16 April 2014
Security Council
SC/11358

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

7157th Meeting* (PM)


Assistant Secretary-General Stresses Need to Uphold Human Rights Standards

 

in Security Council Briefing on Ukraine Visits

 


Protest-related human rights violations in Ukraine must be urgently investigated and verified, and security forces must maintain public order in accordance with human rights standards, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović told the Security Council today.


Briefing Council members on his recent visit to the country’s Crimea region, Mr. Šimonović warned that, unless addressed as a matter of priority, the situation there risked significantly destabilizing the whole of Ukraine, and called upon those with influence to take immediate action to halt the violence.


The arming of protesters and their transformation into quasi-paramilitary forces must stop, he continued, emphasizing that, in order to de-escalate the tension and violence, all parties must start an inclusive, sustained and meaningful national dialogue.  Such a process must take the concerns of all those living in Ukraine, including minorities, into consideration, he stressed.


He said the manipulation of media had contributed to a climate of fear and insecurity in the period before the 16 March referendum in Crimea.  The presence of paramilitary so-called self-defence groups and soldiers in uniform without insignia was not conducive to an environment in which voters could exercise the freedom of expression during the vote.  There were also credible allegations of harassment, arbitrary arrests and torture by groups targeting activists and journalists who did not support the referendum.


It was the obligation of the Crimean authorities to ensure respect for international human rights norms, he said, pointing out that the Crimean Tatar Mejlis had raised important concerns about the total lack of public debate, and their exclusion from the drafting of a new constitution.  In addition, there were concerns about citizenship, for those not accepting Russian citizenship in particular, and the obstacles they would face in trying to guarantee property and land rights, access to education and health care, as well as other civil and political rights.


The Council also heard from Ukraine’s representative, that it was only due to Russian aggression that his country was on the Security Council’s agenda.  The report before members objectively described the human rights situation in Ukraine, he said, emphasizing that the new Government was willing and ready to embrace and implement human rights into its new structures, based on the rule of law.


He rejected all alleged human rights violations against Ukraine’s Russian-speaking citizens, citing the numerous Russian-language media outlets in his country, as well as educational institutions serving Russian speakers.  Challenging the assertion that Jews in Ukraine were under threat, he quoted a letter from 266 Jewish organizations, which stated that allegations of anti-Semitism did not meet the facts, in contrast to the Jewish experience in the Russian Federation.


Expressing surprise that the only criticism of his country’s human rights situation had been voiced by the Russian Federation, he noted that the latter used counter-terrorism against its own citizens.  By contrast, Ukrainian law enforcement protected people, restored law and order and stopped attacks supported by Russian special forces, he emphasized.  The only solution was to build an open democratic society, he said, adding that his country was breaking from its previous Government.  Its new plan was inclusive and focused on the practical needs of its people.  “What we need is that Russia leaves us in peace,” he stressed.


The Russian Federation’s representative described the report as biased, noting that it did not mention that the current authorities had come to power through an armed coup.  It qualified as “peaceful protests” the seizure of buildings and attacks by illegal armed formations on the forces of law and order, while calling similar actions in the south-east “illegal”.  The report appeared to have been fabricated in order to reach pre-determined conclusions, which undermined trust in the United Nations High Commissioner as an unbiased defender of human rights, he said.


Noting the presence of people in black uniforms who did not belong to any ministry, he said the possibility had arisen of Kyiv having been advised to launch such a force by countries that continued to “whisper in ears” of Ukrainian leaders.  Ukrainians must launch a dialogue in which all regions would participate equally, he emphasized.  Such a scenario must be reflected in a deeply reformed Constitution, seen by Ukrainians as sound and designed for the long term, he said, warning that it would be difficult to preserve Ukraine’s unity without such a step, which would be the main topic in the upcoming Geneva talks.  Real, rather than cosmetic, constitutional reform must begin, he said.


Also speaking today were representatives of Lithuania, Chad, United Kingdom, United States, China, Australia, France, Republic of Korea, Argentina, Jordan, Rwanda, Luxembourg, Chile and Nigeria.


Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of the Russian Federation and Ukraine.


The meeting began at 4:08 p.m. and ended at 6:15 p.m.


Background


As the Security Council met to consider the situation in Ukraine this afternoon, members had before them a letter dated 28 February (document S/2014/136) from the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the Council President, in which the former requests an urgent meeting in accordance with Articles 34 and 35 of the United Nations Charter.  He also request that a representative of the Government of Ukraine be allowed to participate and to make a statement, in accordance with the relevant Charter provisions and rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

Briefing


IVAN ŠIMONOVIĆ, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, provided an update on developments in Ukraine, based on his two recent visits to that country, including the most recent events in the east.  Stressing the strong links connecting chronic human rights violations in Ukraine, the Maidan protests in Kyiv and the current situation, he said a third of Ukraine’s population lived under the poverty line.  There were huge disparities in living standards and access to basic social service, attributed to corruption and mismanagement, he said, noting that those were among the underlying factors that had led to the Maidan protests in which 121 people had been killed.  More than 100 remained unaccounted for, he added.


He said that, during his recent visit to Crimea, he had interacted with local authorities, civil society and victims of violence, which had afforded him a first-hand impression of the situation.  Media manipulation had contributed to a climate of fear and insecurity in the period before the referendum.  The presence of paramilitary so-called self-defence groups and soldiers in uniform without insignia was not conducive to an environment in which voters could exercise the freedom of expression during the 16 March referendum.  There were also credible allegations of harassment, arbitrary arrests and torture by groups targeting activists and journalists who did not support the referendum.


It was the obligation of the Crimean authorities to respect international human rights norms, he said, expressing concern that they had rushed to adopt a new constitution on 11 April.  The Crimean Tatar Mejlis had raised important human rights concerns about the total lack of public debate, and their exclusion from the drafting of the new charter.  In addition, there were concerns about citizenship, for those not accepting Russian citizenship in particular, and the obstacles they would face in trying to guarantee property and land rights, access to education and health care, as well as other civil and political rights.


He said that since his visit, the situation had deteriorated significantly, amid reports of armed pro-Russian activists establishing a “people’s republic of Donetsk”, taking control of Government buildings in several cities in that region, and using violence against law enforcement officers, among others.  Russian protesters continued to occupy local security service buildings, and in Kharkiv, participants in a pro-Ukraine rally had been attacked and beaten by pro-Russian demonstrators.  While reports indicated that the number of protesters had not increased significantly, the level of violence and the proportion of armed protesters had, he said.


Emphasizing that protest-related human rights violations must be urgently investigated and verified, he said that security forces must maintain public order in accordance with human rights standards.  Unless addressed as a matter of priority, the situation risked significantly destabilizing the whole of Ukraine, he warned, calling upon those with influence over the situation to take immediate action to halt the violence.  The arming of protesters and their transformation into quasi-paramilitary forces must be stopped.  In order to de-escalate the tension and violence, all parties must start an inclusive, sustained and meaningful national dialogue, he said, stressing that such a process must take the concerns of all those living in Ukraine, including minorities, into consideration.


Statements


RAIMONDA MURMOKAITĖ ( Lithuania) said that Crimea’s annexation and the destabilization of eastern Ukraine was not about the protection of Russian-speaking minorities or Ukraine’s alleged radical extremism.  Rather, the annexation was designed to destabilize Ukraine with a view to obstruct and prevent the 25 May elections.  It was also about a “naked land grab” and the Russian Federation’s greater political and military ambitions.  Lithuania urged that country to stop its onslaught of disinformation and anti-Ukrainian and anti-European propaganda before it was too late.  Impartial reporting on human rights violations would help to prevent the manipulation of information, which was especially important for the eastern part of Ukraine.  Lithuania supported continuous human rights reporting on the situation and urged the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine to continue its work throughout the country.  Other human rights monitoring instruments were also necessary, including for the independent oversight of the situation in Crimea.  United Nations officials should continue to visit Crimea and report on the situation of ethnic minorities, media freedom and human rights.


VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) recalled that on 13 April, his delegation had called on the Council use all its available tools to prevent the use of force in the eastern regions of Ukraine.  The current Ukrainian authorities had come to power as a result of a coup in Kyiv, ignoring the legitimate demands of people in the south-east and through the unconstitutional use of force.  Such actions were fraught with the risks of real civil war in Ukraine, he said.  People in the south-east had said they were ready to serve as human shields, and there had also been cases of troops switching to the side of the people.  He asked whether that was the reason why Kyiv was using the same illegal armed formations on the heels of which they had come to power.


Noting the presence of people in black uniforms who did not belong to any ministry, he said the possibility had arisen of Kyiv having been advised to launch such a force by countries that continued to “whisper in ears” of Ukrainian leaders.  To exit the situation, Ukrainians must launch a dialogue in which all regions would participate equally, he said.  Such a scenario must be reflected in a deeply reformed Constitution, seen by Ukrainians as sound and designed for the long term.  He said it would be hard to preserve Ukrainian unity without such a step, which would be the main topic in Geneva, emphasizing that it must also be the goal of the international community.  Real, rather than cosmetic, constitutional reform must begin.  There was also a need for confirmed information about Ukraine and international forces must assess the situation in an unbiased manner, he stressed.


Turning to the report, he described it as biased because it chose not to notice that the current authorities had come to power through an armed coup.  It qualified as “peaceful protests” attacks by illegal armed formations on the forces of law and order, as well as the seizure of buildings, while calling similar actions in the south-east “illegal actions”, he noted.  The report also expressed a desire for the elaboration of a new vision for Ukraine’s future.  However, it had left out some facts, including that the Government was based on an atmosphere of self-created violence, and that aggressive nationalism had been growing.  The report did not use the term “neofascism” at all, and it said that the right of participation by minorities had not been taken fully into account.


The report said nothing about the destruction of the Russian-speaking population, he said, adding that it also described Ukrainian society as bilingual, while the real situation of Russian speakers was not correctly reflected.  They had been harassed by radicals, and on 15 April, the headquarters of the Communist party had been attacked.  The report’s assessment of the freedoms of speech and media also “did not stand up”.  It appeared that the report had been fabricated to reach pre-determined conclusions, which undermined trust in the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as an unbiased defender of human rights.  The Russian Federation would follow the agency’s work closely and examine how future reports reflected violence in south-eastern Ukraine, he said.


MAHAMAT ZENE CHERIF ( Chad) called for an independent inquiry to determine who was responsible for the situation, which would be difficult to clarify without a minimum of stability and a reduction of tensions.  All parties should show restraint and give “pride of place” to a peaceful settlement of the crisis.  A political solution was possible within a framework of negotiations among all parties concerned, who must be mindful of United Nations Charter principles and the concerns of all Ukrainian society.  Chad encouraged all parties to give negotiations a chance and to support ongoing mediation efforts.


MARK LYALL GRANT ( United Kingdom) described the report as the most comprehensive and independent since the onset of the crisis, adding that the Russian Federation’s attempts to discredit it lacked all credibility.  According to the report, there had been no widespread human rights violations of the rights of Russian-speaking citizens in Crimea, despite assertions by the Russian Federation.  Furthermore, President Vladimir Putin had said on 19 March that the referendum had been held in full compliance with international standards, in sharp contrast to reported vote rigging and the presence of armed soldiers without insignia.  Rather, there was “damning evidence” of propaganda aimed at destabilizing Ukraine in order to justify the annexation of Crimea, he said.  Well-equipped armed paramilitaries were not peaceful protestors, he stressed, calling upon the Russian Federation to stop interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs and to enter into dialogue.  The European Union wanted the Russian Federation as a partner and it was in the mutual interest of all stakeholders that it come to the negotiating table to express its concerns.


SAMANTHA POWER ( United States) said that the Russian Federation’s response to the report was “if you don’t like the message, shoot the messenger”.  It was critically important to make clear that the actions witnessed in Crimea and the region’s illegal occupation had engendered serious unrest in a relatively calm country.  The Russian Federation was diverting attention from its own actions, she continued, commending Ukraine’s security forces for their measured response.  Those stoking unrest were from the Russian Federation, not Ukraine, and their actions were in the service of Crimea’s annexation.


Citing several sections of the report, she said there had been a decline in human rights abuses, except in Crimea, and attacks against ethnic Russians, Jews and other minorities were not widespread.  In fact, the new Ukrainian Government sought to protect the human rights of all citizens and was making efforts to implement reforms, she said, describing allegations to the contrary as baseless.  She called upon the international community to support Ukraine’s endeavours to build democracy for all its citizens, and expressed hope that the upcoming meeting in Geneva would resolve the crisis through diplomacy.


LIU JIEYI ( China) expressed deep concern over the escalating situation in Ukraine, urging parties to keep calm and exercise restraint.  The priority was to work in the legal framework of negotiations and fully accommodate the legitimate aspirations of all regions and ethnic communities.  Such efforts would bring about stability.  The only way to address the complex situation was through a political settlement achieved within a favourable international environment.  He called on the international community to provide good offices to de-escalate the situation.  China had put forward a three-point proposal and taken note of the idea to establish a multilateral dialogue mechanism.  It supported the early launch of dialogue on the basis of fully accommodating all legitimate concerns.


GARY QUINLAN ( Australia), noting that claims had been made to justify interference into Ukraine's affairs, urged the Council to be "responsible" in examining the situation and the true nature of the challenges.  The report presented a neutral picture of events leading to the Maidan protests, as well as the current situation in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.  It had made clear that human rights violations were the root causes of the Maidan protests, and not a fascist agenda, with protesters pushing for a more effective Government.  On Crimea, the report had made clear there was no evidence of attacks against ethnic Russians ahead of the 16 March referendum.  Such claims had created a climate of fear.  Since 16 March, worrying measures had been taken in Crimea, including the introduction of Russian citizenship.  Any attacks against Russian minorities had been neither systematic nor widespread and the report outlined good proposals for their protection.  Welcoming Ukraine's willingness to break with past injustices, he said elections were essential in that regard.  The Russian Federation must seriously engage in the Geneva talks, which were a crucial opportunity for dialogue.


GÉRARD ARAUD ( France) said that the huge burden of restoring trust in Ukraine was in the hands of the Council.  The new Government could do its part by preserving the country’s diversity and bringing all citizens into an inclusive democracy.  The international community should back the Ukrainian authorities in holding the upcoming elections in the best possible conditions of transparency, while ensuring that armed groups did not undermine the process.  “ Ukraine is cornered,” he said, and had been put on notice not to react to aggressions that were undermining human rights.  He urged the Russian Federation to de-escalate the situation and “stop locking itself in a vicious cycle”, which would only lead to tragic results.  It also should not interfere in Ukraine’s May elections.


PAIK JI-AH ( Republic of Korea) expressed alarm at recent events, including the armed occupation of Government buildings in the Donetsk region, and called for a halt to such destabilizing actions.  Further, she called on the Ukrainian Government to include all its people in the democracy-building process.  She expressed full support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and recognized borders, and emphasized that its Government must be steered by its own citizens and not by outside forces.


MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL ( Argentina) expressed deep concern over the violent clashes in Ukraine, and reaffirmed the need to adhere to United Nations Charter principles, especially the non-intervention into internal State affairs.  Noting there had been human rights violations prior to, during and after protests last November, she said today’s report had noted a drop in such abuses, but concern persisted over the situation of minorities and she requested more information in that regard.  Impartial human rights information would help ensure accountability and prevent manipulation.  The investigation into abuses at Maidan Square would help restore calm.  As the situation in Ukraine would not be solved through unilateral actions, she cautioned against any steps that would make the situation more complex, and urged all parties to work towards inclusive dialogue.


ZEID RA’AD ZEID AL-HUSSEIN (Jordan) underscored the need to cooperate with the mission and carry out the report's recommendations.  Attacks on the Maidan protesters had led to political changes and formation of the transitional Government.  Urging that the situation in the east be handled "responsibly and reasonably", he said Ukraine was obliged to end that rebellion and preserve its territorial integrity.  All efforts must be made to respect human rights norms and pressure must be brought to bear on rebels to enter into dialogue.  He voiced hope that the 17 April meeting would enable the search for solutions, as the situation required urgent confidence-building steps and limits on extremist diatribe.  Ukraine must continue its dialogue with diverse groups and parties, as its future was linked to a successful political transition based on human rights, democracy and rule of law.  He cautioned against interfering into Ukraine's internal affairs.


EUGÈNE-RICHARD GASANA ( Rwanda) said that it was unfortunate that the situation had become such a deadly crisis.  The international community still had the chance to prevent further deterioration.  He welcomed the support of the United Nations human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine in helping to build a State its people deserved.  It was thus a priority to build confidence between the Ukrainian authorities and the people to ensure that the concerns of all citizens, including those of the Russian-speaking community, be heard.


SYLVIE LUCAS ( Luxembourg) described some of the recent discussions on the matter as a “dialogue of the deaf”.  She welcomed the report as providing an objective picture of the situation on the ground.  It painted a dark picture, in particular for the Tartars and Ukrainians who were fleeing the area out of fear.  Recent actions in the Donetsk region had not been spontaneous, but well-coordinated and organized, she said, stressing at the same time that she was not challenging the right to demonstrate freely.  It was still possible to find a peaceful solution and she urged that the human rights monitoring mission redouble its efforts.


IGNACIO LLANOS ( Chile) urged the adoption of immediate measures to build trust between the interim Government and the population, taking ethnic minorities into account.  Respect for the rule of law and human rights in Ukraine, including for all minorities, must be guaranteed.  "Disturbed" by the worsening human rights situation in eastern Ukraine, including violations of the rights to free expression and assembly, he called for a peaceful solution through direct political dialogue.  He also urged against any unilateral measures that would exacerbate tensions, expressing hope that the 17 April meeting would lead to a way out of the crisis.


U. JOY OGWU ( Nigeria), Council President, speaking in her national capacity, called the report comprehensive, in part, because it detailed recent high-level visits to Ukraine.  The United Nations had a central role to play in de-escalating tensions, as it provided an impartial platform and expertise, both of which were essential to ensuring that human rights were respected and protected.  An independent analysis would outline technical and legal needs, as well as help to tackle the root causes of violence.  Human rights issues must be comprehensively addressed in the framework of peaceful negotiations on the crisis.  She urged authorities to assure all groups that their concerns would be addressed.  The rebellion in the east had exacerbated a tenuous political situation, with far-reaching implications for human rights.  As such, she urged all parties to work towards de-escalating tensions and embracing dialogue.


YURIY SERGEYEV ( Ukraine) said it was only due to Russian aggression that his country had emerged on the Security Council’s agenda.  The report before the Council objectively described the human rights situation in Ukraine, he said, emphasizing that the new Government was willing and ready to embrace and implement human rights into its new structures, based on the rule of law.  He expressed hope that the “the other Government” also mentioned in the report would take actions to prevent human rights violations on its own territory.


In that regard, he rejected all alleged human rights violations against Ukraine’s Russian-speaking citizens, citing the numerous Russian-language media outlets, including newspapers, broadcasts and websites, as well as educational institutions serving Russian speakers.  Challenging the assertion that Jews in Ukraine were under threat, he quoted a letter from 266 Jewish organizations, which stated that allegations of anti-Semitism did not meet the facts, in contrast to the Jewish experience in the Russian Federation.


He called upon all Member States to take the information contained in the full report on human rights violations, particularly in regard to the occupation of the Crimean peninsula, commenting that Crimean Tatars were describing the situation as a “third genocide” of their people.  He expressed surprise that the only criticism of his country’s human rights situation had been voiced by the Russian Federation, a country that used counter-terrorism against its own citizens.  Law enforcement protected people, restored law and order and stopped attacks supported by Russian special forces, he emphasized.  He concluded by stressing that the only solution was to build an open democratic society.  Ukraine was breaking from its previous Government and its new plan was inclusive and focused on the practical needs of its people.  “What we need is that Russia leaves us in peace,” he stressed.


Mr. CHURKIN (Russian Federation), taking the floor a second time, disputed, among others, the statement by Ukraine’s representative that the Tatar population considered recent events in Crimea “a third act of genocide”, describing the comment as a provocation.  It was a lie, he emphasized, pointing out that the Tatar language was considered the Russian Federation’s third official language.


Mr. SERGEYEV ( Ukraine) said that his Russian colleagues would represent the situation “the way they wish it to be seen” — a virtual reality.  They would have to discuss Crimea because it was Ukrainian territory, and until it was returned, the Government of Ukraine would continue to discuss it.  The Russian Federation had not attended a Council meeting headed by a human rights defender who had sat in Russian jails, yet it had used the word “lies” in referring to that person’s position, he said, noting that the depiction was a well-known manipulation and distortion of the situation.


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*     The 7156th Meeting was closed.


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