Interview with Benjamin Moreau, deputy head of UN Human Rights
Monitoring Mission to Ukraine.
Popova: Benjamin, there is a number of NGO projects in Ukraine who
deal with human right or freedom of expression. How do you coordinate
and deal with these organizations?
Moreau: Thank you very much. Indeed, the UN Human Rights Monitoring
Mission cooperates with a wide variety of NGOs in Ukraine. As you know
there are lots of NGOs throughout the country, and we meet on a very
regular basis to exchange information. Either we share information that we
have or we receive information from NGOs, mostly on the protection and
the promotion of human rights.
Popova: Do you feel any concealing of information or some resistance
from government institutions about human rights, in Ukraine or on the
Moreau: The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission has a very specific
methodology to gather information. Basically, in order to gather information
we speak with victims and witnesses of human rights violation. On the
government side basically we have access to every place we want to have
access to, we have freedom of movement and we have access to places
of detention, we go and observe trials, and we can do our work freely.
Basically, on a very regular basis, we meet with the national authorities,
with the prosecutor’s office, with the police, and we discuss our findings
and our recommendations and we have an ongoing dialogue that is very
open and constructive. When it comes across a contact line, the UN
Human Rights Monitoring Mission feels a presence there.
Popova: How many people are present in the occupied territories of
Moreau: Both in the self-claimed Donetsk Republic and in the self-claimed
Luhansk Republic, in the two cities – Donetsk and Luhansk – we have
about 15 staff members operating there, that are documenting the human
rights situation. So we have on government side full access and the
cooperation with the government, and we are also operating in Donetsk
and in Luhansk cities. So basically, in the government side, we can have
access to all our interlocutors, and the government is interacting and
engaging in a dialogue with us. Sometimes we’d like the human rights
issues progressing faster, but as you understand promoting and protecting
human rights take time and it’s a long pending effort.
Popova: Yesterday you presented your last report for this year in Ukraine.
What are the main topics of this report?
Moreau: Indeed, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission produces a
public report every three months. I have to say that a number of issues
haven’t changed. For instance, the question of accountability. There is still
impunity for human rights violation in the country and the UN Human
Rights Monitoring Mission calls for systemic investigations in cases of
human rights violation. Also, as you know, we do document civilian
casualties. Over the last three months, we have documented 50 civilian
casualties: 16 civilians have been killed and 34 persons have been injured.
It is actually an increase by 50 percent as compared to the last reporting
period. And it is also a decrease as compared to 2017. So, there is a
positive dynamic, the number of civilian casualties is decreasing. But at the
same time, one civilian casualty is too much. One of the positive
developments in regard to civilian casualties is a Ministry of Defense. As a
set-up when it’s a call to civilian casualties to meet a casualty team. We
believe that with a new instrument the civilian casualties will possibly also
decrease, so it is a positive development.
Popova: Do these numbers include also numbers from the occupied
Moreau: So, as you know, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission
document violations on both sides of the contact line, so figures that I give
to you represent civilian casualties on both sides of the contact line. Also
as a major issue is the impact of the conflict on economic and social rights.
Even if the number of civilian casualties is decreasing, the economic
situation for people on both sides of the contact line is worsening. One of
the major issues is also access to pensions to people who live across the
contact line. And there we call on the authorities to facilitate the process of
getting access to pensions to people who live across the contact line. Also,
something that does continue is instances of tortures. Over the last three
months, we continuously report instances of ill-treatment and torture on
both sides of the contact line. Also to be noted is the attacks on the civil
space. I’m sure we’ll come back on this during the interview, but over the
last three months, we have documented 59 cases of attacks against
journalists, minorities and civil society activists. There is something that is
really worrying and we call on the authorities to first of all publically
condemn all attacks and at the same time to open investigation on attacks.
Popova: By the way, what is interesting about authorities: firstly, we
wanted to invite as a second speaker here a speaker from the Ministry of
Internal Affairs, they should deal with these cases. They agreed, but when
we sent them an official letter with questions about the last report, where
the first topic was a topic about Katia Hadziuk, who died later, they
refused. So we do not have authorities here to report about these cases,
unfortunately. But we have two civil activists, and I hope one is already
with us – Vladyslav Greziev. Hi, Vladyslav. We are here in a studio with
Benjamin Moreau – a Deputy Head of the UN Monitoring Mission in
Ukraine, and we are speaking about attacks on civil activists and
journalists in Ukraine. I know that you are strongly involved in a process of
defending them. Maybe you have some recommendations on how to stand
against such attacks?
Greziev: First of all, everybody should pay attention to everything around,
to see, if somebody spy on them, and maybe somehow to join the groups
for reactions to know that somebody hacks your number and understands
where you are at an exact time. And this will help if you are not online or
you are not with your phone, either have six people to react to that and to
contact police etc. If we are talking about self-organized actions it could be
the first thing, and then maybe it is somehow to think for self-defending, for
understanding your rights or somehow to check and to inspect people who
are like observing you.
Popova: Do we have organizations, which help civil activists?
Greziev: Yes, it is the enforcement organization to provide organizations
with new initiatives, who train activists.
Popova: Were you already able to see the last report of the UN Monitoring
Mission they presented yesterday?
Greziev: Actually, I have not.
Popova: But they reported 57 attacks this year, right?
Moreau: For the last 3 months, we have documented 59 attacks on civil
activists and journalists. For the last three months.
Popova: For the last three months, in 2019?
Moreau: Exactly. For the period, that covers the 15 of August up to the 15
Popova: Vladyslav, is your data close to these figures?
Greziev: Yes, yes.
Popova: Do you want to say anything else to our viewers or to Benjamin?
Greziev: I hope we will work together forward to this issue. That is what I
should say at the moment.
Popova: I hope it too, Vladyslav. Benjamin, you mentioned tortures, in the
Ukrainian territory as well. What do you mean?
Moreau: As I mentioned we document tortures on both sides of the contact
line. On a daily basis, human rights officers go to places of detention in
government control. And then also as you know we speak with former
detainees that come back from detention to under control territory from the
self-proclaimed “Donetsk Republic” and the self-proclaimed “Luhansk
republic”, and we interview these people in government control. And their
people speak about what they are gone through in detention, including
instances of ill-treatment and torture. So there is something that we have
been documenting over the last three months. So we have been able to
document cases and instances on both sides of the contact line.
Popova: And you include descriptions of these cases in your report?
Moreau: And the instances of torture and ill-treatment are detailed indeed
in our reports. So you can find all the information in there.
Popova: As close the elections are, as more and more is freedom of
speech is. What do you know or think about violation of freedom of
speech, rights of journalists and investigation of cases against those who
Moreau: The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission is following closely the
situation regarding freedom of expression and freedom of the media. As
you know in our report we have a specific section dedicated to what we
call civic space and democratic space. And what we note over the last
three months – a period covered by our report – is an increase in the
number of brutal bull-attacks against journalists and human rights activists.
For the last three months, we have noted an increase of 31% more attacks
as compared to the previous period. So our recommendation is the same:
basically, we call on the authority to publically condemn attacks on
journalists, on human rights defenders and activists. And at the same time
to open systematically investigation and to respond rapidly so perpetrators
have been bought to account. It is critical.
Popova: Can approaching election campaign in overall somehow
influence human right situation – not only freedom of speech, but in overall
with human rights?
Moreau: The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission is following up, as I
mentioned, the democratic space, so basically we look at freedom of
association, of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of the media.
And definitely in an election period it is critical to uphold all this freedom.
As I mentioned, we have noted a number of attacks on journalists, but also
on human rights activists. During the reporting period two persons died. I’d
like to mention Mykola Bychko as well as Kateryna Handziuk. And it is
critical that in a context where elections are upcoming that everyone can
express himself and herself freely, and if there are attacks on the civic
space, but these attacks are being investigated, and the perpetrators are
been bought to account. Because if there is an overall climate of impunity,
then that’s an encouragement for perpetrators to continue. So, again, the
signal to be sent is perpetrators to be bought to account.
Popova: One more quest will join our interview now. It’s Tetiana
Pechonchyk – Chair of the Board of the “Human Rights Information
Center” NGO. Tetiana, how much does your assessment of human rights
in Ukraine coincide with the vision of your partners?
Pechonchyk: Our organization works on the territory controlled by the
government, we also monitor the situation in Crimea, where the UN
mission cannot work. Every quarter we have a meeting with the Monitoring
mission, where we share the information that we gather here, on a free
territory and on the occupied territory as well, with the UN mission so they
would include the figures in their reports.
Popova: Your organization also supervises the situation in Crimea.
Pechonchyk: Yes, in Kyiv we present a report of the international mission
of human rights, this mission visited the occupied Crimea in September
this year, they documented a lot of information, they held about 20
meetings in a 4 days period. They met more than 50 people including
relatives of political prisoners, journalists, human rights activists. They met
not just pro Ukrainian activists but also those who supported the Russian
moves in Crimea and now they are under some restrictions and
persecution, because some of them feel pressure for their anti-corruption
activities. So, we have got such a report, it has already been reported in
Tbilisi, in Berlin and Geneva. We also plan to report it on a winter session
in PACE in Strasburg.
Popova: What is the difference between information for human rights
violation for the last year and this year?
Pechonchyk: Unfortunately, what we see is that the vases of repressions
in Crimea are not decreasing. But the methods and forms of repressions
are changing. During a couple of years after the occupation, more forceful
methods were in use. There were a lot of crimes committed by a
paramilitary group “Crimea self-defense”, which has not been investigated
by now. But today they use so-called “legal” practices or methods – I mean
Courts, Police, which persecute dissidents. Russia uses its antiterrorist and
anti-extremist laws for persecution those people, especially those who are
not supporting the occupation and those who belong to different religious
groups. We are also working in Ukrainian territories, we document
increasing of attacks, violating of activists, especially during the last year.
After the Euromaidan, we documented ten cases of murdering, which can
be connected to social activities of killed people, or to activities on human
rights defending. Five cases happened during the last year. We can see a
similar situation with physical violence and car arson. Unfortunately, those
cases have not been investigated effectively, and more and more activists
are suffering kinds of violations.
Popova: Thank you, Tetyana. Benjamin, do you want to tell anything to
Moreau: We speak all the time with Tetiana. Indeed we very much
welcome the cooperation with Tatiana’s organization. That is critical also to
protect and to promote human rights, especially in relation to Crimea.
Popova: Under the influence of the aggressive state Russia on the
occupied territories of Crimea and Donbas, are there mechanisms to
obtaining objective information, and are there mechanisms to influence
and to help people of detention or those whose human rights are violated?
Moreau: As you know, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission has been
monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in Crimea since
March 2014. We said since March 2014 the UN Human Rights Monitoring
Mission didn’t have the access to Crimea. So we have set up a very
specific methodology to be able to gather information, and specific, what
we call “remote monitoring” we have established a network of contacts.
Within the NGOs that document the human rights situation, we have heard
today Tetiana from the Human rights information center. But also we have
established contacts in Crimea, where we speak with family members of
persons being in prison. We also speak with defense lawyers in Crimea.
Also, we have a team that is based in Odessa that goes regularly to the
administrative border line and speaks with people that go to the
administrative border line. But also throughout Ukraine, there are people
who come to live in Ukraine, with whom we speak and we interview. So
there are various sources to gather information that allow us to provide
reliable information on the human rights situation in Crimea. Now, how do
we help people? We report every three months on Crimea in our quarterly
report, but also, as you know, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission
has produced so far two thematic reports, dedicated exclusively to Crimea,
where we give details on the overall human rights situation in Crimea. And
this reports content specific recommendations to the Russian Federation
as the occupying power, as well as the international community and to the
government of Ukraine in order to bring progress and improve the human
rights situation in Crimea.
Popova: In your opinion, did the introduction of martial law influence the
situation with human rights in Ukraine?
Moreau: So, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission is indeed following
this development, and the line is very clear: any restriction on human rights
must be proportional and limited to what is necessary in terms of duration,
in terms of geographical scope, as well as in terms of nature and scope. In
the current situation, since the imposition of the martial law as the Human
Rights Monitoring Mission we have heard a lot of concerns that we haven’t
monitored for the time being a human rights violation, and we do hope that
there would be no human rights violation in the frame of the martial law.
Popova: Diplomatic departments of some European countries and the US
assess the legal activity of the “Myrotvorets” project. They appeal to
Ukrainian authorities to withdraw personal data of journalists. But
unfortunately – without results. You mention about this site almost at each
penal viewer participated together about freedom of speech. What is the
Monitoring Mission position about this site? What is wrong in what they are
doing, and what should authorities do with it?
Moreau: The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission on “Myrotvorets” is
very clear, and we have been reporting publically on the UN position on
this website: basically, posting information on a website without consent of
individuals is a violation of the right to privacy, and when people who are
being publically accused on this website of crimes – this is a violation of
the presumption of innocence. So we have called repeatedly on the
national police to open an investigation to look into this issue. We are well
aware that so far investigations have not progressed. So, again, we call on
the national police to effectively and promptly investigate this situation –
that’s one, but also as we speak there are still people’s names being
included into the website, we ask individuals to go to the police and
individually complain to the police about this fact. So, again, what is critical
is for the authorities to promptly investigate it.
Popova: Yes, but you know that some ministers even supported this site,
with their words at least.
Moreau: Again, there are in all parts of Ukraine a number of the human
rights challenges. And we have as a Human Rights Monitoring Mission to
keep attention on this issue, repeat again and again recommendation that
we have made. And there is only one way to addressing this issue – to
Popova: How has Ukrainian society learned, from your point of view, to
defend their rights effectively?
Moreau: I think civil society in Ukraine is very strong, and its work is very
commendable. Today we have heard two representatives of NGO’s, and
the work that they do to document the human right situation in all parts of
Ukraine being in Crimea, in the east of Ukraine, but also in the west of
Ukraine is very important and very courageous. So I think the human rights
movement in Ukraine is very strong and is very much developing. At the
same time, we have been mentioning today that we are entering in elector
period, meaning that human rights defenders when they speak freely and
they do objective incredible work; they may expose themselves to
retaliation. So in this period, it is essential that they are being protected
from any form of attacks. So there is something to be paid attention to –
that human rights defenders and civil society are being protected in the
upcoming period. And third, that is very important is that civil society has a
critical voice, very important voice to bring. So it is very important that they
are being consulted by the government, by the Parliament, that any time
there is a policy being developed, civil society should be systematically
being consulted and the voice being heard. The same with the legislative
initiative. NGO’s should be consulted and their voice and their view should
be included, so that the government of Ukraine, the Parliament responds
to all its citizens in Ukraine – either citizen is residing in Sevastopol, in
Kyiv, in Vinnitsa, in Donetsk or in Lviv. So again civil society plays a
fundamental role and their voice needs to be heard.