Delivered by Gerard van Bohemen Permanent Representative of New Zealand to the United Nations, 28 April 2016.

I want to welcome to the deputy foreign minister to our meeting.

I also want to thank Assistant Secretary-General Zerihoun, Ambassador Apakan and Ambassador Sajdik for their briefings.

Mr President, in February 2015, this Council endorsed the Package of Measures for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements  which laid out a number of agreed steps aimed at ending hostilities, alleviating humanitarian suffering, and establishing a path towards resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine. 

Yet, more than a year later none of these Measures has been fully implemented. 

Even the first and most basic of the agreed Measures – an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire – is routinely violated.  Worryingly, these violations have increased in intensity in recent weeks.  

The second agreed Measure – the withdrawal of heavy weapons – has also not been fully implemented.  Recent reports by the OSCE highlight the use of artillery, mortars and tanks – all of which are supposed to have been pulled back from the contact line over year ago. 

The situation is deeply troubling. Given the abundance of arms in the separatist controlled regions, there is a real risk of further violent escalation. 

The persistent violence has caused the deaths of thousands of people, tens of thousands more injured.  Essential civilian infrastructure has been damaged and cannot be repaired amongst flying bullets and falling shells.  More than one and a half million people are internally displaced.

Beyond the terrible human costs, the failure to stabilise the security situation has also made progressing other aspects of the Minsk Agreements much more difficult. 

We call on the parties to honour their commitments and implement all aspects of the Minsk Agreements.  This is the best path towards a lasting and stable peace.

As a matter of priority, all parties must deliver on their commitment to a genuine ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons, monitored and verified by the OSCE.  We reiterate our call on Russia to use its influence over the separatists to ensure that they implement commitments made in Minsk. 

The OSCE has a critical role to play in verifying implementation.  It is therefore of real concern that OSCE monitors continue to face significant constraints on access and movements in areas under separatist control, including along most of the Ukrainian border that remains under separatist control. 

Again, we urge Russia to use its influence over the separatists to ensure that OSCE monitors can effectively and safely fulfil their responsibilities under the Minsk Agreement Package of Measures.

We condemn recent aggressive acts against OSCE monitors in separatist-controlled areas, including being fired upon and threatened at gun point.  Such actions must be repudiated.

On the political aspects of the Minsk Agreements, we need to see faster progress. 

Reaching agreement on modalities for elections which are to be held in accordance with relevant OSCE standards, monitored by the OSCE, and in a secure, stable environment is a priority. 

Discussions in the Trilateral Contact Group and Normandy Format need to be approached in good faith and with a determined focus on problem solving.  We hope that practical steps can be agreed in order to break the current impasse. 

And we must not lose sight of the ongoing suffering of the civilians caught up in this conflict and its aftermath.  The humanitarian challenges flowing from the crisis in Ukraine continue to affect the lives of millions. 

Huge numbers of Ukrainians face daily challenges accessing basic necessities, including food and water.  All sides need to intensify their efforts to ensure that support reaches civilians in affected areas and those that have been displaced by the violence.

Ultimately, however, the lives of civilians will be best protected through full implementation of the Minsk Agreements and the restoration of peace.

Lastly, Mr President, let me reiterate New Zealand’s rejection of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, in violation of the United Nations Charter and the principles of this organisation.

I thank you.