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Russia and Ukraine: State of Affairs and Role of the United Nations

The Russia-Ukraine conflict that began in February 2014 continues to plague the region today. The conflict is arguably a product of many factors that stem from historical significance of the regions at play. Particularly, the lack of a unified understanding of Ukrainian identity is an underlying issue that fueled the initial political dissatisfaction that led to the conflict. The conflict has sparked international condemnation of both party’s reactions to the pro-Russia (rebel) activity in eastern Ukraine. In response, the United Nations has acted as an arbiter and international conscience on human rights issues at play. By exposing these human rights issues, the international community is better able to understand, identify, manage, and assist in preventing future seemingly minute domestic problems from spiraling into violent conflicts.

A report released on August 17, 2014 by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) estimates that 36 civilians are being killed every day[1][2] while many others live in fear of attacks in particularly populated eastern regions of Lugansk and Donetsk. The report also estimates that at least 2593 civilian deaths have occurred, with an additional 5956 injured since mid-April.2 In addition to this, there is an estimated 468 prisoners currently being held by armed rebel groups.[3]

Various sources suggest that Russia has helped pro-Russia separatists in Lugansk and Donetsk by providing assistance and arming rebel groups. Reports indicate that proRussia rebels are committing the majority of human rights abuses in the region,[4] but the Ukrainian government’s actions to regain control over the region has also violated rights. For example, Ukrainian armed forces have engaged in indiscriminate shelling that have resulted in casualties, contrary to international law.[5] Reports also reveal that Ukrainian forces have committed numerous human rights violations such as arbitrary detention, enforcing disappearances and torture, and failure to practice due process in identifying and detaining civilians thought to be terrorists. Ukraine also recently passed three laws that allow for strengthened law enforcement in the regions to manage the escalating situation.[6]

Another aspect of the conflict worth mentioning is the current situation in Crimea. Russia’s annexation of Crimea occurred following a referendum held by the Autonomous

Republic of Crimea, wherein 96.77% of voters voted to join Russia. This has had implications for the international recognition of Crimea as part of Russia rather than Ukraine. Moreover, the situation in Crimea brings to light key international law issues such as the right to self-determination and secession and whether the international community has a responsibility to protect minority groups in Crimea.[7]

At the very core of the work done by the United Nations is the preservation of international human rights in such situations. Both parties in the conflict are responsible for numerous human rights violations including the Right to Life, Liberty, Security, and Physical integrity; Freedoms of Expression, Peaceful Assembly, Religion or Belief; and various Economic and Social rights.[8] In order to work toward a resolution, the United Nations has published a number of reports to not only raise international awareness of the current situation and issues, but to push for peaceful resolution through a number of recommendations laid out in the reports. This ongoing conflict is demonstrative of the overall significance of rights laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights internationally and reminds people around the world, regardless of ethnicity, race, and/or nationality, of the importance of preserving these rights. More importantly, recognition of such rights by an international body like the United Nations provides the international community with tools to think above and beyond the complex nature of conflicts to help preserve and protect human rights.

Chu, D. (2014). Russia and Ukraine: State of Affairs and the Role of the United Nations on


[1] UN News Centre. Ukraine: UN Report shows rising civilian deaths, ongoing rights abuses. 29 August

[2] . Retrieved: 2 OHCHR 5th Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine, 17 Aug 2014. Page 3.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. “List of Human Rights Issues.” United Nations Human Rights. Accessed 3 September 2014 from:

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