreign armed formations, mercenaries and weapons from the territory of Ukraine.