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Ukraine: Bachelet Briefs Human Rights Council On Mariupol

Published: Fri 17 Jun 2022 05:41 AM
50th Session of the Human Rights Council | Oral update on Mariupol |Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
16 June 2022
Distinguished President,
Excellencies,
Further to Human Rights Council resolution S-34/1 adopted at its 34th Special Session, I present you with an oral update on the grave human rights and humanitarian situation in Mariupol.
Due to the security situation on the ground, my Office does not have access to the territory under control of the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups, including access to Mariupol itself. Nevertheless, my team has been monitoring and documenting the situation by speaking directly with people who left the city; communicating remotely with people who remained in the city; collecting and analyzing publicly available information; and by using satellite imagery.
The assessment in this oral update is based on that methodology, in accordance with standard OHCHR practice.
Between February and the end of April, Mariupol was likely the deadliest place in Ukraine. The intensity and extent of hostilities, destruction and death and injury strongly suggest that serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross violations of international human rights law have occurred.
The city was under siege for over a month. At the final stages, following the mediation efforts of the UN Secretary-General and others and the evacuation of 152 civilians from the Azovstal steel plant, the siege there soon ended.
On 30 April, Russian armed forces assumed full control over Mariupol, except for Azovstal plant area.
We assess that up to 90 per cent of residential buildings have been damaged or destroyed, as well as up to 60 percent of private houses. An estimated 350,000 people were forced to leave the city.
The humanitarian situation is devastating, with civilians continuing to bear the brunt of this conflict.
A Russian air attack on the Mariupol drama theatre on 16 March stands out among the very deadliest and most emblematic examples of the harm caused to civilians. The theatre had hundreds of civilians hiding inside with signs clearly marked “children”, visible from the sky.
Since the first week of March, hostilities in the Mariupol urban area were characterized by the extensive use of weapons with wide area effects, including shelling from tanks and heavy artillery, multiple launch rocket systems, missiles and air strikes.
Death rates increased over time, as the intensity of the assault grew.
To date, OHCHR has verified 1,348 individual civilian deaths directly in hostilities in Mariupol, including 70 children. These deaths were caused by air strikes, tank and artillery shelling and small arms and light weapons during street fighting. The actual death toll of hostilities on civilians is likely thousands higher.
Bodies have been found in improvised individual or collective graves in yards, streets, and parks, in unattended houses and apartments. Many are still to be buried.
Until all dead bodies are recovered and identified, and their status, whether military or civilian, and the exact causes of death established, it will be impossible to know an accurate number of civilian deaths directly caused by hostilities, and those caused by a lack of food, water, medical care and other effects of living through the hostilities.
Russian armed forces began to surround Mariupol in early March, and civilians who tried to leave the city did so at considerable risk. By 10 March, the city was completely encircled by Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups. Evacuations took place throughout the month and people felt compelled to evacuate to whichever direction was possible.
The destruction and damage to civilian objects in Mariupol, including civilian housing, has been massive and broad, raising serious concerns about compliance with international humanitarian law, particularly the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks and the requirements of proportionality.
All hospitals able to receive injured civilians were damaged or destroyed, including the childcare departments of Mariupol hospital No 3. By the end of March, the damage and destruction coupled with the lack of electricity and medical supplies meant that hospitals had effectively ceased to function.
Electricity, gas and water supplies in Mariupol were cut in early March, while it was still icily cold outside. People spent days and nights in cold basements and apartments. Older people and persons with disabilities were often confined to their apartments. Many were killed by shelling, while others burned or were suffocated in fires which could not be extinguished due to a lack of available fire services. Due to a shortage of drinking water, people took long, dangerous trips to wells or open reservoirs to procure such water as could be found. Others were forced to melt snow or to drink water extracted from cars or other equipment. The centralized sewage system ceased to function. Not only were food supplies scarce, but people had to go outside during ongoing fighting and under shelling to cook on open fires.
Despite our attempts at verifying, it is not clear to what extent the parties to the conflict complied with the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution. Civilian survivors shared varying accounts, but most reported that military positions were often placed in the immediate proximity of civilians and civilian objects. Attacks on those positions were common practice. The harm to civilians was extensive.
More than 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been taken as prisoners of war from Mariupol since early March. My Office received allegations of the killing of a Ukrainian soldier hors de combat in Mariupol, and ill-treatment of several others. In the absence of access to prisoners of war in territory controlled by Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups, my Office has not been able to assess their conditions of detention and treatment.
OHCHR is also concerned with alleged trials of three Ukrainian servicepeople (who are also third-country nationals) who were taken as prisoners of war in Mariupol. They were convicted of the attempted seizure of power in territory controlled by Russian-affiliated armed groups in Donetsk, training for terrorist activities and mercenarism, and sentenced to death. I recall the prohibition against prosecuting prisoners of war for conduct in substance amounting to lawful participation in hostilities. I have additional concerns that fair trial guarantees were not complied with, including that the defendants in the cases were not able to present a full defense. The so-called ‘courts’ in this area have long failed to comply with international standards, including the general right to a public hearing, the principles of independence and impartiality and the right not to be compelled to testify against onself. The deprivation of the right of prisoners of war to a fair and regular trial is prohibited under international law and may amount to a war crime.
Distinguished President,
Excellencies,
The current situation is dire. The shelling has now faded. But a shattered and depleted city is left, with its remaining residents struggling daily with limited access to basic utilities and social services, such as medical care. Risks of infectious disease, including cholera, are being reported. Many people either no longer have a place to live or live in damaged apartments, often with no windows, electricity, gas and running water. Many people are heavily dependent on humanitarian aid from Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups and do not have means to sustain a livelihood.
People cannot leave and return to the city freely, including those who left Mariupol in April or March. I am also concerned about the way the so-called ‘filtration’ process of civilians was and is being carried out, reportedly involving arbitrary determinations, intimidation and humiliation, which may amount to ill-treatment, as well as reported instances of family separation and threats to the right to private life. The related risks of detention and ill-treatment for those who do not pass the process are also of concern.
Finally, the removal of explosive remnants of war from the city, and recovery, identification and decent burial of all mortal remains, must be immediately prioritized. The Russian Federation must uphold all of its obligations under applicable international law as the occupying Power in Mariupol.
In addition, to guarantee our monitoring is independent and impartial, our human rights teams must have complete and unimpeded access to Mariupol and all other affected areas in Ukraine, as well as effective access to relevant information.
The tragedy of Mariupol is far from over, and the full picture of the devastation caused is not yet clear. The city can eventually be rebuilt but, the horrors inflicted on the civilian population will leave their indelible mark, including on generations to come. On the parents who had to bury their own children, on people who witnessed their friends commit suicide, on families ripped apart, on all those who had to leave a much-loved city with uncertain prospects of ever seeing it again.
Pursuing justice and ensuring remedy and reparation for all victims are crucial next steps for all authorities with power to so act, and for international actors including my own Office.
Thank you.

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