Ukraine Briefing by Deputy Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights
This afternoon the Security Council will hold a public meeting on Ukraine at the request of France. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, as well as Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović, who has just returned from Ukraine, will brief. Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev (Ukraine) is expected to make a statement.
The Council will be very interested in Šimonović’s assessment of the human rights in Ukraine, as he was in Ukraine from 7-18 March. Even though assessing the humanitarian situation in Crimea was one of his main priorities, Šimonović was unable to visit Crimea due to the closure of Simferopol International Airport and the lack of assurances for the safety of the mission by the local authorities. Šimonović is expected to cover his meetings and discussions with the representatives of local authorities, civil society, representatives of different ethnic/linguistic groups as well as representatives of international organisations in Ukraine. Council members are also likely to want more information about the UN human rights monitoring team which has been deployed to Ukraine to assess the human rights situation in the country.
Šimonović has publicly stated that his findings point to chronic human rights violations leading up to the crisis in Ukraine as well as in its aftermath. Also, he has highlighted the increasing problem of the absence of rule or law, impunity and corruption impeding the human rights situation in the country. In regards to the human rights situation in Crimea, Šimonović has expressed his grave concern at the complete lack of rule of law in Crimea, the vulnerable position of minorities, lack of freedom of the press and cases of disappearances of activists and journalists. Some Council members are likely to want more information on these issues and his candid assessment of whether they are likely to lead to further instability.
Eliasson is expected to cover recent developments in Ukraine, as well as in the breakaway republic of Crimea and Sevastopol since the Council last met on Saturday (15 March) to vote on a draft resolution on the situation in Ukraine one day ahead of the referendum in Crimea. As expected, the draft resolution, which reaffirmed the commitment of the Council to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and declared the Crimean referendum illegal, was vetoed by Russia, with China abstaining.
Last-ditch efforts by the US failed to produce any results and the referendum in Crimea went ahead on Sunday (16 March) with about 97 percent of the local population voting in favour of joining Russia. According to the local election officials, 83 percent of the population voted in the referendum. There are reports that the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian minorities boycotted the vote. Sevastopol, which is a separate administrative entity with a special status within Ukraine, as well as the headquarters for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, also took part in the 16 March referendum and voted to join Russia.
On Tuesday (18 March), just two days after the referendum, President Vladimir Putin of Russia signed a treaty with the President of the State Council of the Republic of Crimea, Vladimir Konstantinov , the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Crimea, Sergey Aksenov, and the Chairman of the Coordinating Council on the Organisation of the Sevastopol City Administration, Alexey Chaly, formally annexing Crimea and the city of Sevastopol to Russia and forming the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol.
Today, the Constitutional Court of Russia established the legality of the treaty. The final decision on annexation of the two entities will now be decided by the Parliament. At today’s Council meeting the issue of the legality of the annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol may be raised.
So far there has been little discussion at any of the meetings on Ukraine of the issue of Sevastopol or the legality of the referendum in that entity. According to the constitution of Ukraine, Sevastopol and Crimea are integral parts of Ukraine with Sevastopol enjoying a “special status”.
The annexation of the city of Sevastopol creates a complex situation in relation to the naval bases there. The 28 May 1997 “Agreement between the Russian Federation and Ukraine on the Status and Conditions of the Russian Federation Black Sea Fleet’s Stay on Ukrainian Territory” allowed Russia to lease a base in Sevastopol for 20 years. On 21 April 2010, Ukraine and Russia signed an agreement extending the lease on the Black Sea Fleet naval base in Sevastopol until 2042. Ukraine also has a naval base in Sevastopol and there are media reports today that the base was captured by pro-Russian forces and the Ukrainian army chief detained. The takeover of naval base and attacks on Ukrainian forces have been strongly condemned by the Ukraine. Some Council members may be interested in getting a better understanding of these developments.
Other recent developments and signs of further instability are also likely to be addressed by Council members. It has been reported by the Defence Ministry of Ukraine that on 18 March one Ukrainian soldier was killed and two others injured by the pro-Russian forces that carried out an attack on its military base in Simferopol. There are also reports of a fatality on the side of pro-Russian forces which has not been independently confirmed.
Following the referendum the flurry of diplomatic activity has died down. The day after the referendum the US and the EU imposed targeted sanctions against a number of Russian and Ukrainian officials accused of undermining the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Initial reactions from these individuals seem to indicate that the sanctions are unlikely to have much impact. It is possible that there may be further sanctions levied depending on developments in the coming days.
This will be seventh meeting of the Council on the situation in Ukraine. To date, they have mostly been a venue for Council members to state their positions on the crisis and to hear from the Secretariat and Ukraine. The one attempt at action was the vote on a draft resolution on Saturday, which all Council members were aware would not be adopted as Russia had previously indicated it would cast a veto. Even so, the draft resolution was not a particularly strong one, and its aim appears to have been to isolate Russia ahead of the referendum, rather than to send a strong message from the Council.
With recent developments, particularly the final stages for the formal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol, the Council has the opportunity to attempt another Chapter VI resolution invoking Article 27 (3) of the UN Charter. (This article states that on decisions under Chapter VI, and under paragraph 3 of Article 52, “a party to the dispute shall abstain from voting”.) This article could be of more relevance now that Russia has taken formal steps to annex Crimea and Sevastopol. Yet, as was the case with the draft resolution on 14 March, there seems to be a tacit agreement among the P5 not to make use of this option both because of past situations when other P5 members have not recused themselves from voting and the possibility that there may be situations where they may not want to do so in the future. This concern may also apply to several elected members currently on the Council.
In light of the unlikely possibility of the Council being able to take any concrete action, Ukraine has requested a meeting of the General Assembly to address the situation in Ukraine. The meeting, which will take place next week, will be held under agenda item 33 (b) “Prevention of armed conflicts: Strengthening the role of mediation in the peaceful settlement of disputes, conflict prevention and resolution”. At this moment it is not clear whether the General Assembly will be considering a draft resolution on the matter.
The option for a “Uniting for Peace” resolution still stands, whether initiated from the Security Council, where the veto can be circumvented as it is a procedural matter, or the General Assembly. (General Assembly resolution 377 (V) on 3 November 1950, otherwise known as “Uniting for Peace” stated that if the Council, because of the “lack of unanimity of the permanent members, fails to exercise its primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security” where there is a threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression, the General Assembly can consider the matter.) To date, the Security Council has referred seven situations to the General Assembly under “Uniting for Peace”, adopting an enabling resolution often within days, if not the same day, of a veto in the Council. (In the four most recent cases of a Uniting for Peace resolution, the General Assembly itself invoked the resolution.)
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced today that he will be travelling to Moscow and Kiev with planned meetings with Putin and the interim President and Prime Minister of Ukraine. This visit scheduled for 20-22 March is the latest effort by the Secretary-General to deescalate the crisis and encourage a diplomatic solution.