Interview with Benjamin Moreau, deputy head of UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission (18.12.2018)

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In “Eurointegrators,” media expert and ex-Deputy Minister for Information Policy of Ukraine Tetiana Popova sits down with diplomats, heads of international organizations, and Ukrainian power brokers to discuss Ukraine’s European integration.

In this episode, the guest is Benjamin Moreau, deputy head of UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. Watch other episodes of “EuroIntegrators.”

The show is produced by a Ukrainian NGO Information Security and Oboz.TV.

See the text version of the interview: 

Popova: Hello, I present today a new episode of my program “Eurointegrators”, and my guest today is a Deputy Head of the UN Monitoring Mission in Ukraine Benjamin Moreau. 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 occupied territories?

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 Donbas?

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 territories?

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 of November.

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. Good luck to you and to your colleagues. Thank you for your work. 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 attack journalists?

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 Tetyana maybe?

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 investigate promptly.

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.

Popova: Thank you, Benjamin, for joining our program. Thanks to all who watched us. See you next week.

Source to the video: https://www.kyivpost.com/multimedia/video/interview-with-benjamin-moreau...