As Death Toll Surpasses 3,700, Assistant Secretary-General Tells Security Council Faster Action Needed to End Violence, Tensions in Eastern Ukraine
Delegates Voice Concern over Ceasefire Violations, Urge Accountability for Human Rights Abuses
A top United Nations political official warned the Security Council this morning that peace arrangements in eastern Ukraine were progressing far too slowly to end the violence and tensions there, and called on all actors to work more urgently toward durable peace.
"It has become clear in the past weeks that, despite the critical agreements reached in Minsk, we are still far from their full implementation, and thus, also, still far from a sustainable peace in Ukraine," Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco told the Council in a meeting that also heard from Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović, Council members and the representative of Ukraine.
"We cannot and should not allow eastern Ukraine to become just the latest in a string of 'frozen conflicts' in Europe," Mr. Fernandez-Taranco said.
He recalled that the Minsk Protocol on ending the conflict was signed on 5 September, and a follow-up Memorandum was signed on 19 September that clarified ceasefire issues. He said important, initial steps had been taken, including implementation of the ceasefire, exchange of a number of detained persons and the Ukraine Government's actions toward decentralization, including the adoption of a “special status” or interim self-governance for certain areas in Donetsk and Luhansk.
However, he said, continued violation of the ceasefire agreement was a daily occurrence, with regular loss of life through fighting around Donetsk airport and areas around the strategic towns of Luhansk and Mariupol. He called for full support to the Special Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which he said had been doing its utmost to monitor the ceasefire.
Noting that today's meeting took place only two days before polls opened for early parliamentary elections in Ukraine, he said it was critical that the vote took place peacefully throughout the country, as it could help with stabilization and a renewed focus on reform, rebuilding and reconciliation for all Ukrainians.
In that light, he said, all national and international stakeholders should make every effort to support the successful holding of peaceful elections. He called deplorable reports of alleged violence against candidates and party representatives and urged universal condemnation of incitement by armed rebel groups threatening to disrupt voting in the east and hold their own elections on 2 November.
He added that the elections, while important, needed to be followed up on by rapid implementation of the comprehensive political, legal and economic reforms announced by the Ukrainian Government and by the urgent start of a comprehensive national dialogue.
Mr. Šimonović, highlighting key findings of the sixth monthly report of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, said that the continued fighting — including not only small arms fire, but also artillery exchanges — had caused the current registered death toll from the conflict in the east to rise to at least 3,724, including the 298 victims of the Malaysian plane crash, with an average of nine people killed each day since the ceasefire. Residential areas continued to be indiscriminately shelled.
In addition, he said armed groups continued to terrorize the population in areas under their control, committing killings, abductions, torture, ill-treatment and other serious human rights abuses, including the destruction of housing and seizure of property. He welcomed the Minsk Protocol’s provisions for amnesty excluding serious human rights crimes in the east, although the need for accountability for acts of torture must be clarified. He said that enforced disappearances in Crimea presented a worrying new tendency.
There had also been continued allegations of abuses committed by some volunteer battalions under Government control that have been undertaking police functions in some of the towns taken back by Kyiv, he said. He had continued to urge more control over such forces and assurance of accountability for any violations.
He called “alarming” recent reports of the use of cluster munitions in residential areas, which might amount to a war crime. The Government had denied the use of such munitions when approached by the Human Rights Monitoring Mission, but it was imperative for the reports to be investigated promptly along with the allegations of indiscriminate shelling.
In other areas, Mr Šimonović described a deepening political divide and increased tensions over anti-corruption campaigns, and he updated the Council on the state of the investigation of unmarked graves in the conflict zone. The humanitarian situation of the now more than 430,000 internally displaced persons, as well as the population in the areas controlled by armed groups, was also of deep concern.
He said that the Minsk Protocol still represented the best opportunity to remedy the human rights situation in eastern Ukraine. He welcomed a recent rights decree signed by Ukrainian President Poroshenko and called for the upcoming elections to be held in a credible manner that respected human rights for all.
Following those briefings, Council members took the floor, with most expressing concern over ceasefire violations and urging the full implementation of the Minsk accords. Most also urged accountability for human rights violations and called for an investigation into allegations of the use of cluster bombs.
Many speakers commended the Ukrainian Government for steps to fulfil commitments under the agreement and urged cooperation with upcoming elections, and some criticized the Russian Government for what they said was continued support of the armed groups in violation of the agreement and Ukraine’s sovereignty. The Russian representative said that such unqualified support for actions by the Kyiv authorities was based on geopolitical calculations that had nothing to do with Ukrainians’ interests. He maintained that the Minsk agreement was meant to be implemented in a sequential way, starting with a ceasefire, but the ceasefire was not holding, given the shelling of towns in the east by Ukrainian forces.
Speaking after Council members, the representative of Ukraine pledged further compliance with the Minsk agreement and the holding of credible elections. He called for the end of Russian support to the militants and full compliance with the agreement by all parties to stop the suffering in his country.
Also speaking this morning were the representatives of the United Kingdom, Lithuania, United States, France, Republic of Korea, Jordan, Luxembourg, Australia, Chile, China, Rwanda, Chad, Nigeria, Russian Federation and Argentina.
The meeting began at 10:25 a.m. and ended at 1:05 p.m.
MARK LYALL GRANT (United Kingdom) expressed deep concern over the situation in the Ukraine, calling it still a clear threat to international peace and security. The human rights report cut through Russian propaganda; it was essential that all violations of rights abuses be investigated. In that context, he welcomed the Government's cooperation with investigations on the use of cluster bombs. The treatment of Crimean Tatars was particularly troubling, as was the situation of the areas controlled by armed groups, as was the sending of convoys into Ukraine. To improve the humanitarian situation, the Russian Federation should, instead of violating Ukrainian territorial integrity and supplying the armed groups, do its part to end the conflict while respecting the country's sovereignty. The Ukraine Government had taken important political steps to abide by its agreements, but the Russian Federation continued to support destabilization. He called on the latter country to stand by the Minsk agreements and support the upcoming elections.
RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ (Lithuania) called for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Monitoring Mission to be given full access to the areas under its purview, despite the obstacles being raised by the Russian Federation. That country continued to violate the Minsk agreements with support to the armed groups. She called on it to abide by its agreements and to refrain from other aggressive steps in other areas of the region. She expressed deep concern over the humanitarian and human rights situation in eastern Ukraine and Crimea. She commended the Ukraine Government, on the other hand, on its implementation of the agreement and on its steps toward reform, and called on Ukraine to join the Oslo treaty on ending the use of cluster munitions in order to clear up allegations on the use of those weapons.
DAVID PRESSMAN (United States) said peace required respect for other States and fulfilment of agreements. The Russian Federation, however, continued to support armed groups in Ukraine and commit acts reminiscent of the Soviet Union. He called on that country to abide by the Minsk agreement. The Ukraine Government had fulfilled its obligations, but the Russians and the separatists had yet to comply. There should be wide participation in the upcoming elections, including in the east and Crimea. The Russian occupation of Ukraine must end, and until then oppression of minorities such as the Tatars in Crimea must stop. The United States took seriously all allegations of abuses, including those on the use of cluster bombs and shelling of civilian areas. All must be investigated, but it was critical that the current impasse end. Ukraine's sovereignty must be restored over its entire territory. Russian actions of the past months had seriously endangered the international system.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) condemned all violations of international standards. He expressed particular concern over the situation of individual areas dominated by the armed groups in eastern Ukraine, as well as minorities such as the Tatars in Crimea. He supported the implementation of the Minsk agreement to end the situation, calling for support for separatists to end, monitoring of the full border and complete respect for the ceasefire. He called on all parties to make it possible to hold elections throughout Ukraine, to allow it to progress in its path of reform and to allow peace to take hold.
PAIK JI-AH (Republic of Korea), expressing concern over ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine, called on all parties to fully implement the Minsk agreements. Effective border patrol and credible verification of the ceasefire must take place, with complete access for the OSCE Mission, the safety of which must be guaranteed. Reports of human rights violations underlined the need for ensuring accountability. Welcoming Ukrainian reforms in line with the Minsk agreement, she underlined the importance of successful elections and supported the continuation of constructive diplomatic efforts toward a peaceful solution of the conflict.
MAHMOUD DAIFALLAH MAHMOUD HMOUD (Jordan) regretted the lack of compliance with the ceasefire agreement, as well as continued confrontations between Ukrainian forces and separatists. He expressed concern over reports by human rights organizations on the use of cluster bombs, which violated international law. He supported the Human Rights Monitoring Mission and the OSCE Monitoring Mission, calling on both sides in the conflict to facilitate those Missions’ entry into all parts of the country. A solution to the crisis must be found through dialogue and diplomacy, he said, stressing that ending the conflict was a political and moral responsibility for all concerned. The Council, too, must make every effort to facilitate a political solution, respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and unity. He called on all parties to respect their commitments, including under the Minsk Memorandum. Positive steps taken by Ukraine included the ratification of laws that gave special status to Donetsk and Luhansk and the holding of local elections in January. Ukraine should make more efforts to guarantee the rights of all citizens.
SYLVIE LUCAS (Luxembourg) expressed concern over the human rights situation in Luhansk and Donetsk, condemning human rights violations by volunteers serving alongside Ukrainian forces. The OSCE Monitoring Mission had not been able to confirm claims that cluster bombs had been used — an action that Ukrainian forces had denied. She called for an impartial independent inquiry into that situation. Ukraine had the right to defend its territory against attacks on its sovereignty and territorial integrity. At the same time, it must respect its international obligations, and its forces must act in a restrained manner. Minority rights continued to be violated, especially those of the Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian-speaking populations opposing recent political changes. She welcomed the Minsk Protocol and Memorandum, saying that a solution should be based on respect for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. She welcomed the Ukrainian Parliament’s adoption of laws providing for amnesty and a transitional status of local autonomy. She called on the Russian Federation to withdraw armed groups and illegal mercenaries, secure the border, and use its influence on separatists to encourage local elections be held in a peaceful manner.
GARY FRANCIS QUINLAN (Australia) said the ceasefire and Minsk Protocol, and the partial drawdown of some Russian military personnel and equipment in Ukraine were “encouraging” developments. Yet, the latest reports showed significant numbers of displaced people, the “dreadful” state of critical infrastructure and other problems that painted a “disturbing” picture of life in eastern Ukrainian territories occupied by separatists. Upholding the ceasefire was an important step toward a political solution, as was the preservation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity. He voiced concern about the large-scale attacks at Ukrainian border checkpoints, noting that Ukraine had rejected its role in such abuses. Ukrainians had a right for elections to be held freely and fairly, without interference. Any purported elections held by separatists could have no legitimacy. All available information, including the Dutch Safety Board report, had shown that Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 had been shot down by a surface-to air-missile from a location where there were Russian-backed separatists. Citing a Russian campaign of deliberate destabilization, he urged the Russian Federation to withdraw support from Ukrainian territory, respect borders and fulfil its obligations under the Minsk agreements.
CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET (Chile) said that the violence and abuses in eastern Ukraine underlined the need to quickly restore the country's territorial integrity and implement agreements. He condemned any use of cluster munitions and called for investigation of related allegations as well as allegations of other violations of human rights by all parties. He welcomed the Ukraine Government's measures to implement the Minsk agreements as well as legal measures to assist displaced persons.
LIU JIEYI (China) said that the top priority now was comprehensive implementation of the Minsk agreement. It was the fundamental way to improve the humanitarian situation. Objectivity and neutrality must be adhered to by United Nations humanitarian and human rights missions, he stressed, adding that a political solution was the only means of ending the conflict in the Ukraine. The international community should encourage dialogue to that end.
OLIVIER NDUHUNGIREHE (Rwanda) said that hostilities must end in Ukraine through adherence to the ceasefire and other principles of the Minsk agreement, and dialogue should take place to foster reconciliation. He expressed concern over statements by the armed groups in opposition to the elections, as well as statements that threatened the ceasefire. He condemned any human rights violations by the armed groups and the militias under Government control and said the allegations of cluster munitions use must be investigated. The OSCE Mission must be respected.
GOMBO TCHOULI (Chad) expressed grave concern over the situation in eastern Ukraine. Despite the Minsk agreements, heavy weapons’ use continued, while Ukrainian forces and separatists were reportedly using cluster bombs. He condemned their use and called for the immediate cessation of hostilities. More than 3,000 had been killed and 9,000 injured in eastern Ukraine. There were more than 400,000 displaced persons. “This is a dire moment,” he said, noting that in Donetsk and Luhansk, 40,000 small businesses had closed because of the fighting. Intimidation, summary and arbitrary executions and sexual violence against civilians perpetrated by the Government and separatists alike was unacceptable. He called for restraint and calm, pressing the international community to do its utmost to end the crisis. The Minsk accords, ratification of the law for autonomy of some Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and the release of hostages were positive steps. He urged respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
KAYODE LARO (Nigeria) said a diplomatic solution was the only viable option for resolving the crisis in Ukraine. The Minsk agreement offered a possibility for de-escalating tensions, which could restore peace and stability in the region. He urged parties to abide by their commitments, condemning separatist plans to hold local elections in November, which could further threaten Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. They should be cancelled.
VITALY I. CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said from the beginning of the crisis, his Government had warned that events in Ukraine had been encouraged by external interference, which could topple the country. The principles that had opened the way toward peace had been agreed by the Russian Federation, United States and the European Union on 17 April in Geneva, yet, they had not been implemented. Not everyone in the “old” Ukrainian elite had agreed with them. Rather than move toward a balanced solution, the “party of war” in Kyiv had received impetus from Western capitals to conduct operations that undermined cultural and humanitarian links with Russia.
Today in Kyiv and Brussels, he said, everyone supported the postponement of the Association Agreement with the European Union, which was what “President [Viktor] Yanukovych” had wanted early on. The Russian Federation would continue to provide urgent humanitarian assistance and was prepared to cooperate with Ukraine and the Red Cross on the matter. Some Ukrainians wanted to develop their country. “We can only commiserate with them,” he said, noting that the political field had been “cleansed” of competitors — the precursor to a witch hunt — while media outlets that strayed from the general line were being closed. Against that backdrop, he expressed concern about the increase in neo-Nazi feelings in Ukraine, noting that on 14 and 15 October, people rallying in Kyiv had quoted Hitler. Also, 14 October had been proclaimed Protection of the Fatherland Day, evoking a time when an insurgent army was formed and committed crimes during the Second World War.
With that ideological baggage, Ukraine intended to move toward Europe, he said, taking issue with the fact that the topic had been excluded in today’s briefings. He called on briefers to focus on the glorification of Nazism and rewriting of history. The prospects of a political solution had taken on a realistic character, following the Minsk agreements. They were based on direct agreement between Kyiv and the south-eastern part of the country. Thanks to that, it had been possible to end military clashes and enshrine peacekeeping principles. Any subsequent violations showed the need to engage in negotiations. At the Asia-Europe Meeting, the Russian President had shown his support for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. The Milan agreement had shown that the essence of those accords had been respected, which had required a certain sequence.
For its part, the Ukrainian military had violated international legal standards, he said. Ordinary Ukrainians had been detained, civilians had become victims, due to artillery fire in densely populated areas, and there had been a lack of progress investigating deaths in Odessa and Mariupol. Further, it was essential to continue investigating the Malaysian Airlines disaster. He called remarks by one delegation on unconfirmed events “irresponsible”, saying he did not understand the nervousness around the Russian proposal to expand the investigation. On Crimea, the Russian Federation would try to solve problems that had persisted since it was part of Ukraine. Some Council members had expressed unqualified support for actions by Kyiv authorities, based on geopolitical calculations that had nothing to do with Ukrainians’ interests.
MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL (Argentina) expressed her concern over the situation in eastern Ukraine and called for all actors to base their actions on international law. The conflict should be ended through peaceful means and respect for Ukraine's management of its domestic affairs. She reiterated her call for an end to all forms of outside intervention and for all parties to abide by the Minsk agreements. Accountability for violations of human rights must be ensured and all allegations must be investigated urgently. International humanitarian aid must be continued, and access for it must be guaranteed. She expressed concern as well over the politicized manner with which the Ukraine matter has been dealt with in the Council, preventing the body from making a constructive contribution.
OLEKSANDR PAVLICHENKO (Ukraine) described the reform programme being carried out by his country, which he said would redress the totalitarian economy and injustices of the former Yanukovych administration. He said that the reforms had been drafted with civil society and were "people-oriented". At the same time, he stressed that all crimes, including violations of human rights, must be investigated, including the May tragedy in Odessa and the February killings in Maidan. He pledged his country would continue to work closely with the United Nations human rights mission. In that context, he stated that the Ukrainian Armed Forces had never used cluster munitions, and the OSCE had confirmed that there was no evidence to contradict that. As the country had nothing to hide, it was ready for an open and transparent investigation.
He condemned what he called the violations of basic human rights that the United Nations report made clear were being committed by armed opposition groups in the areas under their control. He demanded the release of any Ukrainian citizens abducted to Russian territory, demanding as well that the Russian Federation, "the temporary occupier of Crimea", stop violating the rights of Tatars and others there.
Affirming his country's full commitment to a peaceful settlement of the conflict and the provisions of the Minsk agreement, he described a range of actions the Government had taken to implement the agreement, from laws on local self-government and amnesty to rendering what he said was all possible assistance to the monitoring efforts of the OSCE. He said that on the other hand, despite being a signatory to the agreement the Russian Federation refused to undertake tangible steps to implement it and was involved in a cynical attempt to maintain the flow of arms, weaponry and militants into Ukraine. Militant leaders, in addition, had openly stated their intention to violate the terms of the ceasefire and Ukrainian citizens continued to lose their lives. He called on all parties to fully live up to the Minsk agreements, including the end of Russian support for the militants.
He pledged his Government’s utmost efforts to ensure that upcoming elections, which he called an integral part of the peace process, were fair and transparent. In order for everyone’s voice to be heard, he urged free access to polling stations under militants’ control, and he called on the Russian Federation to condemn attempts by the militants to hold their own local elections. Finally, recounting the “immense upheaval” undergone by his country this year, he thanked the United Nations and Member States for their support, saying it was still needed to bring an end to the violence and to hold all signatories of the Minsk texts to their agreements.
Mr. CHURKIN, taking the floor a second time, criticized the Ukrainian statement as highly politicized. In response to statements related to the Monitoring Mission, he recalled that the proposal for such a mission was originally made by the Russian side in the OSCE. On implementation of the Minsk agreement, he said the agreement envisioned sequential implementation following a ceasefire, which had not yet taken hold. Shelling of towns in the east by Ukrainian battalions continued. Turning to the shooting down of the Malaysian airline, he accused Ukraine of withholding air traffic information and not replying to the 40 questions drafted by Russian experts.
Taking the floor again, Mr. QUINLAN said all questions raised were being systematically examined by the Dutch Air Safety Board’s independent investigation, which included two Russian experts, as well as Australian experts. He did not know the nature of such participation. The team had come out with a preliminary report. The team was independent and was working under accepted international guidelines, as confirmed by the 19 September briefing by the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs. As for the cause of the aircraft’s downing, he said all apparent evidence produced thus far — though not conclusive — had been consistent with the initial assessment that the atrocity was linked to use of a surface-to-air missile. The prosecutorial investigation, which involved hundreds of prosecutors from 13 countries, sought to establish culpability and lay the basis for accountability. Countries that had lost citizens in the event had indicated their confidence in both processes.
Taking the floor a second time, Mr. PAVLICHENKO said the independent investigation of the Malaysian Airlines crash included an international team. His Government was also participating. Ukraine took seriously all information related to allegations that its troops had committed crimes. It condemned all crimes, especially those that contravened international law. They would be investigated and the perpetrators would be held accountable. Ukraine was open for cooperation with international partners in such investigations.
He said the Russian Federation had cast those allegations to distract from its own aggression: interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs, annexation of Crimea and instigation of unrest in the eastern part of the country. He had not heard his Russian counterpart comment on a withdrawal of troops from Ukraine, readiness to cooperate in establishing border control or condemnation of serious crimes committed by armed groups. Ukraine had shown its willingness to peacefully resolve the situation. It was time for the other parties to show their sincere will to enter into dialogue.
Mr. CHURKIN recalled that statements by the Russian President and Foreign Minister had outlined his country’s approach to the peace processes. He was concerned over the Australian representative’s comments about a “generally accepted” version of events related to the plane crash. It was simply a version made by the United States that stated a missile had been fired from an area where separatists were located. However, there was no proof. It was important to wait until the investigation was completed to determine results.