58th Plenary Meeting - General Assembly 74th Session

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20-Feb-2020 02:52:52
Concerned about ongoing militarization of Crimea, human rights violations in eastern Ukraine, speakers tell General Assembly Minsk agreements must be fully implemented.

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A lasting and peaceful solution to the six-year conflict in the Ukraine can only be achieved through the full implementation of the Minsk agreements, delegates told the General Assembly today, as they discussed ongoing aggression and human rights violations by the occupying Power in Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.

“The occupied areas have become a territory of fear and terror,” said Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Vadym Prystaiko, as he updated delegates on the bleak situation in his country. Since 2014, the Russian Federation’s illegal annexation has left 14,000 people dead and over 27,000 wounded, while 2 million residents of Crimea and Donbas have fled their homes and 3.4 million remaining are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. Despite 20 recommitments for a comprehensive ceasefire, the Russian Federation has continued its attacks, he said, noting that in January 2020 alone, such attacks killed 11 Ukrainian servicemen and wounded 33 others.

Large-scale violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms by the occupying Power continue in Crimea, he said, spotlighting discrimination against Crimean Tatars, Ukrainians and various ethnic and religious minorities, including Muslims and members of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. International solidarity and the promotion of human rights are the only way to stop such discrimination and aggression.

He stressed the vital importance of the General Assembly as a venue to discuss these violations of international law, given the ability of the Russian Federation to undermine the Security Council’s capacities in that area. “A strong voice of the United Nations General Assembly remains a crucial element of international pressure to make Russia abide by international law and stop its aggression against Ukraine,” he said, highlighting seven resolutions by that organ condemning the Russian Federation’s aggression.

The Russian Federation’s delegate responded by saying that there are “no temporarily occupied territories” in Ukraine. Rather, Crimea is part of the Russian Federation, a fact that was decided in the 2014 referendum. Despite attempts to hide this fact, the reality was now becoming apparent. A civilian conflict is raging in Donbas because of the refusal of Ukraine to acknowledge the 2014 coup. The real causes of the conflict must be admitted, he said, before it is possible to act on the outcome of the Normandy Four meeting in December.

Many delegates, however, reiterated their condemnation of the Russian Federation’s annexation and ongoing militarization of Crimea and the Black and Azov seas, with many decrying Moscow’s human rights violations and aggression, as well as its disregard for the conditions set out in the Minsk agreements.

France’s delegation said that the Russian Federation’s violation of fundamental rights and basic freedoms in Ukraine target those who “dare to raise their voice against the annexation of Crimea”. Punishments meted out include extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances, he said.

The representative of Liechtenstein stressed that the Minsk agreements must be fully implemented, including those delineated at the Normandy Four meeting in December 2019. He urged Ukraine to ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, given that the Court would then have jurisdiction regarding the crime of aggression, and also demanded free and unhindered access for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission to enter eastern Ukraine and observe conditions there.

In a similar vein, the Netherlands delegate called upon the Russian Federation to allow human rights monitors to enter Crimea, noting that a recent Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report revealed that the human rights situation there was deeply concerning. “The world must know what is happening,” he said. He also raised the subject of flight MH17, which killed 298 people when it was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014. With the criminal trial of the four suspects in that case slated to begin in March, he called on the Russian Federation to cooperate fully with the proceedings.

Turkey’s delegate, noting that his country currently hosts more than 3 million Crimean Tatars, highlighted their plight. Six years after the annexation, which led to the exodus of more than 25,000 Crimean Tatars, the activities of the Mejlis are still banned, while some of their leaders are still barred from entering Crimea. The Crimean Tatars that remain are targeted by the occupying Power, he said, pledging Turkey’s full support for their rights and calling for the release of political prisoners.

The representatives of Canada and Australia noted that their countries had recently sanctioned individuals in relation to their roles in facilitating illegitimate elections in September 2019 in Crimea and Sevastopol.

Several speakers highlighted positive steps towards a political solution, with Switzerland’s representative calling the decisions at the Normandy Four Summit in December a step forward that should be put into practice immediately. She also welcomed the recent prisoner exchange between Kyiv and the non-Government-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine.

Some delegates supported creation of a Ukraine peacekeeping mission, with the representative of Costa Rica emphasizing that it could be a means to improve the civilian population’s living conditions and enforce ceasefire agreements, while the delegate for Belarus said that his country stands ready to contribute to its operations.

Also speaking were representatives of Hungary, Estonia (on behalf of the Nordic countries), Germany, Slovakia, Slovenia, Syria, United States, Czech Republic, Croatia, Georgia, Italy, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, United Kingdom, Japan, Republic of Moldova, Poland and Belgium, as well as the European Union.

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