Price Paid by Ukraine Citizens ‘Too High’, Assistant Secretary-General Tells Security Council, Calling for Peaceful Solution to Conflict
7239th Meeting (AM)
Price Paid by Ukraine Citizens ‘Too High’, Assistant Secretary-General
Tells Security Council, Calling for Peaceful Solution to Conflict
Intense fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk was resulting in mounting casualties and serious infrastructure damage, a senior United Nations official told the Security Council this morning.
“The price being paid by all Ukrainians as a result of the conflict is too high,” said Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, as he briefed the 15-Member body on the situation in Ukraine, underlining the need for a peaceful solution to the situation.
Hostilities had escalated since the end of a formal ceasefire and rapid professionalization of armed groups had been seen, he stated. The military and political leadership of those groups included citizens of the Russian Federation and they were well organized and equipped with heavy weapons.
Fighting in population centres put civilians at risk, he said, pointing to heavy loss of life and significant property and infrastructure damage. Calling on both sides to act proportionately and avoid civilian casualties, he noted that displaced persons were returning and water, electricity and gas supplies were being restored in areas where the Ukrainian Government had reasserted control.
In areas of Ukraine still controlled by armed groups he described “a reign of fear and terror”, saying the human rights situation had deteriorated significantly in such places. There was a breakdown of law and order, with “egregious human rights abuses”, including abductions, detentions, torture and executions perpetrated against civilians who were “trapped there or held as hostages”.
Ukrainians were unable to exercise basic freedoms and political rights, he said, noting intensified harassment and discrimination in Crimea against groups opposed to the 16 March “referendum” there, but also pointing to “worrying trends”, including a rise in hate speech and targeting of Russian-owned banks and businesses. The Ukrainian Government should investigate and respond promptly to allegations about arbitrary detention and abuses by Government forces.
Echoing the Assistant Secretary-General’s remarks on human rights violations, the representative of Lithuania said “Russia-supported” armed separatists acted under a pretext of self-determination to erode Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“We are yet to hear a single condemnation by Russia of the reckless acts by the insurgents,” she said, noting that country’s continued criticism of Ukraine’s authorities for endangering civilians. Instead of closing its borders to the illegal movement of mercenaries and weapons, the Russian Federation continued a build-up of combat-ready troops and armaments on the border with Ukraine.
The representative of the Russian Federation criticized the report, saying it lacked a call on Ukraine to cease military activities and failed to condemn the use of phosphorous shells. Casualties were increasing but the report focused on “self-defence formations” accusing them of “everything short of cannibalism” and making false allegations on the situation of children, asserting that the decision to take them to safety in the Russian Federation was kidnapping.
The biased picture the report presented included false assertions about the deaths of two Russian journalists, he said, adding that legitimately elected pro-Russian parliamentarians in Ukraine were being harassed, and progress in prosecuting Ukrainians responsible for committing serious crimes was slow. He called for an end to Ukraine’s military actions and for constitutional reform.
The representative of Ukraine fully acknowledged his country’s need to strengthen the rule of law and democracy, noting that President Petro Poroshenko had stated that war was no excuse for a lack of reform. A framework had been established with the European Union and there would be a full investigation into human rights abuses during protests in Independence Square and Odessa. It was considered a matter of pride to the Government to cooperate.
He said Ukraine had to protect its citizens against terrorists who refused dialogue and who were working for the secret services of the Russian Federation. Turning to the tense situation at the border between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, he stressed that no Russian forces would be allowed to enter Ukrainian territory without his country’s consent, and that any attempt to do so would be treated as military aggression.
The representative of Australia said the downing of a Malaysian Airlines aircraft was a “deplorable crime”. Separatists had intimidated international investigators at the crash site but a substantial part of the investigation was now concluded. Although the mission was currently suspended because of deteriorating security, the investigation would continue, as would investigation into possible criminal responsibility for the aircraft’s downing.
Also speaking today were representatives of China, Rwanda, France, Luxembourg, Jordan, United States, Republic of Korea, Nigeria, Argentina, Chile, Chad, and the United Kingdom.
The meeting began at 10 a.m. and ended at 11:45 a.m.
IVAN ŠIMONOVIĆ, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, addressed the Council via video teleconference, saying a “thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation was needed to determine the facts and circumstances” into the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, which could be a war crime. It was disturbing that a volatile security situation at the crash site continued hampering investigators, despite the declared ceasefire. He stressed the importance of accountability for anyone violating international humanitarian law and human rights law.
He was alarmed by intense fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk, with the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission reporting mounting casualties and serious infrastructure damage. Hostilities had escalated since the formal end of the ceasefire that had been in place between 20 and 30 June, while armed groups had rapidly professionalized. Their leadership included citizens of the Russian Federation and they were well organized and equipped with heavy weapons.
The Ukrainian Government had made constitutional proposals on decentralization, local governance structures and preservation of use of the Russian language. However, in areas still controlled by armed groups, the human rights situation had deteriorated significantly. He described “a reign of fear and terror in areas under control of the armed groups” and a breakdown of law and order. He described “egregious human rights abuses”, which included abductions, detentions, torture and executions perpetrated against civilians who were “trapped there or held as hostages”. Abducted individuals were used as “exchange currency” to free separatists detained by the Government, to extort money or property, and as a source of forced labour. Vulnerable groups such as people with HIV and drug users were particularly at risk. The situation facing children was especially worrying, and more needed to be done to protect them effectively. The Ombudspersons of Ukraine and the Russian Federation had cooperated on the issue.
He pointed to heavy loss of life and significant property and infrastructure damage in population centres. Both sides needed to act proportionately, taking precautions to avoid civilian causalities. In areas where the Ukrainian Government had regained control, some internally displaced persons were returning, with the Human Rights Monitoring Mission reporting life in Sloviansk returning to normal. Water, electricity and gas supplies there were restored to 95 per cent of previous capacity and the city no longer needed humanitarian aid. Meanwhile, 14 bodies, two of whom were identified as abducted members of a local church, had been found in the area. It was imperative that the Ukrainian Government ensure the full investigation of atrocities and avoidance of reprisals in land it had regained. Allegations about arbitrary detention and abuses by Government forces had to be investigated and acted up on promptly and decisively.
Harassment and discrimination had intensified against groups opposed to the 16 March “referendum” in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, he said. Many had fled the area, with many more fleeing to the area from eastern Ukraine. The crisis prevented Ukrainians from exercising basic freedoms and political rights, while armed groups “strictly curtailed” such rights in the east. Residents in Severodonetsk had gathered in the central square to express support for Ukraine, but there were also “worrying trends”, including a rise in hate speech, targeting of Russian-owned banks and businesses and attacks on freedom of expression, especially in the east. Journalists were pressurized by political leaders of armed groups, with threats, obstructions and harassment for those failing to comply. Ukrainian journalists were treated particularly harshly.
He welcomed the Ukrainian President’s proposal for new ceasefire talks, with a first meeting held in Minsk on 31 July. Psychological scars would remain after the crisis was resolved, with the fabric of society torn by continued fighting and violence. A multi-year human rights national plan of action was needed, as recommended by United Nations human rights mechanisms and the work of the Human Rights Monitoring Mission. Recommendations in the Report’s annex needed to be included in the wider European Union reform agenda, and the Ukrainian Government had to address corruption, governance, the rule of law and human rights. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was ready to work with the Government on those issues.
He underlined the role of civil society, noting how citizens had accommodated people fleeing the fighting, and he expressed hope that the civic spirit would help drive the next phase of change in Ukraine. The situation required a peaceful solution as the “price being paid by all Ukrainians as a result of the conflict is too high.”
RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania) said OHCHR and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) missions on the ground had registered countless and continuous human rights violations caused by “Russia-supported” armed separatists. Under the pretexts of self-determination, they were persisting in their effort to erode Ukraine’s sovereignty and its territorial integrity. The latest OHCHR report pointed out law and order in rebel-held areas had collapsed and the rule of law had been substituted by the rule of gun. It also revealed the true nature of the militant separatists and their imported leaders, whom their main sponsor, the Russian Federation, had presented as mere “peaceful protesters”. Their activities included intimidations, abductions, illegal detentions, torture, targeting of critical public utilities, bank robberies and attacks on mines.
Noting that the Russian Federation continued to criticize Ukraine authorities for endangering the civilian population, she said “we are yet to hear a single condemnation by Russia of the reckless acts by the insurgents.” Instead of closing its borders to the illegal movement of mercenaries and weapons, that country continued to amass large numbers of combat-ready troops and armaments Ukraine’s borders. The Russian Defense Minister’s latest statements on the combat readiness of Russian “peacekeepers” were highly alarming, raising serious questions about their true intentions in the region. No less alarming was the ongoing escalation of cold-war-style rhetoric against Europe and the West. Such actions were the exact opposite to confidence-building and de-escalation. The deteriorating humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine was concerning. The key to ending that civilian suffering “is in the hands of Russia”.
VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said that as the investigation into the downed Malaysian airliner was difficult to continue at present the Council should not be discussing the issue. He criticized the report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, saying it lacked a call on the Ukrainian side to cease military activities and did not condemn the of use of force — including the use of phosphorous shells — by Ukrainian forces. The anti-terrorist operation had escalated, and casualties had increased. The report pushed the idea that the self-defence formations were responsible for everything short of cannibalism. It made false allegations on the situation of children in Donetsk and Luhansk, asserting that the decision to take children to safety in the Russian Federation was kidnapping. Officials in Kyiv had yet to respond to the Russian Federation’s request regarding the human rights situation of children. Some 800,000 Ukrainians had sought and had been provided shelter and aid in his country.
The report was prolific in terms of advice, he said. Perpetrators of human rights abuses must be arrested. But instead of proposing that, the report advised that the acts of those perpetrators be legitimized. It presented a biased picture of media. Only one representative of the Russian media was included. He dismissed as absolutely false the report’s assertion that two Russian journalists who died could have been killed by self defence formations. Legitimately elected pro-Russian parliamentarians in Ukraine were currently being harassed, including by the police. A clear example of disregard for the rule of law by the Ukrainian authorities was the lack of progress in prosecuting those responsible for committing serious crimes. The Ukrainian justice system was paralyzed. The Ukrainian Government openly flouted the 17 April Geneva declaration. He called for an immediate end to military actions and for constitutional reforms. Crimea could and should not be a subject of discussion for today, as its inhabitants had decided by their own will to become part of the Russian Federation.
ZHAO YONG ( China) expressed deep concern over the high number of casualties caused by the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The international community should call on all parties to quickly find a political solution to the crisis. The priority must be to implement an immediate ceasefire. The crisis could only be tackled through political dialogue and means that included and accommodated all ethnic and religious groups. The international community must engage in mediation and work towards creating external conditions that were favourable for sustained peace. China supported all efforts to ease the crisis and stood ready to work with other members of the international community in that regard.
OLIVIER NDUHUNGIREHE ( Rwanda) noted that his country had expressed concern at the Council’s meeting on 5 August regarding the growing number of refugees and had proposed a monthly meeting on the topic instead of the current ad hoc and letter-based approach. The OCHCR report gave a gruesome description. In only five days, 478 people had been killed, including women and children. In areas controlled by armed groups, civilians had been subjected to abductions, forced recruitment, sexual harassment and killing — all in violation of international humanitarian and human rights law. He condemned the use of civilians as human shields by armed groups and urged all parties to act proportionately. A growing trend of abductions by armed groups was worrying, as were cases of reprisals, anti-Russia hate speech in the media, and the targeting of Russian-owned banks and businesses. Such violations should be investigated and the perpetrators held to account. He expressed concern that the investigation of the downed Malaysian airliner was hindered by fighting around the crash site. Ukraine’s independence must be respected and all parties must reach a ceasefire.
BÉATRICE LE FRAPER DU HELLEN (France) said armed groups were responsible for the deteriorating humanitarian situation around Donetsk and Luhansk, outlining the “terror” that affected civilians there. The situation in Crimea was also bad and the commission of inquiry had no access to the region. Violence in eastern Ukraine was “fuelled and maintained from outside” and armed groups were increasingly professional and well-armed, with many experienced soldiers from the Russian Federation in the ranks. She called for an immediate end to the flow of arms and combatants and intensification of political dialogue, looking to the Tripartite Contact Group. The Ukrainian Government was responsible for cooperating with the United Nations, and had already assisted people expelled from their homes. She called on the Russian Federation to control its border. Recently agreed measures against that country expressed international determination to compel that country to help move to promote a peaceful solution.
GARY QUINLAN (Australia), noting that a national day of mourning had been observed in his country, said that the “deplorable crime” of downing the civilian airliner, flight MH17, had underlined the terrible consequences of violence stemming from the deliberate actions of armed groups. He warned that fuelling violence had widespread and often unpredictable consequences. The international mission for protection of the investigation had been intimidated by separatists, but had reached the crash site to recover the remains and personal effects of the dead. A substantial part of the investigation was concluded. However, the Netherlands had recently withdrawn the mission because of deterioration in the situation. The investigation into the crash would continue, as would investigation into possible criminal responsibility for the aircraft’s downing.
He said the report told two stories. Where the Government had control, it had taken steps towards constitutional and political reform, with some movements towards accountability. In separatist-held areas, a “dire picture” existed, with typical violations and the “rule of violence”. No country would accept that situation. Ukraine had the right to reassert control over its sovereign territory, as long as it did so in line with humanitarian law. The Russian Federation had to use its considerable influence to stop the separatists. So far, it had not done so, adding to instability and making its armed forces combat ready, while manufacturing “fraudulent and cynically self-serving” reasons for intervention. With problems confined to separatist-occupied areas, the best contribution to improving the humanitarian situation would be ending support for separatists and stopping destabilization.
SYLVIE LUCAS (Luxembourg), expressing concern over human rights violations in the Ukraine, said that the OHCHR report shed light on the severity and abundance of such abuses. That included the systematic use of arbitrary detentions, torture, disappearances, forced labour and destruction of civilian infrastructure. The situation was especially alarming in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions where illegal armed groups used civilians as human shields. International humanitarian law must be respected by all. The Russian Federation must distance itself from those illegal armed groups in Ukraine. She called on Ukraine to act proportionately and abide by international laws and encouraged it to rebuild infrastructure and re-establish basic services in reclaimed areas. The inhabitants of Crimea who favoured Ukrainian unity remained the targets of intimidation and discrimination. The fate of people affected by HIV/AIDS was a tragic illustration of the negative impact of the annexation of Crimea, with 20 patients dying since 10 June due to lack of medical treatment. The negotiations between Ukraine and the Russian Federation within the framework of the trilateral contact group were essential. The OSCE border observer mission would likely reduce tensions. The Russian Federation should cease any destabilizing action. To honour the memory of the conflict’s victims, it was necessary to step up diplomatic efforts, in keeping with President Petro Poroshenko’s peace plan.
ADI GHASSAN MOH’D KHAIR ( Jordan) urged all parties to cooperate with the human rights monitoring mission and to guarantee the freedom and safety of its members throughout Ukraine. The parties to the conflict should avoid attacking and killing civilians and protect the vulnerable members of society. He urged parties with influence over Ukraine to use their power of persuasion to create an environment conducive to a lasting political solution. The Ukrainian authorities should bolster efforts to promote the rule of law and security sector reform. They must be mindful of the concerns of minority populations whose primary language was not Ukrainian. He expressed concern over the security situation in the east and its impact on the investigation of the crash site of the Malaysian airliner. All parties must abide by Council resolution 2166 (2014) to guarantee the security and safety of staff involved in the international investigation. All parties to the conflict must exercise restraint, refrain from provocations and distance themselves from hate speech to ensure those internally displaced could return home as soon as possible.
SAMANTHA POWER ( United States) reiterated the need to prevent civilian loss of life and to address the humanitarian situation. She was pleased that Ukraine had established humanitarian corridors which helped address the complex needs of internally displaced persons. There was “no logical reason” for the corridors proposed by the Russian Federation, because Ukraine’s Government was supporting international humanitarian organizations’ efforts and such organizations had the expertise and independence to carry out the job. Any attempt by the Russian Federation to carry out the proposal would be unacceptable and would be viewed “as an invasion of the Ukraine”. If the Russian Federation wished to channel aid, the Council could ensure that an impartial humanitarian organization could handle it. She said a Russian peacekeeping operation in Ukraine would be “an oxymoron”, given the situation in Crimea, pointing to Russian Federation support for separatists. The Russian Federation had accused the Council of politicizing a humanitarian situation but the opposite was true — that country was in fact trying to paint a political crisis as a humanitarian one. The humanitarian situation was traceable directly to violence the Russian Federation had supported. That country had escalated the conflict and had “doubled down” on their support for the rebels, even following the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. Efforts to investigate the crash were being disrupted and that was deplorable and insulting to those who had lost loved ones.
PAIK JI-AH ( Republic of Korea) said continuing violence was causing casualties and the deterioration of the humanitarian and human rights situations in Ukraine. Armed groups were responsible for many of the alleged “egregious crimes” and they had to be investigated thoroughly, with their perpetrators pursued. Divisions between communities were deepening and the situation was becoming more volatile. She called for an immediate cessation of all hostilities and the agreement by all parties to a durable ceasefire. Armed groups had to lay down their arms, she said, expressing support for the role of the trilateral contact group and the OSCE observers in promoting de-escalation. There should be a full, thorough and independent investigation into the downing of flight MH17, and all parties must participate fully.
MARTIN SENKOM ADAMU ( Nigeria) said there could be no military solution, as it would only exacerbate the humanitarian situation, pointing out that the rebels’ efforts to regain control of territory had led to the destruction of civilian infrastructure. He called on the Ukrainian Government to adhere to international human rights and humanitarian law and to establish an effective mechanism to alleviate the dire living situation of internally displaced persons, particularly as winter approached. He also called for ratification of the United Nations customs agreement in order to facilitate entry of humanitarian aid and workers to the region. The region’s member States should work assiduously and use bilateral instruments towards a comprehensive settlement through peaceful means. Acknowledging the crippling effect of recession in Donetsk and Luhansk, he noted that the region, which served as the mining and industrial hub, was particularly affected. The task of rebuilding would be daunting. Only an end to hostilities and a return to dialogue could address the human rights situation.
MARIO OYARZÁBAL ( Argentina) said the continuously deteriorating human rights situation in Ukraine was worrying. She backed Mr. Šimonović’s assertion that the deaths of the 298 people aboard the Malaysian airliner that crashed could be considered a war crime. The culprits must be held accountable. Human rights violations cited in the OHCHR report were very disturbing and unjustifiable. Despite the international community’s repeated calls to take all necessary steps to prevent them, such violations had become a constant feature in the crisis. The more time passed, the deeper the wounds would be. She reiterated her urgent appeal to the parties to the conflict to strictly comply with their obligations under international law, to act within the principle of proportionately and to allow civilians to leave areas of fighting. The Council should assume its responsibility and facilitate a political and diplomatic solution in a constructive way, and avoid confrontation.
CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET ( Chile) reiterated his concern over the human rights situation in eastern Ukraine, particularly abductions, torture, forced disappearances and the impact of violence on civilians. Within the framework of Ukraine’s right to sovereignty and territorial integrity, that country should take adequate and proportional measures. Accountability for any human rights violations was essential and in that regard the Human Rights Monitoring Mission needed to continue its work. The downing of the civilian airliner required a ceasefire to ensure implementation of resolution 2166 (2014) and international investigators needed safe access to the crash site. The message of the Security Council had to be heeded by all parties. Human rights violations were directly related to intensified fighting on the ground and direct political dialogue was needed. International mediation initiatives were important to resolving the crisis and he looked especially to the observer mission of the OSCE.
BANTE MANGARAL ( Chad) said the report confirmed the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in areas of intense clashes between Government forces and armed separatists. The use of heavy weapons in civilian areas had left neighbourhoods without water and medical services, making life impossible for those unable to flee. He called for a cessation of hostilities and the exercise of restraint. Violations including abductions and illegal detention were deplorable and he pointed to a significant number of enforced disappearances on both sides. The situation facing children and vulnerable groups was particularly alarming and there should be the provision of logistical, technical and financial assistance to the Ukrainian Government by the United Nations. He said the current suspension of the investigation and search for bodies resulting from the MH17 air crash was unacceptable and called for respect of the decision by the trilateral contact group that called for full implementation of resolution 2166 (2014).
MARK LYALL GRANT ( United Kingdom) said the Russian Federation’s Permanent Representative did not want the OHCHR report to be discussed because it pointed to human rights allegations committed by Russian-backed separatist groups and to the right of the Ukrainian Government to restore order in the country. The use of force must be proportionate and respect international law. He welcomed Ukraine’s commitment to those principles. The report showed that the Russian-backed armed groups could not claim to be acting in defence of civilians. They were using civilians for forced labour or as human shields and abducting people simply because they were HIV positive and telling them they must “wash off the guilt with blood”. Those were the actions of violent and abusive thugs that were putting the whole the civilian population at risk. The report highlighted that the separatists had targeted critical public utilities, denying people under their control access to basic services. He welcomed the Ukrainian Government’s move to restore such services in reclaimed areas. By supplying those separatist groups with weapons and personnel, the Russian Federation was fuelling the suffering. It was acting in violation of international law. In the past week, it had deployed another 8,000 troops along the Ukraine border. “The Russian Federation is the problem, not the solution,” he said. United Nations agencies including the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and UNICEF were actively engaged, working on the ground to help the Ukrainian-led response. Moscow should help fund those activities and it could cease support for armed groups.
OLEKSANDR PAVLICHENKO ( Ukraine) said the report showed the separatists’ “criminal nature”, asking how their “terrorism” represented the people in whose names they claimed to be fighting. The Ukrainian Government had to protect its citizens against terrorists who refused dialogue and who were working for the secret services of the Russian Federation. He noted continued discrimination in Crimea, along with continued forced disappearances and pressure on the media. As the occupying Power, the Russian Federation had the duty to ensure human rights there. There was no humanitarian situation except in areas held by separatists. Information presented on refugees fleeing from Ukraine was doubtful, and there should be an independent assessment. He stressed his willingness to cooperate with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
He fully acknowledged Ukraine’s need to strengthen the rule of law and democracy in the country, noting that President Poroshenko had stated that war was no excuse for lack of reform. A framework had been established with the European Union and there would be a full investigation into human rights abuses during protests in Independence Square and Odessa. It was considered a matter of pride to the Government to cooperate. As the downing of flight MH17 might amount to a war crime, there was a need to ensure a fair investigation. He reiterated his call to the Russian Federation to ensure armed groups allowed the investigation team full access to the crash site. Meanwhile, the border situation remained tense, with a continuing build-up of Russian forces. He stressed that no Russian forces would be allowed to enter the territory of the Ukraine without his country’s consent, underlining his stance that any attempt to do so would be construed as aggression and treated accordingly.
* *** *