United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission Deployed to Crimea amid Crisis between Russian Federation, Ukraine, Security Council Told

19 March 2014
SC/11328

United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission Deployed to Crimea amid Crisis between Russian Federation, Ukraine, Security Council Told

19 March 2014
Security Council
SC/11328
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

7144th Meeting (PM)

United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission Deployed to Crimea amid Crisis

between Russian Federation, Ukraine, Security Council Told

 

Deputy, Assistant-Secretary-General Brief Members on Events since Crimea Vote

Following rapid developments that unfolded after Sunday’s referendum in which the people of Crimea voted to leave Ukraine and join the Russian Federation, a United Nations human rights monitoring team had been deployed to the region, with a pending invitation to visit the capital, Simferopol, the world body’s senior human rights official told the Security Council today.

Briefing the 15-member body a day after returning from Ukraine, Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said that although he had been denied entry to Crimea earlier this month, he was gravely concerned after having spoken with victims of violence, torture and ill treatment.  Members of the human rights monitoring team, comprising 9 international and 25 national staff, were gradually joining the head of the mission who had arrived in Ukraine last week.

Chronic human rights violations of long-standing concern were among the root causes of the recent upheaval in Ukraine, he said, underlining the need for judicial and security-sector reform, and the importance of addressing corruption and ensuring equal access.  He said that after having heard accounts of protest-related violations that had occurred in Kyiv — ranging from the excessive use of force to execution-style sniper killings — he had said that all such allegations must be investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said that since his visit to Ukraine earlier this month, developments, including the death of a Ukrainian officer and the takeover of naval bases, had only added tensions and new layers of complexity to an already precarious situation.  “We are now faced with risks of a dangerous further escalation of this crisis that could have ramifications for international peace and security, and have serious significance for this Council and the United Nations,” he said, noting that the Secretary-General was leaving today for Moscow and Kyiv to discuss diplomatic solutions.  From a broader perspective, he pointed out that the Russian Federation and Ukraine remained neighbours with close and complex ties, and positive relations between the two nations would be in the interest of all, with the first step being immediate de-escalation and restraint in the current crisis.

Ukraine’s representative described the 16 March referendum in Crimea as “illegitimate” and in violation of his country’s Constitution.  Ukraine would never recognize the declared independence of Crimea.

The Russian Federation’s representative said that, through the referendum, Crimeans had fulfilled what was enshrined in the Charter:  the right to self-determination.  “This is an expression of the free will of Crimeans,” he added.

Many Council members voiced concern about the violation of the Charter principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, with the representative of the United States saying her country rejected the illegal “land grab” in Crimea.

France’s representative stressed that Moscow must open direct negotiations with Kyiv, while other delegates expressed satisfaction with efforts by the United Nations, with many commending the Secretary-General’s current visit to Ukraine and the Russian Federation.

China’s representative emphasized that his country continued to promote peace talks and a political settlement of the crisis, proposing the creation of an international coordination mechanism as soon as possible to explore political possibilities.

Also delivering statements were representatives of Nigeria, Chile, Republic of Korea, Argentina, Rwanda, Australia, United Kingdom, Lithuania, Jordan, Chad and Luxembourg.

The meeting began at 3:07 p.m. and ended at 5 p.m.

Background

Meeting this afternoon to consider the situation in Ukraine, members of the Security Council had before them a letter dated 28 February from that country’s Permanent Representative addressed to the President of the Council (document S/2014/136).

Briefings

JAN ELIASSON, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that before the Secretary-General’s departure for Moscow and Kyiv to discuss diplomatic solutions to the current crisis, he had spoken with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk of Ukraine.  Since briefing the Council on 13 March, he had also continued to engage with key actors with the aim of de-escalating the situation, unfailingly urging dialogue and adherence to the United Nations Charter in respect of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

He recalled that during his own recent mission to Ukraine, he had stressed the importance of inclusive government and the need to preserve a multicultural, multilingual country.  He had been joined by Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, who had remained in Ukraine until yesterday in light of the volatile situation on the ground.  The United Nations had already deployed a human rights monitoring mission, which would coordinate with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The Deputy Secretary-General said that since his visit, the 16 March referendum in Crimea, the region’s declaration of independence, its recognition by the Russian Federation and recent reported killings had added tensions and new layers of complexity to an already precarious situation.  “We are now faced with risks of a dangerous further escalation of this crisis that could have ramifications for international peace and security and have serious significance for this Council and the United Nations,” he said.  In a wider perspective, the Russian Federation and Ukraine remained neighbours with close, complex ties, he said, cautioning that it was in the interest of all that the two nations retain positive ties, with the first step being immediate de-escalation and restraint in the current crisis.

IVAN ŠIMONOVIĆ, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, reported that he had joined Mr. Eliasson in Kyiv on 9 March to begin his mission of working towards the de-escalation of tensions and making recommendations on a path forward.  While he had met authorities and civil society representatives in Kyiv, Kharkiv and Lviv, however, he had been unable to enter Crimea, although his team had collected written materials about the situation there.  Last Sunday, he had received an invitation to visit Simferopol in Crimea in hopes that the head of the United Nations human rights monitoring mission would soon visit.

Chronic, long-standing human rights violations were among the reasons for the recent upheaval in Ukraine, he said, emphasizing the need for judicial and security-sector reform, and the importance of addressing corruption and ensuring equal access.  Regarding protest-related violations, he said he was deeply concerned about the excessive use of force, detentions and disappearances as well as the issue of snipers on the Maidan in Kyiv.  Medical personnel said that some protesters had been killed “execution-style”, he said, stressing that the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

Hate speech must be curbed and equal protection for all ensured, he continued, noting also that Ukraine’s hasty repeal of the law on languages had been a mistake.  The old law would continue to be enforced while a new text was prepared.  He said that after meeting with civil society groups, he had raised the question of attacks against and harassment of members of the Russian minority and emphasized that all such allegations must be thoroughly investigated.  However, violations against minorities were neither widespread nor systematic, he noted.

Turning to Crimea, he said he had serious concerns about the protection of human rights, having met with victims of arbitrary arrest, torture and ill treatment.  He also expressed concern about the Tatar community and those who opposed recent political events.  Violence and rumours had added to insecurity among the population and there was an urgent need for independent monitors to conduct an objective assessment and report on violations and the implications of recent events, he said, noting that establishing the facts could help to counter the spread of false information.  Following a request from Ukraine’s acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, the deployment of human rights monitors had already begun, he said.  The team, comprising nine international and 25 national staff, were gradually joining the head of the mission, who had arrived last week.  By Friday, monitors would be in place in Kharkiv and Donetsk, he said, adding that the mission would work closely with OSCE in planning a larger monitoring operation.

Statements

YURIY SERGEYEV (Ukraine) said the world had observed dramatic changes in Crimea today, none for the good.  The illegitimate referendum on the region’s annexation by the Russian Federation had been carried out in an expedited manner on 16 March, and on 18 March, the Russian President had signed an annexation treaty.  “We consider all these acts to be illegal,” he emphasized, calling upon the civilized world not to recognize Crimea’s “violent dismembering” from Ukraine.  The real violation of human rights was taking place on the Crimean peninsula under illegitimate control, he said, expressing serious reservations about the region’s expressed “free view”, since Russian armed forces had been in de facto occupation of Crimea since 26 February.

Describing violations during the referendum, he said some ballots had been distributed to unregistered voters, and that Russian citizens had been allowed to vote.  People unable to leave their homes had been forced to vote by mobile teams, and additional lists of voters included citizens who were not qualified to vote.  The results of the illegal referendum were also doubtful because of a decision to boycott the vote by Crimean Tatars, numbering some 300,000 people, and ethnic Ukrainians, an additional half a million.  Further, the referendum had offered only two questions, neither of which provided an option for maintaining Crimea’s autonomous status, he said.

He said that the self-proclaimed authorities who had held the illegal referendum had violated Ukraine’s Constitution as well as international law and the 1991 Alma-Ata Agreement that had established the Commonwealth of Independent States.  Eyewitness accounts proved that conditions in Crimea had failed to meet the democratic standards of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe.  On the basis of customary norms and international law, States were obliged not to recognize the referendum’s results.  Lodging a strong protest against the Russian Federation’s recognition of a self-proclaimed republic, he said that country had used pseudo-legitimate reasons for incorporating the region.  He also expressed concern about Crimean Tatars and others who had not supported the “so-called referendum”, stressing:  “There is a serious threat to their lives.”  Ukraine and the entire civilized world would never recognize the declared independence of Crimea.

GÉRARD ARAUD (France) said that on 18 March, Crimea had been annexed by the Russian Federation in a “typhoon of aggressive nationalism”, the extent of which no one knew.  Nationalism had often been used to mask the undermining of individual freedom, he said, pointing out that Russian soldiers were “everywhere”.  The media were controlled, the Russian Federation had brought international observers in from among far-right European parties, and the figures provided had been so excessive as to be meaningless.  How could 97 per cent of the population have voted when Crimean Tatars had called for a boycott?  If human rights had been undermined, that had occurred under [former President] Viktor Yanukovych.  Faced with a Russian Federation that had not responded to good-faith solutions, “we’re forced to act to make it understand we won’t accept a fait accompli”, he said, calling upon that Government to prevent provocateurs in other areas from doing what had been done in Crimea.  Moscow must also open direct negotiations with Kyiv, he stressed.

USMAN SARKI (Nigeria) said today marked the eighth time in three weeks that the Council had met on the situation in Ukraine, underlining the seriousness with which it viewed events there.  Nigeria stressed the need for dialogue to ensure a peaceful resolution of the situation, he said.  All peaceful means, including mediation and arbitration, must be “used to the hilt” because heightened rhetoric could only lead to grave consequences, including military confrontation.

VITALY CHURKIN (Russian Federation) said that his country’s historic reunification with Russian Crimea yesterday had been awaited for six decades.  Through a free referendum conducted without outside interference, Crimeans had fulfilled what was enshrined in the Charter:  the right to self-determination.  Of the 82 per cent of voters who had participated, more than 96 per cent had chosen reunification.  “This is an expression of the free will of Crimeans,” he said, noting that Ukraine’s representative had tried to discredit the referendum using Western propaganda.

Of the 2.2 million people in Crimea, close to 1.5 million were Russian, while 290,000 to 300,000 were Tatars also in favour of the Russian Federation, he continued.  “A historic injustice has been righted,” he said, adding that it had originated from the 1954 transfer of Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, without the knowledge of the Crimeans.  Yet, Western partners could not rid themselves of “the colonial habit” of imposing their writ on other peoples and countries.  Their reckless gamble had led to unexpected results, he said, declaring:  “This choice must be respected by all.”

He said he was puzzled by Mr. Šimonović’s one-sided assessment of the human rights situation in Ukraine, taking issue with his discussion of the Maidan snipers and other matters.  In addition, yesterday, two dozen parliamentarians had pushed into the Cabinet and beaten up the Director General of Ukrainian national television.  In Simferopol, sniper fire from an unfinished building had killed two people, a self-defence soldier and a Ukrainian soldier, he said, describing the killings as a “planned provocation”.

Nevertheless, the Russian Federation stood ready to normalize the situation on the basis of broad internal Ukrainian dialogue that should include all political forces, he said.  The creation of a multilateral mechanism could be promoted through the Russian Federation’s proposal to establish an assistance group on Ukraine.  The Government of the Russian Federation intended to discuss such proposals in order to fulfil the 21 February agreement and end ultra-nationalism against Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population.

SAMANTHA POWER (United States) said the Russian Federation was known for its literary greatness, yet today its representative had shown more imagination than Tolstoy or Chekhov in extolling the conduct of the “so-called referendum”.  The United States rejected the land grab in Crimea, which violated Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, international law and the United Nations Charter.  The President of the United States had announced sanctions in response, and was preparing additional steps if the aggression and provocations continued.  “This crisis was never about protecting the rights of ethnic Russians,” but rather, redrawing Russian borders, she said.

Tartars were fearful of deportation or discrimination, she continued, noting that the First Deputy Prime Minister had stated that they would be evicted from their lands, which was needed for infrastructure projects.  When found, the body of Reshat Ametov, a Crimean Tatar last seen at a protest, had shown signs of torture, she said.  The United States supported the deployment of international observers in all parts of Ukraine, she said, adding that today at a meeting in Vienna, the Russian Federation had stood alone among 57 countries in blocking an OSCE monitoring mission.  The international legal status of Crimea had not changed and what had happened there could not be recognized as valid, she declared, urging unity in opposing that illegal act and in ensuring that it could not be repeated in other parts of Ukraine.

OCTAVIO ERRÁZURIZ (Chile), describing the referendum as unconstitutional, said there was need to restore the rule of law and to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, in keeping with the United Nations Charter.  Regarding human rights, he expressed regret that the Assistant Secretary-General and observers had been prevented from entering Crimea, while voicing concern over ethnic minorities, including the Tatars, who had started moving to other parts of Ukraine.  It was imperative that the Security Council contribute in ensuring moderation on both sides, he said, calling upon Ukraine and the Russian Federation to refrain from further actions so as to prevent the escalation of tensions.

OH JOON (Republic of Korea) said his country would not recognize the referendum or the annexation of Crimea.  He emphasized the need for dialogue towards a peaceful resolution, and expressed hope that a way forward could be negotiated.  The Republic of Korea supported the United Nations and the efforts of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, he said, reiterating his country’s strong support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  It was vital to protect the rights of all Ukraine’s people, he added.

MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL (Argentina), stressing that the principle of territorial integrity must be respected, said her country took no position on Ukraine’s internal affairs because, according to the United Nations Charter, there should be no intervention in the affairs of other States.  Human rights must be enjoyed by all, including minorities, she said, expressing concern about violence and rhetoric that could fuel tensions.  Argentina supported mediation efforts by the United Nations, she said, recalling that the Secretary-General had stated that the situation could not be resolved through unilateral action.  Any action that exacerbated it must be avoided, she stressed.

EUGÈNE-RICHARD GASANA (Rwanda) said the current meeting reflected the will of the Security Council to find a solution to the Ukrainian crisis.  He was concerned about the prevailing rhetoric in the region and violence in eastern Ukraine.  He hoped the Secretary-General’s visit to the region would help all stakeholders find a diplomatic solution.  He also welcomed the United Nations monitoring team as only an independent body could be able to objectively establish the facts on human rights violations.  Rwanda continued to advocate for a diplomatic solution and for inclusive talks with all Ukrainian parties to ensure equal participation.  He urged all international actors to avoid any action, including economic and military, that would worsen the situation.

GARY QUINLAN (Australia) recalled that the Council had sought to adopt a resolution on Ukraine five days ago but the Russian Federation had voted against it.  That country had then moved to annex Crimea, he said, emphasizing that President Vladimir Putin’s signing of a decree, a treaty and a bill on the issue did not validate the referendum.  Instead, it was a violation of international law.  The current escalating tensions, including the use of armed force, had raised the stakes, he said, warning that the Russian Federation would face consequences for its unlawful actions.  Human rights violations must be investigated, he said, noting that the Crimean Tatar community felt vulnerable.  However, it was not too late to turn from the path of isolation that the Russian Federation had taken, he said.

LIU JIEYI (China) said his Government had consistently stated its respect for independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity concerning the current question.  It had taken an objective approach to addressing the question of Ukraine, and would continue to promote peace talks and a political settlement of the crisis.  Proposing the creation of an international coordination mechanism as soon as possible to explore the political possibilities, he said no action should be taken to exacerbate tensions.  International financial institutions should explore ways to ensure Ukraine’s stability, and all parties concerned should refrain from actions that could cause the situation to deteriorate further, he said.

MARK LYALL GRANT (United Kingdom) expressed hope that the Russian President would step back, allow monitors full access to Crimea and engage in dialogue with Ukraine.  Emphasizing that it was inexcusable that Mr. Šimonović had been denied access to Crimea, he said the Assistant Secretary-General’s report was of serious concern as it cited cases of arbitrary arrest, disappearances and forced displacements, contradicting Russian claims.  He said Ukrainians had also suffered gross human rights violations under the previous Government, and urged the rapid deployment of United Nations monitors across the country.  The referendum in Crimea was a mockery of democratic practice and illegal under Ukraine’s Constitution, he said, adding that it met none of the OSCE standards for democratic elections.  Neither that vote nor the succession of inconsistent legal arguments could conceal the stark reality of Russian actions:  annexation of the territory of an independent State through the use of military force.  The country must face further consequences for its actions, he stressed.

RAIMONDA MURMOKAITÉ (Lithuania) said the referendum had been held in a region cut off from its mainland by another country’s armed forces.  The OSCE, Council of Europe, United Nations and key regional representatives had been prevented from entering Crimea, and not a single international observer had been present.  The more than 100 independent observers granted access were hardline nationalists, anti-Semites, deniers of Srebrenica and Islamophobes, she said, pointing out that the Tatar population had boycotted the vote and asking about their right to self-determination.  The referendum constituted a land grab in total disregard for international and bilateral agreements.  It was a sham to rubber stamp the illegal annexation of Crimea.  Recent events showed that territories were up for grabs and international norms could be rewritten by force.  “Who will be next?” she asked.

EIHAB OMAISH (Jordan) said all regions of Ukraine, including Crimea, fell under Ukrainian sovereignty, and the Constitution was the instrument that governed Ukraine, guaranteeing its territorial integrity and unity.  It was unacceptable to split off part of the country for annexation by another, and the international community should prompt the parties to reach a solution that would protect their legitimate interests and rights, while restoring Crimea to Ukrainian control, he said, emphasizing that minority rights must be protected.  For its part, the United Nations should help to reconcile the two sides and devise a mechanism for dialogue.  The time had come to establish an international contact group.

MAHAMAT ZENE CHERIF (Chad) said Ukraine’s territory had been undermined, stressing that his Government was “wedded” to the country’s unity and territorial integrity.  Chad urged respect for the United Nations Charter, notably Article 2.  All parties must give “pride of place” to a peaceful settlement of the situation.

SYLVIE LUCAS (Luxembourg), Council President, spoke in her national capacity, saying Crimea had been occupied and cut off from the rest of Ukraine while the media had been seriously impeded and access by United Nations officials prevented.  The actions of the Russian Federation over the last three weeks were in flagrant violation of international law and the commitments undertaken in the Budapest Memorandum, she said, adding that the crisis urgently needed to be defused.  The death of an Ukrainian officer yesterday was a great concern, and reports today showed that attacks had been launched on Ukrainian military bases.  Voicing regret that Mr. Ivan Šimonović had not been able to reach Crimea, she encouraged human rights monitors to establish the facts and put an end to unfounded allegations geared towards exacerbating tensions.

The representative of the Russian Federation, taking the floor a second time, said that the statement delivered by his counterpart from the United States had started with Tolstoy and Chekhov, and ended with “tabloid journalism”.  That was insulting, and the United States delegation should remember that if it expected the Russian Federation’s support on issues before the Security Council, he said.

The representative of Ukraine, taking the floor a second time, discussed the difference between the freedom of expression and access to information in Ukraine and the Russian Federation.  In the former, he said, all Security Council meetings were broadcast without editing, and included remarks that were critical of the country.  “We are ready to listen to this.”  By contrast, only Russian statements were heard in the Russian Federation.  He said he had met women from Odessa and Donetsk yesterday, and they had asked about the lies in the Russian statements.

He went on to describe comments by his Russian counterpart about the Ukrainian military’s use of weapons as “blasphemy”, explaining that the Russian Federation had deployed its forces throughout his country three weeks ago.  Reiterating his Government’s readiness for dialogue, he said Ukraine had begun with a request to the Russian Federation, inviting all guarantors of the Budapest Memorandum to a meeting, in accordance with that instrument.  The Russian Federation had refused, and he had been disappointed with its proposals, which in reality were demands as to how Ukraine should build its future.  “We don't like ultimatums,” he said, describing them as open interference in domestic affairs.

The representative of the Russian Federation took issue with his counterpart’s “cynicism” in alleging an attack on a Ukrainian base.  “There has been no attack on a Ukrainian base,” he emphasized blaming that event on local self-defence forces.  A sniper on a nearby building had killed one person on both sides, after which Kyiv had underlined the need to target Russian soldiers.  That was cynicism, he said, adding that the well-trained snipers in Kyiv had come from Maidan Commandant.  The Russian Federation had provided a vision for extricating the parties from the crisis in a manner that would ensure that everyone felt secure, he said.  All regions of Ukraine must feel that their rights were protected within the framework of the Ukrainian State.  That was not an ultimatum, he stressed, adding that his Government was ready to continue dialogue.

The representative of France said he wished to hear the proposals that the Russian Federation’s representative said were being drafted.  “We didn’t say no to the Russian proposal,” but only to any effort to annex Crimea.

The representative of the Russian Federation said he believed that his French counterpart did not like something in his country’s proposal, and if that was the case, he should say so.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.