Statement by Minister Coveney at the UNSC Briefing on Ukraine - Humanitarian
Statement19 April 2022
Thank you Madam President, and thank you Director General and Deputy High Commissioner.
As we meet this morning, we do so in the shadow of a renewed offensive by Russian forces on Eastern Ukraine.
In the shadow of further bloodshed, further scenes of killing, further disregard for civilian lives – and of continued blatant violations of the UN Charter.
On Thursday of last week, I travelled to Kyiv. I did so because I wanted to see for myself the situation on the ground and to express Ireland’s solidarity with Ukraine and its people.
What I saw was profoundly shocking.
During my visit, I went to Bucha. Until two months ago, it was a pleasant and vibrant town; a place where many of us around this table could have happily imagined living in.
It now lies in ruins, with the stench of burning buildings and bodies in the air.
Hundreds of family homes, shops and other civilian infrastructure: blackened, burnt, looted, damaged, and- in some cases – completely destroyed.
Family cars, riddled with bullets, windshields smashed, bloodstains still evident.
I’ve been around long enough to know the difference between truth and staged propaganda when I see it.
There was nothing fabricated about what I witnessed.
I stood at the edge of one of the mass graves, where the work of carefully exhuming bodies continued. 503 civilians had been identified at that stage - and just 4 soldiers.
503 individual human lives - men, women and children who were not combatants, yet who appear to have been deliberately killed and in some cases after having been tortured in the most brutal manner.
We have seen, across Ukraine, explosive weapons - including prohibited cluster munitions – being used in populated areas and against civilian infrastructure. The toll of destruction of homes, hospitals and schools is testament to that.
It does speak speaks to an utter disregard by Russian forces for international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians.
There’s no spinning that reality away with disinformation.
Ireland is a small country.
We’re not a member of any military alliance.
And we’re certainly no superpower.
But we fought to take a seat at this table and we have earned the right to be here.
We did so because we fundamentally believe that, despite all the well documented flaws of this Council- and there are many- it is the ultimate arbiter on matters of war and peace.
This group of 15 countries has been entrusted with protecting the weak and the innocent; with holding aggressors to account, no-matter how powerful they are.
The only weapons we have are diplomacy, dialogue, facts, collective leadership and, most importantly, a shared commitment to international law and the UN Charter.
Do we really have to keep repeating around this table that innocent civilians are never legitimate targets of war?
That all parties to conflict must comply with international humanitarian law - including the prohibitions against indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks and the obligation- the obligation- to distinguish between civilians and combatants?
These obligations are not optional - not least for those privileged enough to be seated around this table who should be leading by example.
During my visit to Ukraine, so many people spoke to me about the urgent need for accountability to expose the horrors of what has happened to them, preferably in a court of law.
In all situations where war crimes may have been committed, we must ensure that timely, credible investigations are undertaken; that evidence is rigorously documented; and that witnesses, victims and survivors are supported.
And for that reason, Ireland has committed an additional €3m in funding to the ICC last week.
Without accountability and truth, there is no hope of a sustainable peace; not in Ukraine, not anywhere.
Russia’s war has driven millions of Ukrainians from their homes, as we’ve just heard.
Almost 5 million people have become refugees and over 7 million people have become displaced internally in Ukraine.
But the humanitarian consequences of this war are also being felt 1000s of miles from Ukraine, by some of the most vulnerable people on our planet.
Countries across the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, but also in Latin America, are increasingly impacted by the severe economic consequences of this conflict.
The price of wheat and oil has risen by 300% in Somalia, where more than 700,000 people are already displaced by drought.
Wheat reserves in Palestine could be depleted in less than three weeks time.
As the UN Secretary General has said so clearly, the most vulnerable people around the globe cannot become collateral damage in yet another disaster for which they bear no responsibility.
Ireland cannot, and will not, remain silent while this senseless and devastating war continues.
Neither should any member of this Council.
As it was on 25 February, so it is today - this is a war of choice. And it can end immediately if President Putin so decides.
And yet, instead we are seeing a renewed offensive in Eastern Ukraine.
This is madness that history will judge harshly.
We have to stop this war and this Council has a unique responsibility to do this. I want to call on Russia directly; agree to an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, commit to negotiations, and respect this Charter.
We know that some progress was made in Istanbul between the parties on key issues. There is clearly a basis for a peace agreement. President Zelensky, to his credit, has constantly remained open to diplomatic solutions, in the face of aggression and brutality against his people.
I hear the narrative, from far too many quarters, that peace is only possible after the battle for Donbas. I can’t accept that logic; a logic that leads directly to further death, further suffering, further displacement.
This Council must challenge that thinking, today and every day. We must demand more.
Thank you, Chair