The Situation in Ukraine
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL
Statement by HE Mr Gary Quinlan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations
Thank you, Mr President, and thank you Assistant-Secretary-General Simonovic for your briefing.
This Council meeting follows the National Day of mourning in Australia yesterday when Australians all across the country remembered those who died when Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over separatist-held territory in eastern Ukraine.
That deplorable crime, unanimously condemned by this Council, is a reminder of the terrible consequences of the violence in eastern Ukraine and the deliberate actions of armed separatist groups.
It is a reminder to all those who stoke the flames of division that fuelling violence has widespread, devastating, and often unpredictable, consequences.
In the days immediately following the adoption of Resolution 2166, an International Mission for the Protection of the Investigation was established – led by the Netherlands, with Australian and Malaysian participation.
Despite intimidation from separatists – and frequent restrictions from them on access to the crash site – this unarmed mission accessed the site a number of times, locating and recovering human remains and personal effects, and recovering evidence. We worked swiftly and thoroughly through those areas of highest priority to ensure dignity, respect and justice can be found for MH17’s victims.
The Mission has now concluded the substantive part of its work at the site at this stage. On Wednesday the Netherlands announced the withdrawal of the Mission from the site. When search and security conditions improve, we will return to the site to ensure that we have recovered all identifiable remains.
The investigation into the cause of the crash will, of course, continue, led by the Dutch Safety Board with substantial input from ICAO and other international partners. As will the parallel investigation into possible criminal responsibility for the downing of MH17. This is again an international effort, coordinated by the Dutch.
The results of these investigations will be crucial elements towards ensuring accountability as demanded by Resolution 2166. And it is imperative that all states cooperate fully with these efforts.
We are concerned by what the fourth report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – and ASG Simonovic today – have reported on the human rights situation in Ukraine.
The report tells us two stories: in most of Ukraine, under Government control, the Government has taken steps towards constitutional and political reform, including protection of minority rights, and there has been some movement towards accountability. Judicial reform too has commenced, although that needs much work. These steps are as yet incomplete – but they are in the right direction.
Conversely, the OHCHR reporting paints a dire picture of the human rights situation in separatist-held parts of Ukraine:
- abductions, torture and extrajudicial killings by armed groups
- increasing numbers of civilians killed
- deliberate targeting by armed groups of crucial public utilities, such as water, electricity and sewerage
- growing numbers of internally displaced persons.
These illegal armed groups have seized Ukrainian territory through violent means and – I quote from the report – “inflicted on the populations a reign of intimidation and terror to maintain their position of control.”
These groups have no legitimacy; and their actions have had terrible consequences.
In separatist-controlled areas, as the report says, the rule of law has disappeared and been replaced by the rule of violence.
This is now the fourth occasion when we have received a UN report documenting these human rights abuses. The pattern has continued. In some places under separatist control it has worsened significantly.
Those responsible for these violations have acted with impunity; this cannot continue. They must be held accountable for their crimes.
No country can accept illegally-armed insurgents taking control of parts of its territory. In these circumstances of continued de-stabilisation and use of force by separatists, Ukrainian authorities have the right to protect their own citizens, restore public order, and re-assert control over their sovereign territory. They must, of course, do so in a manner proportionate to the circumstances. And all parties to the conflict must comply with international humanitarian law.
It is self-evident that the human rights and humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine will only improve with an end to the conflict.
This requires separatist groups to lay down their arms and cease using violence against the Ukrainian state.
It also requires Russia to stop its provocation and destabilisation of eastern Ukraine and to use its considerable influence over the separatists to de-escalate the situation. But Russia has not done so. Russia has not taken action to control its borders. Weapons and fighters continue to flow from Russia into eastern Ukraine, fuelling the conflict. And the build-up of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border, the Russian military exercises and war games in the area, and the rapid deployment of new and sophisticated military capabilities, only intensify the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine. Serious concerns about Russian military preparedness – what actually looks like combat readiness – are widespread among countries in the region and globally.
Our concerns have been aggravated by Russia’s attempts to construct a case for intervention into eastern Ukraine – purportedly for “humanitarian” reasons. This case is fraudulent and cynically self-serving.
The humanitarian problems in eastern Ukraine are a result of the instability and conflict deliberately manufactured by armed groups and supported by Russia. This has inevitably produced a worsening humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine – but largely limited to areas occupied by the separatists, and certainly not on the scale of what the global community understands to be of the magnitude of a “humanitarian crisis”. As we have stated before, Russia can most usefully contribute to alleviating the situation by ending its armed support for separatist groups and influencing those groups to end the conflict.
As we heard in the Council on Tuesday from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Ukrainian Government itself is making robust efforts to address humanitarian needs in eastern Ukraine. And UN agencies are responding appropriately to these needs, in line with their mandates.
To conclude, Mr President
The human rights situation, the downing of MH17, and the humanitarian plight of many are all the results of the systematic and manufactured destabilisation of eastern Ukraine. The consequences have been grave, for Ukraine and its people, and now also for the people of many other countries who lost their citizens in the shooting down of MH17.
This destabilisation must stop.