AS (2015) CR 03
2015 ORDINARY SESSION
Tuesday 27 January 2015 at 10.00 a.m.
The humanitarian situation of Ukrainian refugees and displaced persons
The following texts were submitted for inclusion in the official report by members who were present in the Chamber but were prevented by lack of time from delivering them.
Mr MARUSTE (Estonia) – More than 5 000 people have been killed, hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced within Ukraine or have fled to Russia and thousands more have sought protection in other European countries. More than 2 million people remain in the area controlled by separatists, living in misery and exposed to insecurity, serious human rights violations and inadequate living conditions.
This humanitarian disaster and catastrophe is not a consequence of a natural disaster or catastrophe. This is a man-made disaster and catastrophe. It is the direct result of brutal military aggression perpetrated by one member State of the Council of Europe against another. We tend to refer to such behaviour as “action against the Minsk agreement”. This is of course true, but it belittles the political meaning of what has happened. This kind of action, where one member State militarily attacks another, means far more. It represents the violation of all founding principles of the Council of Europe; it is the violation of peace, democracy and human rights and it is disrespect for the rule of law. It is a clear violation of the Helsinki Final Act and the Budapest Agreement, both of which have been signed by Russia.
Humanitarian concerns, loss of life and people’s sufferings are, undeniably, important issues of common concern; there is no doubt about that. But the Council of Europe is not a humanitarian organisation but a political organisation, and it is our duty not to ignore or forget this. We should not degrade aggression, occupation and annexation to being regarded as a humanitarian disaster alone. This is exactly what the aggressor wants, so we should not oblige him. A strong, politically clear position is in the interests of the future of Europe.
Mr STROE (Romania) – I am worried about the dire human rights situation in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. The latest reports from the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and other international organisations about the situation in the field show that we are far from identifying a solution to the immediate problems of the internally displaced persons and refugees from Ukraine.
We have to encourage all parties to work toward a solution that is guided by the principles of respect for the rule of law and human rights, including respect for Ukraine`s unity and sovereignty. We must also urge all parties to refrain from violence and to commit themselves to de-escalation and inclusive national dialogue in the pursuit of a political and diplomatic solution. A deterioration of the situation will have serious repercussions for the people of Ukraine, the region and beyond. Above all, we must all intensify our efforts and engage constructively to achieve a peaceful solution to this crisis, with the aspirations of all the people of Ukraine foremost in mind. The protection of civilian lives should be the main priority for all belligerent parties.
Chronic human rights violations were among the major reasons for the upheaval in Ukraine in recent months. For many years, there have been concerns about weak rule of law, lack of accountability and resulting impunity. The right to a fair trial, equal access to justice, cases of torture and ill-treatment and poor detention conditions are all matters of long-standing concern. The lack of independence of the judiciary must be remedied and the reforms of the security sector and of the prosecutor’s office are also urgent. Corruption is a cross-cutting problem that affects the rule of law and equal access to public services, and also needs to be addressed swiftly.
I commend the adoption of the new legislation on IDPs last November, but I still consider it important for the Kiev authorities to continue their work on the legal framework. Perhaps in consequence, the rights of people to an adequate standard of living and their ability to access basic social services have also been violated throughout the years. The authorities must, as a matter of priority, put in place measures to eradicate corruption and protect economic and social rights, including equal access to social services. All parties must ensure access to humanitarian relief for the people in need from the Lugansk and Donetsk regions.
All reforms and new policy measures must be adopted without any spirit of revenge and in a consultative, transparent and inclusive manner. It is crucial to ensure that one does not respond to human rights violations with other human rights violations. The ongoing legislative measures concerning lustration must fully respect human rights and the rule of law, including the right to individual review and appeal.
I count on all Ukrainians to build that country’s future, its economic and social development and its peace and security on the solid foundation of respect for human rights.
Mr COZMANCIUC (Romania) – I continue to follow developments in Ukraine with increasing alarm. Since the beginning of this crisis we, the members of this Assembly, have appealed to all parties to de-escalate tensions and to engage in direct and constructive dialogue in order to forge a peaceful way forward.
The conflicts in the Lugansk and Donetsk regions and in Crimea have affected the human rights situation throughout Ukraine and addressing it should not hinder Ukrainian democracy. The international community must help the key actors to calm the situation and work toward a durable and fair political solution. A further deterioration of the situation would have serious repercussions for the people of Ukraine, the region and the global community.
The relevant international authorities must ensure that the human rights of all in Ukraine are respected, with particular attention to the rights and protection of minorities. The issue of national minorities is crucial for a democracy-based society and I attach great importance to this matter. The protection of national minorities should remain high on the agenda of all government and non-government actors in terms of preserving identity, be it national, linguistic, religious or any other kind. Ukraine has a rich linguistic, ethnic and cultural diversity. As is well known, Romania’s constant interest in the preservation of the cultural and ethnic identity of its national kin-minorities, their mother tongue and their religious identity, is fully consistent with current European standards on national minorities. Access to education, religious services and mass-media in one’s mother tongue are fundamental elements for the preservation of the specific identity of the Romanian minority living in Ukraine.
Through inclusive governance, sharing power and compliance with international standards on equal participation in political life and public affairs, the government and legislature should address the aspirations and concerns of all Ukrainians, including members of all minority groups.
Mr JENSSEN (Norway) – In the midst of Europe, there are hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from guns and mortars, deprived of food and health care, fearing for their lives. Millions live in areas controlled by rebels and separatist forces. In the last few days, we have witnessed terrible attacks causing death and horror to innocent persons. And it may happen again any day. As if that were not bad enough, for the first time since the Second World War, we have seen one European country grabbing a piece of another country; I refer, of course, to the Crimea annexation.
People want to go home and continue their everyday lives. The report before us has several recommendations for providing immediate help to refugees and displaced persons that should be supported and followed up, addressing both the Russian Federation and Ukraine, as well as all other parties in the conflict. Abiding by the Minsk agreements is of the highest importance in bringing about a peaceful solution.
The report also underlines the fundamentals for a long-term solution for securing human rights and the safety of the inhabitants of Eastern Ukraine, as well as for Crimea. A political solution must be based on respect for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
That leads me to the origin of the problems, which must not be forgotten. The Russian annexation of Crimea, Russian support for the separatists and even Russians participating in the fighting, lie at the heart of the conflict. Russia is, without doubt, to a large extent responsible for the problems, but, at the same time, Russia holds many of the keys to solving them.
Implementing the Minsk Protocol and a cease-fire, and the Russians using their influence over the armed separatists, are only two of the important steps for short-term solutions. Russia should also refrain from destabilising Ukraine, and it should stop the annexation of Crimea. That would help both the Russian position in the international community and its own people, and it would, of course, be an immense contribution to bringing peace and stability to Ukraine and its people.
The situation in Ukraine has made the Council of Europe an even more important institution in Europe. The spotlight on this difficult situation will not end in this Assembly, or anywhere else, until we have a solution to it, and that solution relies, to a large extent, on the future actions of the Russian Federation.
Let me end by making an appeal. I wholeheartedly support the call by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons for the immediate release of Ms Nadiiya Savchenko, as well as any other persons detained after being captured in the course of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.
Mr LOGVYNSKYI (Ukraine) – I thank you for your support for the Ukrainian people, which is vital for us.
The situation in our country is, as you all know, tenser and tenser. Hostilities, murders, other grave violations of human rights and crimes against humanity continue to take place in my country – in the middle of Europe in the 21st century.
Just before I left for Strasbourg, I received material related to so-called “justice” dispensed by the occupants in Eastern regions. Separatists’ “tribunals” issued verdicts, sentencing those who dared to oppose them to the death penalty. The style of these verdicts is the same as it was during the Stalinist era – a mockery of a trial. But these verdicts are being executed.
I would call this a virus: a virus of aggression, a virus of destruction, a virus of madness. And we, Ukrainians, are trying to stop it. If we lose, this virus will come to your countries and destroy your States. You do not believe it possible? A year ago, I would not have believed it either. It was unthinkable to imagine that my most peaceful country would become a victim of Russian aggression. Dear colleagues, open your eyes: we are not struggling for ourselves, it is not our war; we are struggling for the whole of Europe. If Europe is unable to support us, I am afraid we will not be able to save Europe. If the virus of Russian violence is not eliminated in Ukraine, it will spread all over Europe, and this process will run uncontrolled.
I also invite you not to forget Ukrainian hostages in Russia. Apart from our colleague Nadiia Savchenko, whom we were talking about yesterday, Russia has illegally kidnapped and detained Hayser Dzhemilev, son of Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leader of the Crimean Tatars: they are trying to bargain his fate for the loyalty of Crimean Tatars in occupied Crimea. There are other hostages such as Oleg Sentsov, Nikolay Kartyuk and others: I am sure you have heard these names and you should not remain indifferent.
There are many issues arising from Russian aggression against Ukraine which require the European community’s careful attention. I congratulate the rapporteur on such a profound and meaningful report, and I hope that the Assembly will adopt this resolution and will be consistent in its struggle for human rights and the rule of law.
Mr SASI (Finland) – The ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine, in spite of the Minsk cease-fire agreement, is an indication of the aim to continuously unbalance the situation in Ukraine and to undermine the Ukrainian Government. Moreover, it may also be seen as an indication of an attempt to further enlarge the areas under the separatists’ control. In doing this, the lives and living conditions of East Ukrainian people are sacrificed. The situation shows us just how little human rights matter in the political calculations of superpowers.
The only way to stop the suffering is to disarm all the armed groups present in Eastern Ukraine and to give supervision of the area to the Ukrainian civil police and international organisations. The area should be made largely autonomous within Ukraine. Only Russia can disarm the separatists, and it therefore bears the primary responsibility for the current suffering of the East Ukrainians.
Mr GYÖNGYÖSI (Hungary) – I sincerely congratulate Mr Sheridan on his report. I very much appreciate his efforts to deal with the immense task of assessing the humanitarian situation of the Ukrainian refugees and IDPs and conducting thorough field observations to draw the necessary conclusions. On the basis of the findings, it is clear that the situation in the Ukraine is heading towards a humanitarian crisis, if not catastrophe. The situation could be even worse than described, given the fact stated in the report that figures are often underestimated. Furthermore, the situation is escalating at a worrying speed.
Behind statistical data and figures lie immense personal tragedies. I have had the opportunity to gather my own personal experience and see the situation not only through the eyes of the distorting propaganda of either side or those of biased political brokers. At the end of last year, I visited the city of Donetsk and nearby Gorlovka to see things with my own eyes. I talked with people directly and heard their heartbreaking personal stories. Also, in my country, Hungary, we are seeing an increasing number of ethnic Hungarians escaping from the Western Ukrainian province of Zakarpattia, many of them men aged between 20 and 60, fleeing forced conscription by the Ukrainian army.
Until approximately a year ago, ethnic Hungarians in Zakarpattia, ethnic Russians in the Donbass and surely other ethnicities too, such as Ruthenians, Poles or Romanians, were loyal citizens of Ukraine. The Ukrainian State, however, has lost the trust and faith of its citizens in record-breaking time. Decisions by the Ukrainian Governments following the coup d’etat against Yanukovich were not exactly confidence-building: chauvinistic rhetoric aimed at ethnicities; waging war against its own citizens; the withdrawal of the language law; redrawing the electoral constituencies before elections; cutting the electricity and water supply and the payment of pensions and benefits, as well as blocking humanitarian aid to certain areas were fuel on the fire.
The responses of the international community to the challenges of the Ukrainian crisis were equally mistaken. It is hypocrisy from most of my European colleagues here to put the blame on Russia alone for this escalating conflict. We all know that the United States of America, and its allies in the European Union clearly interfered in the internal affairs of Ukraine at the outset of the conflict, and it is still doing so. Offering Ukraine the hope of European Union and NATO membership is a clearly irresponsible and provocative action that leads further away, and not closer to, a peaceful settlement.
What is to be done to resolve this dire conflict? First, we need to sit down and talk about the situation even-handedly, without bias. An impartial investigation of the tragedies of the past year should be conducted and responsibility taken by all sides for their wrongdoings, with special focus on the Odessa killings, the bombings in Donetsk and Mariupol, the mass graves and sexual abuses reported from the Donetsk area, and much more. The decentralisation and federalisation of Ukraine should also be considered so that ethnic minorities can exercise self-governance in line with democratic principles. I again thank the rapporteur for his work, as it clearly brings us closer to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Mr A.K. TÜRKEŞ (Turkey) – I thank the rapporteur and the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons for their timely effort to draw the attention of the international community to the plight of Ukrainian refugees and internally displaced persons in Ukraine.
The ongoing efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis, based on Ukraine’s territorial integrity and international law, should be supported by the international community and the relevant parties, and the illegal annexation of Crimea should not be recognised. Despite violations, the Minsk cease-fire agreements are the only agreed framework to advance further with the peace talks. The recent Minsk contact group meetings should be welcomed. I firmly hope to hear more news of progress towards a solution from new rounds of peace talks.
The difficult conditions faced by Ukrainian refugees and IDPs have been well observed by many international and non-governmental organisations. The report shows that the capacity of the local authorities to deal with such an intense influx of people fleeing from conflict has been exceeded. International assistance is of the utmost importance in addressing this humanitarian crisis. The activities of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons will without doubt provide fresh impetus to the current efforts.
The security and protection of the rights of the Crimean Tatar people, put under growing pressure by the de facto authorities in Crimea, deserve particular attention. Clear manifestations of a policy of pressure and intimidation against the Crimean Tatars have been observed. For example, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights notes that there is increasing intimidation towards Crimean Tatars under the false pretext of combating terrorism. The current situation in the Crimea is alarming because of ongoing human rights violations, including restrictions on the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, association and religion. The human rights situation in Crimea should be at the top of the agenda of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
In order to demonstrate our sensitivity and concern, we emphasised to the Russian leadership that their current stance on the conflict in Ukraine and Crimea is against everyone’s interests, including theirs.