Thank you, Madame President,
On 17 February, five years ago, this Council endorsed, in resolution 2202, the “Package of Measures for the Implementation of the Minsk Agreements”.
Today, the “Package of Measures”, together with the “Minsk Protocol” and the “Minsk Memorandum”, remain the only agreed framework for a negotiated, peaceful settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The Secretary-General has consistently expressed the strong backing of the United Nations for the lead role of the Normandy Four, the Trilateral Contact Group, and the OSCE to find a peaceful settlement of the conflict in eastern Ukraine and called for a revitalisation of these efforts.
I last briefed this Council on Ukraine on 16 July 2019.
A number of important developments since then have given rise to hope for long-elusive progress in implementation of the Minsk provisions, including its key security and political aspects.
Most notably, on 9 December, and after a three-year hiatus, the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine met in Paris under the so-called Normandy Format. The Normandy Four meeting called for “immediate measures to stabilize the situation in the conflict area; measures to implement the political provisions of the Minsk agreements; and follow up steps”.
The leaders committed to “a full and comprehensive implementation of the ceasefire,” strengthened by the implementation of all necessary ceasefire support measures. They also committed to supporting the development and implementation of “an updated demining plan” and to support an agreement within the Trilateral Contact Group on three additional disengagement areas, with the aim of disengaging forces and equipment.
They encouraged the Trilateral Contact Group to facilitate the release and exchange of conflict-related detainees and committed to supporting an agreement within the Group, on new crossing points along the line of contact, based primarily on humanitarian criteria.
Critically, the participants recalled that the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission should have safe and secure access throughout Ukraine in order to fully implement its mandate.
The leaders in Paris further referred to the so-called “special status” for Certain Areas of Donetsk and Luhansk Regions, as well as the so-called “Steinmeier formula”, which was accepted by the sides earlier.
The Secretary-General publicly welcomed the outcomes of the meeting and called on all concerned to redouble their efforts to build on recent progress towards a resolution of the conflict. He also reiterated his full support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.
I used the opportunity of my first visit to Ukraine from 12 to 13 December 2019 to reiterate the Secretary-General’s support for the ongoing peace efforts and for the critical reforms in Ukraine. My interlocutors were clear in their desire to see tangible progress in the negotiations.
Many of those I met stressed the need for greater involvement of women in the ongoing peace efforts. I also heard about the need to improve the humanitarian situation for ordinary people living along the contact line and to invest greater attention and political will in strengthening, enabling and supporting various dialogue initiatives that could contribute to ensuring sustainable peace.
We are pleased that the Paris summit was followed by a large-scale exchange of prisoners and progress on discussions on additional disengagement areas. However, these initial encouraging signs remain limited and easily reversible.
Today’s disturbing reports of major ceasefire violations across the contact line near Zolote, including alleged use of heavy weapons, are deeply disturbing and a stark reminder that in the absence of sustained political will, there is a very real risk of backsliding and further violence.
You will hear shortly from the newly appointed Special Representative of the OSCE’s Chairperson-in-Office in Ukraine, Ambassador Heidi Grau, on the latest discussions in the Trilateral Contact Group, as well as from the Chief Monitor of the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission, Ambassador Halit Cevik, on the overall security situation on the ground. It is critical that we support their important efforts.
At this pivotal time, I hope this Council will encourage all stakeholders to do their utmost to ensure sustained positive momentum in the negotiations and display the political will and flexibility to reach agreement on the key steps forward and focus on the implementation of agreed commitments, including first and foremost commitment to a durable ceasefire.
Despite some steps taken to mitigate its impact on civilians, the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine continues to claim lives, cause injuries, severely restrict freedom of movement, and negatively impact basic human rights, including the rights to housing, health, education and an adequate standard of living.
The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has regularly reported on the human rights situation and on violations. The Mission’s latest quarterly report is dated 12 December 2019.
In 2019, OHCHR recorded 167 civilian casualties (27 killed and 140 injured): 63% caused by shelling and small arms and light weapons fire, and 35% by mines and explosive remnants of war. This reflects a 40% decrease compared with 2018 and the lowest annual civilian casualty figures for the entire conflict period. While this decrease is a welcome development, we note that a permanent and comprehensive silencing of weapons, the best way to eliminate civilian casualties, is still not within reach.
The United Nations is particularly concerned about people living along the contact line, who remain the most vulnerable. Civilians are paying the highest price in this crisis. 3.4 million people - including the elderly, the disabled and children - require humanitarian assistance and protection services.
The conflict has transformed many families into single-headed households. As reported by UN agencies, women, who lead nearly 70 per cent of households on both sides of the contact line, face particularly daunting challenges as a result of continued hostilities and volatility along the contact line. Many of them lack a social network, income, access to housing, and opportunities for employment and professional development. Female-headed households often have no access to social benefits or psychological support.
Humanitarian access, the protection of civilians and civilian assets are everyday challenges. Water, education and health infrastructure continued to be severely impacted by the conflict, reducing access to those facilities for civilians living there. In 2019, there were 50 incidents damaging education facilities – a 200 per-cent increase from 2018. Eighty-eight incidents targeted water infrastructure located near or on the contact line.
Attacks on civilian infrastructure must stop.
The United Nations and its partners provide assistance in accordance with the universally recognized principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. As they seek to reach the most vulnerable civilians, humanitarian organizations require unimpeded and sustained access.
Since 2014, the United Nations and its partners have been able to reach an estimated one million people annually with life-saving aid due to the generous contributions of donors. However, this constitutes less than one-third of the total people in need.
With the 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan severely underfunded, the 2020 Humanitarian Response Plan will require $158 million, aiming to reach two million people.
As I heard first-hand during my December visit to Ukraine, this conflict continues to exact an unacceptable humanitarian toll on the Ukrainian population. It destabilizes overall peace and security in Ukraine, but also potentially in the region as a whole. The recent positive momentum and stated commitment by the Normandy Four and the Trilateral Contact Group participants to address the conflict with renewed impetus and sense of urgency need our encouragement and full support.
This must be followed by action in order to restore trust and enable tangible improvements in the precarious humanitarian situation along the contact line. The much-need and long-awaited peace in eastern Ukraine can be achieved, if there is sufficient political will, good faith negotiations and concrete support for efforts to silence the guns.
Thank you, Madame President.