Expected Council Action
In October the Council is expected to maintain its focus on the situation in Ukraine. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović is expected to brief on the human rights situation in Ukraine and the findings of the fifth monthly report of the Human Rights Monitoring Mission there. The Council may hold other meetings on Ukraine depending on developments.
At press time, no outcome was expected.
Key Recent Developments
Ukraine continues to face significant political, security and humanitarian challenges in light of continued sporadic fighting between the Ukrainian government forces and separatists in the east. On 5 September, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a ceasefire agreement with representatives of pro-Russian separatists from Donetsk and Lugansk. The agreement was reached under the auspices of a trilateral contact group consisting of Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Among other things, the agreement calls for an immediate ceasefire, greater autonomy for Donetsk and Lugansk, release of prisoners, amnesty for separatists and inclusive national dialogue. Despite frequent violations of the ceasefire, at press time the agreement was still holding.
In further efforts to strengthen the initial ceasefire, the Ukrainian government and the separatists signed a memorandum on a peace plan at the trilateral contact group meeting in Minsk on 19 September. The memorandum mandates the creation of a buffer zone 30 kilometres from the frontlines, withdrawal of heavy artillery, a ban on military aircraft use and withdrawal of “foreign militarized formations, military equipment, militants and mercenaries” on both sides. The OSCE is set to monitor the implementation of the agreement.
The Ukrainian parliament on 16 September passed legislation granting special status to Donetsk and Lugansk for three years pending decentralisation measures that will require amending the Ukrainian constitution. Moreover, the parliament adopted a bill granting amnesty to rebel fighters with the exception of those responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. The same day, both European and Ukrainian parliaments ratified Ukraine’s association agreement with the EU. However, the implementation of the free-trade part of the agreement was postponed until 2016 because of pressure from Russia.
On 21 July, the Council adopted resolution 2166 condemning the downing of flight MH17 and calling for an independent international investigation. The Dutch Safety Board (DSB) took the lead on the international investigation. After completing the initial stage, the investigation came to a halt in early August amid heavy fighting around the crash site and the inability of both sides to ensure the security of the site. On 9 September, the DSB issued a preliminary investigation report, which Netherlands transmitted to the Council the same day. The report said the crash of flight MH17 could be attributed to impact by a large number of high-energy objects. However, the report did not specify responsibility for downing the plane. On 19 September, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman briefed the Council on the DSB’s preliminary investigation report.
The fighting in the east has had devastating effects on the humanitarian situation, resulting in more than 3,200 causalities, around 275,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and an estimated 341,000 refugees. In addition, fighting has caused heavy damage to the infrastructure and disrupted basic public services. Russia has sent three convoys of humanitarian aid to Donetsk and Lugansk, without Ukrainian consent. Council members held consultations on 22 August to address the issue. However, the Council did not react to two other instances when Russian humanitarian convoys crossed into Ukraine. The humanitarian situation is likely to deteriorate sharply as winter approaches.
Human Rights-Related Developments
During a 28 August to 3 September visit to Ukraine, Šimonović presented the fifth report on the situation of human rights in Ukraine, based on the work of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission there. It documents intense fighting and the use of heavy weaponry by both sides in densely populated areas of eastern Ukraine, resulting in increased loss of civilian life with an average of 36 people killed every day. Armed groups continued to commit killings, abductions, torture and other serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, while reports of human rights violations committed by government battalions are noted as requiring further investigation. Accountability, legislative developments, the situation of IDPs and human rights issues in Crimea are also covered.
The Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of IDPs conducted a visit to Ukraine from 16 to 25 September at the invitation of the Ukrainian government. He met with IDPs who described indiscriminate shelling and destruction of their homes. In a press conference on 25 September, he urged the government of Ukraine to establish more effective systems and intensify its efforts to meet the needs and protect the human rights of IDPs, including the urgent adoption of an IDP law based on international human rights standards. He also called on the international community to provide immediate and long-term support for reconstruction and essential services. A full report will be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2015.
Determining what role the Council could play in addressing the crisis in Ukraine will be the key issue—in particular whether it can bolster the continuation of the ceasefire.
Also, the role of the UN in the investigation of the downing of flight MH17 is another issue the Council might consider.
Finally, with winter approaching, the humanitarian aspect of the crisis in Ukraine will likely become more important. The role of the UN and its agencies in addressing the humanitarian situation could be an issue for the Council.
One option for the Council is to consider hearing a briefing by the OSCE on implementation of the ceasefire agreement and its activities on the ground. (Through its role in the trilateral contact group, the OSCE plays an active role in Ukraine, and it is currently charged with monitoring the ceasefire agreement.)
The Council could also consider the suggestion made by Russia at the 19 September meeting to ask the Secretary-General to appoint a special representative to work together with the OSCE on the independent international investigation of the MH17 incident.
If the ceasefire holds and the peace plan is implemented, the Council could issue a statement commending both sides.
Should the ceasefire collapse, the Council could consider addressing the situation in Ukraine through a Chapter VI resolution by either working with Russia or insisting on its obligation to abstain from voting, in line with article 27(3) of the UN Charter (which requires a party to a dispute to abstain from voting).
The Council has gradually become less involved in the situation in Ukraine. The prevailing view of most members seems to be that the solution lies not in the Council but rather with other diplomatic avenues that facilitate direct talks and a high-level dialogue between Russia and Ukraine. At the moment, the trilateral group on Ukraine has the leading role in addressing the crisis. Supportive of the efforts by the trilateral group, the Council seems unlikely to interfere in the process led by the OSCE.
The Council has met 25 times on the situation in Ukraine, yet those meetings have been mainly used by the members to state their positions and hear from the Secretariat. The Council took action on Ukraine only once, when it adopted resolution 2166 condemning the downing of flight MH17. All other attempts to take action did not materialise due to the split between Russia and other Council members, particularly the P3 and Lithuania.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol in March deeply divided the Council, leaving it deadlocked on the issue. Russia will likely oppose any resolution that would question the legal status of Crimea and Sevastopol, now a de facto part of the Russian Federation. On the other hand, the P3 and Western countries insist that any new resolution on Ukraine references the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine in line with General Assembly resolution A/RES/68/262.
UN Documents on Ukraine
|Security Council Resolution
|21 July 2014 S/RES/2166
|This resolution condemned the downing of Malaysia Airline flight 17 and called for an investigation of the crash.
|Security Council Letters
|9 September 2014S/2014/657
|This was a letter that contained the preliminary report on the investigation of the downing of flight MH17.
|13 April 2014 S/2014/264
|This was a letter from Russia requesting urgent consultations on the situation in Ukraine on 13 April 2014.
|28 February 2014 S/2014/136
|Ukraine requested an urgent meeting of the Security Council citing the situation in Crimea as a threat to the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
|Security Council Meeting Records
|19 September 2014 S/PV.7269
|This was a meeting on the preliminary MH17 investigation report.
|28 August 2014 S/PV.7253
|This was a meeting on the political situation in Ukraine following reports of Russian troops entering Ukrainian territory.