Members of the Security Council,
As the conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine is entering its third year, the Security Council meets today with both a sense of urgency and hope.
The continued failure to fully implement the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements” has underscored the crucial need to make progress toward a political settlement of the conflict.
Since the Security Council last considered the situation in Ukraine, on 11 December 2015, some positive developments have been registered. Not least among them was a largely respected ceasefire during the last weeks of 2015. Also, the commitment, announced at the beginning of March this year in the framework of the Security Working Group regarding the implementation of additional sectorial agreements on demining in priority areas, and the prohibition of military training in the proximity of the contact line were encouraging steps.
The meeting of the Foreign Ministers of France, Germany, the Russian Federation and Ukraine on 3 March and the continued investment of time and political capital by all relevant actors has also been instrumental in efforts to bridge prevailing differences and keep the focus on concrete milestones towards the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. Regular meetings of the OSCE Trilateral Contact Group and its four Working Groups on political, security, humanitarian and economic matters, continue to be central in this regard.
As the Council is aware, on 14 April 2016, the Ukrainian Parliament voted for the appointment of a new Prime Minister, Mr. Volodymyr Groysman. The new Government’s commitment to the implementation of the Minsk Agreements has been widely welcomed and there is expectation that it will be translated into further concrete actions.
These developments are highly valuable in their own right. However, to an extent, these positive steps forward continue to be heavily undermined to some extent by an overall precarious and unsustainable situation in the conflict area. The total number of conflict-related casualties continues to climb, now standing at 30,729, including 9,333 killed and 21,396 injured since the beginning of the conflict in mid-April 2014. The latest tragic incident, which occurred on 27 April during which at least four civilians were killed and at least eight others were injured by shelling in the village of Olenivka near the city of Donetsk, is a stark reminder of the high human cost of the continued conflict.
While some of the recent civilian casualties have been caused by indiscriminate shelling, most are caused by landmines, booby traps, and other explosive remnants of war, which continue to represent the biggest threat to civilian life and security, underscoring the urgent need for extensive mine clearance and mine awareness actions on both sides of the ‘contact line’.
We are pleased Ambassador Apakan is joining us, despite the late hour in Kiev. We look forward to hearing his assessment of the security situation in eastern Ukraine and thank the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) for continuing to dutifully carry out its mandate in what is often a challenging and dangerous environment.
The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission’s role in eastern Ukraine remains instrumental. In order to carry out its mandate, the Mission must urgently be granted full and unfettered access, including to the border, as stipulated under the Minsk agreements. All efforts to hinder such access should be condemned. And although the restrictions are happening on both sides of the contact line according to statistics provided by the Special Monitoring Mission, they seem to take place more in rebel-held areas. Efforts to harass, intimidate and especially to perpetrate violence against the Mission must be deplored, and must cease immediately.
Fighting is still reported daily, with a sustained period of escalation witnessed over recent weeks and months, at levels not seen since the intense phase of the conflict in August 2014. The frequent clashes are also coupled with increased presence and use of proscribed heavy weaponry, with more such weapons now reported outside of storage sites. In addition to these sobering developments, there is a lack of systemic mine action and reportedly high levels of military readiness and preparedness. This precarious situation should not be allowed to persist, because it will create fertile ground for a further deterioration of the situation.
All parties must immediately cease hostilities and implement in earnest their commitments under the Minsk agreements as well as those made since then in the Trilateral Contact Group and its Security Working Group.
Clearly, an improvement in the security situation would be crucial to create an environment conducive to progress in the political sphere. Of note are the ongoing negotiations in Minsk and among Normandy partners related to modalities for holding local elections in rebel-held areas of Donetsk and Luhansk under Ukrainian law and as per international standards. We hope that ensuing political, technical and legal divergences can soon be overcome. All concerned should find common ground and take immediate steps to live up to the commitments they have undertaken on other bedrock political issues, including amnesty and “special status” constitutional changes, as well as on exchange of prisoners.
The situation in Ukraine is also grave on the humanitarian front. More than three million people remain in need of humanitarian assistance, especially those close to the ‘contact line’ and in areas beyond Government control. The ongoing suspension by the de facto authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk provinces of almost all UN and INGO operations since July 2015 is of great concern. Undue bureaucratic impediments deprive hundreds of thousands of people access to urgently needed essential services, supplies and other protection activities.
This is further compounded by the decision of the Ukrainian Government to suspend social payments, including pensions, to an estimated 600,000 displaced people, pending verification of their status. While the legitimate right of the Government to combat fraud is understandable, it is important to put in place a transparent system that provides clear information about the criteria for any cancellation of benefits, and proper communication to those concerned.
It is also important that freedom of movement of civilians is ensured and that they have sustained and safe access across the ‘contact line.’ As a result of recent closure of and failure to open new checkpoints, many civilians continue to queue for hours, often at night, in unsafe locations just to access basic services or visit families and properties.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, through its Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, continues to monitor and report on the situation of human rights throughout the country, and to make recommendations to all parties to the conflict.
There are a number of pressing human rights concerns. The question of missing persons and the need to create a mechanism by which all parties to the conflict exchange information and cooperate to establish the whereabouts of those who went missing in the conflict zone remains critical. In Crimea, isolation from mainland Ukraine continues to grow, with deepening concerns for the human rights situation in the peninsula. The recent decision to ban the activities of the Mejlis, the representative body of the Crimean Tatars, are of particular concern.
On a positive note, on 29 December 2015, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine published the National Human Rights Action Plan. This is a welcome step as the document is a roadmap to address systemic human rights challenges and conflict-related matters, and envisages a list of actions to be taken by different state institutions pursuant to the National Human Rights Strategy. It is of paramount importance that the Plan be implemented. However, nearly four months after its adoption, not all activities envisaged during that period have been implemented.
The United Nations Secretariat continues to cooperate closely with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and remains ready to support, as requested and deemed helpful, the complex and challenging mandate entrusted to OSCE in Ukraine. We commend the vital contribution of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, the Trilateral Contact Group and its four Working Groups, and the Normandy Four leaders, as well as other diplomatic partners for their efforts toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
In coordination with local and regional organizations, the United Nations also continues to carry out critical and effective work in the humanitarian, human rights, reconstruction, and reconciliation spheres, aimed at responding to urgent as well as longer needs of the affected population in Ukraine.
Ultimately, however, progress in the peace process depends on the political will of the parties, on their readiness and willingness to find a peaceful resolution of the conflict, through tangible deeds both on the ground and at the negotiation table. The United Nations remains committed to supporting a peaceful resolution of the conflict, in a manner that fully upholds the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine.
Thank you, Mr. President.