We commend the United States for convening this briefing to consider interlinkages between human rights and prevention of armed conflicts.
It is an especially fitting subject of discussion given the state of today’s world, rife with both numerous ongoing conflicts and a number of potential extremely dangerous flare-ups.
More than seventy years ago, the UN Charter established the founding pillars of the UN system: peace and security, human rights and free development.
Today, in a globalized world, they are more topical than ever.
Sustainable peace and security cannot be achieved in isolation from human rights.
Human rights violations are not only a grave consequence of conflicts but they are frequently the very reason that conflicts start in the first place.
In the past, we have seen rare instances when the Security Council was able to establish that link, referring to the danger of conflicts eruption and violations of human rights.
On 4 November 1956, for example, the Security Council adopted its Resolution 120 on Hungary, referring to the grave situation created by the use of Soviet military forces to suppress the efforts of the Hungarian people to reassert their rights.
The Council called an emergency special session of the General Assembly in order to make appropriate recommendations concerning the situation in Hungary. Remarkably, that Resolution of the Council could not been vetoed by the Soviet Union, which did cast its vote against it. Then the Council succeeded in achieving a desired result by passing the Resolution by a procedural vote.
In contrast, the outbreak of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 was utterly overlooked and the Council did not heed the early signs of the impending tragedy.
Almost a year before, in summer 1993, the Commission of Human Rights Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions depicted in great detail an alarming situation with looming genocide and stressed that “human rights must be the prime concern of any system for monitoring or implementing agreements“.
However, the Council then failed to respond to that warning until several months after the tragedy had already happened.
Today, the whole world is observing severe consequences of the crisis in Syria and gross human rights violations committed by various parties, particularly the Syrian regime and its allies.
Early warning signs of an imminent conflict were very clear back in 2011. However, the first draft resolution on the issue (Security Council document S/2011/612), presented by France, Germany, Portugal and the United Kingdom, with a prominent human rights component was vetoed on 4 October 2011.
Fast forward six years. Immense human suffering, hundreds of thousands dead, millions displaced, and not even a hint that a light in the end of the tunnel is about to appear.
A final stroke to complete this grim picture — action by the Security Council on the matter is immobilized by what is now 8 vetoes.
We can no longer apply a piecemeal approach to the issue of such a fundamental importance for maintaining peace and security.
It is time to look afresh at the role and place of human rights in the work of this Council and take action.
Ukraine has consistently promoted the Human Rights Council resolution on the role of prevention in ensuring and protecting human rights. While the Human Rights Council is a designated UN venue for discussions on human rights issues, its ability to take practical and action-oriented decisions on matters relating to peace and security is obviously constrained.
We must therefore recognize the crucial implications that human rights violations have for peace and security, and it will be only natural for the UNSC to take the lead on this matter.
Back in 1992, following the end of the Cold War era, this Council held its first summit meeting to discuss the responsibility of the Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security, in all its aspects.
Then, the innate connection between protection of human rights and maintaining peace and security appeared to be unquestionably understood and defended.
Every head of state or government participating in the debate raised the issue of the Council’s share of responsibility and role in protecting human rights.
Let me quote one of the world leaders at the summit:
“I believe that these questions are not an internal matter of States, but rather their obligations under the United Nations Charter, international covenants and conventions. We want to see this approach become a universal norm. The Security Council is called upon to underscore the civilized world’s collective responsibility for the protection of human rights and freedoms“.
It would be pretty much a banal quotation if not for the fact that those were the words of the President of the Russian Federation, pronounced in this very room.
It was President Yeltsin himself, and it happened 25 years ago, on the last day of January, 1992, the very first month of the Russia’s membership in the United Nations, and this Council.
These words resonate with their continued global relevance to this day, just like with their irrelevance to the current political reality of the country in question.
In New York, a street sign at the southwest corner of Third Avenue and 67th Street reads Sakharov-Bonner Corner, in honor of Mr. Sakharov and his wife, Yelena Bonner.
The corner is down the block from the Russian (once Soviet) Mission to the United Nations. Already in 1995 it was Yelena Bonner who, testifying in the US Congress, said that all democratic ideals proclaimed by President Yeltsin had been betrayed by the military assault on Chechnya.
Ever since Russia has been striking a different chord: that the Security Council, the highest world authority to address conflicts and other threats to peace and security, should not consider human rights issues.
Even more. Human rights phobia has been spreading like metastatic cancer beyond this Council to other parts of the UN body in New York. In November and then in December last year, consideration of human rights resolutions was challenged by a group of countries even in the Third Committee of the General Assembly, which, by its mandate, is obliged to address these very issues.
Disrespect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law by authoritarian regimes with regard to their own citizens has among its purposes an attempt to ensure impunity for themselves for internal civil wars, as is the case in Syria, or unaccountability for attempts of illegal annexation of foreign territories, as it is the case with Russia’s actions in Crimea, and its military aggression in Donbas.
Three years have passed since Russia illegally occupied Crimea.
The occupying authorities commit massive systematic violations of human rights and seek to destroy the identity of Ukrainians and the indigenous people of the peninsula — the Crimean Tatars, as well as of other ethnic and religious groups. In its resolution 71/205 “Situation of human rights in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine)”, the General Assembly reaffirmed that Crimean residents should enjoy protection under the Geneva Conventions and applicable human rights instruments.
You could find numerous testimonies of the crimes committed during Russian aggression against Ukraine in reports of the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, which has been operating in my country for three years already at the invitation of the Ukrainian Government.
The request for deployment of this Mission was an immediate response by my Government to Russian aggression as an effort to prevent massive human rights violations.
Since March 2014, the Mission has issued 17 reports on the human rights situation and two thematic reports. We believe that these periodic reports should become a basis for a focused discussion.
Proper consideration of human rights violations in the context of maintenance of peace and security may contribute to preventing an outburst of an armed conflict. If the conflict is already burning, addressing its human rights dimension may prevent further escalation of violence and serve as a deterrent to conflict-related atrocities.
In the 90s the Security Council received 23 periodic reports on human rights violations in the former Yugoslavia. The first peacekeeping operation in UN history with a mandate of protection of civilians was deployed to contribute to the resolution of the Balkan conflict. We, therefore, do not suggest anything new.
The human rights component should be an integral part of Council’s consideration of conflict resolution and management. When the Council looks into issue of the occupation of Crimea and Russian military aggression in Ukrainian Donbas the same approach should apply.
On the other side of the world, though still on the Russian border, there is another vivid case in point; and that is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The recent report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights situation in DPRK presented in Geneva to the Human Rights Council pointed to the deficiencies in the public food distribution system, restrictions on access to information, and violations of international labor standards concerning overseas workers. The report also expresses continuing concern over the grave situation in political prison camps and the unresolved cases of enforced disappearances, including the abduction of citizens of Japan and the Republic of Korea.
In the 70s, human rights issues were removed from the agenda of New York and transferred to Geneva. It was not only a physical move but, as it seems, an ideological divorce of the UN HQ from something that then was perceived as irreconcilably different from the security agenda of New York. It is time to reconcile these differences and to restore the integrity of the entire UN system according to the design of its founders.
This Council has no right to repeat its failures in Rwanda, and to continue to fail in Syria, to remain paralyzed by the Russian position in the case of Crimea, and Donbass.
Many things depend on dedicated leadership of the UN. The kind of leadership that is fit to leave behind the years of apathy and neglect to the human rights dimension of security. The kind of leadership that is fit to lead this Organization into the future, where human rights and human security are integral parts of the national security of each and every Member State.
To conclude, I would like to stress how much we are inspired by Secretary-General Guterres’s vision and outlined approaches to the issues suggested for discussion. We sincerely believe that the Secretary-General can skillfully manage the entire content of the toolbox given to him by the Charter and will not hesitate to use it whenever necessary to achieve implementation of the UN Charter goals and objectives.