I last briefed this Council on Ukraine on 25 April following the election of President Volodymyr Zelenskyi on 21 April.
Today, the Council is again meeting only days away from another important election, on 21 July, when Ukrainians will go to the polls to elect their representatives in Parliament, the Verhovna Rada. We hope that the elections will be equally peaceful and democratic, and that they will be inclusive, including to reflect the broadest participation of women.
In his inauguration speech, President Zelenskyi emphasized the need for peace and unity and for rejecting divisive policies. He underlined his readiness to engage in dialogue in order to advance domestic reforms and end the five-year conflict in Eastern Ukraine.
The United Nations is encouraged by such statements emphasizing dialogue, peace and inclusiveness. We welcome efforts at dialogue at all levels, including bilaterally between Heads of State, and hope they can bring greater momentum for resolving the conflict.
Today’s Council meeting coincides with the coming into force of the law “On ensuring the functioning of the Ukrainian language as the State language”. The law, which regulates the use of Ukrainian as the sole State language in a large sphere of Government functions and services, was adopted by the Verkhovna Rada on 25 April and signed into law on 15 May.
It was adopted after two readings and consideration of over 2,000 amendments, 800 of which have been included. While many of the law’s provisions commence today, the law also prescribes a transitional period, from six months to up to ten years, for the implementation of other provisions. Also, the law requires the Cabinet of Ministers to submit to Parliament a draft law on the realisation of the rights of national minorities of Ukraine by January 2020.
While the new law has raised concerns both within and outside Ukraine, Ukrainian authorities have described it as consistent with Ukraine’s Constitution, particularly Article 10 dealing with state and minority languages as well as its national legislation, and international commitments.
As part of its regular reporting, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights followed the legislative process and shared with relevant authorities recommendations based on international standards. While many of the controversial points were addressed in its final version, the law still raises concerns.
OHCHR recommends that the Ukrainian Government should elaborate, as established by the language law, a law on the realization of the rights of national minorities of Ukraine, to ensure a fair correlation between the protection of the rights of minorities and the preservation of the State language as a tool for integration within society. This should be done without undue delay.
The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission is also analysing the law. The draft opinion is expected to be discussed by the Commission after the 21 July parliamentary elections.
In this context, we welcome the previous statement from President Zelenskyi that a thorough analysis of the law will be conducted. We hope that this will pave the way for further measures to safeguard the rights of minorities.
The Office of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities has also advised the Ukrainian authorities regarding language questions in the interest of ensuring balanced legislation that unites Ukraine’s diverse society. I therefore welcome the availability of the OSCE High Commissioner, Mr. Lamberto Zannier, to brief the Council in person on this issue.
It is the fourth time since the beginning of 2019 that the Security Council is meeting on Ukraine. The current political transition in Ukraine takes place against the backdrop of the ongoing conflict in Donbas, many of whose residents continue to face serious daily challenges associated with an active conflict.
In recent weeks, we have seen signs that with sufficient political will in the Trilateral Contact Group, concrete steps are possible to improve the security and humanitarian situation along the contact line. We welcome the 26 June disengagement of forces and removal of hardware at the “Stanytsya Luhanska” checkpoint, as reported by the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission. Such steps should be further built on. We hope to see other confidence-building steps, including the restoration of the “Stanytsya Luhanska” pedestrian crossing bridge and the release of detainees.
We note with regret, however, the persistent failure to reach agreement on a ceasefire. We wish to once again echo the call of the OSCE for all concerned to work constructively, including during tomorrow’s Trilateral Contact Group meeting, in order to reach an agreement on this issue without further delay.
The implementation of a lasting ceasefire should be accompanied by the withdrawal of heavy weapons from populated areas, disengagement of forces and protection of civilians and critical civilian infrastructure.
The situation at the contact line remains unpredictable and volatile. Periodic escalations of hostilities bring about various levels of intensity of military engagement. Despite continuing security incidents and limitations on its activities, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, under the leadership of the new Chief Monitor, Amb. Halit Cevik, continues to carry out its crucial mandate.
Meanwhile, the human cost of the conflict is still growing. Ordinary civilians continue to be targeted and suffer from indiscriminate shelling on a daily basis, as well as from the threat of landmines. This year alone, as of 30 June, OHCHR recorded 91 conflict-related civilian casualties: 13 killed and 78 injured.
Fighting also continues to damage and disrupt civilian infrastructure. In May-June, the Donetsk Filter Station, which supplies clean water to some 380,000 people on both sides of the contact line, came under fire on three separate occasions. So far this year, water facilities have come under attack over 60 times; schools have also come under attack 17 times, already more than in 2018.
We once again reiterate that parties to the conflict must take all precautions to avoid civilian harm. International humanitarian law must be upheld by all to protect civilians and their access to critical services.
Humanitarian organizations are providing relief to the most vulnerable communities on both sides of the contact line. But safe, predictable and sustained access to all those in need is still a challenge. Their work must not be politicized or instrumentalized by any party.
This Council unanimously endorsed the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements” in its resolution 2202 of 17 February 2015. In its Presidential statement of 6 June 2018, the Council again unanimously reaffirmed the centrality of the Minsk Agreements, and on 12 February 2019, the Council held a special session focusing on the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.
The United Nations expects any concerns related to the Minsk Agreements to be addressed through constructive dialogue and in the existing negotiation formats with full respect for the spirit and letter of the Agreements, and with a view to implementing the Minsk Agreements as a whole.
Ukraine today has the opportunity to build further on its reform record, and to revitalize the diplomatic efforts to resolve the five-year conflict in eastern Ukraine.
This will require, first and foremost, political will by all concerned, in the critical search for peace.
We hope that following the parliamentary elections and the formation of a new government, the recent encouraging statements would be followed by concrete actions by all actors to bring, at long last, a positive dynamic to implement the Minsk Agreements.
In his congratulatory message to President Zelenskyi, the Secretary-General underscored the full support of the United Nations for the crucial efforts of the Normandy Four, the Trilateral Contact Group and the OSCE to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine. He further reaffirmed the United Nations’ commitment to the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its internationally recognized borders, in accordance with relevant General Assembly and Security Council resolutions.
In a regional and global environment that is increasingly fragile, the opportunity for the resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine is also a chance to achieve greater peace and security in Europe. It should not be missed.
Thank you, Mr. President.