UN council backs UN chief's peace effort in its first action

In this image provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres attend a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, April 28, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council on Friday unanimously adopted its first statement on Ukraine since Russia’s military action began on Feb. 24, expressing “strong support” for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ efforts to find a peaceful solution to the 10-week “dispute."

The short presidential statement approved at a very brief council meeting Friday does not mention a “war,” “conflict” or “invasion” as many council members call Russia’s ongoing military action, or a “special military operation” as Moscow refers to it. That’s because Russia, which hold veto power in the council, has blocked all previous attempts to adopt a presidential statement which requires unanimity or a resolution.

Instead, the statement “expresses deep concern regarding the maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine” and “recalls that all member states have undertaken, under the Charter of the United Nations, the obligation to settle their international disputes by peaceful means.”

“The Security Council expresses strong support for the efforts of the secretary-general in the search for a peaceful solution,” the statement says, and requests Guterres to brief members “in due course.”

During recent visits to Moscow and Kyiv, Guterres reached an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the evacuation of civilians, first and foremost from the besieged southeastern port city of Mauripol and the Azovstal steel plant where the last Ukrainian forces are holding out along with hundreds of civilians in underground bunkers.

The U.N. and the International Committee of the Red Cross have carried out two successful evacuations from Mariupol and surrounding areas so far, and are currently in Mariupol organizing a third evacuation from the steel plant.

Reacting to the council statement, Guterres said: “Today, for the first time, the Security Council spoke with one voice for peace in Ukraine."

“As I have often said, the world must come together to silence the guns and uphold the values of the U.N. Charter," the secretary-general said in a statement.

Norway’s U.N. Ambassador Mona Juul and Mexico’s U.N. Ambassador Juan Ramon De La Fuente Ramirez, whose countries drafted the council statement, called it an important first step for diplomatic efforts to end the war.

“Millions of Ukrainians desperately need humanitarian protection and assistance,” Juul said. “It is important that the U.N. secretary-general has the full backing of the Security Council for his effort towards a peaceful solution to the war in Ukraine.”

De La Fuente Ramirez said the unanimous adoption of the statement “shows that the Security Council is united in supporting the United Nations and its secretary-general in finding a diplomatic solution.”

The council is mandated under the U.N. Charter to maintain international peace and security and has been strongly criticized since the Russian invasion for its paralysis and inaction.

Asked about criticism that the minimal statement took over two months to approve and only backs Guterres, the Mexican ambassador said there has to be a start somewhere. He said approval of the statement “at least shows a willingness” to continue the secretary-general’s efforts.

Guterres told the council Thursday that “in these times of hyper-communications, silent diplomacy is still possible and is sometimes the only effective way to produce results," a point supported by both the Norwegian and Mexican ambassadors.

Unlike the Security Council, whose resolutions are legally binding but can be vetoed by one of its five permanent members, resolutions approved by the 193-member General Assembly are not legally binding and cannot be vetoed.

This has enabled the General Assembly to approve several resolutions, which do have clout as a reflection of world opinion.

On March 2, the assembly voted 141-5 with 35 abstentions in favor of a resolution demanding an immediate Russian cease-fire, withdrawal of all its forces and protection for all civilians. By an similar vote on March 24, it approved a resolution 140-5 with 38 abstentions blaming Russia for the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and urging an immediate cease-fire and protection for millions of civilians and the homes, schools and hospitals critical to their survival.

The General Assembly voted by a smaller margin -- 93-24 with 58 abstentions -- on April 7 to suspend Russia from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, the U.N.’s leading rights body, over allegations of horrific rights violations by Russian soldiers in Ukraine, which the United States and Ukraine have called tantamount to war crimes.

In next steps, Guterres is scheduled to make a two-day visit to Ukraine’s neighbor, Moldova, starting Monday to “express his solidarity and thank Moldova for its steadfast support for peace, and for its people’s generosity in opening up their hearts and their homes to almost half a million Ukrainian refugees,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Guterres has called for the creation of a humanitarian committee comprising Russia, Ukraine, the U.N. and ICRC to coordinate aid deliveries and evacuations and Dujarric said U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths will be going to Turkey Monday to discuss with its authorities how they can support such an initiative.