Ukraine: After the Normandy Summit, the hope for a political response

The heads of state of Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia met on December 9th in Paris to try and establish the path to peace in eastern Ukraine. Première Urgence Internationale and other NGOs reaffirm their commitment to humanitarian considerations and urge leaders to take them into account.

After three years of blockage, the leaders of the four states met again in the “Normandy Format” at the beginning of the week in Paris. Vladimir Putin, Volodymyr Zelensky, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron re-discussed the Minsk Agreements (1), whose Member States had committed to respect full implementation.

Although no progress has been made since then on the most crucial issues and at the political level, leaders shared positive feelings about the meeting itself and their commitment to progress. Some of the points raised by Première Urgence Internationale and seven other NGOs in their joint appeal to members of the group to respect humanitarian law were mentioned at the summit.  According to them, the subjects remain not sufficiently taken into account, as the humanitarian situation remains worrying in the Donbass.

«Nearly six years of conflict have killed more than 3,300 civilians,” the humanitarian organizations said in their statement. The socio-economic situation, which is deteriorating on both sides of the contact line, put a strain on the population. We can estimate 5.2 million people affected in various ways by ongoing fighting, by separation and by the resulting administrative difficulties.

On the part of humanitarian actors, there is an agreement on these messages. We hope that the repetition of this message will echo and sensitize the leaders, so that they take into consideration these important issues, “says Brieuc Le Merle, Head of the Ukrainian mission for Première Urgence Internationale.

Four priority humanitarian issues

  • Crossing points:

Since the beginning of the conflict, the inhabitants of the Donbass region are separated by a frontline of almost 500 km: the contact line. More than a million of people crossing the contact line are recorded each month. The Trilateral Contact Group on Ukraine will agree to open new crossing points on the basis of humanitarian criteria within 30 days.

  • Improved humanitarian access:

At the press conference, Putin evoked a discussion on major humanitarian projects for people living in non-government-controlled areas (NGCA), and provisions needed to improve their lives.

  • Protection of civilians and infrastructures:

An agreement was validated to continue demining efforts by supporting the development and implementation of an updated mine action plan based on the decision of the Trilateral Contact Group on Demining Activities, dated March 3, 2016.

  • The end of hostilities:

Heads of State reaffirmed their commitment to fully implement the ceasefire regime, supported by the implementation of all necessary measures to maintain the regime by the end of 2019. An agreement has been validated to work on three new troop withdrawal points, aiming for full withdrawals by the end of March 2020.

Summit conclusions, seen by NGOs

This summit is an important step to relaunch the political negotiations around the resolution of the conflict in Ukraine“, congratulates Amal Huart, Asia and Europe Geographical Manager at Première Urgence Internationale.

“NGOs had several expectations, including a stronger commitment to the ceasefire and humanitarian access to the most vulnerable areas along the contact line. The announcement of the increase in the number of crossing points is in itself positive, as it will allow people crossing the conflict zone to reduce the time spent at checkpoints. However, this measure must be accompanied by means allowing access to first aid and hygiene services, as well as protection of civilians in an effective manner. Remember that a majority of civilians are elderly people who need to cross the territory to collect their retirement pension on a regular basis.

The four heads of state are due to meet again in four months to measure the progress of the decisions taken at this summit. As an NGO, we call for humanitarian issues to be included in the agenda of these negotiations.

(1) Minsk Protocol of 5 September 2014, Minsk Memorandum of 19 September 2014 and Minsk Package of 12 February 2015.

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