By Mick Krever, CNN
“Whoever arms protesters can be held accountable for potential tragic consequences.”
That is the stark warning issued on Ukraine by the U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Ivan Simonovic, in an exclusive interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Tuesday.
“What is at the moment, I would say, most important, it is to prevent arming of protesters and transforming them into paramilitary troops.”
Simonovic is the author of a new U.N. report, out Tuesday, that details the protests and incursions that lead up to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
The report comes as worried residents and onlookers around the world shudder at the similarities between Russia’s annexation of Crimea last month and what is happening today in eastern Ukraine.
In Crimea, Russia said its actions were based partly on the basis of protecting ethnic Russians.
“We identify some cases of people being harassed because of being close to former political establishment and President Yanukovych – a number of them being Russian-speaking or Russian themselves.”
“But,” Simonovic said, “they were neither widespread nor systemic.”
Far from being fair, the Crimea referendum on joining Russia was peppered with “many reports of vote rigging,” the report says.
“The activities of the civil society were impeded,” Simonovic said. “There were some arrests, some enforced disappearances, cases of torture. We still have some missing persons.”
And far from being a spontaneous outpouring of fear and loathing for Ukraine, the report says that Russian propaganda played a large role in the move.
The cases of harassment of Russians was “overblown by propaganda,” Simonovic said.
The “propaganda was used to spread a feeling of fear and insecurity. It had significant impact in Crimea and we are witnessing something similar in eastern Ukraine.”
For example, he said, the propaganda involved cutting off television channels from Ukraine.
“It was an attempt to have a monopoly of information.”
“There were some unfounded rumors that were spread about trains coming filled with extremists, well-armed, and wishing to persecute Russian population. That has contributed to create the climate of fear and insecurity.”