UN rights chief alarmed by surging Ukraine violence

6th May 2014, Comments 0 comments

The UN human rights chief expressed alarm Tuesday over spiralling violence in Ukraine, urging rebels to lay down their arms and calling on the government to avoid excessive force in its offensive against the militants.

Navi Pillay said all involved in the conflict must try to defuse tensions, as her office warned that the country's May 25 presidential election was under threat.

"I urge all sides to make a much greater effort to find a peaceful resolution to the current crisis, especially in the various towns in eastern and southern Ukraine that have been racked by increasingly violent confrontations," Pillay said in a statement.

She called on pro-Russian militants who have seized towns and public buildings in southern and eastern Ukraine to "stop all illegal actions"

"These organised and well-armed groups should lay down their weapons, free arbitrarily detained persons, and vacate occupied public and administrative buildings," she said.

She also urged Kiev to ensure that all operations by its military and police were in line with international standards.

"It is extremely important that the authorities themselves demonstrate full respect for the rule of law and scrupulously protect the human rights of all, including the Russian-speaking population," he said.

Speaking to reporters, Pillay's spokesman Rupert Coville said Kiev must respect international law if it wanted to "keep the moral high ground" in the crisis.

"Excessive use of force is obviously a major concern," he said.

Colville also called for "prompt, transparent and comprehensive" probes of events in the flashpoint towns of Donetsk and Odessa -- including the deaths of several dozen pro-Russian activists in a building fire on Friday during clashes with pro-Kiev militants.

Pillay said it was up to all sides to allow and protect peaceful demonstrations by their opponents as a "release valve for people's legitimate fears and frustrations", to prevent violence and to take "serious steps to halt the rhetoric of hatred and confrontation, before the situation spirals totally out of control".

The crisis has cast a shadow over Ukraine's looming presidential election, which Moscow has called "absurd".

"There's still 20-odd days for things to calm down and make the election feasible, but it's getting pretty close, so that's alarming," said Coville.

Pro-Russian separatists are preparing their own independence referendum on Sunday, echoing a March vote in the mainly Russian-speaking province of Crimea that led to its annexation by Moscow.

Pillay also condemned attacks on journalists, saying freedom to report objectively was key to ending the "increasing misinformation, disinformation and hate speech" on both sides that was sowing "deeply dangerous divisions".

The UN human rights office has a 34-member monitoring mission deployed in Ukraine, and Colville said it was due to issue a report on the crisis on May 15.

© 2014 AFP

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