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20 Mar, 2023 22:05

US glosses over Ukrainian abuses in human rights report

The State Department’s annual assessment ultimately blames Russia for Kiev’s transgressions
US glosses over Ukrainian abuses in human rights report

An annual human rights report, published by the US State Department on Monday, adopts a light touch in assessing human rights abuses in Ukraine.

The study blames the censorship of media, bans on political parties and extrajudicial executions in Ukraine on Russia, though some of these processes had begun before Moscow launched its military assault, in early 2022.

Kiev’s crackdown on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is not mentioned at all.

The report notes that businessman Denis Kireev was “allegedly killed during his arrest by the Security Service of Ukraine [SBU] after it obtained a recording of Kireyev allegedly implicating himself in treason.” It goes on to quote the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) saying “the circumstances of [Kireev’s] death remain unclear.”

The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence and Kireev’s bodyguards told the Wall Street Journal that SBU agents seized him, shot him in the back of the head, and dumped his body on a Kiev street as a warning.

No mention was made of the extrajudicial executions of four opposition activists in Ukrainian-held Severodonetsk in May, despite Azov commander Maksim Zhorin boasting about it on social media. 

The State Department claims there were “no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities” and “no reports of political prisoners or detainees in the government-controlled area of Ukraine.” However, it later quotes the UN human rights mission as saying that Ukrainian “law enforcement agencies and armed forces were responsible for arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances on government-controlled territory.”

In response to UN claims of at least 34 instances of disappearance, detention and torture, the State Department quotes Ukrainian authorities denying “torture or brutal interrogations of detainees in liberated areas; they stated they were conducting stabilization measures to determine whether populations collaborated with Russia.”

In the section on prison conditions, the report notes that martial law allows for coercing confessions and that there were reports the authorities “at times, tortured persons in custody,” before adding this was “usually related to collaboration with Russia.”

The notorious practice of stripping and whipping alleged “looters” taped to lampposts is acknowledged, with a note that some public officials “encouraged” the “extrajudicial punishment,” while some members of the police and Territorial Defense took part in it. At least one person died after being left tied up overnight.

Nazism is mentioned exactly once, to say that Ukrainian law bans “communist and Nazi symbols as well as the manufacture or promotion of the St. George’s ribbon,” as a Russian symbol. The ribbon is part of the medal for victory over Nazi Germany. Another section mentions the existence of “radical groups,” but only to say their members “often perpetrated violence against LGBTQI+ persons,” which the authorities “often did not adequately investigate.”

Even though Kiev has “banned, blocked, or sanctioned media outlets and individual journalists deemed a threat to national security or who expressed positions authorities believed undermined the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the NGO Freedom House continues to rate Ukraine’s press as “partly free.” 

The infamous “kill list” on the website ‘Mirotvorets’, which “reportedly maintains close ties to the security services,” is described as “a database of personal information of journalists and public figures whose statements and activities have been deemed unpatriotic.”

Zelensky’s crackdown on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was not mentioned at all. Instead, the report links to the 2021 Report on International Religious Freedom, which mainly talks about the treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses and notes meetings between US government officials and the government-established Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU).

“In some instances, the government publicly criticized international organizations engaging on [sic] international humanitarian law,” is how the State Department describes Kiev’s attack on Amnesty International, after it revealed Ukrainian forces were using civilians as human shields.

The report does, however, admit the existence of corruption in Ukraine, saying it “remained a serious problem for citizens and businesses alike.”

The State Department claims that its annual human rights reports provide “factual, objective information based on credible reports of the events” and represent a “vital resource” for governments, researchers, journalists and advocacy groups.

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