What's In Blue

Posted Thu 23 Oct 2014

Ukraine Briefing on Human Rights and Political Situation

Tomorrow morning (24 October), the Council will hold a briefing on the human rights and political situation in Ukraine at the request of the UK. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic will brief the Council on the human rights situation and the sixth report of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine (HRMMU), while Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco is expected to brief on the political situation in Ukraine.

The Council last met on Ukraine on 19 September to discuss the MH17 preliminary investigation report (S/PV.7269). The last meeting on the human rights situation took place on 8 August when Simonovic briefed the Council on the fourth HRMMU human rights report (S/PV.7239). (The Council did not hold a meeting after the publication of the fifth report on 29 August, although it was briefed following the publication of the first four reports.)

Simonovic is likely to present findings from the sixth HRMMU human rights report and update Council members on developments since the report was published on 8 October. While the sixth report describes the absence of large scale military operations in the east since the announcement of the 5 September ceasefire, there have been over 300 casualities since the start of the ceasefire. Council members may be interested in more information about the recent fatalities.

Given the unstable security situation since the publication of the HRMMU report, members may also be looking for more information as to whether this has led to an increase in internally displaced persons (IDPs). The report covers large scale destruction of infrastructure and property in the east and estimates that there are close to 400,000 IDPs. According to the report, illegal detentions and executions by armed groups have risen, while there have also been reports of violations by the pro-government Ukrainian voluntary battalions.

The Council is likely to acknowledge the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in Ukraine. However, some Council members will have differing positions as to who bears the responsibility for the situation on the ground. Given that Council members’ positions on this issue have not changed fundamentally, it is likely that the P3 and other Western countries will be critical of pro-Russian rebels and Russia’s role in the conflict in their statements. On the other hand, Russia is likely to point out human rights violations committed by the Ukrainian forces on the civilian populations of Donetsk and Lugansk.

Considering that the human rights situation in Ukraine needs to be viewed in the context of the latest political developments, the Council is likely to be interested in an update on the political situation from Taranco. On 5 September, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a ceasefire agreement (the Minsk Protocol) with the representatives of the pro-Russian separatists. The deal was negotiated under the auspices of the trilateral contact group on Ukraine, consisting of the representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). On 19 September, after recurrent violations of the ceasefire, the representatives of the trilateral contact group and representatives of the separatists signed a memorandum outlining the parameters for the implementation of the Minsk Protocol. The memorandum mandates the creation of a buffer zone 30 kilometres from the front line, withdrawal of heavy artillery, a ban on military aircraft use and withdrawal of foreign militarised formations, military equipment, militants and mercenaries on both sides.

Members of the Council are likely to be concerned that the ceasefire appears to be only tenuously holding and to stress the importance of implementing the Minsk Protocol and memorandum. While Ukrainian forces currently have control of the Donetsk airport, they have been engaged in intense clashes with rebels in the surrounding area. P3 and other Western members are likely to point out Russia’s responsibilities regarding implementation of the ceasefire agreement, especially concerning the withdrawal of foreign fighters and military equipment and securing its border with Ukraine. While it also places significance on full implementation of the Minsk agreements, Russia is likely to point out that there have been violations of the agreements on both sides. Russia may also reiterate that it considers the current crisis in Ukraine to be an internal problem, as it has argued that it is not a party to the conflict.

Another issue that could be raised by Taranco and some Council members is the parliamentary elections in Ukraine scheduled for 26 October. The elections will be monitored by the OSCE, though it is still uncertain whether polling will be possible in rebel-controlled areas of Donetsk and Lugansk. Additionally, rebel leaders announced that they will be holding separate elections on 9 November. The Minsk Protocol and a law adopted on 16 September granted special status to Donetsk and Lugansk, ensuring that both of these regions could organise elections in order to choose their local leaders. However, Ukrainian officials have argued these elections would have to be conducted in accordance with the Ukrainian law to be considered legitimate.

While the human rights and political situation have been a consistent concern, the humanitarian situation in Ukraine is likely to become a more prominent issue for the Council in the near future given the upcoming winter, the significant number of IDPs, disrupted public services and the damaged infrastructure in the east. Additionally, there is still uncertainty about whether Russia and Ukraine will come to an agreement on the resumption of gas supplies from Russia to Ukraine. Absent such an agreement, the humanitarian situation will become worse with the onset of winter. (Russia shut off the flow of gas to Ukraine in June, complaining about Ukraine’s unpaid debt.) The UN could possibly play an important role in response to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine, an issue the Council might need to consider in the near future.

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