GENEVA Ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine have falsely claimed to be under attack to justify Russian involvement, a report by the U.N. human rights office said on Tuesday.
"Although there were some attacks against the ethnic Russian community, these were neither systematic nor widespread," said the report, which follows two visits to the country last month by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic.
"Photographs of the Maidan protests, greatly exaggerated stories of harassment of ethnic Russians by Ukrainian nationalist extremists, and misinformed reports of them coming armed to persecute ethnic Russians in Crimea, were systematically used to create a climate of fear and insecurity that reflected on support to integration of Crimea into the Russian Federation."
The report, which analyses events up to April 2, called for an urgent effort to uphold the rule of law, respect human rights and end so-called "hate speech" - such as nationalistic rhetoric and advocacy of racial or religious hatred.
One right-wing group, the "Right Sector", which was involved in the Maidan protests in Kiev, had caused concerns for the Russian-speaking minority, it said.
There were numerous reports of Right Sector acts of violence against political opponents and representatives of the former ruling party, the report said. The group's alleged involvement in killings of law enforcement members should be investigated, it said.
But it said that according to all accounts heard by the U.N. delegation, fear of the Right Sector was disproportionate.
In Crimea, where a referendum on secession from Ukraine was held on March 16, there were "credible allegations" of harassment, arbitrary arrest and torture targeting activists and journalists who did not support the referendum.
It was "widely assessed" that Russian speakers had not been subject to threats, the report said.
U.N. officials had received "many accounts of vote rigging" in connection with the poll, it added.
Ukraine plans to hold a presidential election on May 25. The United Nations said it was important to prepare by ensuring free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues between citizens, candidates and elected representatives.
"This implies a free press and other media able to comment on public issues without censorship or restraint and to inform public opinion."
(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)