Thank you, Madam President.
I would like to thank Mr Šimonović for his briefing today. I would also like to thank him, and the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, for producing the OHCHR report published yesterday.
The United Kingdom welcomes this report and its findings. To date, it is the most comprehensive independent assessment of the human rights situation in Ukraine since the onset of this crisis. It is therefore an important contribution to our discussions on the situation in Ukraine. Attempts to discredit the report as biased or politically motivated, as my Russian colleague has just done, lack all credibility.
The OHCHR report is clear that human rights violations were a root cause of the popular protests which began in November last year.
The report found that since the change of Government in late February, allegations of human rights violations have decreased. But we do not underestimate the magnitude of the task ahead. In this regard, it is encouraging that the OHCHR report finds, and I quote, “clear indications of a willingness by the present Government to ensure a break with the past injustices and to elaborate a new vision for Ukraine’s future”.
The United Kingdom is fully committed to supporting Ukraine in this endeavour.
The OHCHR report comprehensively refutes assertions made by the Russian Federation, in this chamber and elsewhere, to justify its illegal intervention in Ukraine.
I will give just three examples:
First. On 1st March President Putin requested authority to use Russia’s armed forces in Ukraine on the basis that there was, and I quote, a “threat to the lives of citizens of the Russian Federation, our compatriots and the personnel of the armed forces”. This claim, oft repeated, underpinned Russia’s justification for military intervention in Ukraine.
But the OHCHR report concludes that, in fact, attacks against the ethnic Russian community in Ukraine were, quote, “neither widespread, nor systematic”. It further assesses, and I quote, “Russian-speakers have not been subject to threats in Crimea”. This finding supports those of other independent authorities, including the OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities who also found “no evidence of violations or threats to the lives of Russian speakers”.
Second, Russia bases its justification for the illegal annexation of Crimea on the legitimacy of the 16 March referendum. On 18 March, in his address to the Russian Duma, President Putin said, and I quote, “A referendum was held in Crimea on 16 March in full compliance with democratic procedures and international norms”. In stark contrast to this bold assertion, the report concludes that, quote, “the presence of paramilitary and so-called self-defence groups as well as soldiers in uniform without insignia, widely believed to be from the Russian Federation, was not conducive to an environment in which the will of the voters could be exercised freely”.
The report also states, and I quote, “the OHCHR delegation received many reports of vote rigging”; including, “cases of non-Ukrainian citizens participating in the referendum, as well as individuals voting numerous times in different locations”.
Overall, the report expresses, and I quote, “serious concern about violations of the civil and political rights of the inhabitants of Crimea”. And it cites, “cases of abduction, unlawful arrest and detention…harassment and violence against peaceful demonstrators”, “arbitrary arrest and torture”. It also expresses deep concern at the consequences of introducing Russian citizenship and estimates that 3,000 Crimean Tatars have been displaced.
Lastly, the report contains damning evidence that Russia has used propaganda and misinformation to exacerbate tensions and to destabilise Ukraine. It says that the Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company has been, and I quote, “disguising information about Kyiv events” in an attempt to “justify Crimea’s return to the Russian Federation”.
Moreover the report states that “greatly exaggerated stories” and “misinformed reports” were, quote, “systematically used to create a climate of fear and insecurity”, end quote, to support Russia’s case for the annexation of Crimea.
Turning to current events, the United Kingdom supports fully the right of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. Those Ukrainians who wish to demonstrate against the Government are entitled to do so, provided they do so peacefully. But there is a line. Well-equipped paramilitary units armed with automatic weapons are not peaceful protesters. A legitimate sovereign state must insist on a monopoly of the use of force. We express particular concern, as Mr Šimonović did in his briefing today, about the arming of protestors and their transformation into quasi-para-military forces.
Yesterday the Ukrainian Government began an operation to restore law and order in Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian Prime Minister stated that operations will proceed “gradually, responsibly and prudently”. The Foreign Minister emphasised that the operation were initiated only after all other means to resolve the situation had been exhausted. And we have received assurance that the operation will comply fully with Ukrainian and international law, safeguard human rights, and uphold Ukraine’s international obligations.
The Ukrainian government has acted responsibly throughout this crisis, even in the face of immense provocation – not least the illegal annexation of its territory – and despite continuing interference from Russia. We therefore have confidence that Ukrainian security forces will continue to act proportionately and in the interests of all citizens of Ukraine.
We have heard from the Permanent Representative of Russia today a new fantasy narrative about developments in Eastern Ukraine. I have no doubt that future independent reports from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will prove this new narrative to be as false as the Russian narrative on Crimea has comprehensively been shown to be.
We remind Russia that it cannot use the situation in Ukraine, for which it bears significant responsibility, as a pretext for further illegal military activity.
Our appeal to Russia is simple: stop interfering in the internal affairs of Ukraine; move your troops away from Ukraine’s borders; rescind the authorisation to use military force in Ukraine; and enter into dialogue.
The European Union wants to see Russia as a partner, as a friend and as an ally. A stable, peaceful and prosperous Ukraine is just as much in Russia’s interests as it is our own. So rather than pursuing a strategy of destabilisation, we call on Russia to take its place at the negotiating table and explain its concerns. We hope that the quadripartite talks scheduled for 17 April will provide just such an opportunity.
I thank you.