GENEVA: The UN human rights chief expressed alarm yesterday over spiralling violence in Ukraine, urging rebels to lay down their arms and calling on the government to avoid excessive force in its offensive against the militants.
Navi Pillay said all involved in the conflict must try to defuse tensions, as her office warned that the country’s May 25 presidential election was under threat.
“I urge all sides to make a much greater effort to find a peaceful resolution to the current crisis, especially in the various towns in eastern and southern Ukraine that have been racked by increasingly violent confrontations,” Pillay said in a statement.
She called on pro-Russian militants who have seized towns and public buildings in southern and eastern Ukraine to “stop all illegal actions”
“These organised and well-armed groups should lay down their weapons, free arbitrarily detained persons, and vacate occupied public and administrative buildings,” she said.
She also urged Kiev to ensure that all operations by its military and police were in line with international standards.
“It is extremely important that the authorities themselves demonstrate full respect for the rule of law and scrupulously protect the human rights of all, including the Russian-speaking population,” he said.
Pillay said it was up to all sides to allow and protect peaceful demonstrations by their opponents as a “release valve for people’s legitimate fears and frustrations”, to prevent violence and to take “serious steps to halt the rhetoric of hatred and confrontation, before the situation spirals totally out of control”.
The crisis has cast a shadow over Ukraine’s looming presidential election, which Moscow has called “absurd”.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia in Vienna appealed to the international community yesterday to help ensure a presidential election can go ahead on May 25, despite “provocations” backed by Moscow.
“The Ukrainian government is committed to hold the presidential election on the planned day on May 25. So we have asked all partners to send international observers to Ukraine to monitor the elections,” Deshchytsia said after a meeting in Vienna of the Council of Europe, where the crisis in Ukraine topped the agenda.
“(We) also asked the partners to make everything possible to eliminate the external threats and provocations supported by Russia in Ukraine to allow these elections to take place in a free and democratic way,” he added, speaking in English.
Deshchytsia also said Kiev would be open to a second peace conference in Geneva after the collapse of a deal agreed at a meeting in the Swiss city in April, but only under certain conditions.
“If Russia is ready to commit itself to support this election and to eliminate the threat and to eliminate its support for extremist groups in Ukraine, we are prepared to have such a round of meetings,” he said.
Britain’s Foreign Minister William Hague already accused Russia earlier of trying to disrupt the May 25 election.
“Russia seems to be intent on a course of preventing and disrupting those elections. That is wrong,” he said as he arrived at the meeting of the Council of Europe, a rights body.
“Ukrainian elections must be allowed to go ahead.”
“There’s still 20-odd days for things to calm down and make the election feasible, but it’s getting pretty close, so that’s alarming,” said Coville.
Pro-Russian separatists are preparing their own independence referendum on Sunday, echoing a March vote in the mainly Russian-speaking province of Crimea that led to its annexation by Moscow. Pillay also condemned attacks on journalists, saying freedom to report objectively was key to ending the “increasing misinformation, disinformation and hate speech” on both sides that was sowing “deeply dangerous divisions”.
The UN human rights office has a 34-member monitoring mission deployed in Ukraine, and Colville said it was due to issue a report on the crisis on May 15.