The United Nations hopes that after Parliamentary elections and the formation of a new Government in Ukraine, recent encouraging statements by its new President, Voldodymyr Zelensky, will be followed by concrete actions to bring a positive dynamic to implement the Minsk Protocol agreements, the Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs told the Security Council today.
Rosemary DiCarlo briefed the 15-member organ as legislation on the use of Ukrainian as the sole State language in a large sphere of Government functions and services came into force, and on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight M7 over eastern Ukraine.
Emphasizing that the opportunity to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine is also a chance for greater peace and security in Europe that should not be missed, she welcomed efforts at dialogue at all levels, including bilaterally between Heads of State.
On the language law, which Ukraine views as consistent with its Constitution, she said that while many controversial points have been addressed, it still raises concerns, and that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has recommended that the Government elaborate legislation without delay that would ensure a fair correlation between the protection of the rights of minorities and the preservation of the State language.
Political transition in Ukraine is taking place against the backdrop of the ongoing conflict in Donbas and a persistent failure to agree on a ceasefire under the Minsk agreements that the Council endorsed through resolution 2202 (2015). The human cost of the conflict is growing, she said, with the High Commissioner's Office recording 13 conflict-related deaths and 78 injuries in the first six months of 2019, water facilities attacked more than 60 times and schools, 17 times.
Focusing on the language law, Lamberto Zannier, High Commissioner on National Minorities for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said Ukraine has every right to strengthen the role of the State language to enhance a shared sense of belonging. Such measures, however, should be balanced with efforts to accommodate ethnic and linguistic diversity. Input from the Council of Europe's Venice Commission and other institutions should be sought to ensure that language-related legislation is in line with international standards.
As it currently stands, he continued, Ukraine's language law lacks sufficient legal clarity or guarantees for the protection of the linguistic rights of national minorities. He recommended that Ukraine's language policy be supplemented with the modernization of the overall legal framework for safeguarding the rights of national minorities, including in the linguistic sphere, through the introduction of a comprehensive law.
In the ensuing debate, the representative of the Russian Federation, which requested today's meeting, agreed that States have an obligation to promote national languages, adding, however, that Ukraine is employing medieval and grim methods that run counter to all conventions on the protection of national minorities. Stating that the signing of the language law by the former President of Ukraine runs counter to the Minsk agreements, he said he hoped Council members will resist the temptation of protecting Kyiv from warranted criticism. Language and culture are at the heart of the situation in Ukraine since the 2014 coup, he said, warning that limits and punitive measures on the Russian language risk stoking divisions and social confrontation.
Poland's delegate stated that Russian aggression against Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity is a direct threat to international peace and security. The adoption of a law by Kyiv's legitimate authorities, however, is not. The international community should neither accept nor recognize the Russian Federation's cascade of disregard for the fundamental principles of international law, but rather respond accordingly to its unacceptable and illegal behaviour.
In the same vein, the representative of the United Kingdom expressed surprise that his Russian counterpart did not raise other issues � such as the Russian Federation's arming of separatists in eastern Ukraine and non-implementation of the Minsk agreements � that warrant ongoing Council discussion. Rejecting the tenuous link between the language law and the Minsk agreements, he said Ukrainians continue to suffer from a Russian-fuelled conflict that has claimed 13,000 lives.
Agreeing that the language law posed no threat to international peace and security, the representative of France said the granting of Russian citizenship to those living in Lugansk and Donetsk undermines the Minsk agreements. He also joined others in calling for the release of 24 Ukrainian sailors detained by the Russian Federation since an incident in the Kerch Strait (Sea of Azov) in November 2018, as per a ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
Taking the floor at the end of the debate, Ukraine's representative said his country's language law is an internal issue that has no relation to international peace and security. By raising the issue ahead of the Parliamentary elections, Moscow is trying to give political support to pro-Russian parties while distracting attention away from the non-implementation of the Minsk agreements and the fifth anniversary of Flight M7. While the new President has taken concrete steps in search of resolving the conflict, Russian forces and their proxies have almost doubled their ceasefire violations, he said, adding that the situation on the ground remains bleak. He suggested a very short list of measures that the Russian Federation could put into place, including the withdrawal of heavy weapons, access to detainees and the release of the detained Ukrainian military personnel.
Also speaking today were representatives of the United States, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, China, Kuwait, Belgium, CAte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, South Africa, Germany and Peru.
The meeting began at 10:02 a.m. and ended at 12:07 p.m.
ROSEMARY DICARLO, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, noting that she last briefed the Security Council on Ukraine following the election of Voldodymyr Zelensky as President on 21 April, said today's meeting comes ahead of Parliamentary elections on 21 July that will hopefully be peaceful and democratic. Welcoming efforts at dialogue at all levels, including bilaterally between Heads of State, she said today's meeting also coincides with the coming into force of legislation that regulates the use of Ukrainian as the sole State language in a large sphere of Government functions and services. Ukraine's authorities say it is consistent with the Constitution, but while many controversial points have been addressed, the law still raises concerns. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which followed the legislative process as part of its regular reporting, has recommended that the Government elaborate legislation on the rights of national minorities that would 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 delay, she said. Recalling that the Council of Europe is expected to discuss a draft opinion of the language law after the Parliamentary elections, she welcomed the President's statement that a thorough analysis of the law will be conducted. Hopefully that will pave the way for further measures to safeguard the rights of minorities, she added.
Political transition in Ukraine is taking place against the backdrop of the ongoing conflict in Donbas where residents face serious daily challenges, she continued. Welcoming the disengagement of forces at the Stanytsya Luhanska checkpoint on 26 June, she said that with political will, it is possible to improve the security and humanitarian situation along the contact line. She noted with regret, however, a persistent failure to agree on a ceasefire, and echoed the call by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) for all concerned to work towards that goal without delay, including at the 17 July Trilateral Contact Group meeting. Such a ceasefire should be accompanied by a withdrawal of heavy weapons from populated areas, disengagement of forces and protection of civilians and critical infrastructure.
The situation at the contact line remains unpredictable and volatile, with various levels of military engagement, she said. The human cost of the conflict is growing, with OHCHR recording 13 conflict-related deaths and 78 injuries in the first six months of 2019, water facilities attacked more than 60 times and schools, 17 times. Parties to the conflict must take all precautions to avoid civilian harm and to uphold international humanitarian law, she said, adding that safe, predictable and sustained humanitarian access remains a challenge.
Recalling the Council's unanimous endorsement of the Minsk agreements through resolution 2202 (2015), she said the United Nations expects any concerns to be addressed through constructive dialogue within existing negotiation formats with full respect for the spirit and letter of that text with a view to its implementation in whole. She added that there is an opportunity today for Ukraine to build on its reforms and to revitalize diplomatic efforts to resolve the five-year conflict in the country's east. That will require political will by all concerned, with international support. The United Nations hopes that after the Parliamentary elections and the formation of a new Government, recent encouraging statements will be followed by concrete actions to bring a positive dynamic to implement the Minsk agreements. The opportunity to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine is also a chance for greater peace and security in Europe that should not be missed, she said.
LAMBERTO ZANNIER, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe High Commissioner on National Minorities, said that his Office over the years has developed a set of guidelines and recommendations addressing important issues, such as education and the use of language. Ukraine has indeed every right to strengthen the role of the State language to enhance a shared sense of belonging. However, these measures should be balanced with concerned efforts to accommodate the ethnic and linguistic diversity of the country. Accordingly, minority rights, including in the sphere of language and education, should be taken into account and respected, in line with Ukraine's OSCE commitments and international standards. A balanced and pragmatic linguistic policy should ideally be achieved through positive means and incentives rather than penalties and take regional specifics into account, also with a view to facilitate progress with the resolution of the conflict in and around Ukraine. This would help establish an enabling environment for increasing the use of the State language as a tool for integration. The opinion and input from relevant international institutions, including the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, should ideally be sought to ensure that language-related legislation is in line with international standards.
The law On ensuring the functioning of Ukrainian as a State language was promulgated as he was visiting Kyiv in May, he recalled, noting that he engaged with the country's authorities and shared his perspectives with them. He said that he contributed an op-ed piece, pointing out that the language question should be addressed in a way that unites rather that divides Ukraine's diverse society and noting that President Zelensky made the same point in his inauguration speech. Concerning the text of the law, he welcomed that the State language law extends the transition period for the implementation of Article 7 of the law On Education until 2023 for the European Union languages. However, the distinction between European Union and non-European Union languages remains a concern. The law, as it stands, does not ensure sufficient legal clarity or guarantees for the protection of the linguistic rights of persons belonging to national minorities. Pending adoption of this prospective law on the rights of national minorities, the protection of their linguistic rights remains unclear. Ukraine's language policy should be supplemented by a modernizing of the overall legal framework safeguarding the rights of national minorities, including in the linguistic sphere, through the introduction of a comprehensive law.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said his country agrees that States have an obligation to promote national languages, but Ukraine is employing medieval and grim methods that run counter to all conventions on the protection of national minorities. Stating that the signing of the language law by the former President of Ukraine runs counter to the Minsk agreements, he said he hoped Council members will resist the temptation of protecting Kyiv from warranted criticism. Language and culture lie at the heart of the situation in Ukraine since the 2014 coup, he said, adding that Russian-speaking citizens are not a national minority in the conventional meaning of the term. Russian remains a preferred language for 83 per cent of the population, it remains an important subject in Ukrainian schools, and more than 90 per cent of Google searches in Ukraine are made in Russian. Limits and punitive measures on the Russian language risk stoking divisions and social confrontation, he said. Noting that the new President of Ukraine has stated that the new Parliament will scrutinize the language law, and that legislation to repeal it was put forward today, he said a great deal today depends on the Council. Either it will play into the hands of the Maidan politicians or send a clear message that the struggle for national identity not encroach on the Russian language, he said, proposing that Council members send a clear message of support for unity among Ukrainians rather than division.
RODNEY M. HUNTER (United States), reaffirming his country's unwavering support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, said that in the face of Russian aggression, the country is growing more united, cohesive, resilient and stronger. Welcoming the opportunity to discuss issues faced by Ukrainian minorities, he called on the Russian Federation to end the systematic abuse of Tartars in Crimea. He added that Moscow is undermining unity in Ukraine as seen by its decision to grant Russian Federation passports in conflict areas in the east. Recalling the findings of the Joint Investigative Team and that 17 July will mark the fifth anniversary of the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight M7, he called on the Russian Federation to abide by Council resolution 2166 (2014) and ensure that indicted individuals face justice. He also called for the release of Ukrainian sailors and vessels detained during an incident in the Kerch Strait (Sea of Azov) in November 2018. He went on to state that his country's sanctions would remain in place until the Russian Federation ends its occupation of Crimea and it fully implements the Minsk agreements.
NICOLAS DE RIVIERE (France) said that the law on State language in no way poses a threat to international peace and security. On the contrary, continued violations of Ukraine's sovereignty remains a serious concern and a threat to international peace and security. His delegation rejects illegal annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Granting Russian Federation citizenship to those living in Lugansk and Donetsk undermines the Minsk agreements. Regarding the tragic downing of M7, victims deserve truth and justice, he said, also calling for the release of 24 Ukrainian sailors captured in November 2018 as the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea decided that the Russian Federation should release them. Progress has been made in recent weeks, including the resumption of talks by the Trilateral Contact Group, as well as bilateral contacts of 11 July. Noting the important role of the Normandy format, he said now is the time to create new momentum to relaunch the peace process.
JOSA� SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said that four years after the signing of the Minsk agreements, violations of ceasefires are continuing. Millions have been displaced, suffering dire humanitarian situations, including hunger. The Dominican Republic calls on the parties to act on behalf of collective interests. An impartial assessment of minority rights is essential. All parties should refrain from any unilateral measures to make way for dialogue. Acknowledging the unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, he welcomed the efforts by the Normandy format and the Trilateral Contact Group.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) said his delegation fully respects the national competence over the internal matters of Ukraine, including the establishment of the status of the Ukrainian language as the country's national language. As a country comprising more than 300 ethnic groups and over 700 living languages spoken, he understands the unifying power of language. That is precisely the essence of language: it is to unify people instead of divide them, he said, welcoming the intention of President Zelensky to conduct a thorough analysis of the law to ensure that the constitutional rights and interests of Ukrainian citizens are respected.
WU HAITAO (China) said that his country maintains its objective, impartial position on the situation in Ukraine, including the issue of sovereignty. It is essential for all parties to implement resolution 2202 (2015) and the new Minsk agreement. It is also important to consider all historical and contemporary factors and accommodate the needs of all ethnic groups through dialogue to reach a final settlement that is acceptable to all.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) expressed surprise that the representative of the Russian Federation did not talk about its arming of separatists in eastern Ukraine and non-implementation of the Minsk agreements, among other issues that warrant ongoing Council discussion. Rejecting the tenuous link between the language law and the Minsk agreements, he said Ukrainians continue to suffer from a Russian-fuelled conflict that has claimed 13,000 lives. Emphasizing the responsibilities of all parties under the Minsk agreements, he called on the Russian Federation to withdraw its troops and military equipment from eastern Ukraine and to release political prisoners in Crimea where the situation is desperate. He also called for the release of Ukrainian naval servicemen in line with the ruling of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. He welcomed the indictment of four individuals in connection with Flight M7 and urged the Russian Federation to cooperate fully with prosecutors in line with Council resolution 2166 (2014). The Russian Federation is refusing to abide by the rules and norms of international law and until it does so, the international community must oppose Moscow's continued attempts to destabilize and undermine Ukraine, he said.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said Russian aggression against Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity is a direct threat to international peace and security. The adoption of a law by that country's legitimate authorities, however, is not. She said the international community should neither accept nor recognize the Russian Federation's cascade of disregard for the fundamental principles of international law, but rather respond accordingly to its unacceptable and illegal behaviour. She called on all States, including the Russian Federation, to fully cooperate with efforts to establish accountability for the downing of Flight M7, and underlined Poland's support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
MANSOUR AYYAD SH. A. ALOTAIBI (Kuwait), acknowledging the right of States to adopt official languages, noted that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and OSCE provided advice to Ukraine's authorities on language issues to ensure a balanced law that aims to unite the country. He renewed his country's call for respect for the decisions of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, as well as the Minsk agreements. He also called for dialogue and appeals to both sides to seriously engage in dialogue in good faith. Expressing concern at the humanitarian consequences of developments in Ukraine, he called on the parties to avoid measures that would worsen the situation. He also renewed Kuwait's commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), noting the democratic transition of power in Kyiv, welcomed the openness of President Zelensky towards Ukraine's people, including those living in the areas that are not under Government control. Urging the Russian Federation to engage with the new President, he emphasized that implementation of the Minsk agreements is the only way to reach a lasting solution. Noting the importance of honouring Venice Commission recommendations, he urged all parties to refrain from unilateral measures. Ukraine's sovereignty must be respected within the internationally recognized borders. His delegation regrets that the Russian Federation has not honoured the legally binding decision by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to release all 24 Ukrainian sailors and three ships seized in the Kerch Strait. Noting that 17 July will mark the fifth anniversary of the downing of M7, he said that the Joint Investigative Team, of which Belgium is a member, has identified four suspects and called for all countries to cooperate in prosecuting those responsible for the incident.
TIEMOKO MORIKO (CAte d'Ivoire) said his delegation remains steadfast in calling on all parties to demonstrate the utmost restraint. Unilateral initiatives diminish the prospect of peace. Given the mutual mistrust, the telephone call between President Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin on 11 July is an encouraging event. His delegation hopes that this will pave the way for more conversation and eventually puts an end to the conflict.
AMPARO MELE COLIFA (Equatorial Guinea) urged the parties concerned to show greater determination to improve the situation in eastern Ukraine. The parties should act with moderation and avoid escalations that could have long-term consequences. His Government believes a full application of the Minsk agreements is vital to the re-establishment of peace and stability in eastern Ukraine. The Minsk agreements and Council resolution 2202 (2015) remain fundamental instruments.
XOLISA MFUNDISO MABHONGO (South Africa) stressed the importance of strengthening diplomatic efforts to avoid escalating tensions, refraining from provocative actions and implementing existing agreements. Non-implementation of these agreements can lead to unintended consequences. The Minsk agreements provide the most promising road map for the peaceful settlement of the current hostilities, including in eastern Ukraine, and advance the cause of peace and stability in the broader region, he said, urging all the parties to fully implement them.
CHRISTOPH HEUSGEN (Germany), stating that language laws should unite people, not divide them, welcomed signals put out by the new President of Ukraine. He drew attention to the treatment of minorities in occupied Crimea, quoting a Human Rights Watch report as stating that Tartars are being arrested and prosecuted without evidence against the backdrop of the Russian Federation's illegal occupation of the peninsula. He also asked what Moscow is doing about compensating the families of the victims of Flight M7 which was shot down with Russian weapons. A gesture by the Russian Federation on the fifth anniversary would be welcome, he said, suggesting the establishment of a truth commission to determine what happened. On the detention of 24 Ukrainian naval servicemen, he said respect for international law and court rulings is fundamental for an international rules-based order. With a new President of Ukraine who says he wants to overcome stalemates, he called for reciprocating gestures from the Russian Federation.
GUSTAVO MEZA-CUADRA (Peru), Council President for July, speaking in his national capacity, hailed the recent decision by the Presidents of the Russian Federation and Ukraine to resume negotiations under the Normandy format. Both countries should make the most of opportunities to promote dialogue while refraining from actions that might create obstacles. On the law to strengthen the use of the Ukrainian language, he voiced concern on its potential effects in Donbas alongside Moscow's decision to extend Russian nationality to persons in separatist regions. He called on all parties and actors to promote trust, dialogue and full implementation of the Minsk agreements, starting with a ceasefire, and reiterated Peru's commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said his country's language law is a purely internal issue that has no relation to international peace and security or to the implementation of Council resolution 2202 (2015) on the Minsk agreements. A country that for centuries suppressed the Ukrainian language, forcefully replacing it with Russian in all spheres of life, is in no position to tell Ukrainians what they should speak or write. By raising the issue ahead of the Parliamentary elections, Moscow is trying to give political support to pro-Russian parties while distracting attention from the non-implementation of the Minsk agreements and upcoming anniversary of the downing of Flight M7. While the new President of Ukraine has taken concrete steps in search of resolving the conflict, Russian forces and their proxies have almost doubled their ceasefire violations, and the situation on the ground remains bleak. Implementation of the Minsk agreements is stalled, illegal passportization continues, the security situation in Donbas is deteriorating further, the de-occupation of Crimea has yet to start and Ukrainian citizens are being used by hostages in a hybrid war against the country.
On Flight M7, he said the start of criminal proceedings is an important milestone in uncovering the truth and ensuring justice, and he praised the Netherlands and Australia for holding the Russian Federation responsible. He added that the Russian Federation's capture of three Ukrainian vessels and 24 servicemen, and its denial of the jurisdiction of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in that matter, sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of navigation. He called for the strengthening of political and economic sanctions until the Russian Federation stops violating human rights in temporarily occupied Crimea, releases all illegally detained citizens of Ukraine and de-occupies the Autonomous Region of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. It is unfortunate that the best the Council can do today is to express concern or to call on the parties to do something, particularly as one of the parties � present in the Chamber � pretends it is not a party. He suggested a very short list of simple measures that the Russian Federation could put into place, including the withdrawal of heavy weapons, providing access to detainees, releasing the Ukrainian servicemen, withdrawing its military and dismantling its fortifications in the disengagement area, and agreeing on the opening of more crossing points.
Responding to statements delivered by some delegations, the representative of the Russian Federation took the floor for a second time, urging his counterpart from the United Kingdom to visit Crimea and draw his own conclusions rather than reading out a narrative given by his foreign office. Some Council members spoke of many issues, which were not a proposed topic for today's meeting. Ukraine's delegate painted an erroneous picture of what's happening in his country. The reality is far from his imagination. The Russian Federation is willing to fully cooperate in a thorough impartial investigation into the downing of M7. But the work of the Joint Investigation Team unfortunately is not impartial. The United Kingdom's delegate demanded that the Russian Federation pay compensations for victims when no one has been determined as culprits. The United States has refused to provide its satellite images. The Team is solely trying to pin blame on the Russian Federation. On the incident in the Kerch Strait, his Government has proposed to release the detainees on condition that criminal proceedings take place in the Russian Federation. But Ukraine refused that offer. Describing how Ukraine's forces killed civilians in the country's eastern regions, he said that it is Kyiv that sabotaged the Minsk agreements. He wondered why some Council members, who repeatedly call for the parties to the conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Libya to sit down face to face, request the Russian Federation to come to the negotiation table, rather than the representatives of Lugansk and Donetsk.
The representative of Ukraine said his Russian counterpart is confused that today's Council meeting is a Russian talk show.
Source: United Nations