Events in Ukraine will continue to dominate the Security Council’s agenda this month, its President for April told a Headquarters press conference today, calling the Russian Federation’s 24 February invasion a “travesty” of the United Nations Charter, with consequences rippling around the world.
Barbara Woodward (United Kingdom) said that, as President, her country would ensure that the Council plays a role in working to resolve the crisis and see that the Russian Federation leaves Ukraine. Citing “harrowing” pictures from Bucha, Ukraine, of people shot in the head with hands tied behind their backs, along with reports of sexual violence in conflict, she said the Council will convene a meeting on 5 April to discuss recent events, and more generally, conditions across the country.
Turning to other priorities, she said the Council will hold two signature events. The first, on 13 April, will focus on conflict-related sexual violence, reflecting the use of such brutality as a tool of war in Myanmar, Syria, Ethiopia and Iraq. It will feature an address by Nobel peace laureate Nadia Murad and be chaired by the United Kingdom’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict.
In addition, on 11 April, the Council will hold a debate on COVID-19, she said, recalling its 2021 resolution calling for humanitarian ceasefires to be forged so that vaccinations can proceed. “We want to accelerate progress,” she said, pointing to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Yemen, where vaccination rates are “way under” 5 per cent, while other countries boast rates that are well into the double digits.
On 7 April, she said the Council will discuss the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), followed by a 12 April meeting on the situation in Colombia, featuring remarks by President Iván Duque Márquez on the United Nations-backed peace process and upholding gains made ahead of elections this summer, which she described as “a positive reminder” of what can be achieved through national endeavour and international commitment. Also next week, the Council will hold a meeting on the situation in Yemen.
She went on to note that the week of 18 April will feature meetings on the situations in Western Sahara, Kosovo and the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). In the month’s final week, the Council will discuss peace in the Middle East, Syria, the Great Lakes region and Libya, and hold a private meeting on Myanmar, featuring remarks by the Special Envoy for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Taking questions, mainly on Ukraine, she said the United Kingdom’s presidency will aim to keep the pressure on Moscow. She expressed strong support for the United States’ call to suspend the Russian Federation’s voting rights in the Human Rights Council, noting that the Security Council will look to advance that prospect. “I also expect Russia to continue to be isolated in the Security Council,” she said, recalling that there were 141 votes in the General Assembly condemning the invasion of Ukraine and calling for humanitarian support — issues that are closely related to those discussed in the Human Rights Council.
As to why United Kingdom decided not to respond to a request by the Russian Federation for a Security Council meeting to be held today, she said first that the images coming through from Bucha shaped the meeting for 5 April. In line with the rules, the United Kingdom decided to join these two meetings into one “well‑informed” meeting, marking the first opportunity the Council will have had to discuss events in Bucha, which she described as war crimes and crimes against humanity. “We’ll need to think about how we deal with that,” she said, adding that her country did not schedule the meeting for today because the Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will brief, is currently en route to Kyiv. As has been seen in images from Bucha, Mariupol and elsewhere, especially around Kyiv, “the urgency of humanitarian assistance in Ukraine is very high”. Explaining that the United Kingdom did not see a good reason to hold back-to-back meetings on Ukraine, she reassured that, as Council President, it had indeed met the Russian request.
To a question on missteps, she said the United Kingdom had heard the views of those who had abstained from the General Assembly vote condemning the invasion and it will be important to address those issues, especially given the ripple effects of increased food and energy prices, which, in turn, will put pressure on fragile and developing States. “We all depend on the UN Charter being observed for territorial integrity,” she said, acknowledging the negative votes or abstentions from sub-Saharan African countries. She pointed to the widespread presence of Russian Federation troops in Southern Africa, and efforts by the mercenary Wagner Group, which is known to be in Libya and Mali, as factors to be considered.
She went on to acknowledge that the Russian Federation has called for an Arria-formula meeting on 6 April to discuss the issues of biolaboratories, and chemical and biological weapons. She noted that the Security Council has already held three such meetings at the request of the Russian Federation. At each, the United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs has stated that there is “not a shred of evidence for any of this”, and if there were, procedure demands that investigators be allowed to investigate.
On the proposed suspension of the Russian Federation from the Human Rights Council, a much-discussed topic, she said there is no provision for carrying out such an action. The best the Security Council can do is to ensure the Russian Federation abides by its responsibilities as a permanent member. On a technical point under Article 27.3 of the Charter of the United Nations, outlining that a country can be suspended from voting on an issue in which it is a party to a conflict, she said the matter falls under the Charter’s Chapter VI, not its binding Chapter VII. The point more broadly is to keep the Russian Federation under pressure and to use levers at the United Nations in that direction, she explained.
To a belief among some African countries that Ukraine is “not their war”, she explained events there will “make things even worse” in Africa. She pointed out that much of the wheat exported from Ukraine and the Russian Federation’s south-western region is exported to African and Asian markets, and that the World Food Programme (WFP) receives 50 per cent of its wheat from Ukraine alone, which will impact programmes run by the agency.
On referring the Russian Federation to the International Criminal Court, she said the Court is already conducting an investigation into war crimes and that it does not require a Security Council resolution to do so. There are other ways to hold the Russian Federation to account, most efficiently through established mechanisms.
Taking questions on Myanmar, she said the Council’s meeting on the situation will be held at the end of the month, as it hopes to hear from the ASEAN Special Envoy and the United Nations Envoy on Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer, whose visit to the country is slated for later in April. It is unclear whether there will be an outcome from the meeting.
Fielding a query on Libya, she said the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser is doing strong job in bringing parties together to maintain the integrity of the Constitution and make progress towards elections. The mandate must be renewed in a manner that “makes sense” given the ground conditions, she added, noting that the appointment of a new Special Envoy is a responsibility of the Secretary‑General. That person should be based in Tripoli to meet the will of the 2.8 million Libyans who wish to see their country at peace.
Asked whether the Council plans to hold a meeting on the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, she said that a meeting is quite possible, given the recent intercontinental ballistic missile test and reports that Pyongyang is excavating tunnels under Punggye-ri, where nuclear tests were previously held. Also, the birthday of the country’s founder, Kim Il Song, marks a key date, on which Pyongyang has often tested missiles. “We hope that they will not, but I fear that they will,” she said, noting that 13 missiles have been tested in 10 batches in 2022 alone.