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Ukraine: UN Special Rapporteur urges stronger minority rights guarantees to defuse tensions

GENEVA (16 April 2014) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák, has urged all parties to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Ukraine and take immediate steps to ease tensions and step back from further violence.

“Minority rights protections should be strengthened as part of a process of confidence building and to achieve stronger unity in Ukraine’s diversity,” stated Ms. Izsák, who visited Ukraine from 7 to 14 April at the invitation of the Government. (Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=14518&LangID=E)

“The overwhelming majority of minorities and others who I consulted described harmonious inter-ethnic and inter-faith relations and conditions of non-discrimination in all spheres of life,” she noted. “Violence, intimidation or aggression on the basis of national, ethnic or religious belonging are rare.”

However, the human rights expert warned that “Recent developments in the country have increased animosity against certain groups and created an environment of uncertainty and distrust that may create fractures along national, ethnic and linguistic lines and threaten peaceful coexistence if not resolved.”

The Special Rapporteur acknowledged that some grievances exist and must be addressed. “Steps to abolish the 2012 Law on the Principles of the State Language Policy, although vetoed, created anxiety amongst some communities, including ethnic Russians, that minority language rights will be eroded.”

Ms. Izsák called for a revised law to comply with international standards and for meaningful and inclusive consultations to ensure that it protects the language rights of Ukraine’s diverse linguistic communities.

While recognizing the legitimate concerns of minorities and their right to peaceful protest, the expert underscored that “the current human rights situation of minorities in Ukraine and the civil and political, economic, social and cultural conditions that they experience cannot justify any violent actions or incitement and support of those actions by any party, national or international.”

“It is essential to begin a process of national dialogue with the objective of understanding the concerns and issues of all communities and ensuring that they are addressed appropriately and rapidly. Moderate voices must come to the fore,” she said. “First and foremost, solutions to the current situation must come from the Ukrainian people.”

Ms. Izsák noted that the current situation, although framed by some as an inter-ethnic dispute, has wider political and economic causes, including widespread corruption, that must be taken into account to help avoid further ethnic, regional and political polarization.

Ms. Izsák could not gain access to Crimea, however she interviewed people who have recently left, who noted uncertainty, social and political pressure and fear for their security and rights, as among the reasons for their decision to leave. She recommended that the UN monitoring mission be allowed to visit Crimea and assess the human rights situation in view of recent political and social change and its inevitable impact on different populations.

The expert proposed a number of concrete measures to strengthen minority rights protection and promotion, including in the fields of education and ensuring inclusive participation in decision making. She referred to the need to strengthen the institutional attention to minorities and welcomed proposals to establish new high-level bodies and authorities responsible for minority issues.

Ms. Izsák visited Kyiv, Uzhgorod, Odesa and Donetsk during her visit to assess minority issues and consulted Government Officials, representatives of the civil society and minority communities, religious leaders, political actors, academics, journalists and internally displaced persons among others.

The human rights expert thanked the Government of Ukraine for its invitation to visit and its cooperation with her mandate.

The Special Rapporteur will produce a full report and recommendations for submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Ms. Rita Izsák was appointed as Independent Expert on minority issues by the Human Rights Council in June 2011 and subsequently her mandate was renewed as Special Rapporteur in March 2014. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Learn more: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/IExpert/Pages/IEminorityissuesIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteur is tasked by the United Nations Human Rights Council to promote the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. Read the Declaration: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/Minorities.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Ukraine: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/UAIndex.aspx

For further information and media inquiries, please contact Graham Fox (+41 22 917 9640 / gfox@ohchr.org) or Margarita Lema (+41 22 917 9248 / mlematome@ohchr.org) or write to minorityissues@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN mandates:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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