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Disappearances in Ukraine: “Concerns and challenges in the current context”

Russian | Ukrainian version

GENEVA / KYIV (20 June 2018) – Ukraine should provide for an adequate legal and institutional framework with appropriate oversight to prevent and punish enforced disappearances, amid numerous allegations of this crime and an almost complete absence of justice, says a delegation of UN human rights experts.

“We are seriously concerned about enforced disappearances as a result of the armed conflict which broke out in Eastern Ukraine in 2014,” said the members of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in a statement at the end of a 10-day visit to the country.

“We have heard numerous accounts of disappearances, in particular at the beginning of the conflict, along with information on unofficial places of detention,” the experts said.

The allegations pointed mainly at the Security Service of Ukraine and volunteer battalions operating in particular at the start of the conflict, as well as at the security services established by the de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk.

“While a number of people who disappeared at the beginning of the conflict later reappeared in detention, or were found dead, the fate and whereabouts of many others remain unknown,” the three members of the delegation noted.

They stressed that enforced disappearances are prohibited at all times, including during a state of war or any other public emergency.

“This prohibition is absolute, cannot be suspended or violated in any way and must also be respected by de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk,” they emphasised.

The experts also made clear that the politicization of the humanitarian issues resulting from the conflict had a severe impact on the right to truth and justice for the victims, and that decisive measures were needed to help family members who are looking for their loved ones, and to punish perpetrators.

“There is almost absolute impunity for acts of enforced disappearance, mainly due to a lack of political will. Throughout the visit, we perceived little interest in pursuing cases unless the perpetrator is identified as someone supporting the opposite side”, the experts said.

“Pointing a finger at any wrongdoer on the same side of the conflict and bringing them to justice appears to be perceived as unpatriotic” they observed, calling for a thorough, independent and impartial investigation into all allegations of disappearances.

“The absence of a specific provision criminalising enforced disappearance in the Ukrainian legislation also renders the investigation and punishment of this crime more difficult,” they added, noting that the concept of enforced disappearance did not seem to be fully understood by law enforcement and judicial officials.

The experts said the systems of administrative and preventive detention in the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ were particularly worrying.

“These provisions allow for the deprivation of liberty of a person without effective supervision for 30 and 60 days respectively, on suspicion of involvement in illegal activities. The fact that during this period there is no obligation to reveal the whereabouts of the person to relatives or lawyers virtually renders this provision an authorisation to disappear individuals,” the experts said.

The delegation also expressed concern that the names of those captured during the conflict are seldom revealed to the concerned families, who are then left uncertain and anguished about the fate of their loved ones. They also noted that there is currently an impasse in the process of simultaneous release of detainees in the context of the Minsk agreements.

“Families should be informed about the fate of their disappeared relatives,” the experts said, urging the resumption of negotiations to break the deadlock in efforts to end the crisis and meet the humanitarian needs of all sides.

The experts also regretted that a recent attempt by relatives of the disappeared to meet so they could coordinate the search for their loved ones was reportedly frustrated by the State Security Service. “These initiatives should be facilitated and supported rather than discouraged and obstructed,” they said.

The delegation noted the current legislative proposal to adopt a law on missing persons to regulate their status, but it is not clear whether and how the bill would address the situation of victims of enforced disappearances.

“We recommend that the Government adopt a policy providing for certificates of absence, which could permit the recognition of some rights and entitlements to the relatives of the disappeared. This law should also regulate issues of reparation and psychosocial assistance for victims,” the experts suggested.

During the visit, the delegation travelled to Kyiv, Mariupol, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kramatorsk and Pokrovsk. They met with Government officials, de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk, and representatives of civil society organizations.

“While we did not visit Crimea, we received reliable information about several cases of enforced disappearances there,” the experts added.

“We met with a number of relatives of disappeared throughout the country, hearing their deeply saddening stories. The Working Group reaffirms its solidarity to all victims, irrespective of perpetrator. Their continued suffering is a living proof that enforced disappearance is a continuous crime and a permanent violation of human rights until the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared is clarified,” the experts concluded.

A report on the visit will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September 2019.


The Working Group on enforced and involuntary disappearances is comprised of five independent experts from all regions around the world. The Chair-Rapporteur is Mr. Bernard Duhaime (Canada) and the Vice-Chair is Mr. Tae-Ung Baik (Republic of Korea); other members are Ms Houria Es-Slami (Morocco), Mr. Luciano Hazan (Argentina) and Mr. Henrikas Mickevicius (Lithuania).

The Working Group was established by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1980 to assist families in determining the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives. It endeavours to establish a channel of communication between the families and the Governments concerned, to ensure that individual cases are investigated, with the objective of clarifying the whereabouts of people who, having disappeared, are placed outside the protection of the law. In view of the Working Group’s humanitarian mandate, clarification occurs when the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person is clearly established. The Working Group continues to address cases of disappearances until they are resolved. It also provides assistance in the implementation by States of the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

The Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page - Ukraine

For more information and media requests:
In Geneva (after the visit): María Victoria Gabioud (+41 22 917 9945 / mgabioud@ohchr.org)
In Kyiv (during the visit):  Iryna Yakovlieva (+38 050 386 8069 / Iyakovlieva@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Jeremy Laurence – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: http://www.standup4humanrights.org/en/