The Situation in Ukraine
- Human Rights
- Rule of Law
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations
Thank you Mr President and thank you to Assistant Secretary-Generals Zerihoun and Simonovic for their briefings this morning.
Australia welcomes President Poroshenko's peace plan as a major opportunity for de-escalation of the situation in Ukraine. We welcome also Ukraine's declaration of a unilateral ceasefire – and apparent support for this ceasefire from separatist leaders.
The peace plan, with its call for dialogue with legally-elected authorities in the east, security guarantees for all parties who participate in negotiations, the release of hostages and further efforts to decentralise power, including through local elections, presents a significant chance for addressing grievances and ending the crisis.These are courageous initiatives and they should have our support.
We urge separatists in eastern Ukraine to adhere to – not take advantage of – the ceasefire. Reports of separatist attacks against Ukrainian border posts – after the ceasefire's declaration – must be condemned. Reports received in the last half hour of a Ukrainian helicopter being shot down in Sloviansk, with nine dead, are a very bad development. Commitments to adhere to the ceasefire must be upheld.
Australia understands that Ukraine's armed forces will use force to defend themselves if attacked – they have the right to do so. Of course, the Ukrainian government must continue to ensure that any operations conducted by its armed forces are in line with international standards.
There are disturbing reports of the continued flow of illegal fighters, arms and other military equipment – including heavy weapons, such as tanks – across the border into Ukraine. The Council should not tolerate these continued and destabilising violations of Ukraine's sovereignty. It is essential that Russia exercise control of its borders.
We are also concerned by reports that Russia has again redeployed thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border in what appears to be a further calculated provocation.
All these actions have been destabilising eastern Ukraine. We again urge Russia to pull back its troops from the border, prevent the flow of illegal arms and fighters into Ukraine, and to call publicly for separatists in Ukraine to renounce violence.
More positively, we welcome President Putin's request to the Russian Duma today to repeal the resolution which purported to sanction Russia's use of force in Ukraine. No such use of use of force is legal or legitimate. But – if carried out – President Putin's move to repeal this resolution constitutes at least a signal towards de-escalation.
We also welcome the Secretary-General's continued engagement with the situation, and the UN's commitment to work with Ukrainian authorities to assist with internally displaced persons.
The third report of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine presents a damning picture of the consequences of violent separatism in eastern Ukraine. The majority of human rights abuses are occurring in Donetsk and Luhansk, where separatist groups are active. In other areas of Ukraine, under Government control, concerted efforts are being made to ensure human rights are respected. The report commends Ukraine's own efforts to address grievances and build a society which respects the rule of law.
Ukraine has addressed constitutional reform, with a focus on the decentralisation of power; announced parliamentary elections for later this year; worked to reform law enforcement bodies and taken steps to fight corruption. Ukrainian authorities have begun to investigate the Maidan protests and the 2 May Odessa incident. Timely accountability, of course, is crucial so it is important these investigations progress quickly.
In contrast to these positive steps, the situation in eastern Ukraine continues to deteriorate.
The aggressive actions of separatist groups are impacting negatively on the human rights situation in areas of Ukraine under their control. As the report states, "with the demise of security, the rule of law and governance, the protection gap is widening."
Civilians have been killed by armed groups. Abductions and detentions now affect the broader population in Donetsk and Luhansk, who live in a climate of fear and intimidation.
We are affronted at the ongoing detention of OSCE monitors in eastern Ukraine, and we call again for their immediate release.
Journalists in eastern Ukraine face attacks, abductions and detentions – five have been killed during the crisis. We welcome the Council's press statement on the killing of journalists in eastern Ukraine. In a situation where misinformation abounds, it is critical that journalists be able to report freely and without fear.
Violence in the east, as we know, has disrupted social services, schools have closed, hospitals are overcrowded and understaffed, running water and electricity are scarce in some areas, and food prices have increased rapidly. It is clearly increasingly difficult for civilians in eastern Ukraine to lead normal lives. But we note the United Nations' assessment that this situation in eastern Ukraine – unacceptable as it is – does not constitute a humanitarian crisis. The risk, of course, is that it could worsen, if armed separatists do not desist, and if Russian assistance to them does not stop.
I should note that the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated markedly since Russia's illegal "annexation" of the peninsula. Freedom of assembly and religious belief are under threat. There are reports that some Crimean residents have been forced to surrender their Ukrainian citizenship. It is disturbing that only a small number of Crimeans were able to vote in Ukraine's Presidential elections and had to do so by travelling to mainland Ukraine.
The report makes useful proposals for the way ahead, which deserve our support. Crucially, it emphasises that "all armed groups must immediately put an end to their violent activities and lay down their arms". President Poroshenko's peace plan and ceasefire provide the opportunity to do this – to end separatist violence. And all parties should seize this opportunity.
A failure to resolve the situation by peaceful means will destroy the lives and livelihoods of even more Ukrainians. None of us in this Council should allow this to happen.