The Situation in Ukraine
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Statement by H.E. Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations
Thank you Madam President. And thank you to Assistant Secretary-General Simonovic for the OHCHR report and his briefing.
It is necessary that the Council give such careful focus on the human rights situation in Ukraine. We have heard repeated assertions about threats against particular groups but we have seen little evidence to substantiate them. These claims have, however, been used as a justification for continuing interference in Ukraine’s affairs, including the threat and the use of force – contrary to the UN Charter.
As a Council, we need to be clear-eyed – and obviously, responsible – about the situation on the ground and the true nature of the challenges facing the Ukrainian people. The report of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission is what the Council needs to see at this critical point in such an unstable and dangerous environment. It seems to us to provide a balanced and neutral depiction of the human rights situation in Ukraine and a clear picture of events leading to the Maidan protests, the situation prior to the referendum held on 16 March in Crimea and the current situation in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine.
Russia has made various assertions to this Council about the motivation of the Maidan protesters. The report makes clear that human rights violations were among the root causes of the demonstrations that took place throughout Ukraine and, in particular, in Kiev. The protests were not driven by a so-called fascist agenda but were a push for more representative and effective government. The heavy-handed response from security forces was a catalyst for their escalation.
These actions by security forces came against a backdrop of a longstanding culture of impunity for human rights violations, including by police. And we welcome reports that the new Ukrainian authorities have committed to investigating these violations and holding perpetrators to account.
The report also sheds light on the events in Crimea. Russia has consistently argued that Russian-speaking minorities were threatened with repression. It has used this reasoning to justify its decision to take control of and annex Crimea. The report makes clear that there was no evidence of harrassment or attacks on ethnic Russians in Crimea ahead of the referendum. Misinformed reports, however, of harassment of ethnic Russians by Ukrainian extremists served to create a climate of fear.
The report notes that, since the referendum of 16 March, a number of measures have been taken in Crimea which are of deep concern from a human rights perspective. These include the introduction of Russian citizenship, making it difficult for those who choose to maintain their Ukrainian citizenship to stay in Crimea and raising concerns about legal residency and the right to work. As we heard at the 31 March Arria Formula meeting, the situation for Tatars is particularly concerning. The report confirms this, noting that the number of displaced Crimean Tatars is estimated to have reached 3,000.
The actions of para-military groups in Crimea remain outside the law and threatening and the report calls for their disbandment. It also emphasises that independent and impartial reporting on human rights in Crimea would deter violations, stimulate accountability and prevent the spreading of rumours and political manipulation.
The report looks carefully at the situation for Russian minorities across Ukraine and finds nothing to support the claims by Russia about threats to them. Russia’s claims on this point simply do not hold. The report clearly notes that although there were some attacks against the ethnic Russian community, in particular those affiliated to the previous Yanukovych government, these were “neither systematic nor widespread”. As ASG Simonovic has just told us – and I quote: “These were isolated incidents which were then exaggerated, fuelling fear and insecurity amongst the ethnic Russian community.”
The report does make good proposals – which we should support – on the protection of minorities, including the recommendation that minority groups are consulted in developing laws on language. And recommendations to ensure that the treatment of those associated with the previous government is in accordance with the rule of law and not motivated by revenge.
We welcome the new Government of Ukraine’s willingness to ensure a break with past injustices and to create a better future for the people of Ukraine. Elections are essential in this regard and it is crucial that the people of Ukraine are able to decide on the future direction of their own country. We therefore call on all parties in Ukraine and the international community to support a free and fair ballot on 25 May. Ukraine must be allowed to prepare for these elections without outside interference – or any coercion – in its domestic affairs.
To conclude, Madam President
The international community has repeatedly urged Russia to actively reduce tensions, stop its destabilisation in eastern Ukrain, and withdraw its forces from the provocative posture they have assumed on Ukraine’s border. Ukraine’s own posture has been restrained and responsible. The talks scheduled to take place tomorrow in Geneva between Ukraine, Russia, the US and the EU, are a crucial opportunity for genuine dialogue.
The latest combustible events in eastern Ukraine – where as Ambassador Churkin has just said – and I quote, “the first blood has been shed” – make it essential that Russia engage seriously in this dialogue.