[JURIST] Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] announced Monday that the Ukrainian government would no longer object to allowing a referendum that could grant greater autonomy to the eastern regions of the country controlled by Russian-backed rebels. This concession marks [AP report] a major reversal in the Ukrainian government’s position regarding the rebel-held regions. Despite the president’s decision, rebel leaders have rejected the call for a referendum, insisting that they are no longer striving for increased autonomy from the federal Ukrainian government, but for complete independence from Ukraine. In his speech Monday, Poroshenko also reaffirmed his intent to keep the maintain the strength of the federal government.
Hostilities in Eastern Ukraine [BBC timeline] have decreased after the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed rebels agreed in February to a cease-fire deal brokered by Western leaders in Minsk, Belarus. In March Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [JURIST report] that the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed rebel forces consistently used cluster munitions in eastern Ukraine earlier this year, killing at least 13 civilians, including two children. Earlier in March the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, stated that more than 6,000 people have died [JURIST report] in eastern Ukraine since the conflict began over a year ago. In February a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon revealed that Ban had spoken [JURIST report] with Ukraine Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin regarding the ceasefire in Ukraine. Ban expressed concern over the situation and informed Klimkin that the UN would continue to follow the Security Council’s guidance.