Peace Plan, Unilateral Ceasefire Offer Hope for Resolving Conflict in Ukraine, Political Affairs Official Tells Security Council

24 June 2014
SC/11448

Peace Plan, Unilateral Ceasefire Offer Hope for Resolving Conflict in Ukraine, Political Affairs Official Tells Security Council

24 June 2014
Security Council
SC/11448
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

7205th Meeting (AM)

Peace Plan, Unilateral Ceasefire Offer Hope for Resolving Conflict in Ukraine,

Political Affairs Official Tells Security Council

 

Concerned Delegations Disagree over Nature of Country’s Humanitarian Crisis

Although encouraging signs in Ukraine pointed to a de-escalation of the conflict, including a 15-point peace plan proposed by its newly elected President and a week-long unilateral ceasefire, quick action was needed to make the most of those gains, the Security Council heard today.

“Efforts must be made to urgently capitalize on the progress which has been made in the political and diplomatic areas,” said Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, as he briefed the Council on the situation in Ukraine.  That country’s newly elected president, Petro Poroshenko had, just a few days ago, presented the Secretary-General with a multifaceted peace plan envisaging de-escalation measures. 

The proposed plan included provisions for amnesty for those who had not participated in serious crimes, disarmament, decentralization of power, early local and parliamentary elections, and a job-creation programme, Mr. Zerihoun said.  President Poroshenko had also announced the start of a one-week unilateral ceasefire aimed at giving armed militia an opportunity to disarm.  The peace plan had received support from key parties in the country, the region and beyond.  However, the international community must help Ukraine surmount the current crisis and find a peaceful and lasting resolution to the challenges facing it.

Addressing the Council via video conference, Ivan Šimonović, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said that, along with some positive progress including legislative amendments aimed at combating discrimination and corruption, human rights issues remained a concern, particularly in eastern Ukraine.  The United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission’s recent report estimated that 423 people had been killed, and the flow of weapons and recruitment for armed groups had increased.  Abductions and detentions by armed groups also remained worrying, as lawlessness spread.

Describing the situation in Crimea as “a legal limbo”, Mr. Šimonovićsaid that, although Ukrainian laws were supposed to have remained in force, legal institutions in the region were already being required to comply with Russian Federation legislation.  Nonetheless, the United Nations human rights teams had been defusing tensions through impartial reporting, and the proposed peace plan and unilateral ceasefire were also bearing fruit.  Just yesterday, armed groups had announced that they would observe a ceasefire until Friday, creating a window of opportunity for human rights and humanitarian confidence-building measures.

The Russian Federation’s representative pointed out that the current crisis in Ukraine was the result of the violent and unconstitutional coup d'etat in February.  The ceasefire was constantly being violated and shelling had reached his country, wounding people and destroying buildings.  There was also an unabated flow of refugees to Russia, and the humanitarian corridors promised by President Poroshenko had yet to be established.  More than 220 welcome centres had been set up along the border, including tent cities that were home to 19,000 people.

The representative of Ukraine begged to differ, stating that “there is no humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.”  The only humanitarian problems were those in some parts of Donetsk and Lugansk, which were caused by the activities of pro-Russian illegal armed groups.  The Government of Ukraine was doing its utmost to control the situation, restore law and order, and provide help for all its citizens.  Ukraine was strictly committed to a peacebuilding path, he said, calling upon all international partners to support its efforts to do so.  In that regard, the Russian Federation should “truly and efficiently” support the Ukrainian President’s peace plan.

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

The meeting started at 10:10 a.m. and ended at 12:24 p.m.

Background

Meeting this morning, the Security Council had before it a letter dated 28 February 2014 (document S/2014/136) from the Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the President of the Council.  Members were expected to hear briefings on the situation in Ukraine.

Briefings

TAYÉ-BROOK ZERIHOUN, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said there were encouraging signs pointing to a de-escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, with emerging political and diplomatic steps indicating a trend towards a the resolution of the crisis.  On 20 June, Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev of Ukraine had presented the Secretary-General with an official copy of President Petro Poroshenko’s multifaceted peace plan envisaging de-escalation measures.  They included amnesty for those who had not participated in serious crimes, disarmament, decentralization of power, early local and parliamentary elections, and a job-creation programme.  President Poroshenko had also announced the start of a one-week unilateral ceasefire aimed at giving armed militia an opportunity to disarm.  Additionally, the President had travelled to the Donbass region, where he had met with civil society, business and political leaders.

He said that the Secretary-General had spoken to President Poroshenko by telephone, expressing his encouragement over the proposed peace plan and ceasefire, while at the same time expressing concern that it may be difficult to halt the violence without the engagement of armed groups.  The Secretary-General had stressed that peace talks were indispensable in efforts to help defuse tensions, and that he expected all sides to live up to the ceasefire agreement.  In a welcome development today, President Vladimir Putin had asked the Russian parliament to revoke its authorization to send troops into Ukraine, he said, adding that, while those were important steps, the Secretary-General remained deeply concerned that realities on the ground remained “grave and deeply worrying”.

Weapons and fighters had crossed Ukraine’s border, making the situation more complex and violent, he continued.  Various rebel groups that had sprung up were reportedly not fighting for any particular political cause, and even after the ceasefire announcement, some of them had publicly rejected the offer and continued their assault on Ukrainian forces.  There were other reports indicating that the latter continued their security operation, he said, recalling that, on 14 June, a Ukrainian military transport plane had been shot down while approaching the Lugansk airport.  All 49 people on board had been killed, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors abducted almost a month ago were still held captive.

“Efforts must be made to urgently capitalize on the progress which has been made in the political and diplomatic areas,” he emphasized, noting that the Secretary-General had stressed that the international community could not afford to fail Ukraine and its people.  President Poroshenko’s proposed peace plan had received support from key parties in the country, the region and beyond.  However, there was still more hard work to be done.  The international community must help Ukraine surmount the current crisis and find a peaceful and lasting resolution to the challenges facing it.

IVAN ŠIMONOVIĆ, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, addressed the Council via video conference, saying that the report of the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, covering the period from 7 May to 7 June, outlined some positive developments.  In particular, there had been legislative amendments aimed at combating discrimination and corruption, and others relating to amnesty, judicial matters, language rights, ethnic policy, torture and ill treatment, as well as media issues and reform of law enforcement agencies.  That legislation would go a long way to ensuring that proper legal safeguards were in place to address some of the root causes of the crisis.  The Government had also taken steps to implement the Geneva Statement of 17 April, organizing roundtables on national unity which had contributed to parliament’s 20 May adoption of a resolution titled “Memorandum of Concord and Peace”.  That text foresaw the adoption of a constitutional reform package that included the decentralization of power, special status for the Russian language, as well as judicial and police reform, among other steps.

He went on to say that the report noted that there had been relatively few human rights violations across the country during the presidential election of 25 May.  However, serious human rights violations had occurred in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where attacks on election commissioners had taken place throughout the pre-electoral period and during the election itself.  That had deprived a large number of residents of their right to vote.  Concerning accountability, he said progress had been slow in respect of the Maidan violence in Kyiv, as well as the 2 May election in Odessa.  Some arrests of Berkut forces had taken place, but there had been no prosecutions in the cases of the 113 people killed during the Maidan events between November 2013 and February 2014.  As for the tragic events of 2 May in Odessa, six investigations had been launched, and the report pointed to grave inaction.  There was also a worrying lack of transparency, he said, stressing the vital importance of carrying out the investigations thoroughly, promptly and impartially.

The most serious human rights challenges were occurring in eastern Ukraine, he said, noting that an estimated 423 people had been killed.  There had also been an increase in arms and in recruitment for armed groups.  The self-proclaimed “ Donetsk People’s Republic” had recognized the presence within its ranks of Russian Federation citizens, including from Chechnya and other North Caucasus republics of that country.  Abductions and detentions by armed groups also remained worrying as lawlessness spread, he said, adding that human rights abuses had increased alongside common criminality.  Some 222 cases of abductions and detentions had been documented since 13 April, and of those, four people had been killed, 81 remained in detention and 137 had been released.  There had been an increase in enforced disappearances and excessive use of force, leading to casualties among the general population.  He said that his Office was in the process of verifying allegations that security forces could have taken measures to prevent those casualties, stressing the urgent need for the Government to ensure that its armed forces refrained from using excessive force and that its ongoing security operations were in line with international human rights standards at all times.

In May, studies had been suspended in several eastern towns, affecting some 21,700 pupils, he said.  Hospitals remained overcrowded and under-staffed, with medical supplies low, and the Ministry of Health reporting that up to 10 hospitals had been closed.  Food prices had skyrocketed, and businesses were having difficulty functioning.  There had also been armed attacks against mining companies constituting the main share of the eastern region’s economy.  About half the population of the Donetsk region had problems with water access, and some 90 per cent of the city now had no electricity.  Phones did not work most of the time and public transport also did not function.  The situation of journalists was alarming, he said, recalling the Council’s recent condemnation of the killing of two Russian journalists by mortar fire.  While the perpetrators had yet to be identified, it was highly important to ensure accountability.

The report described the situation in Crimea as “a legal limbo”, he said.  Although Ukrainian laws were supposed to remain in force, legal institutions in the region were already being required to comply with the legislation of the Russian Federation.  The result was that some 15,000 judicial cases remained in legal limbo.  Additionally, the Crimean Tatar population faced limitations on their freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association and religion.  The United Nations human rights teams had been defusing tensions through its impartial reporting on the human rights situation.  It had been learned just yesterday that the proposed peace plan and unilateral ceasefire announced recently by President Poroshenko was bearing fruit, he said.  Armed groups would observe a ceasefire until Friday, which would create a window of opportunity for human rights and humanitarian confidence-building measures, he said.

Statements

SAMANTHA POWER ( United States) said that, over the last several months, the Council had repeatedly met to take up the Russian Federation’s efforts to destabilize its neighbour.  Russian rhetoric regarding the situation on the ground was "inaccurate, inflammatory and self-justified", she said, underscoring that its baseless claims must be taken into consideration alongside the known facts, including the current situation of the Tartar population in Crimea.  The Russian Federation must bring an end to unlawful activities in Crimea, including the seizure of Government buildings, unprovoked attacks, arbitrary arrests, torture, beatings, death threats and other abuses carried out by pro-Russian separatists.  Furthermore, it must also stop the flow of weapons into the region, including surface to air missiles, such as the one used to shoot down a Ukrainian military plane, killing all 49 people on board.

The Russian Federation had attempted to characterize the events in eastern Ukraine as a humanitarian crisis, casting itself as "vindicators of the vulnerable", she went on to say.  However, its alleged aid operation featured soldiers, not doctors.  Referring to its claim that 100,000 people had fled Ukraine to the Russian Federation, she pointed out that the real number was closer to 4,600 people.  The Ukrainian Government and people had shown a sustained willingness to work towards a peaceful solution, with President Poroshenkopersistently seeking to achieve peace through dialogue and reconciliation, even in the face of provocation.  He had taken efforts to decentralize power, combat corruption and protect the rights of minorities, while putting on the table a just peace plan.  President Putin's statements were welcome, but it was hard to take them seriously when accompanied by actions clearly aimed at stoking tension, noting his and separatist groups’ refusal to support unbiased monitoring, which would be key to objectively evaluating the real facts on the ground.  She urged the Russian Federation to be part of a political solution, but said that if it refused to do so, it must face additional costs.

PETER WILSON ( United Kingdom) expressed strong support for the President's plan, as it was built on earlier steps by the Ukrainian Government.  The initiative had received at least a measure of support from the Russian Federation, which, describing the ceasefire as an important step, had pledged the country's support.  President Putin had asked Parliament to revoke the right to military intervention, but that must be backed up through the adoption of effective measures to prevent flows of arms and fighters, including laying down of arms.  Troops must be withdrawn from the Ukrainian border and the separatists' illegal activities must cease.  If not, the European countries would to take further measures against the Russian Federation.

Unfortunately, he went on, Russian sources had criticized the Monitoring Mission’s report, which had documented 222 cases of abductions and detentions by illegal armed groups, as well as torture, including amputations.  It was no surprise, then, that fear and instability persisted, including through Russian media's use of "doctored" photos and "repurposed" film footage which indicated that Ukraine was using "UN-marked" helicopters.  He urged the Council’s strong and united support to the new peace plan, and the Ukrainian Government to press ahead with its implementation.  The Russian Government should allow dialogue and democratic engagement to take root.

ALEXIS LAMEK ( France) said the recent elections in Ukraine had been carried out according to international norms and standards in most of the territory, affirming Mr. Poroshenko as the new legitimate President of the country.  He voiced hope the election process and a new draft law providing for decentralization measures and guarantees for the Russian language would result in political normalization.  All those elements showed that Ukraine was undertaking a crucial political transition.  Despite the positive developments, the east of the country had experienced a general worsening of the security, humanitarian and human rights situations due to the activities of armed groups.  Eight observers from OSCE had been held since the end of May, which was unacceptable.  Violence was being fuelled from the outside, he said, calling for the presence of foreign elements to end.  It was up to the Ukrainian Government, while respecting international norms, to combat armed groups and ensure control of its own borders.  Separatist groups’ activities were impacting the population's access to basic services.  In addition, the annexation of Crimea had left the region in a "legal limbo", preventing the enjoyment of basic human rights.  The entire international community and all the members of the Council must support efforts being made by the Ukrainian authorities to bring peace to the region.

KAYODE LARO ( Nigeria) urged support for President Poroshenko's plan and welcomed President Putin's support of the ceasefire, which may have encouraged Russian separatists’ adherence to the truce.  That had raised hopes for an end to the fighting that had left hundreds dead and wounded, and many more displaced.  The ceasefire appeared to be holding; there had been no fighting in eastern Ukraine since yesterday.  The armed groups’ promise to release the OSCE observers held hostage since May was also encouraging.  According to new reports, negotiations held yesterday had reiterated that release of those observers would lead to mutual understanding on both sides.  Dialogue was the way forward.

SYLVIE LUCAS ( Luxembourg) welcomed the newly elected Ukrainian President’s 15-point peace plan and unilateral ceasefire.  That had already had a positive effect, as yesterday, the leader of the separatists in the Donetsk region had committed to observe the ceasefire until Friday.  For a lasting de-escalation, the Russian Federation should play a key role and use all its influence to encourage the separatists to lay down their arms and release the OSCE monitors.  Effective measures also must be taken to stop the weapons flows, as only a political situation would improve the lives of Ukrainians in areas under separatist control.  However, the growing number of kidnappings, torture and executions by the separatists, not only of politicians, but independent journalists and activists, was of concern, and the situation in Crimea disturbing.

WANG MIN (China), noting the continued unrest and violence in some areas of the Ukraine, the increased number of internally displaced people and a shortage of water, electricity and food, said he hoped the United Nations and international human rights and humanitarian agencies would adhere to the principles of objectivity and neutrality in their work.  A political solution was the only way to resolve the crisis, which had historical factors that needed to be taken into account when considering a holistic solution.   That solution must respect the legitimate rights and interests of all people in Ukraine and strike a balance among the interests of all sides.

OH JOON ( Republic of Korea) noted with deep concern that the human rights situation in the eastern part of the country continued to deteriorate due to the activities of armed groups.  He was disheartened to learn that lawlessness and violence were now affecting the broader populations of the region.  The continued clashes between armed groups and Ukrainian forces were further exacerbating the situation, including the loss of life, displacement and destruction of vital infrastructure.  He welcomed the efforts of the Ukrainian Government to find a peaceful solution to the situation, as illustrated in President Poroshenko's peace plan.  It was important to ensure its full implementation to create a sustainable solution to the crisis.

MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL ( Argentina) expressed concern at the worsening situation, particularly owing to the actions of the armed groups, which were growing in number.  Their unilateral steps and human rights violations must be dealt with urgently.  Despite the greater awareness of the need for open dialogue and a political solution, it was difficult to be optimistic.  Measures must be taken to protect human rights throughout Ukraine, regardless of the language spoken in the various regions.  Particularly worthy of discussion in the 15-point peace plan were points 14 and 15.  The extreme humanitarian crisis and the consequential suffering for significant numbers of people must be alleviated, she said, voicing particular concern over the high costs of food, aggravated by unscrupulous players in the market.

MAHAMAT ZENE CHERIF ( Chad) appealed for restraint by all parties in the conflict and urged countries with influence to prioritize the need for dialogue and reconciliation. Furthermore, access must be facilitated for humanitarian actors.  The crisis posed an ongoing threat to freedom of expression, he said, pointing out that many journalists had been killed, kidnapped, tortured and prosecuted.  Social networks were fuelling tensions and spreading hatred and intolerance, thereby widening the gaps between communities.  Despite that grim picture, he said he was pleased with the Government's efforts to promote dialogue and stabilization, affirming his country’s support for the peace plan.

CRISTIÁN BARROS MELET ( Chile) said the latest report raised continued concern about the human rights situation, mainly in Donetsk and Luhansk.  The internally displaced, numbering more than 12,700 people, including women and children, was also of great concern.  Along with the peace plan and unilateral ceasefire, which the separatists now said they would abide, the proposed constitutional reforms and parliament’s 20 May national unity plan aimed at determining the future of the country in a transparent manner were very important.  Calls for direct political dialogue and moderations were embedded in the 17 April agreement.  He meanwhile urged full respect for the rule of law, sovereignty and rights of all minors, stressing that the Ukrainian Government must maintain public order throughout the territory and safeguard the people there.  It was also vital for the authorities to bring to justice, as soon as possible, the perpetrators of the killing of 48 persons in Odessa on 2 May.

EUGENÈ-RICHARD GASANA ( Rwanda) expressed support for the 15-point plan, as well as the ceasefire, voicing hope that the blueprint would serve as a stepping stone towards a long-term and peaceful conclusion of the crisis, and end the suffering for all involved.  He commended President Putin’s decision today to request a federal council to revoke his right to use force in eastern Ukraine, as well as his call on all parties to ease the hostilities and sit down at the negotiating table.  However, the escalation of criminal activities and human rights violations was alarming, and he urged the Monitoring Mission to continue efforts to ensure that human rights were also upheld for the detainees.  The increasing number of internally displaced persons was also worrying, as were reports of limited access for humanitarian actors.  The Ukrainian Government must establish their safe passage, to ease the already dire economic situation and blunted access to medical services.  The Council must rally behind the Ukrainian people and show them it was committed to the unity, sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine.  Armed groups must disarm and respect the ceasefire.

EIHAB OMAISH ( Jordan) expressed deep concern at the worsening situation in eastern Ukraine, as well as by the increased number of kidnappings, forced detentions, torture and crime in that region.  Greater stability in eastern Ukraine would lead to the return of internally displaced people and mitigate negative social and economic impacts in Ukraine.  The progress achieved in the implementation of the two previous reports’ recommendations was welcomed, as was the democratic election of a new President for Ukraine.  Those all represented a light of hope for the Ukrainian people, he said, paying tribute to the steps that President Poroshenko was taking to promote stability in his country.

VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation), pointing out that some Council members had not objectively evaluated the situation in Ukraine, categorically refuted threats that had been made against the Russian Federation during the meeting.  Without a ceasefire, there would be no agreement on a solution.  On the basis of the ceasefire, dialogue must arise to find compromises that respected all parties.  Any solution must ensure that people living in the south and east of Ukraine felt they were an integral part of the country.  He underscored that he valued the negotiations taking place in Donetsk and hoped the ceasefire would be respected by all parties. 

However, he went on to say, the peace plan was not viable or realistic, calling for a political settlement to the situation based on the Geneva statement and OSCE road map.  Many of the Russian Federation's initiatives had been met with obstructionism from western colleagues.  The Ukrainian crisis had directly followed the violent and unconstitutional coup d'etat in February.  The ceasefire was constantly being violated, including shelling that was reaching his country, wounding people and destroying buildings.  There was an unabated flow of refugees to the Russian Federation and the humanitarian corridors promised by President Poroshenko had yet to be established.  The majority of refugees were living with friends and family in the Russian Federation, although currently, there were more than 220 welcome centres that had been set up along the border, including tent cities that were home to 19,000 people.

YURIY SERGEYEV ( Ukraine) said the confirmed number of people forced to leave the Crimean peninsula due to the unbearable conditions created by the “new occupying authorities” exceeded 12,000.  Many had been forced to give up their Ukrainian citizenship and there were now only two Ukrainian schools in the region, one of which had already been forced to “switch to Russian” and its director forced to resign.  Today, unknown armed men had occupied a medrese — Koranic school — near Simferopol.  “There is no humanitarian crisis in Ukraine,” he declared, emphasizing that the only humanitarian problems were those in some parts of Donetsk and Lugansk, which were caused by the activities of pro-Russian illegal armed groups.  The Government of Ukraine was doing its utmost to control the situation, restore law and order, and provide help for all its citizens, he said.

Furthermore, he continued, for the first time in Ukraine’s history, instead of seeking to expand his power, the newly elected President was doing the opposite.  Under the new Constitution, council elections would be held, and the heads and executive committees of local authorities would govern the regions and manage their own budgets.  The decentralization would provide an expansion of rights on issues of “historical memory”, cultural traditions and language policy.  Ukraine was strictly committed to a peacebuilding path, he said, calling upon all international partners to support its efforts to do so.  In that regard, the Russian Federation should “truly and efficiently” support the Ukrainian President’s peace plan, ensure sufficient border protection from terrorists in the east, and make them immediately cease fire and lay down their weapons.  “Any further encouragement for terrorists will have critical consequences,” he asserted.

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