'Existential issue for tiny state': S'pore UN ambassador on sovereignty at UN meeting on Ukraine

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SINGAPORE - The unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia is a clear and gross violation of the fundamental norms of international law, said Singapore's Ambassador Burhan Gafoor at a United Nations emergency meeting on Monday (Feb 28) in New York.

The invasion is also a contravention of the UN Charter which prohibits the use of force and acts of aggression against another sovereign State, Mr Gafoor said at the Emergency Special Session of the UN General Assembly.

"The Secretary-General of the UN 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," Mr Gafoor said.

"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."

Mr Gafoor added that Singapore also supports UN efforts to facilitate diplomatic contacts and negotiations.

Stressing the importance of sovereignty, Mr Gafoor said "the sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity of all countries, including Ukraine, must be respected within its internationally recognised borders".

When Mr Gafoor ended his six-minute speech and was making his way back to his seat, Ukraine's Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya went up to him and gave him a hug.

Mr Gafoor, a career diplomat, has been Singapore's Permanent Representative to the UN in New York since 2016. He was previously Singapore's ambassador to France and high commissioner to Australia.

The rare emergency special session on Monday was held to discuss the crisis in Ukraine, after a UN Security Council resolution last Friday deploring Russia's aggression against Ukraine was not passed. Russia - a permanent member of the council - had vetoed it.

Some 100 countries are expected to address the General Assembly, which is scheduled to vote on the draft resolution, tentatively expected on Wednesday.

No country has a veto in the General Assembly and Western diplomats expect the resolution, which needs two-thirds support, to be adopted.

Although General Assembly resolutions are non-binding, they are considered to carry political weight as they express the will of the wider UN membership.

At the meeting on Monday, Mr Gafoor said that Singapore has always taken a consistent position on the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries.

"This is a matter of principle for all small states and a matter of fundamental importance for all members of the General Assembly. For a tiny city state like Singapore, this 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," he said.

"We cannot accept one country attacking another without justification, arguing that its independence was the result of 'historical errors and crazy decisions'."

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Mr Gafoor said that such an argument and rationale would go against the internationally recognised legitimacy and territorial integrity of many countries, including Singapore.

"This is why Singapore condemns in the strongest terms possible any unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country under any pretext. We deplore the Russian Federation's 'special military operation' against Ukraine, both its operation in the Donbass region, and the broader land, air, and sea attacks across Ukraine, including on Kyiv, the capital city," Mr Gafoor said.

The ambassador added that Singapore will not hesitate to vote "yes" on the draft resolution and that the Republic will always vote to uphold the principles of the UN Charter and to uphold international law.

Urging all members of the General Assembly to vote "yes", Mr Gafoor said: "This resolution is not about taking sides. It is about upholding international law and the principles of the UN Charter.

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

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