Statement by H.E. Mr. Sergiy Kyslytsya, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, at the UNSC Open Debate: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

Statement by H.E. Mr. Sergiy Kyslytsya, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, at the UNSC Open Debate: Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict

Mr. President,

Ukraine highly appreciates the initiative of Poland to hold this open debate, as well as your personal chairing of this meeting. We thank the Secretary-General for presenting his report on the issue of protection of civilians, as well as the Director-General of the ICRC for his presentation.

As I am about to deliver this statement in my national capacity, I also would like to highlight that Ukraine aligns itself with the statement to be delivered by the EU.

Mr. President,

We welcome the fact that for the first time the dire situation of civilians in Ukraine affected by the Russian military aggression in the Donbas region of Ukraine was referred to in the SG report.

Ukraine shares the Secretary-General’s grave concern about the situations of armed conflicts in many countries where civilian population, and in particular women and children, suffer disproportionately as a result of active military operations.

However, what is really disheartening, is that despite a practically universal recognition by the UN member states of the need for a full compliance with international law, including humanitarian and human rights law, the issue of protection of civilians in armed conflict remains as topical today as it was back in 1999, when in resolution 1265 in OP 2 this Council stated that it (and I quote): Strongly condemns the deliberate targeting of civilians in situations of armed conflict as well as attacks on objects protected under international law, and calls on all parties to put an end to such practices (end of quote).

Almost two decades passed by and we all still “express concern”, “strongly condemn”, “urge, call and underline” and so on and so forth.

Moreover, we witness a worrying trend of new devastating conflicts emerging and the agenda of the Security Council continuing to grow.

Unfortunately, the majority of armed conflicts occur in Africa, severely affecting civilians and bringing violence to their homelands. As we will celebrate the Africa Day on May 25, allow me to underscore the high importance of ensuring lasting peace in this continent.

In all fairness, many countries and the international organizations, including the UN, have taken very concrete and practical actions to alleviate suffering of civilians in numerous armed conflicts.

However, the lack of comprehensive and enforceable actions on the international scale hampers our progress in this area.

There is a pressing need to improve the documentation of the facts of violations and the conduct of their objective and effective investigations. Nevertheless, the part that needs most improvement is bringing those accountable to justice.

As long as impunity rules the day, as long as some UN member states, including one well known permanent member, could not care less about implementing decisions of the ICJ, this Council is doomed to go in circles around the issue of protection of civilians – addressing it but never really solving it.

It is all akin to putting a Band Aid on a badly bleeding open wound – a lot of effort is being applied, lots of Band Aids may be dispensed, but the patient still does not get any better.

What is the solution you may ask?

It is rather simple – each and every UN member state, no matter how big or small, no matter how rich or poor, has to commit to do its part in following established norms of international law and actions of those, who opt to ignore them, have to be met with the most resolute response from the international community.

We have to get real – in absence of a supranational body to enforce the international law, it becomes a joint responsibility of all of us, meaning that no crime of aggression or other transgressions against the international rule-based system must be tolerated under some pretext, concocted just to protect one’s own narrow interests.

Mr. President,

The first half of my statement raised the issue of what we as the international community must do to properly tackle the subject under consideration today.

In the second half, in keeping with the request of the Concept Note of today’s debate, I’ll highlight what my country is doing to provide the best possible protection for civilians as Russia’s armed aggression against Ukraine entered its fifth year.

The war in Donbas and the resulting humanitarian emergency rarely occupy papers’ front pages lately. Yet, it is very much a daily reality for about 4,4 million people living in the war affected areas.

According to the UN estimates, some 3.4 million people from the Donbas region now require humanitarian assistance and protection.

With 1.5 million registered internally displaced persons, since 2014 (the first year of the conflict) the Ukrainian State has increased by more than 6 times budgetary allocations for monthly cash payouts to the mentioned people.

Bureaucratic red tape has been substantially cut to simplify and ease access to social services.

Psychological support services for those, who need them, are rendered by the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian authorities are doing their utmost to ensure continuous functioning in the Donbass region of objects of critical infrastructure that benefit local population. For example, the Donetsk Filter Station, located in the so called “gray zone”, supplies potable water to almost 400 thousand people on both sides of the line of contact. However, five members of the service personnel were wounded on April 17, after their car came under fire from the Russian backed forces. As a result, the station had to cease working for 5 days, which added to suffering of local population. As of now, the station is operational again.

In 2017 the Interagency Commission on the Application and Implementation of International Humanitarian Law in Ukraine was established. The Commission’s work is aimed at identifying most pressing humanitarian needs, setting concrete goals, monitoring tasks implementation and assessing efficiency in addressing the identified needs.

As mentioned in the SG report, the Civilian Casualties Mitigation Team has been created in Ukraine’s Armed Forces. Moreover, the work continues on introduction and implementation of methodologies and algorithms of military operations designed to prevent casualties among civilians.

The Cabinet of Ministers is working on elaborating a document on the protection of civilians state policy. The document is being prepared in collaboration with our international partners, including the UN, and relevant NGOs.

Ukrainian miners have cleared of mines and ordnance over 1000 objects of civilian infrastructure, over 150 thousand explosive remnants of war, including almost 1000 of improvised explosive devices, purposefully set up by the Russian backed forces.

All this is just a fraction of what has been done to help civilians under the circumstances of the ongoing military conflict, instigated and fueled by Russia, which continues to flood the Donbass region with its arms and military personnel.

Right now the conflict may be in the low intensity phase, but it is not less deadly. Just one example. On February 20 this year a Ukrainian military medic Ms. Sabina Halytska was killed while riding in a vehicle clearly marked by a red cross. The vehicle was struck by a Russian antitank guided missile. She was only 23.

What is this if not a direct violation of resolution 2286 unanimously adopted in 2016?

Back in 2005 one delegation during the debate in the Security Council on the same subject emphasized (and I quote) «to stress the role played by the International Criminal Court and to recall the as-yet-untapped potential of the Fact-Finding Commission created in accordance with article 90 of the first Protocol Additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions on protecting victims of war» (end of quote).

I would subscribe under those words, even though they were the words of the Russian delegation. Unfortunately, the position of this permanent member of the Council is not as permanent as it could have been to save the lives of many. Let me call on Russia to start complying with the decisions of the Hague and the orders of the ICJ.

Mr. President,

In conclusion, we call upon all states and parties to armed conflict everywhere to respect international humanitarian and human rights law and ensure full compliance with their requirements under all and any circumstances.

I thank you, Mr. President.