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In Davos, UN's Ban Slams Mariupol Rockets and Rebels' Statements

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, January 24 -- Reacting from Davos a day after quotes in Donetsk, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on January 24 said he “further denounces yesterday's unilateral withdrawal from the cease-fire by rebel leadership, and particularly their provocative statements about claiming further territory."

  In the same statement, Ban slammed the "rocket attack on the city of Mariupol, which reportedly killed dozens of civilians and left over one hundred injured. He notes that rockets appear to have been launched indiscriminately into civilian areas, which would constitute a violation of international humanitarian law.”

 (Ban remains in Davos while dispatching his deputy Jan Eliasson to Saudi Arabia to see new King Salman; reportedly, Ban could not procure a private jet for the trip from and to Davos as he's obtained for other trips. We may have more on this.)

 Here is the full text of Ban Ki-moon's January 24 statement:

The Secretary-General strongly condemns today's rocket attack on the city of Mariupol, which reportedly killed dozens of civilians and left over one hundred injured. He notes that rockets appear to have been launched indiscriminately into civilian areas, which would constitute a violation of international humanitarian law.

The Secretary-General further denounces yesterday's unilateral withdrawal from the cease-fire by rebel leadership, and particularly their provocative statements about claiming further territory. This constitutes a violation of their commitments under the Minsk accords.

The Secretary-General urges all concerned to redouble their efforts to revive the Minsk accords. Ukraine's peace, territorial integrity and stability, intrinsically linked to that of the broader region, must be urgently restored.”

Also on international humanitarian law but not yet mentioned by Ban at least while he is in Davos, on January 23 the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights spoke belatedly on pension and travel restrictions imposed by the authorities in Kiev.

 On pension and benefit payments, which Inner City Press has reported on since November, OHCHR spoke on

"the impact on civilians of the recent decision by the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine to restrict movement in and out of the areas controlled by armed groups. As of 21 January, people traveling to and from these areas need to obtain special passes and provide documents to justify the need to travel. These limitations are worrying, especially in light of the escalating hostilities. It adds to concerns created by the Government decision in November 2014 to discontinue providing State services in the territories controlled by armed groups. The introduction of such restrictions will likely have a severe effect on the most vulnerable groups, such as older people, mothers with children and people with disabilities who may depend heavily on social benefits. We urge Ukrainian authorities to take immediate steps to redress this situation."

  But will they? UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, added on January 23 that

  “New security clearance procedures are put in place and specific documentation is now required to pass through checkpoints in the east of Ukraine. These new procedures apply to Ukrainian nationals, the United Nations, NGOs, national and some other international humanitarian organizations.

   “These restrictions on movements within Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east of the country further complicates an already difficult situation for those forcibly displaced and made worse by the intensified fighting we have seen in recent days,” the UNHCR briefing notes said. “These practices restrict access to non-government controlled areas and limit the delivery of needed humanitarian assistance into the conflict zones. The Ukrainian government has reportedly adopted this resolution which entered into force yesterday (Thursday 22 January) limiting all movements in and out of the conflict zones."

   So will those who've denounced such restrictions elsewhere pursue these, imposed by Kiev, with similar vigor? Are these the policies, for example, that the International Monetary Fund should be supporting?

   On January 22 UNSG Ban Ki-moon's spokesman made a statement as an "If-Asked," in response to a question, so that while longer than other statements made it would not go on the UN's website.

   Six hours later, the UN Security Council issued its own Press Statement, past six p.m..  That one will go on the Council's web site (and is below).

  Here is Ban's "if-asked" statement:

"The Secretary General is deeply alarmed by the unrelenting violence in eastern Ukraine. Lack as adherence to the ceasefire has resulted again today in the loss of dozens of lives, including of at least ten civilians when their trolleybus was hit be shelling in Donetsk city, in what appeared to be a targeted attack, and many other civilians in the city of Horlivka. Targeted attacks against civilians constitute grievous violations of international humanitarian law and must be investigated.

"The Secretary General welcomes the meeting of the Normandy Format Foreign Ministers in Berlin yesterday aimed at finding a way to halt this devastating violence. He notes that some progress in the discussions regarding a demarcation line and withdrawal of heavy weaponry was made on this occasion and appeals to all concerned to urgently translated this positive political development into tangible action on the ground.”

The Secretary General reiterates that the enforcement of a sustainable ceasefire, which presently exists in name only, is urgent. Other elements of the broader Minsk [agreement] must also be implemented without delay to ensure a peaceful, independent and unified Ukraine.”

    On January 21 in the first Ukraine meeting of the UN Security Council since last November, UN official Jeffrey Feltman said “today in Davos, President Poroshenko stated that there were over 9,000 Russia regular troops in Ukraine, an accusation that Moscow refutes.”

  He didn't mention, but the IMF did, that Poroshenko also spoke with Christine Lagarde, who then announced that "the Ukrainian authorities have requested a multi-year arrangement with the Fund, supported by the Extended Fund Facility, to replace the existing Stand-By Arrangement."

   In US President Obama's State of the Union speech on January 20, he said the US is "opposing Russian aggression, and supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies.. Mr. Putin’s aggression it was suggested was a masterful display of strategy and strength.  That's what I heard from some folks.  Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters.  That’s how America leads -- not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve."

  Russia's Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, speaking in the Security Council on January 21, asked rhetorically "after about thirty times of discussing Ukraine here, the question arises, how much are these declarations in line with the situation in the country? Are they given just for eloquence's sake but can be thrown aside when political suitability takes precedent?”

  The January 21 session was going to be consultations, where members speak less formally (sometimes). But then it was public, just speeches. We'll have more on this.

  On the cut off of pensions, which we've covered since November, Churkin said "Kiev is doing everything so that in essence the South East is isolated. A decision has been made to move out state institutions from that, to stop budgetary expenditures including welfare and pensions.”

   Back on n November 12, UN Assistant Secretary General Jens Toyberg-Frandzen said, among other things, that "on November 5, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk announced that pensions would be halted to areas under rebel control."

  Inner City Press, covering the meeting from just outside the Council chamber, spoke to a range of passing diplomats and was left with this question: isn't the halting of pensions to rebel held areas a form of collective punishment?

 Once posed, with the words "accrued pensions," two defenses of the practice came in. First, that pensions in Ukraine are not accrued but are based on taxes collected and none are being collected in Donbas. Second, that trucks with pension payments were being robbed.  The word "Western Union" was bandied around.

 While the UN spoke about the death of children on a playground on Donetsk on Novmeber 5, they didn't say who did it. Russia's Deputy Permanent Representative Pankin said it was Ukraine's army. Later he stated that an adviser to Poroshenko said on October 24 that "the ceasefire is going to work in our favor, tank factories working around the clock."

  Ukraine's Sergeyev mentioned this in his reply, neither confirming nor denying the quote. The meeting ended; Sergeyev headed up the escalator to be interviewed by scribes. And so it goes at the UN.

  Last month, Ukraine was scheduled to speak at the UN about its “Committee on Information” on October 21, but as UN speeches usually go longer than allowed, its turn was postponed until October 22.

That didn't stop the “UN Radio” Russian service from reporting on the speech on October 21 as if it had in fact been given that day. As translated, UN Radio on October 21 reported

The representative of Ukraine accused Russia of using the information strategy of the Cold War

One of the main prerequisites of violence in Ukraine became a propaganda information. This was stated by the representative of the Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations, speaking at a meeting of the Fourth Committee of the UN General Assembly.”

  The UN's Fourth Committee did meet on October 21 - but Ukraine didn't speak. Instead it was the first speaker on the afternoon of October 22. Its speech, delivered in perfect French including the word “rigolo,” linked Russia to Joseph Goebbels.

  In reply, the Russian mission's spokesman brought up the recent Human Rights Watch report of the Ukrainian government using cluster bombs in and against Donetsk, and the lack of clarity on who called the snipers shots in Maidan Square.

  Later in the Fourth Committee meeting, Bolivia slammed “powers” who use information technology to intervene and violate privacy, bringing to mind USAID's “Cuban Twitter” and, of course, the NSA.

  Then Jordan said it was first among Arab nations to enact an Access to Information law, in 2007. The Free UN Coalition for Access has been pressing for a Freedom of Information Act at the UN, click here and here for that.

  FUNCA covers the Fourth Committee, including on Decolonization, and the Committee on Information, where at least theoretically the UN's descent into censorship could be raised and resolved. The old UN Correspondents Association, a part of this trend toward privatization of briefings and even censorship -- ordering Press articles off the Internet, getting leaked copies of their complaints to the UN's MALU banned from Google's search, here -- was nowhere to be seen. We'll have more on this.


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