posted on Tue 20 May 2014 4:48 PM
Ukraine Briefing on Human Rights and Political Developments

Tomorrow (21 May), Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović is expected to brief Council members in consultations on the human rights situation in Ukraine. Šimonović, who was in Ukraine from 14-19 May, is expected to share his observations of the human rights situation there and cover some of the points raised in the second report by the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission (HRMMU). Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernández-Taranco is also expected to brief on recent political developments, particularly in the context of the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for 25 May.

Of the 13 meetings on the situation in Ukraine held since 28 February, only the 16 April meeting specifically focused on the human rights situation. (This meeting was held the day after the first report by the HRMMU, which was deployed to Ukraine in mid-March, and tasked with assessing the human rights situation and presenting monthly reports to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.) The findings of the second report point to an increasingly grim human rights situation in Ukraine, especially in the eastern parts of the country. The report notes the lack of rule of law and an increase in violent clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian demonstrators. Due to the deteriorating situation in the east during the reporting period, the report notes a significant increase in human rights violations recorded since publication of the first report. The report cites an increase in cases of targeted killings, intimidation and enforced disappearances committed by the armed anti-government groups in the east, as well as the inability of local police to maintain law and order and protect citizens. Also, the report highlights a number of human rights violations by the Ukrainian State Security Services during its operations aimed at restoring control over regions in the east. Council members may be keen to hear Šimonović’s assessment of how to stop these violations.

Council members are likely to be interested in more information on the lack of media freedom which remains a key challenge according to the report, with cases of intimidation and abduction of journalists increasing, especially in the east. The report also depicts a grim situation for the Tatar community in Crimea, with numerous reports of intimidation, persecution and restriction of movement. As a result, the report indicates that there are several thousand Tatars who remain internally displaced in Ukraine.

In their statements, Council members are likely to address issues raised in the report, especially in the context of the upcoming presidential elections. Russia is likely to question the objectivity of the report which fails to elaborate on human rights violations committed by authorities in Kiev. In this context, Russia may present some of the findings from its letter on violations of human rights and the rule of law transmitted to the Council on 12 May (S/2014/331). The letter transmits a report by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia covering human rights violations allegedly committed between November 2013 and February 2014. The report cites cases of external interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine, violence committed by the Maidan protesters and discrimination among ethnic lines. P3 and European members of the Council are likely to dismiss the report as being biased.

Council members may be keen to hear from Fernádez-Taranco on Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman’s visit to Moscow and Kiev, as he did not brief the Council upon his return. Feltman met with authorities to discuss the situation and convey a call to dialogue and restraint by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Feltman last briefed the Council at Russia’s request on 2 May, prompted by the deteriorating situation in the east and by deadly clashes in Odessa. During that meeting, Russia proposed a presidential statement calling for an end to violence and for support for the Geneva agreement. The statement, however, was not issued as Council members could not agree on language, marking a second failed attempt by the Council to take action on Ukraine, the first being the draft resolution proposed by the US that was vetoed by Russia (S/2014/189).

In light of the 7 May meeting in Moscow between current Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairperson-in-office, President Didier Burkhalter of Switzerland, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, some Council members may want to discuss the increased involvement of the OSCE in the situation in Ukraine. In public statements following the meeting, Burkhalter presented the main provisions of the OSCE roadmap for Ukraine which consists of the following elements: ceasefire, de-escalation of tensions, dialogue and elections. Council members may also want to hear more about the OSCE’s role in facilitating national unity talks earlier this month as part of the roadmap,, as well as how it plans to monitor the presidential elections. Most Council members, especially P3 and some European members, are likely to commend Ukraine and the OSCE for their efforts to de-escalate tensions through dialogue. Russia, on the other hand, will likely be sceptical about the effectiveness of these talks.

Council members have been paying close attention to the 25 May presidential elections in Ukraine, which are being held despite instability in the east, and amidst reports of intimidation and threats against some candidates. Authorities in Kiev are confident that the elections will be successful in most parts of the country. However, Donetsk and Luhansk remain two regions where the central government does not exercise full territorial control and where conducting regular elections will be difficult. Council members may be looking for an assessment from Fernández-Taranco of the potential for violence in the lead-up to and during the elections.

A majority of Council members will likely express their support for the upcoming presidential elections and encourage strong participation. Russia may be more sceptical and contend that at this point the situation is not conducive to free and fair elections. The Council is likely to meet again following the elections. At that time, Council members would be interested in hearing about the conduct of the elections and the outcome.