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Ambassador Samantha Power: Remarks at UNSC Discussion of UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine
April 17, 2014

Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at a Security Council Session on Ukraine, April 16, 2014

04/16/2014 07:40 PM EDT

 As Delivered

Thank you so much, Madam President, and thank you, Assistant Secretary-General Šimonović, for your briefing today and for your diligent work on this controversial issue.

We meet today to discuss the work of the UN’s Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine and the timely report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. After weeks of Russian disinformation and propaganda, this gives us yet another opportunity to focus on facts. The independent and impartial reporting we have heard today is essential to prevent the kind of distortions that may lead to further instability in an already combustible situation – a situation that continues to grow more dangerous every day.

Today’s remarks by the Russian Federation, where the independent report provided by the UN was disparaged – indeed, slandered — as biased and unfounded is deeply worrying. If you don’t like the message, the Russian strategy appears to be – metaphorically — shoot the messenger. Even if these attacks are attacks on the entire international community, which asked the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide independent reporting, we urge the UN to continue to provide independent reporting and not to be deterred by slander and intimidation being practiced by those who do not like facts that have proven inconvenient and truths that credibly refute Russia’s false and self-justifying claims.

Let us be clear: the actions the world witnessed in Crimea – and the denials of Russian involvement in the lead-up to its illegal annexation and occupation – are repeating themselves in eastern Ukraine. Again, a region has been transformed almost overnight: from a state of relative calm to manufactured unrest. Over the last several days, heavily armed, pro-Russian separatists have seized the city administration, police stations, and other government buildings in eleven cities in Donetsk Oblast. Every major city in the region has at least one building under occupation. It is clear that these actions were not a set of spontaneous events or homegrown, but rather a well-orchestrated professional campaign of incitement, separatism, and sabotage of the Ukrainian state. And there is substantial evidence of involvement from Russia, which is now diverting attention from its own actions, its own territorial expansion, its own fear-mongering, by trying to change the subject.

Well, it won’t work. The contrast between the actions of the Ukrainian government and those of the Russian troops could not be starker. Ukrainian security forces have responded more carefully and in more measured ways to provocations in the East than – that would be difficult for any of us to accept in our own countries. The Ukrainian government has repeatedly sought to negotiate with the armed groups that have seized public buildings and established unauthorized roadblocks in eastern Ukraine in an effort to resolve the situation peacefully through dialogue. Ukrainian officials have offered amnesty. We appreciate the government’s statements that any actions it undertakes will be gradual and responsible. And contrary to the conspiracy theories put forth by the Russian representative just now, we continue to call for restraint, privately and publicly. Obviously, the best way to de-escalate this situation is for the armed militants to leave the buildings they have seized.

While this report speaks to an earlier period in the crisis, it is important to note that even several weeks ago, the monitoring mission had already received allegations that some of the people stoking unrest in the region were not Ukrainian citizens, but in fact agitators coming from the Russian Federation. Obviously, it is a critical question whether Russia is continuing its policy of seeking to destabilize – and ultimately annex – land from its neighbor. For purposes of establishing the truth, it is essential that the UN Human Rights Monitoring Commission go forward with its work, and that it have full access to every part of the country, including Crimea. The United States commends the Ukraine government for facilitating the Mission’s activities, and also for supporting the OSCE’s ongoing efforts to monitor every aspect of the scheduled May 25th elections.

Now let us consider some of the truths set forth in the High Commissioner’s report. From December of last year until February of 2014, the Berkut special police and other elements of the federal security apparatus used excessive force against anti-government protesters. This deadly violence did not end until former President Yanukovych abandoned his office and fled the country. Since late February, when the new government assumed office, evidence of human rights abuses has decreased dramatically – except in the Crimea, where Russian policies threaten the rights of Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, and other minority groups.

Let me emphasize that, according to this new independent report, the only region of Ukraine that has suffered a rapid deterioration in human rights is the part over which the government in Kyiv has least control. In Crimea, where the role of Russian authorities is as profound as it is illegal; journalists and human rights defenders have faced harassment and torture; censorship is common; and the presence of paramilitary and soldiers “widely believed to be from the Russian Federation” has sharply inhibited freedom of expression. The report raises valid concerns about the introduction of Russian citizenship in a region that does not belong to Russia; discrimination against Ukrainian citizens inside their own country; and a plethora of practical issues related to property ownership, pensions, wages, health care, labor rights, education, and access to justice.

The new report also examines the allegation – repeated over and over again by Russian officials – that there have been systematic attacks against ethnic Russians in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and that Jewish communities have also come under threat. The reality is that there have been a few isolated incidents against individual members belonging to minority groups – and we should and do condemn these incidents. But the report makes clear these incidents were neither widespread nor a reflection of government policy. On the contrary, the report presents vivid evidence that the Ukraine government has sought actively to safeguard the rights of all citizens within its jurisdiction.

Madam President, it is revealing that, while Russia has sought to deny the realities cited in the UN’s new report, the leaders of Ukraine are making a good faith effort to implement its recommendations. Among other initiatives, they are moving ahead with constitutional reform, plans to decentralize power, preparations for the election, and initiatives to curb the corruption that flourished so blatantly under the former president. Overall, the new government has acted with tremendous restraint under extraordinarily difficult conditions. There will always be more to do, but the allegation that the government is primarily to blame for the present tensions is completely baseless.

Before moving to my conclusion, I just wanted to draw on the even-handed recommendations in the UN human rights report in order to show that the charges against the United Nations are inaccurate. Among the report’s recommendations to the government of Ukraine are the following: ensure accountability for all human rights violations during the unrest; ensure inclusivity and equal participation in public affairs and political life; prevent media manipulation; combat intolerance and extremism; and, implement measures to eradicate corruption.

The recommendations to the authorities in Crimea include: actively resolve cases of missing persons; take all measures needed to protect the rights of persons affected by the changing institutional and legal framework, including citizenship; disarm and disband paramilitary units; investigate hate speech and media manipulation.

These are not the recommendations of a biased report. Madam President, the release of this human rights monitoring report should remind us all of our responsibilities. The government of Ukraine has a responsibility to continue its reform initiatives and to ensure inclusivity and respect for the human rights of all groups. The people of Ukraine have a duty to cooperate with their government and fellow citizens in seeking to resolve disputes through peaceful means. The Russian Federation has an obligation to fulfill its commitments under international law, to respect the rights and the territorial sovereignty of Ukraine, and to back its professed desire for stability with actions designed to achieve that goal, instead of its opposite.

The Russian Federation must move its troops back from the border region, withdraw its forces from Crimea, and cease all efforts to destabilize Ukraine. The international community has a responsibility to support the people of Ukraine in their desire to build a strong and united country with a robust democracy and effective national and regional institutions. We have a collective responsibility, as well, to do all we can to prevent further bloodshed and to find a peaceful and just conclusion to what has been a tragic and unnecessary crisis.

Tomorrow, in Geneva, senior representatives from Ukraine, Russia, the EU, and the United States are scheduled to meet to discuss de-escalation, demobilization, support for elections, and constitutional reform. My government looks forward to participating in that meeting as an opportunity to resolve this crisis through diplomacy before it is too late.

Thank you.