GENEVA — Armed groups are increasingly undermining the rights and basic freedoms of people in eastern Ukraine, the United Nations said Friday, expressing concern at the rising number of killings, abductions, beatings and detentions of journalists, politicians and local activists.
“Primarily as a result of the actions of organized armed groups, the continuation of the rhetoric of hatred and propaganda fuels the escalation of the crisis in Ukraine, with a potential of spiraling out of control,” the United Nations said in its second report on the issue in a month, which was released simultaneously in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and in Geneva.
The actions and impunity enjoyed by armed groups remain the major factor in causing a worsening situation for the protection of individual rights, the United Nations said.
“The report describes the deeply disturbing deterioration of the human-rights situation in the east and south of the country,” said Ivan Simonovic, assistant secretary-general for human rights, at a news conference in Kiev.
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Simonovic said at least 127 people had been killed “during violent clashes and the security and law-enforcement operations in the east and south.”
“This is deeply disturbing,” he said, adding that a poisonous cycle of hate speech and violence had seemed to take hold in the region.
Simonovic said U.N. monitors had documented 112 cases of unlawful detention, with the condition and whereabouts of 49 people still unknown. “Such abuses clearly indicate the breakdown in law and order in this part of the country,” he said.
At a news conference in the Ukraine Hotel, just off Independence Square where tens of thousands of Ukrainian staged months of protests that led to the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych in March, Simonovic specifically called on the authorities to investigate the deaths of 48 people during unrest in the southern port city of Odessa on May 2.
Most independent analysts have blamed Russia for stirring up the unrest and instability in eastern Ukraine, and Western governments have hit Moscow with some limited economic sanctions and threatened more severe measures if it continues to encourage separatism there.
The Italian foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, suggested Friday that Russia could avoid further sanctions if there were demonstrable steps taken to restore stability in Ukraine, including a credible presidential election next weekend and productive negotiations on the country’s constitution.
“We should concentrate on making the political process work rather than concentrating only on the sanctions,” the minister said at the U.N. headquarters in New York, where she met Friday with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
She added that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, was “confident” that its election observers would be able to travel freely throughout the country during the polling.
The report, compiled by a 34-member team of human-rights monitors in Kiev, and four other cities, names only the “Slovyansk self-defense unit” in the eastern city of Donetsk but reports several instances of attacks by other pro-Russian activists on rallies in support of Ukrainian unity and against lawlessness.
“In most cases, local police did nothing to prevent violence, while in some cases it openly cooperated with the attackers,” the report said.
The United Nations expressed particular concern about increasing abductions and unlawful detentions in eastern Ukraine that appeared to be targeting journalists and to be controlled by the Slovyansk unit, reporting that by May 5 it was aware of 17 unlawful detentions in the Donetsk region alone.