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HRW report: one of the positive events in Ukraine in 2019 was the newly formed Orthodox Church of Ukraine and complete separation from the Russian Orthodox Church

The international human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its annual World Report 2020 on global human rights protection. It was launched on Tuesday, 14 January, in New York.

In the section devoted to Ukraine, the main topics are armed conflict, rule of law, judicial reform, religious freedom, freedom of expression, attacks on journalists, Crimea, hate crimes.

Regarding the situation in Donbas, the report indicates a decrease in civilian casualties. The leading causes were shelling by artillery and mortars, fire from light weapons, landmines, and explosive remnants of war. At the same time, attacks on schools tripled between January and May 2019 compared to the same period in 2018. In the six years of conflict, 147 children were killed.

According to HRW experts, there are also some positive developments in Donbas, in March authorities annulled expiration dates for electronic passes required to travel across the contact line. In August, authorities provided an electric cart to drive older people and people with disabilities crossing the pedestrian-only Stanytsia Luhanska checkpoint. In November, they completed much-needed repairs to the destroyed bridge at this crossing point, which will reduce some of the hazards of crossing.

Concerning the rule of law, Human Rights Watch paid special attention to “fulfilling Zelensky’s election promise to combat corruption: parliament voted to cancel immunity for lawmakers, and Ukraine’s High Anti-Corruption Court finally became operational.  In November, Zelensky signed a law on whistleblowers, providing protection and offering financial remuneration to those willing to report on corruption. “

HRW representatives pointed out that one of the positive developments in 2019 was the granting of autocephaly by the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. ” In January, the head of the global Orthodox Church granted independence to the newly formed Orthodox Church of Ukraine, separating it completely from the Russian Orthodox Church. A number of congregations transitioned to the new church, sometimes accompanied by violence involving supporters of both churches and, in some cases, local authorities. In several reported cases involving intimidation and threats against members and clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the police did not respond and in some cases, contributed to it. The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) carried out dozens of raids at priests’ residences and churches aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church. “

Concerning the situation in the independent media in 2019 in HRW report, it says that ” Independent media remained under pressure. The Institute of Mass Information, a media watchdog, documented at least 11 cases of journalists beaten or injured and one killed, between January and July 2019. It also reported dozens of cases of journalists receiving threats and facing obstruction, in some cases by authorities, including damaged equipment and restricted access to officials and events. ”
In June, a court sentenced to prison five men who planned and carried out the 2018 acid attack on anti-corruption activist Kateryna Handziuk, who died from the wounds she sustained. At time of writing, the organizers who ordered the attack had yet to be indicted.

Concerning the situation in Crimea the HRW specialists reported that throughout the year, Russian authorities in occupied Crimea continued to harass Crimean Tatars, prosecuting dozens on trumped-up terrorism charges. In March alone, Russian authorities arrested 24 men, most of whom were active in Crimean Solidarity, a legal and social support group for families of those arrested for political reasons. All were charged with association with Hizb ut-Tahrir, a pan-Islamist movement that is proscribed in Russia as a “terrorist” organization but is legal in Ukraine. None were accused in relation to any act of violence. Russian security agents tortured or ill-treated at least four.  In June, authorities arrested eight men in Crimea on similar charges.