Expected Council Action
In June, the Security Council is expected to hold an open briefing on the situation in Ukraine. The meeting will focus on the war’s effects on women, including the increased risks of conflict-related sexual violence and trafficking. The anticipated briefers are Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten and a civil society representative.
Additional meetings on Ukraine are likely, depending on developments on the ground.
Key Recent Developments
The Security Council remains actively engaged on the situation in Ukraine, having convened three formal meetings and one Arria-formula meeting on the issue in May. On 5 May, the Council held an open briefing during which it received an update on recent developments, including Secretary-General António Guterres’ trip to the region in late April. The following day, Russia organised an Arria-formula meeting to discuss its allegations that Ukrainian troops and militia had committed war crimes since Russia invaded the country on 24 February. On 12 May, at the request of France and Mexico, the Council convened a briefing on humanitarian developments, focusing on the effects of the war on children. The next day, a briefing was held at the request of Russia that focused on its allegations of military biological activities in the country. (For more information, see our 4 May, 5 May, and 11 May What’s in Blue stories.)
In addition to these meetings, the war in Ukraine has been referenced during several other Council meetings. Notable in this regard were thematic meetings on conflict and food security (on 19 May), technology and security (on 22 May), the Arria-formula meeting on the protection of journalists (on 23 May), and the annual debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict (on 25 May).
On 6 May, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement which expressed deep concern regarding the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine, recalled states’ obligation to settle their international disputes by peaceful means, and conveyed strong support for the Secretary-General’s efforts in the search for a peaceful solution. This was the first Council product on Ukraine since resolution 2623 of 27 February, which called for an emergency special session of the General Assembly. While some have viewed the presidential statement as a positive development signalling that the Council is able to find common ground on a text advocating diplomacy, others have questioned its value, finding it merely symbolic. During the negotiations on the presidential statement, it appears that an explicit reference to the Secretary-General’s good offices was removed at Russia’s request, and the fact that there have been no apparent changes to the UN’s role in Ukraine can be attributed to a lack of appetite for UN mediation regarding the Ukraine war.
Hostilities in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine continue to exacerbate the country’s humanitarian and displacement crises. As at 26 May, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had documented 8,691 civilian casualties, including 3,998 deaths, while noting that the true figures are likely to be considerably higher. Most casualties continue to be attributed to the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, such as shelling from heavy artillery, the use of multiple rocket launch systems and air attacks. Since 24 February, approximately 14.3 million people—over a quarter of Ukraine’s population—have been forcibly displaced, according to a 26 May OCHA humanitarian impact situation report. That includes eight million internally displaced people and 6.3 million refugees who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries.
Moreover, significant damage to civilian housing and critical infrastructure has been reported. This includes the destruction of tens of thousands of civilian homes and hundreds of educational and medical facilities. On 10 May, European members of the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted a resolution that condemned Russia’s attacks on healthcare facilities and requested the WHO Secretariat to explore options for the relocation from Russia of its European office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases. On 7 May, a Russian missile hit a school in the city of Bilohorivka, located in the eastern Luhansk region, where 90 people had reportedly sought shelter from the fighting. According to media reports, the Russian strike on the school killed around 60 people. On 12 May, at least three people were reportedly killed and 19 others injured in an airstrike that hit a school in the city of Novhorod-Siverskyi in the Chernihiv region.
Human Rights-Related Developments
In light of allegations of atrocities committed by the Russian armed forces in northern Ukraine and in the southern city of Mariupol, the Human Rights Council (HRC) convened a special session on 12 May to “address the deteriorating human rights situation in Ukraine stemming from Russian aggression”. The meeting was requested by Ukraine, with the support of over 50 member states, including Security Council members Albania, France, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, the UK, and the US. At the special session, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet expressed shock at the scale of unlawful killings in areas to the north of Kyiv and of the destruction and reported violations in Mariupol, noting that her office had verified a dozen cases of sexual violence across the country. The Chair of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Ukraine, Erik Møse, said during the session that the commission will make recommendations on the full range of accountability measures, stressing that the COI is independent and has “no link to any particular country, party, or entity”. Møse also noted that the commission had sought to establish contact with Russia and that it remains ready to communicate with Moscow. Russia did not attend the special session, calling the meeting biased.
Following the special session’s debate, the HRC adopted resolution A/HRC/S-34/L.1, which, among other things, reiterated its demand for an immediate cessation of military hostilities against Ukraine and expressed concern over the humanitarian situation in Mariupol and the effect of the conflict on food security globally. It called on all parties to refrain from any state-sponsored disinformation and urged Russia to provide UN staff with safe access to persons who have been transferred from conflict-affected areas and are held on Russian territory or areas occupied by Russian troops in Ukraine. Finally, it requested Bachelet to brief the HRC on the situation in Mariupol during the next regular session in June and for the COI to brief the HRC on the findings of its inquiry by the following regular session in September. The resolution was adopted by a vote of 33 in favour, two against and 12 abstentions. Security Council members Brazil, France, Gabon, Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, and the US voted in favour, while China voted against the resolution, and India abstained.
Women, Peace and Security
On 4 May, UN Women and the NGO Care International issued a Rapid Gender Analysis (RGA) on the humanitarian crisis resulting from the war in Ukraine. Among other things, the RGA said that while women are playing a vital role in the humanitarian response to the conflict, the “centralization of power and increased role of the military has made it more difficult for women to exert influence in formal political and administrative decision-making processes”. The RGA further stressed that women in Ukraine face high safety and protection risks—including domestic and conflict-related sexual violence—and that the war is exacerbating pre-existing inequalities and discrimination.
Several Council members—including Albania, Brazil, France, Ireland, Norway, and the UK—referred to growing reports of rape and sexual violence in Ukraine during the 13 April annual open debate on conflict-related sexual violence. Norway also noted the risks that Ukrainian women and girls are facing due to Russian attacks against civilian infrastructure, which force displacement and family separations and undermine access to essential health services. At the 5 May Council meeting on Ukraine, Bachelet said that her staff “heard about cases of women having been raped by Russian armed forces in areas that were under their control, as well as other allegations of sexual violence by both parties to the conflict”. Among other issues, the Advocacy Coordinator of the civil society organisation Right to Protection, Tetiana Luzan, called on states to provide shelter, protection from human trafficking and access to services to Ukrainians who have fled the country, a large majority of whom are women and children.
Key Issues and Options
A key issue for the Council is determining what role it can play in facilitating an end to the conflict. While it can continue to hold regular Council meetings on the situation in Ukraine, members may also wish to consider formats with restrictive attendance and no meeting record, such as an informal interactive dialogue or a closed Arria-formula meeting, to allow for a frank exchange of ideas between Council members and key actors on the situation on the ground.
Having adopted the 6 May presidential statement expressing support for the Secretary-General’s efforts, Council members may also wish to encourage the Secretary-General to appoint a personal envoy to explore openings for a peaceful settlement to the war. The Council’s endorsement could provide political backing, although the Secretary-General has the authority to appoint such an envoy at his own initiative.
Ensuring humanitarian access and respect for international humanitarian law remain key issues for the Security Council. The Council may choose to invite the Secretary-General to brief members on his ongoing efforts to establish a Humanitarian Contact Group—a UN-facilitated mechanism which would support dialogue between Russian and Ukrainian authorities on humanitarian issues.
Council members remain concerned about the war’s detrimental effects on women, children and other vulnerable groups, including persons with disabilities. In addition to next month’s scheduled briefing on the situation of women, including the increased risks of conflict-related sexual violence, Council members may seek to organise meetings highlighting other challenges relating to these groups.
Council and Wider Dynamics
The Security Council remains starkly divided on the situation in Ukraine, with Russia justifying its invasion and several Council members—including Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US—firmly intent on condemning Russia and isolating it from international forums. Members of the latter group have consistently called for the immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. More recently, as evidence has been mounting of indiscriminate killing and torture of civilians, conflict-related sexual violence and attacks against civilian infrastructure such as schools and hospitals by Russian forces, these Council members have stressed the need to ensure accountability for atrocities committed in Ukraine. On 25 May, the EU, the UK and the US launched the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group for Ukraine—a mechanism aimed at ensuring a coordinated approach to accountability efforts on the ground. These members have also justified the use of unilateral sanctions, while emphasising that Russia is to blame for all the war’s consequences, including the humanitarian and displacement crises and the growing global food insecurity.
Russia categorically denies any allegations of atrocities by its troops in Ukraine. It has accused Ukraine and the West of fabricating evidence and spreading false narratives regarding the events in Bucha and other northern towns and has questioned the validity and impartiality of the investigations of the alleged atrocities. Russia has argued that Western sanctions and Kyiv’s unwillingness to engage on humanitarian corridors for foreign vessels in the Black Sea, rather than its own actions, are to blame for exacerbating global food insecurity. According to media reports, Turkey is currently negotiating an agreement between Russia and Ukraine to open a corridor through the Bosphorus strait for grain exports from Ukraine.
At the 12 May meeting on the situation of children, several Council members (Albania, Ireland, Mexico, and the US) called on the Secretary-General to include Ukraine as a situation of concern in his 2022 annual report on Children and Armed Conflict, which is due in late June. If the Secretary-General chooses to do so, his annual report will include descriptions of grave violations committed against children in Ukraine.
Some Council members have expressed concern that Russia may stage fraudulent referendums to justify its occupation and annex the occupied territories of Ukraine. On 24 May, the Russian-appointed civil-military administration of Ukraine’s southern Kherson region confirmed that it would “request to introduce the Kherson region as a full-fledged entity of the Russian Federation”. (Russia employed a similar tactic in March 2014 with regard to Crimea. In anticipation of the 16 March 2014 Crimean status referendum, the US tabled a draft resolution stating that Ukraine had not authorised the referendum and declaring that it had no validity. While the draft resolution failed to be adopted because of a Russian veto, a similar General Assembly resolution was subsequently adopted on 27 March 2014.)
Several elected Council members—including the A3 (Gabon, Ghana and Kenya) and Brazil—have tended to be critical of the Russian intervention but have been uncomfortable with sanctions and the inclusion of what they term “political” language in humanitarian texts. For example, during the 19 May open debate on conflict and food security, Brazil said that the unilateral economic measures have had a secondary impact on the operation of markets, leading to increasing costs and hampering the availability of foodstuffs and fertilisers. Furthermore, while these members support an independent UN investigation to ensure accountability for alleged war crimes in Ukraine, some have been reluctant to accuse Russian forces of having committed atrocities in Ukraine before the conclusion of a full and transparent investigation. In explaining its vote on the 12 May HRC resolution, Brazil stressed that the HRC should remain impartial and “take decisions based on independent, objective and verifiable information”, while noting that “impartiality should not mean indifference” and affirming that “in view of the deteriorating human rights situation in Ukraine, it is clear that the [HRC] cannot remain silent”.
India continues to pursue a neutral stance on the issue, abstaining on the 12 May HRC resolution. Its stated priority remains the de-escalation of tensions and the promotion of dialogue and diplomacy, and it has emphasised the need to keep open channels of dialogue with Russia. China also remains unwilling to criticise Russia directly. Instead, it has demonstrated support for Russian concerns about the European security architecture and what it calls “group politics and bloc confrontation”. China remains opposed to unilateral sanctions and the transfer of arms to Ukraine.
UN DOCUMENTS ON UKRAINE
|Security Council Presidential Statements|
|6 May 2022S/PRST/2022/3||This conveyed strong support for the Secretary-General’s efforts in the search for a peaceful solution to the war in Ukraine.|
|Security Council Meeting Records|
|13 May 2022S/PV.9033||This was an open meeting on Ukraine, requested by Russia, which focused on allegations of military biological activities in the country.|
|12 May 2022S/PV.9032||This was an open meeting on Ukraine, requested by France and Mexico, which focused on the effects of the war on children.|
|5 May 2022S/PV.9027||This was an open meeting on Ukraine.|