Briefing on Ukraine Political and Human Rights Situation
Tomorrow morning (24 June), the Security Council will be briefed in consultations by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović via video-teleconference and Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Taye-Brook Zerihoun. On 17 June, Ukraine wrote to the President of the Council requesting a meeting following the publication of the third monthly report of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), which covers the period of 7 May – 7 June. Šimonović, who was in Ukraine from 14-19 May, is expected to brief the Council on the human rights situation and highlight some of the recommendations from the third HRMMU report, while Zerihoun will update Council members on recent political developments, particularly the ceasefire and peace plan proposed by President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine. Ambassador Yuri Sergeyev (Ukraine) is also expected to participate.
Background to the Meeting
While most Council members were open to having the briefing on the HRMMU report last week when Šimonović was in New York, it seems that Russia, the current Council President, saw no urgent reason for a briefing at that point. Russia also indicated that as the report was not commissioned by the Council and was human rights-related, the Security Council was not necessarily the right place for it to be discussed. In addition, it also suggested that this briefing had been requested in order to take attention away from what was happening on the ground. Instead Russia was more interested in a briefing that would deal with the situation in Ukraine as a whole. It seems that although there was some discussion of the request by Ukraine, no member was willing to push for a procedural vote to have a meeting before Šimonović left New York on Friday. On 20 June, the US wrote to the President of the Council asking for a public meeting on Ukraine in light of the “continuing alarming situation”.
Council members will be looking for details on the week-long ceasefire in eastern Ukraine proposed by Poroshenko. Although the ceasefire began on 20 June, fighting has continued in eastern Ukraine. Poroshenko also outlined a 15-point peace plan aimed at ending the insurgency in eastern Ukraine. On 22 June, Russian President Vladimir Putin voiced support for the ceasefire and steps towards a peace plan, but also said that the peace plan would not be viable without constructive negotiations and that it should not represent an ultimatum to militia groups. Russia is likely to echo these points in tomorrow’s meeting. Most other members are expected to voice support for the peace plan and urge all parties to honour the ceasefire.
Council members are also likely to be looking for more details of the provisions of the 15-point plan, including security guarantees for negotiating parties, a buffer-zone on the Russia-Ukraine border and a corridor for withdrawal of Russian and Ukrainian mercenaries. Other steps, once stability is restored, include restoration of local government activities and services and television and radio broadcasts, decentralisation of power, protection of the Russian language and amendments to the constitution. There may be questions about how some of these steps will be operationalised and the potential difficulties in carrying them out.
Council members will also be interested in hearing about progress made by the “trilateral contact group” made up of Russia, Ukraine and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which met today in Donetsk to discuss guidelines for implementing Poroshenko’s peace plan.
European members of the Council may refer to the conclusions of the Council of the EU which were adopted today. In its conclusions, the EU called on Russia to adopt effective measures to stop the flow of illegal fighters, arms and equipment into Ukraine and to refrain from gathering troops near the border with Ukraine. Some members may also raise the issue of the OSCE monitors and other persons being held hostage by armed separatists and urge for their release.
Human Rights Situation
Most members are concerned about the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation. Since Šimonović last briefed the Council on 21 May, the human rights situation in Ukraine has continued to deteriorate, especially in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. In tomorrow’s briefing Šimonović is expected to focus on the HRMMU report which cites an increased number of causalities resulting from the clashes between government forces and the separatists in the east, mainly in Donetsk and Lugansk. It also highlights that other violations of human rights, such as abductions, illegal detentions and lack of freedom of expression are also on the rise in the east as well as in Crimea.
The situation for journalists in Ukraine may be of particular interest to some Council members. The HRMMU report notes that the working environment for journalists had become increasingly dangerous. The killing of two Russian journalists in Lugansk prompted the first Council action on Ukraine. Council members issued a press statement on 17 June (SC/11442) expressing their condolences to the families of all the journalists who have been killed, with the two Russian journalists and an Italian photojournalist being singled out.
Some Council members may also focus on the importance of a sustainable ceasefire and realistic peace plan in light of some of the findings of the HRMMU report. Russia, on the other hand, is expected to be highly critical of the HRMMU report, which it has publicly said is not objective and adheres too closely to the narrative of the government in Ukraine. It is expected to add information which it feels should have been in the report.
Since it assumed the Council Presidency for the month of June, Russia has made several attempts to take action on Ukraine, presenting three draft resolutions over a two-week period. The first draft of a humanitarian resolution on Ukraine was circulated on 2 June. After only one expert meeting it was apparent that there could be no movement on this draft due to the opposition from the majority of Council members. On 12 June, Russia presented a second draft resolution, this time focusing on the political situation in Ukraine. Amendments were suggested by some members but again there was no agreement.
Following a briefing on 16 June by Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos on the humanitarian situation, Russia circulated a third draft resolution that combined elements from the earlier humanitarian and political drafts plus some suggestions from the negotiations. However, it seems that this draft was still not acceptable to a number of Council members as it did not make reference to the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine as a whole or to the 27 March General Assembly resolution (A/RES/68/262) on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Some members also felt that the draft should stress the need to stop the flow of weapons across the border from Russia. Following negotiations at Deputy Permanent Representative level that failed to reach agreement on the draft text, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin (Russia) on 20 June announced to the press that Russia felt that there were no prospects for developing the draft further.
It is unclear if there will be any attempt following the briefing to work on an outcome that would welcome the peace plan and encourage the parties to work towards its implementation.