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Small states must 'send a clear signal' against Russian invasion of Ukraine, says Singapore's UN representative

Small states must 'send a clear signal' against Russian invasion of Ukraine, says Singapore's UN representative

Singapore's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Burhan Gafoor speaks during an emergency session of the UN General Assembly in New York on Feb 28, 2022. (Screengrab: YouTube/United Nations)

SINGAPORE: It is important that all countries, especially small states, send a clear signal that they are united for peace and in upholding international law, Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Burhan Gafoor said on Monday (Feb 28).

Mr Gafoor was speaking during a rare emergency special session of the UN General Assembly in New York as the global body’s 193 members held an extraordinary debate on a resolution demanding that Russia immediately withdraw its troops from Ukraine.

“The United Nations, distinguished delegates, is being tested today,” Mr Gafoor said.

“It is important that all countries, especially the small states, send a clear signal that we are united for peace, and we are united to defend the principles of the (UN) Charter, and that we are united to uphold international law.”

In his speech, Mr Gafoor reiterated points made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Monday.

“Singapore has always taken a consistent position on the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries,” he said.

“Singapore is a staunch supporter of the rules-based multilateral system and of the United Nations.

“The unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation is a clear and gross violation of the fundamental norms … of international law and of the UN Charter.”

"EXISTENTIAL ISSUE" FOR SMALL COUNTRIES

Mr Gafoor said that this violation is a matter of “fundamental importance” for all members of the General Assembly, particularly for small countries like Singapore, for whom it is “an existential issue”.

“A world order where ‘might is right’ or ‘the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must’, would be profoundly inimical to the security and survival of small states.

“We cannot accept one country attacking another without justification, arguing that its independence was the result of, and I quote, ‘historical errors and crazy decisions’, unquote.

“We simply cannot accept such an argument. Such an argument and rationale would go against the internationally recognised legitimacy and territorial integrity of many countries, including Singapore.”

Singapore therefore condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr Gafoor said.

“This is why Singapore condemns, in the strongest terms possible, any unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country under any pretext,” he said.

“We deplore the Russian Federation's special military operation against Ukraine, both its operation in the Donbas region and the broader land, air and sea attacks across Ukraine, including on Kyiv, the capital city.

“We also note with great sadness and regret reports of the growing number of casualties and the loss of many innocent lives as a result of this unjustified attack and act of war.”

Mr Gafoor called for “safe and unhindered access for humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and all those in need”, and said that Singapore supports UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for Russian forces to withdraw from Ukraine.

“The secretary-general of the United Nations has stated that he considers the actions of the Russian Federation to be a violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, and inconsistent with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations,” he said.

“We agree with the secretary-general entirely. Let me repeat, we agree with the secretary-general entirely, and we support his call for the Russian Federation to withdraw all its troops from the territory of Ukraine, and for the responsible actors to immediately cease all hostilities and prioritise diplomacy to address all issues peacefully, in accordance with the UN Charter and international law.”

Concluding his speech, Mr Gafoor urged all General Assembly members to vote in favour of the draft resolution.

“The world is watching us as we meet today in the General Assembly. As members of the General Assembly, we have to act swiftly, firmly and with unity of purpose,” he said.

“Singapore is one of the main co-sponsors of the draft resolution that has been tabled for adoption in this General Assembly. Singapore will not hesitate to vote ‘yes’ on this draft resolution.

“Singapore will always vote to uphold the principles of the UN Charter and to uphold international law, and I would like to urge all members of the General Assembly to vote ‘yes’ for this resolution.”

In footage of the speech, a representative of Ukraine is seen getting up from his seat to embrace Mr Gafoor as he leaves the podium.

SYMBOLIC WEIGHT

The move to hold the emergency session of the General Assembly – just the 11th held in the UN’s 77-year history – was sparked by Russia using its veto last Friday to block a similarly worded Security Council resolution.

Council members can turn to the General Assembly if the five permanent members of the Security Council – Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States – fail to agree to act together to maintain peace.

There is no veto right at the General Assembly, which held a similar vote in 2014 condemning Russia's seizure of Crimea and obtained 100 votes in support.

A vote on the resolution is expected on Wednesday, and it must reach a two-thirds threshold to pass. The resolution is non-binding, but the recommendations carry more symbolic weight than normal General Assembly resolutions.

Source: CNA/AFP/kg(ac)

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