What's In Blue

Posted Wed 16 Apr 2014

Meeting on the Human Rights Situation in Ukraine

This afternoon, the Council will hold a public meeting on the situation in Ukraine at the request of Lithuania. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović will brief on the human rights situation. Council members are likely to be interested in getting a first-hand account of the human rights situation from Šimonović, as he has spent more time in Ukraine since the start of the conflict than any other senior UN official.

The briefing comes just one day after a report based on Šimonović’s findings from his two visits to Ukraine in March (from 6 – 18 and 21 – 22 March) was published by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. While in Ukraine, Šimonović visited Bakhchisaray, Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv, Sevastopol and Simferopol, where he met with a range of individuals representing the government, and civil society as well as victims of alleged human rights abuses. Although he will not be officially presenting the report (since it had not been requested by the Council it formally is not a Council document), Šimonović’s briefing will likely be based on the report’s contents.

The report, which also draws on the work of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), stresses that there is a need to guarantee full respect for the rule of law and human rights. The key recommendations include ensuring accountability for human rights violations, combating hate speech, ensuring minority rights, investigating violations committed during the protests in Kyiv and ahead of the referendum in Crimea, as well as promoting freedom of expression and protection of journalists.

The report indicates that underlying human rights violations were among the root causes of the popular protests that led to a change in government. There is also a section on specific human rights challenges in Crimea raising a number of concerns about respect for human rights standards during the 16 March referendum. Concerns over harassment of journalists and the uncertain status of the Tatar community following the referendum are also highlighted.

Members may be interested in the role the HRMMU is hoping to play in promoting and protecting human rights and deescalating tensions. With the situation in eastern Ukraine becoming increasingly tense, members may be particularly interested in what can be done to prevent human rights violations there. (OHCHR deployed HRMMU on 14 March at the invitation of the government of Ukraine to monitor and report on the human rights situation; recommend concrete follow-up actions to address human rights concerns; prevent human rights violations and conduct a mapping of alleged human rights violations.) The current absence of independent and impartial human rights monitors in Crimea is an issue that may be raised by some Council members as the HRMMU does not have a presence there yet. It seems members are also keen to have more information about the type of assistance that may be required to monitor the human rights situation in relation to the 25 May elections. The upcoming elections and how to ensure they are conducted in a free and fair manner are likely to be on minds of many members.

In their statements Council members may respond to some of the information in the human rights report. Russia is expected to be somewhat critical of the report, particularly in relation to the information on the Crimea referendum. The report suggests some irregularities in the voting process and that the referendum was held in an environment of intimidation by armed groups and a lack of media freedom. Russia is also likely to reject the report’s claim that the armed groups in unmarked uniforms are believed to be from the Russian Federation, as this is something it has strongly disputed. It may also highlight references in the report to instances of human rights violations targeted at ethnic Russians especially by the radical and Ukrainian nationalists.

Some members are more inclined to see the report as being objective and impartial and are expected to support the recommendations and focus on the way forward. Some members may stress the need for the government to create an environment conducive to unhindered freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, as well as to combat corruption and hate speech and call on the Ukrainian government to be more inclusive, especially with regard to the rights of ethnic minorities.

Unlike the meeting on 12 April, when Crimea was only mentioned briefly, at this meeting prompted by the information in the report, some members may choose to revisit the situation in Crimea and call on the authorities in Crimea to follow up on the recommendations in the report and to grant human rights monitors access to Crimea.

Council members are also likely to want to focus on the human rights situation in eastern Ukraine. At the beginning of April, tensions in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv rose after protesters took control of the government buildings demanding a referendum on independence. The protests quickly spread to other cities in the east, leading Ukrainian Acting President Oleksandr Turchynov to issue an ultimatum to the pro-Russian forces that took over the government structures in the east that the Ukrainian military would begin an armed operation to restore order in regions under unrest at 6 am on 13 April.

On Sunday, 13 April, Russia called for a meeting of the Council citing the standoff in eastern Ukraine. Russia had originally wanted to hold consultations (which would have been a closed meeting) but France requested a public meeting, which was agreed to. The Council was briefed by Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, with the permanent representative of Ukraine, Yuriy Sergeyev, participating. The statements made by member states showed that there was little change in Council members’ positions on Ukraine, with the P3, EU members and Australia accusing Russia of being directly involved and destabilising Ukraine. Russia accused the Ukrainian authorities of threatening to use force against protesters and called for immediate dialogue and constitutional reform.

While Turchynov did not go ahead with a full-scale military operation on 14 April although the Ukrainian military, the situation in eastern Ukraine remained tense. That same day, in a phone conversation with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Turchynov asked for UN peacekeepers to help to stabilise the situation in eastern Ukraine. On 15 April, Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone conversation with Ban, called on the international community and the UN to condemn Ukraine’s military actions in eastern Ukraine. The Secretary-General on his part conveyed his alarm about the events in eastern Ukraine and stressed the need to de-escalate the situation. Over the last few days Putin has also spoken with US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Tomorrow (17 April) four-party talks between the EU, Russia, the US and Ukraine are expected to take place in Geneva, but Russia has threatened not to attend if force is used against pro-Russian protestors in eastern Ukraine.

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