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Backing Ukraine’s territorial integrity, UN Assembly declares Crimea referendum invalid

A wide view of the temporary General Assembly. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe (file)
A wide view of the temporary General Assembly. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe (file)
27 March 2014 – In a vote that reaffirmed Ukraine’s unity and territorial integrity, the United Nations General Assembly today adopted a measure underscoring that the mid-March referendum in Crimea that led to the peninsula’s annexation by Russia “has no validity” and that the parties should “pursue immediately a peaceful resolution of the situation.”

By a vote of 100 in favour to 11 against, with 58 abstentions, the 193-member Assembly called on all States, international organizations and specialized agencies not to recognize any alteration of the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol on the basis of the 16 March referendum “and to refrain from any action or dealing that might be interpreted as recognizing any such altered status.”

Action in the Assembly follows months of ratcheting tensions in Ukraine triggered by the Government's decision last November not to sign an agreement on broader European integration. The capital, Kiev, erupted in violent demonstrations and street clashes in late January, culminating in the removal by Parliament of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Tensions continued to mount in the Crimea region, where Russian troops and armoured vehicles were deployed in February and a secession referendum was later held, in which, according to the UN, Crimean authorities announced that close to 97 per cent of those who voted did so in favour of the region joining Russia.

Subsequently, Crimea declared its independence, which in turn was recognized by Russia. In the immediate aftermath of those events, President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty to make Crimea part of Russia, while the Government in Kiev committed to never accept Crimea’s independence or annexation.

Throughout, the UN has continued to press for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and other senior officials having visited the region, including Moscow and Crimea, over the past three weeks.

The UN Security Council convened seven sessions on the situation in Ukraine, and at its eighth meeting, Russia, one of the 15-nation body’s permanent members, blocked action by voting against a draft resolution that would have urged countries not to recognize the results of the referendum in Crimea.

The non-binding text adopted by the Assembly today contained similar language, underscoring that the referendum held in Crimea has no validity and cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of Crimea or of the city of Sevastopol. It calls on all States to “desist and refrain” from actions aimed at the partial or total disruption of Ukraine’s national unity and territorial integrity, “including any attempts to modify Ukraine’s borders through the threat or use of force or other unlawful means.”

Finally, the Assembly resolution makes explicit reference to the primacy of the UN Charter’s call for the preservation of the unity and territorial integrity of all UN Member States, and also recalls the 1994 Memorandum on Security Assurances in Connection with Ukraine’s Accession to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the 1997 Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between Ukraine and Russian, and other bilateral agreements between Ukraine and Russia.

At nuclear security summit, Ban urges deeper global cooperation to ensure safer world

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) addresses the opening session of the Nuclear Security Summit in the Hague. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) addresses the opening session of the Nuclear Security Summit in the Hague. UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe
24 March 2014 – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today cited deeper global cooperation as “indispensable” to strengthening nuclear security, as he called on leaders to take the necessary steps towards ensuring a safer world for all.

“My message to you now, today, is this: be the first mover. Do not wait for others to act. The challenge is one of leadership,” Mr. Ban said in his remarks at the opening session of the Nuclear Security Summit, hosted by the Government of the Netherlands in The Hague.

“Let us work towards a safer world for all – a world free of nuclear weapons and threat of nuclear terrorism.”

Calling nuclear security a “pressing concern,” the UN chief noted that the primary responsibility for preventing non-State actors and terrorists from acquiring the most devastating weapons known to humanity lies with national governments.

“But international cooperation and assistance are indispensable,” he stated, adding that important challenges include strengthening nuclear security implementation and building a culture of nuclear security.

He highlighted three areas where the UN has an important role to play: strengthening the international framework for nuclear security; strengthening the capacity of States to detect and stop illicit trade in nuclear and radiological material; and the world body’s efforts to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

“Non-proliferation and nuclear material controls are truly important, but neither offers any guarantee against the worst threat of all: a future use of nuclear weapons,” Mr. Ban said.

“Let me be clear: nuclear security is jeopardized by the very existence of such weapons and the vast amounts of weapons-usable nuclear material in stockpiles outside of any international regulatory controls. This is why disarmament belongs on the global nuclear security agenda.”

The catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons require that it be treated as a top priority, he continued, adding that disarmament will work better than any alternative in reducing the risk of use.

“Together, we must ensure that nuclear weapons are seen by States as a liability, not an asset,” the UN chief stressed.