Pro-Russia militia in Ukraine are 'killing and torturing', says UN
Reuters in Ottawa and Toronto
The United Nations warned yesterday of an "alarming deterioration" of human rights in eastern Ukraine, where an armed insurgency by pro-Russian separatists is threatening a presidential election just over a week away.
In a new report, the UN rights chief catalogued a litany of "targeted killings, torture and beatings, abductions, intimidation and some cases of sexual harassment" which she said was carried out by anti-government groups in the east.
With the May 25 vote rapidly approaching, Kiev's interim leaders are battling to keep the country from disintegrating further after Russia's disputed annexation of Crimea in March.
Government forces are pressing on with a military offensive to put down the bloody rebellion in Ukraine's industrial belt where well-armed insurgents have seized over a dozen towns and cities in just a few weeks.
The West has been pushing an OSCE peace plan to try to resolve the escalating crisis, while threatening further sanctions if Moscow or its "proxies" disrupt the election.
In a veiled reference to Russia, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on those with influence on the armed groups in the east "to do their utmost to rein in these men who seem bent on tearing the country apart".
Two of the main eastern regions, Donetsk and Lugansk, have already proclaimed sovereignty after weekend independence referendums rejected as illegitimate by Kiev and the West, raising concerns about how election will be conducted in rebel-held areas.
Pillay also voiced deep concern about harassment and intimidation of ethnic Tatars in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in the face of international outrage.
But Moscow blasted the report as biased in favour of Kiev.
"The complete lack of objectivity, blatant discrepancies and double standards leave no doubts that (the report's) authors were performing a political put-up job aimed at clearing the name of the self-declared authorities in Kiev," the foreign ministry said.
Fighting rages almost every night in the east, particularly around Slavyansk, the epicentre of the uprising, and dozens of people have been killed since Kiev launched what it called its "anti-terrorist operation" in mid-April.