Pointing to dangerous and disturbing developments that portend more destruction in Ukraine, the Secretary-General of the United Nations called for full cooperation with the International Criminal Court in its investigation into alleged atrocities committed in that country, as high-level representatives of the Security Council and regional countries met to discuss accountability for the ongoing war.
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, stated that the Russian Federation’s war in Ukraine shows no sign of letting up, adding: “The idea of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, has become a subject of debate.” Reports presented by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) constitute “a catalogue of cruelty” and the latest accounts of burial sites in Izyum are “extremely disturbing”, he told the Council. Ending impunity for international crimes is fundamental, and in this, the International Criminal Court plays an important role, he stressed. With the Court’s Prosecutor opening an investigation into the situation in Ukraine, he called for full cooperation with the Court.
“The most vulnerable are suffering most,” he went on to say. The situation will only get worse as winter approaches and energy supplies dwindle. On a global level, the conflict has driven millions into extreme poverty and hunger and reversed years of development progress. To that end, the United Nations has provided aid to nearly 13 million people in need. “There is only one way to end the suffering in Ukraine,” he underscored, “and that is by ending the war.” Affirming he would spare no effort for peace in line with international law and the Charter of the United Nations, he appealed to all Member States — especially those present — to redouble their efforts to prevent further escalation, end the war and ensure lasting peace.
Karim Khan, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court emphasized: “We must show that those who pick up a gun or load a missile do not benefit from impunity.” Rather, the rule of law can serve as an anchor for peace and security in Ukraine and in other places. Noting that 43 States parties referred the situation in that country to the Court between 25 February and 2 March, he said that this demonstrates not only the level of global concern, but also reflects the common understanding that the law has an important role to play. The process of collecting information and evidence and scrutinizing it based on international standards is essential to “piercing the fog of war”, exposing disinformation and getting to the truth, he said.
Detailing his Office’s efforts towards this end, he said that — based on its work to date — there are reasonable grounds to believe that crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction have been committed in Ukraine. “Justice is not political,” he stated. Rather, it is a vindication of the fundamental rights of all members of humanity and a demonstration that the promises made through the Rome Statute have meaning. As a starting point for building peace and security, there must be a unity of purpose in upholding these fundamental rights, he added, pledging to work with all States and the United Nations to deliver justice in Ukraine.
In the ensuing debate, many Council members condemned the Russian Federation’s blatant violations of the United Nations Charter and international law, insisting that it be held accountable for atrocities committed in Bucha, Izyum and elsewhere. They also expressed concern over that country’s recent military mobilization and threatened use of nuclear weapons, while others urged that the diplomacy that made the Black Sea Initiative possible be harnessed to achieve peace.
However, Sergey V. Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, pointed out that Kyiv’s many crimes remain unpunished, stressing that today’s discussion is an attempt to impose a narrative of Russian origin for the tragedy in Ukraine. The United States and its allies — with the participation of human rights institutions — are covering up these outrages based on the policy that “Zelenskyy might be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch”. Noting that the International Criminal Court has not reacted to Kyiv’s crimes, he said that the Russian Federation has no confidence in the work of this body, and that “all of this shows that the decision to conduct the special military operation was inevitable”.
Countering that, James Cleverly, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development of the United Kingdom, said he had just “listened to a further instalment in Russia’s catalogue of lies”. Citing the mounting evidence of atrocities against civilians in Ukraine, he stressed that Moscow has tried to lay the blame on those who have rightly imposed sanctions on President Vladimir V. Putin’s regime. Recalling the Russian Federation’s February assurances to the Council that it would not invade its neighbour, he said that this is a war of conquest and President Putin’s desire to send even more young men and women into battle makes peace less likely.
Michael Moussa Adamo, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Gabon stressed that the Council’s reaction to the war in Ukraine cannot be a confrontation of insults, emphasizing his country’s opposition to outrageous rhetoric that compromises prospects for peace. Underscoring that war is not a state of lawlessness, he urged that the outpouring of solidarity — rightly reserved for the war in Ukraine — must also be offered to all victims of armed conflict and the fate of many Africans must not be forgotten. Because of their skin colour, many were denied the assistance they needed. “When many hearts are torn for the victims of the war in Ukraine, ours beat in time with theirs,” he said, stressing that humanity must also denounce discrimination so that double standards are no longer the rule.
Reem al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates, noted that the world, in all its diversity, is concerned with the consequences of the war in Ukraine for the international system and on food and energy security. Urging dialogue, de-escalation and calm, she said that her country’s approach is drawn from its experience in the Middle East, where people have been battered by a relentless insistence on zero-sum hegemony and the pursuit of narrow self-interest. “This has left, and will only leave, destruction,” she reported.
Ukrainians want peace, stressed Dmytro Kuleba, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine. However, the Russian Federation seeks only military solutions and uses its diplomats in the Council to whitewash its crimes. While that country may not care for the principles in the Charter, there are 192 other Member States that do. Detailing how veto power gives leaders the idea that they can act with impunity, he warned that, if the international community does not hold them accountable for their actions, every evil force in the world will follow their lead.
Gabrielius Landsbergis, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Lithuania, also speaking for Estonia and Latvia declared: “If international organizations stand up for justice half as strong as Ukraine stands up for universal values”, then peace and justice will prevail. The international community must meet President Putin’s desperate sabre-rattling with calm and resolve. However, condemnation alone will not end these crimes. He therefore called on the Council to fear not action — but, rather, doubt and indifference — and reminded Member States that it is not only Moscow that must be held accountable. Belarus will be on the charge sheet, too.
However, Vladimir Makei, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Belarus, took umbrage with that, recalling that his Government often spoke out about the dangers in the region. “Unfortunately, we were not heard.” The tragic result of this arrogant position is seen today in Ukraine, as no one took seriously Belarus’ warnings that the security of one State cannot be guaranteed by suppressing that of another. Belarus has worked extensively to end the conflict and has not sent a single soldier or piece of equipment to Ukraine, he stressed. Rather, Minsk is interested in creating the conditions necessary for peace. “Everything, sooner or later, ends at the negotiating table,” he added, urging for the former in this case.
Nonetheless, Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, in its capacity as an observer, emphasized: “Morally and politically, Russia has already lost the war,” adding that the world will never recognize the announced sham referenda that only serve as prelude for illegal annexation. Underscoring that the core issue today is accountability, he said that this conflict is more than just a war in Europe — it is about deciding whether to protect weaker States from powerful ones; whether the global rule of law is more desirable than the law of the jungle; and whether sovereign States should yield their free choice to spheres of influence.
Also speaking today was the Prime Minister of Norway, along with Ministers and high-level officials representing France, Mexico, United States, China, Albania, Ireland, India, Ghana, Brazil, Kenya, Czech Republic, Germany and Poland.
The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. and ended at 1:10 p.m.