The Situation in Ukraine
- Human Rights
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations
Thank you Mr President for your own presence to chair this open debate at such a critical time. Thank you to Under-Secretary-General Feltman for his briefing. And welcome Prime Minister Yatsenyuk of Ukraine at this very difficult and decisive time for him and his country. It is important that this Council has heard directly from him today. We should commend him and the Ukrainian authorities for their restraint and courage in the face of continued provocation. And for their efforts to design a new, inclusive future for Ukraine.
We welcome all international efforts to find solutions to this crisis. We commend the UN and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for their efforts. We support the statement yesterday of the G7, who spoke with one voice in urging Russia to join them and work together through diplomatic processes to resolve this crisis. We also commend the efforts of the United States to find a solution through engagement with both Russia and Ukraine. Russia must similarly show itself ready to engage seriously and constructively with Ukrainian leaders to resolve the crisis.
In our numerous meetings over the past two weeks, the messages from Council members have been stark: Ukraine's territorial integrity must be respected. Russia must take immediate, deliberate and definitive steps to de-escalate the situation, including – critically – ordering Russian troops to return to their bases, and allow independent monitors access to Crimea to verify the situation on the ground. And Russia and Ukraine must engage with each other in direct dialogue at senior levels.
But we have seen no sign of change in Russian actions. Instead, we have seen further Russian efforts to consolidate its control of Ukrainian territory in Crimea. It has extended its control of air, sea and land access to the peninsula. The closure of Crimea's airspace to non-Russian commercial air traffic has now further severed connections between Crimea and the rest of Ukraine. Russian forces have seized Ukrainian military and government facilities, and laid seige to others, including the naval headquarters. They have reportedly laid mines in a number of locations. These actions cannot be justified by a perceived threat to Russian assets or nationals – OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, Thors, found no evidence of violations or threats to the rights of Russian speakers in Crimea during her visit.
Media freedom has also been severely strangled, in a clear attempt to prevent coverage of what is occurring. Attacks on journalists have intensified. Despite repeated calls for independent verification of the situation on the ground, unarmed OSCE monitors have also three times now been denied access to Crimea. UN representatives have been similarly unable to conduct visits – the Secretary-General's Envoy Robert Serry was threatened by armed men and Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Simonovic, has been denied travel to Crimea. Reports of intimidation of Crimean Tatars make it all the more crucial that human rights assessment missions proceed as planned.
The Crimean Parliament's announcement of a referendum, to be held this Sunday [16 March] to decide whether Crimea should secede from Ukraine was a dangerous further escalation of tensions, and deeply destabilising. So too were statements by Russian Parliamentarians that Russia would formally accept the results of that referendum. Any such referendum would contravene Article 73 of the Ukrainian Constitution, which provides that an alteration of the sovereign territorial boundaries of Ukraine can only be decided through an all-Ukraine – a national – referendum. And it would be inconsistent with Title X of the Constitution regulating the constitutional role of Crimea within Ukraine. The Crimean parliament itself has no standing on this issue. We note also, that the referendum would be conducted at a time when Russian forces are in control of Crimea.
For all of these reasons, the results of the proposed referendum will be inherently illegitimate, and will not be accepted by the international community. We welcome the United States' proposal that the Council adopt a resolution which would make this clear. We would support adopting such a resolution before the Sunday referendum.
It is not too late to resolve this crisis peacefully, but the window for this is closing very fast. The international community has shown its willingness to support efforts to resolve the crisis, the continuation of which will have terrible consequences for the people of Ukraine, but which will also reverberate globally. The Ukrainian parliament has asked the UN for its support and we should remain ready to assist. International principles are at stake – critical principles at the core of international relations not just in Europe, but globally – principles that matter fundamentally to each and every sovereign state.
For diplomacy to have a chance, Russia needs to actively de-escalate the situation. It must pull back its forces to their bases and decrease their numbers to agreed levels. It must also allow international observers access to Crimea to verify the situation on the ground and accept the proposed OSCE monitoring mission. It must also demonstrate its respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, including by desisting from any support for the referendum proposed this Sunday. And it must engage in direct dialogue with Ukraine, as Ukraine has repeatedly requested – either bilaterally or through a diplomatic mechanism such as the Contact Group that has been proposed. The international community has offered its assistance and dialogue – it is now imperative that Russia work with international partners to ensure this crisis is resolved peacefully.
Thank you, Mr President.