Delegates Decline to Take Action on South Africa’s Draft, While Deploring Lack of ‘Unanimous Consensus’ in Vote
Continuing its emergency special session today, the General Assembly adopted a resolution recognizing that the Russian Federation’s military offensive inside Ukraine — and its humanitarian consequences — are on a scale that the international community has not seen in Europe in many decades.
The Assembly adopted draft resolution “L.2” by a recorded vote of 140 in favour to 5 against (Eritrea, Russian Federation, Syria, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Belarus), with 38 abstentions — a clear signal of the international community’s demand that Moscow immediately halt its hostilities against Ukraine so that the corollary humanitarian impact can be addressed.
By the text, the Assembly demanded full protection for civilians, including humanitarian personnel, journalists and persons in vulnerable situations, women and children among them. It further demanded full respect for — and protection of — all medical personnel and humanitarian personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties, their equipment and means of transportation, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities.
Moreover, the Assembly demanded full respect for and protection of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population and infrastructure critical to the delivery of essential services in armed conflict. It also demanded that all parties protect civilians fleeing armed conflict and violence, including foreign nationals, notably students, without discrimination. The Assembly further demanded voluntary, safe and unhindered passage, as well as safe, unhindered humanitarian access for humanitarian personnel, their means of transportation, supplies and equipment, to those in need within Ukraine and neighbouring countries.
By other terms, the Assembly welcomed and urged continued efforts by the Secretary-General, Member States, the United Nations system and the international community to deliver humanitarian assistance as well as protection for refugees. It also urged the immediate peaceful resolution of the conflict between the Russian Federation and Ukraine through political dialogue, negotiations, mediation and other peaceful means, in accordance with international law.
The Assembly declined to put a competing text to the vote. Tabled by South Africa’s delegation, draft resolution “L.3” contained no mention of the Russian Federation, instead referring to the humanitarian situation as “emanating out of” the conflict.
The two texts continued to generate sharp debate, as they did during the session on Wednesday (see Press Release GA/12410). South Africa’s representative said the adoption of a resolution on the humanitarian crisis should be the priority, while expressing her suspicion that political divisions will ensure that geopolitical objectives are paramount.
Delegates taking the floor both before and after the vote decried the humanitarian disaster resulting from the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine.
Canada’s delegate declared: “This is not a natural disaster,” emphasizing “a humanitarian crisis of this type is not a spontaneous event. It is the direct result of a deliberate decision by one country, the Russian Federation, to invade another, Ukraine.” He went on to note that the aggressor nation has directed its military forces against cities, leaving residents no choice but to flee.
Austria’s representative took issue with calls by some delegations for an even-handed and unbiased approach using “neutral” language. Pointing out that his country knows about neutrality, he emphasized that it does not mean violations of international law should be viewed through such a lens. How can such balance possibly be found in the midst of civilians suffering from “acts that constitute war crimes”, he asked.
Several delegates highlighted emerging problems as the humanitarian crisis continues to spiral.
Egypt’s representative, shining a spotlight on the incipient food insecurity resulting from the conflict, said the prices of food and energy have risen, and asked for that to be addressed in order to ensure that food-importing nations can continue to do so.
Côte d’Ivoire’s representative, meanwhile, underscored the need for the protection of civilians trying to escape the conflict, advocating for the fair and equal treatment of all, including those of African descent.
Several delegates expressed concern that the General Assembly could not reach a unanimous consensus on the resolution.
Brazil’s representative expressing regret that the 193-member Assembly could not speak with one voice. He also lamented that the adopted resolution did not take into account the humanitarian impact of economic sanctions.
China’s representative expressed his preference for the draft that was not adopted, given its focus on humanitarian issues, noting that the adopted text exceeded its purview. He emphasized the need to give precedence to urging all parties to exercise maximum restraint and to reach a ceasefire agreement as soon as possible.
The Russian Federation’s representative said his delegation voted against the “pseudo-humanitarian resolution” tabled by Western States and Ukraine. He said the adopted resolution will create no legal obligations, emphasizing that political considerations won the day.
Also speaking were representatives of San Marino, Cambodia, Pakistan, Myanmar, Ukraine, India, Tunisia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Rwanda, Malaysia, Algeria, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Indonesia, Eritrea, Thailand, Jordan, Iran, Lebanon, Lesotho, France (for the European Union), Denmark (for the Nordic-Baltic States) and Israel.
The Permanent Observer for the Holy See also delivered a statement, as did the Permanent Observer for the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
DAMIANO BELEFFI (San Marino), associating himself with the European Union, condemned the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine and expressed deep concern over the subsequent humanitarian crisis. Noting that his country co-sponsored the draft resolution, he said that the conflict has already resulted in more than 2,000 civilian casualties, including women and children. According to Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs data, the number of internally displaced persons combined with those who have fled to other countries amounts to more than 10 million people, nearly a quarter of the population of Ukraine. He also expressed concern over incidents that occurred near nuclear power facilities, which could result in catastrophic consequences for the people and the environment. With the ongoing hostilities, many people remain trapped in areas of escalating conflict and, with essential services disrupted, they are unable to meet even their most basic needs, he noted, stressing the importance of protecting humanitarian corridors for refugees and of protecting humanitarian actors and the most vulnerable people. His country has welcomed almost 300 refugees from Ukraine and is working to facilitate the integration and inclusion of these refugees in the territory. The Government has also created a subsidy for families hosting Ukrainian refugees and activated a fundraising programme to assist refugees.
SOVANN KE (Cambodia) expressed his grave concern about the intensifying gravity of the situation in Ukraine as well as the worsening humanitarian conditions resulting from the military hostilities there. “During this dire situation, all parties must ensure unhindered access of humanitarian assistance to Ukrainian people, especially to those in need,” he said, calling on the parties to respect international law. He recalled that, on 3 March, the Foreign Ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) called for a ceasefire in Ukraine and the continuation of political dialogue. As a friend to both countries, Cambodia encourages the Russian Federation and Ukraine to resolve the conflict through diplomacy, dialogue and other peaceful means, in order to achieve long-lasting peace between the two countries.
KACOU HOUADJA LÉON ADOM (Côte d’Ivoire) emphasized that the values to which the international community has freely subscribed must be respected. Expressing concern over the escalation of violence that has occasioned massive destruction and a terrible number of causalities, he condemned violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, calling for the security and safety of civilians as well as respect for the principles of distinction and proportionality. Civilians must be protected as they flee the violence, he said, also stressing the need to ensure access to humanitarian assistance and for fair treatment of all impacted by the crisis, including Africans and people of African descent.
ZHANG JUN (China) emphasized his country’s consistent position that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries must be respected, that the principles of the Charter of the United Nations must be upheld, that the legitimate security concerns of all countries must be taken seriously, and that all efforts towards peaceful resolution of the crisis must be supported. The most pressing task is to urge the parties to exercise maximum restraint, avoid further civilian casualties and reach a ceasefire agreement as soon as possible, he said. Stressing the need to strictly observe the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality when addressing the humanitarian issue in Ukraine, he said the politicization of humanitarian issues must be prevented. Whereas China agrees in purpose with “L.2”, some of that draft’s contents go beyond the humanitarian scope, he noted. “L.3”, on the other hand, focuses on humanitarian issues and emphasizes the need for hostilities to cease. Under the current circumstances, the latter text is more conducive to promoting unity among Member States and opening the door to a political solution, he affirmed.
MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan) recalled the Islamabad Declaration issued at the forty-eighth session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Ukraine and stressed the need for humanitarian corridors to ensure the safe movement of civilians from active conflict zones as well as the provision of humanitarian supplies. Appreciating the endeavours for a resolution to provide adequate and expeditious humanitarian assistance to those gravely affected by the conflict, he expressed hope that States can adopt an agreed outcome, which can facilitate the promotion of humanitarian assistance to civilians, emphasizing that such an outcome should not be impeded by political considerations. An immediate cessation of hostilities is imperative to prevent human suffering and provide humanitarian assistance, he said.
KYAW MOE TUN (Myanmar) emphasized that all unnecessary human suffering must end completely and immediately, while welcoming continuing international efforts to deliver humanitarian assistance and protection for refugees, as well as the Secretary-General’s appointment of a United Nations Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine. He went on to point out that the people of Myanmar are experiencing similar man-made tragedies and humanitarian crisis resulting from atrocities perpetrated by the military, as well as its crimes against humanity and indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against its own people. According to the United Nations, almost 900,000 people remain displaced and 6.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance due to the military’s indiscriminate attacks across the country to date, he noted. At the same time, Myanmar’s people are encountering food insecurity, he noted. While calling for humanitarian access and assistance for people in and around Ukraine, he also urged the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to Myanmar’s people in a transparent and inclusive manner and help end the military’s atrocities and the military dictatorship.
ROBERT KEITH RAE (Canada) said “this is part of a horrific trend: in just 25 days, the UN has verified 52 attacks against health-care in Ukraine”, emphasizing that there is no justification for attacks and nothing “special” about Russia’s military operation. It is directed at whole cities, he said, pointing out that more than 10 million Ukrainians have been forced to flee their homes. The socioeconomic impacts of the Russian Federation’s war of aggression against Ukraine are devastating, he added, noting that they are felt outside the region, including in the least developed countries, and by vulnerable populations, around the world. Pointing to rising energy prices, disruption of supply chains and the impact on food security, he declared: “This is not a natural disaster. A humanitarian crisis of this type is not a spontaneous event. It is the direct result of a deliberate decision by one country, the Russian Federation, to invade another, Ukraine.”
ALEXANDER MARSCHIK (Austria), associating himself with the European Union, said there have been reports of attacks on civilian infrastructure using explosive weapons and cluster munitions. “We hear about acts that constitute war crimes that must be condemned in the strongest terms by all of us,” he emphasized. While humanitarian conditions seem outside the scope of the imaginable, they are too familiar to many in parts of the Middle East and Africa, he noted. However, the Security Council has been able to act in those regions, but not so in Ukraine, where it has failed to act as the guardian of peace under the Charter of the United Nations, he said. Noting the glaring omissions in the second draft resolution submitted, he said the country of concern was not consulted, while expressing puzzlement that colleagues called for more neutral language in draft resolution L.2. The text is about the suffering of people under armed attack and enduring war crimes, he pointed out, demanding: “How can that require balance?” Austria knows about neutrality, he affirmed, stressing that it does not mean neutrality of values or taking no position when faced with violations of international law.
PAUL BERESFORD-HILL, Permanent Observer for the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said that around 5,000 of the Order’s staff are currently in Ukraine and neighbouring countries, serving hot food, providing first aid and emotional support as well as securing short- and long-term accommodations for those in need. Spotlighting the heightened risk of sexual violence and human trafficking faced by refugees and displaced persons, he emphasized the need to provide adequate training to those giving advice and assistance to such individuals so that vulnerable women and children do not fall victim. The international community should help protect all refugees, internally displaced persons and those in need both inside and outside Ukraine, he said.
The representative of South Africa, speaking in explanation of position, said it is vital that the General Assembly adopt a resolution on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine as the immediate priority. Unfortunately, political divisions suggest that perhaps the humanitarian response is secondary to geopolitical objectives, she noted, emphasizing that, while the context should not be ignored, the world’s focus must not be diverted. The global community should work to end the war by calling for a cessation of hostilities. Noting that Africa has experienced its fair share of proxy wars and their destructive outcomes, she said “we empathize with the people of Ukraine caught up in a conflict not of their making”. Pretoria has explained to Kyiv the rationale for introducing its own draft resolution and will abstain from the vote on draft resolution L.2, she said, adding that her delegation has tabled draft resolution L.3, which it believes is more conducive to a humanitarian response.
The Assembly then adopted the draft resolution “Humanitarian consequences of the aggression against Ukraine” (document A/ES-11/L.2) by a recorded vote of 140 in favour to 5 against (Eritrea, Russian Federation, Syria, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Belarus), with 38 abstentions.
The representative of Ukraine, speaking after the vote on the draft “L.2”, described “L.3” as a “twin brother” of the defunct Russian text submitted in the Security Council that received just one vote. That draft was not a product of consultations with Ukraine, he emphasized, cautioning that if the General Assembly takes action thereon, it will mean further undermining its own authority, if not losing what remains of it. Doing so would be akin to offering a nameless, generic placebo to a dying child instead of administering the proper medication — bitter, but offering a real chance of survival, he said, asking whether those present would “leave a dying child with no chance whatsoever just because the pill is easier to swallow”. Voting on “L.3” will simply put a coat of fresh paint over the mouldy, rotten structure of the Assembly, he said, while stressing, however, that it would not be paint, but “the blood of Ukrainian women, children and defenders”. He then proposed, pursuant to Rule 91 of the Assembly’s rules of procedure, that the organ not take action on “L.3”.
A Secretariat official then explained that a vote in favour of that proposal would be a vote to take action on “L.3”, while a vote against would be a vote to not do so.
The representative of Australia said many in the chamber would benefit from a repeated explanation regarding the meaning of a vote in favour or against the current proposal.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the Secretariat official already explained the procedure, adding that no one can interrupt a vote once declared by the President of the General Assembly.
The Assembly then rejected the proposal to take action on “L.3” by a recorded vote of 50 in favour to 67 against, with 36 abstentions.
JOSÉ ALFONSO BLANCO CONDE (Dominican Republic), Vice-President of the General Assembly, then ruled that, since the proposal to take action on “L.3” was not adopted, the Assembly will not take action on that draft.
The representative of India, speaking in explanation of position, said his delegation abstained from the vote because what is needed is a cessation of hostilities and urgent humanitarian assistance. The draft did not fully reflect those challenges, he emphasized.
The representative of Tunisia said his delegation voted in favour of the draft due to the extreme importance of all parties responding to the imperatives of international humanitarian law. The right to life and to access humanitarian assistance must both be respected, he stressed.
The representative of Lao People’s Democratic Republic said his delegation abstained from the vote on “L.2” because it believes draft resolutions with humanitarian objectives should be adopted by consensus. They should contain well-balanced and non-politicized language that will help to ease tensions and create suitable conditions for all humanitarian operations on the ground, he added, emphasizing the urgent need for a political and diplomatic solution to the conflict.
The representative of Rwanda said his delegation voted in favour of “L.2”, emphasizing the need to inject substantive support in pressing for three main objectives: protection of civilians, humanitarian support, and dialogue. He warned against making civilians shields against gunfire, saying that amounts to a violation of humanitarian laws and a war crime.
The representative of Malaysia, noting that his delegation voted in favour of “L.2”, strongly urged all concerned to take immediate steps to de-escalate and return to dialogue and negotiations so as to prevent further loss of life and devastation. He called for unhindered humanitarian access within and around Ukraine and respect for and protection of civilian life and infrastructure, urging all parties to comply fully with their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.
The representative of the Russian Federation recalled that, on 24 March 1999, the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies began their military aggression against the Republic of Yugoslavia. They carried out more than 35,000 bombing runs and more than 2,000 Serbs died as a result — including women, children and older people — he said, adding that thousands of civilian objects and infrastructure were destroyed. That would later be “cynically called collateral damage”, he said, spotlighting that conflict as a tragic contribution to European history by “so-called defensive forces”. He went on to say there is no point in going into the details of why the Russian Federation voted against the “pseudo-humanitarian resolution” put forth by Western States and Ukraine, emphasizing that political considerations won over. The resolution’s ultra vires adoption is destructive, null and void, and creates no legal consequences, he stressed, voicing hope that Western States will remember “this lesson in the manipulation of humanitarian principles”.
The representative of Algeria, expressing deep concern over the deteriorating crisis in Ukraine and the humanitarian situation, called upon the Security Council to carry out its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, in accordance with the United Nations Charter.
The representative of Brazil said his delegation voted in favour of the resolution due to the urgent need to send a strong message on the humanitarian situation. Emphasizing that the General Assembly cannot be a bystander as the world witnesses the transformation of once-peaceful cities into war zones, he expressed regret at its inability to speak with one voice. He went on to stress that the text fails to address the pressing concern of the humanitarian consequences of indiscriminate economic sanctions that will affect all countries, particularly developing nations.
The representative of Egypt said his delegation voted in favour of “L.2” due to its belief in the principles of international humanitarian law and the need to protect civilians in armed conflict. Emphasizing that the parties must not politicize humanitarian action or resolutions, he also rejected economic sanctions outside the multilateral system due to their effects on civilians and the world economy, which are still recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The representative of Iraq, emphasizing that his country’s people “know full well” what it is like to be in dire need of humanitarian aid in times of crisis and war, recalled that the United Nations provided Iraq with the humanitarian support necessary to overcome the repercussions of numerous crises. He said that his delegation voted in favour of “L.2” from a sense of responsibility towards the Ukrainian people, adding that Iraq would also have voted in favour of “L.3”, if given the chance.
The representative of Sierra Leone pointed to his delegation’s explanation after the vote on resolution ES-11/2, on 2 March, saying it was rooted in Sierra Leone’s belief in the sanctity of the United Nations Charter and its emphasis on the need for consistency and good faith in the Charter’s application, while not absolving the actions or inactions of the United Nations in addressing peace and security questions in Africa. Similarly, Sierra Leone recognizes that humanitarian resolutions are meant to enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance, in accordance with the principles of humanity, neutrality and impartiality, he added. Sierra Leone accords appropriate consideration to the principle of respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of States, and the need for humanitarian assistance to be provided with the consent of the affected State, he added.
The representative of Indonesia said he voted in favour of the resolution due to the need for action to address the dire humanitarian situation in Ukraine. However, he expressed regret that the Assembly was unable to speak in a strong and united voice, adding that consensus has become a “luxury” in the General Assembly. It is regrettable that the world has to see how it is over such an important issue.
The representative of Eritrea said he voted against “L.2” and regrets that the humanitarian issue has been politicized, adding that the text could have been adopted by consensus had it focused only on humanitarian priorities. He went on to express appreciation for the South African delegation’s initiative, saying that he was prepared to support draft resolution “L.3”.
The representative of Thailand said his delegation voted in support of the resolution because of the overriding importance of protecting civilians, including humanitarian personnel and persons in vulnerable situations. He urged all parties to comply fully with international humanitarian law and international human rights law, to protect civilians and civilian objects and to ensure unhindered provision of humanitarian assistance, without discrimination or politicization. In that regard, he commended Ukraine’s neighbours and other States that have quickly mobilized humanitarian assistance to those in need, while noting that his country has provided food, medical and other essential supplies to the affected civilians through the Ukraine Red Cross Society.
The representative of Jordan said his delegation voted in favour of “L.2” due to its respect for international humanitarian law and for the Charter. However, he emphasized the need to look closely into alleged violations of international humanitarian law, pointing out that international liability is not predetermined, but rather a result of documented violations of the laws of armed conflict.
The representative of Iran said his delegation abstained, explaining that the text contains certain elements that exceed the scope of the humanitarian situation on the ground. It also lacks realistic mechanisms for dealing with the humanitarian aspects of the conflict, he added, urging all parties to cooperate in advancing the humanitarian response. Iran regrets that Member States were not given a chance to vote on the text “L.3”, he said, noting that his delegation would have voted in favour.
The representative of Lebanon said her delegation voted in favour of “L.2” but would rather have seen a consensus adoption. She went on to question whether it is more important to “score successes in voting” than to provide real help on the ground, and whether today’s resolution makes civilians in Ukraine safer and brings the country closer to peace. Emphasizing that the United Nations is failing in its duty to stop the scourge of war, failing Ukraine’s civilians and failing a world standing on the precipice of a food crisis, she called upon the international community to alleviate the worsening humanitarian plight of civilians and pursue international cooperation to resolve global problems.
The representative of Lesotho said his delegation’s vote in favour of “L.2” was motivated by its desire for humanitarian action, which was its focus, rather than the causes of the conflict or any other factors that may lead to further suffering for Ukraine’s people.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), speaking on behalf of the European Union, described the resolution as balanced and faithfully reflecting the situation on the ground. It calls upon the Russian Federation to end its aggression without delay, he said, adding that the text is the result of a broad consultation with Ukraine and Member States of all regions. Co-sponsored by 80 delegations, it was adopted by an overwhelming majority, he noted, emphasizing that the people of Ukraine and the world need the resolution.
MARTIN BILLE HERMANN (Denmark), speaking on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic countries, explained why his delegation has voted against action on South Africa’s draft resolution, saying the text mentions Ukraine, but not the Russian Federation. “Yet, Russia, and Russia alone, bears the responsibility for the humanitarian catastrophe we are discussing today,” he said, emphasizing that only the Russian Federation can end the humanitarian crisis and should bear the responsibility. It is particularly regrettable that the resolution was drafted without Ukraine’s engagement and was in competition with an earlier humanitarian text submitted by a cross-regional group of countries together with Ukraine, he added.
The representative of Israel said her country voted in favour of “L.2” due to the need to provide unhindered humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians in need. Noting the normative, historical and ethical obligations relating to such humanitarian efforts, she said Israel has provided more than 100 tons of humanitarian assistance to Ukraine in the form of medical supplies, emergency-water-supply kits and winter gear.
GABRIELE CACCIA, Permanent Observer for the Holy See, recalled that Pope Francis spoke yesterday about the conflict’s many victims and emphasized that there is no victory in war. The Holy See calls for an immediate ceasefire and for a real focus on negotiations towards the immediate peaceful resolution of the conflict, he said.