In an impassioned address to the Security Council today detailing the death and destruction caused by Russian forces in Moscow’s war against Ukraine, the President of that country challenged members to uphold international law or disband the United Nations, calling for the convening of a global conference in Kyiv to determine how to reform the world security system.
The Council also heard briefings from the Secretary-General and two other senior United Nations officials on the political and humanitarian situations in Ukraine.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, detailing actions of the Russian Federation, said that the most terrible war crimes since the Second World War are being committed in his country. Likening their actions to those of Da’esh, he said Russian troops are deliberately destroying Ukrainian cities, creating mass starvation, shooting columns of civilians trying to escape hostilities, blowing up shelters and creating conditions in their temporarily occupied territories to ensure that most civilians are killed. The massacre in Bucha is only one of many examples of what the occupiers have perpetrated for 41 days, in Mariupol, Kharviv and dozens of other communities. Hatred by the aggressor is supported at the State level and exported through a system of propaganda, seeking to provoke a global food crisis that could lead to famine in Africa, Asia and elsewhere, he added, stressing that the security which the Council must guarantee simply “is not there”.
Emphasizing that the purposes of the Charter of the United Nations, especially Article I — to maintain international peace and security — are being violated, he asked: “What is the point of all other Articles?”, adding: “Are you ready to close the United Nations? Do you think that the time for international law is gone?” If not, “you need to act immediately”. To support peace in Ukraine, the Council must either remove the Russian Federation from the organ as an aggressor and source of war, so it cannot block decisions made about its own war, or the Council can “dissolve yourselves altogether” if there is nothing it can do other than engage in conversation. “Ukraine needs peace. Europe needs peace. The world needs peace,” he insisted.
The Charter must be immediately restored and the system reformed so that the veto power does not represent the right to die, and so there is fair representation in the Council of all world regions, he said. If tyranny in places from Syria to Somalia had received a response, it would have ceased to exist, and an “honest peace” would have prevailed. A war against Ukrainian citizens would not have been launched. Instead, the world watched, and turned its eyes away from the occupation of Crimea, the war against Georgia, the taking of Transnistria from the Republic of Moldova and the preparations of Russian troops for another war near the border. The Russian military and those who gave them orders must be brought to justice and charged with war crimes in Ukraine, before a tribunal similar to the one created in Nuremburg.
He then proposed the convening of a global conference in Kyiv to determine how to reform the world security system, establish guarantees for the recognition of borders and the integrity of countries, and to assert the rule of international law. Stressing that the laws set in 1945 in San Francisco for the creation of a global security organization will remain elusive without reforms, he said “we must do everything within our power to pass on to the next generation an effective United Nations”, with the ability to respond preventively to security challenges and force aggressors to peace. For its part, Ukraine stands ready to provide a platform for an office of a newly updated security system, he said, proposing the creation of a “U24 office” specializing in preventive measures to maintain peace.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres described the war in Ukraine as one of the greatest challenges ever to the international order and the global peace architecture, because of its nature, intensity and consequences. “We are dealing with the full-fledged invasion, on several fronts, of one Member State of the United Nations, Ukraine, by another, the Russian Federation — a permanent member of the Security Council — in violation of the United Nations Charter, and with several aims, including redrawing the internationally recognized borders between the two countries,” he said.
The Russian offensive has also led to massive displacement and increases in the prices of food, energy and fertilizers; disrupted supply chains; and put more pressure on many developing countries that were already on the verge of debt collapse. “For all these reasons, it is more urgent by the day to silence the guns,” he emphasized, noting that he had asked the United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, to travel to the Russian Federation and Ukraine to press for an urgent humanitarian ceasefire.
Mr. Griffiths, also Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, addressing the Council via videoconference from Geneva, recounted his recent trip to Moscow, noting that the Secretary-General had charged him with bringing both sides together to explore specific and sustained ways to reduce suffering. On 4 April, during “long and frank” exchanges with Minister for Foreign Affairs Sergey V. Lavrov and his Deputy, Sergey V. Vershinin, and separately with the Deputy Minister for Defence, he discussed humanitarian convoys, including the four which have already been able to move. He outlined possibilities for building on this cooperation, sharing suggestions for mutually agreed upon military freezes to allow for evacuations of civilians and for the safe passage of life-saving aid.
While his counterparts assured him of their intent to carefully study these ideas, he said he came away from these meetings believing that “we have a long road ahead of us — but it must be travelled, and we will travel it”. He expressed hope of traveling to Ukraine on 7 April to lead discussions with senior Government officials on these same issues, and to see first-hand the humanitarian response. Updating the Council on the situation on the ground, he said that, over the last six weeks, at least 1,430 people have been killed, among them over 121 children — figures which are likely a “serious underestimate”. Homes, bridges, hospitals and schools have been damaged and destroyed, while almost 11 million people have been forced to flee — more than 4.2 million of whom are now refugees in neighbouring countries and beyond. In total, over a quarter of Ukraine’s population has fled.
Rosemary Dicarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, noting that the number of civilians killed has more than doubled since her 17 March briefing, said: “The devastation wrought on Mariupol and other Ukrainian cities is one of the shameful hallmarks of this senseless war.” The war is also threatening Ukraine’s future, with early assessment projections by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) suggesting that, if the war continues through 2022, 18 years of hard-won socioeconomic gains in Ukraine could be rolled back. While there has been a reported reduction of Russian troops and attacks around Kyiv and Chernihiv, such moves should not be merely tactical, repositioning forces for renewed attacks, she said, pointing out that the General Assembly has twice called for Russian forces to fully withdraw from Ukrainian territory and cease all military operations.
Diplomatic efforts to end the war, including direct talks between Ukrainian and Russian representatives, have continued, she said, commending Turkey for hosting these discussions, as well as the efforts of many others engaging with the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Welcoming the willingness for continued engagement to reach a mutual understanding, she said this requires good faith and earnest efforts, stressing: “Any progress in the negotiations should be translated quickly into action on the ground.”
In the ensuing discussion, most Council members expressed shock at the images of corpses coming out of Bucha while the Russian Federation’s representative argued that those images are fake and were staged.
The representative of the United States said that the heart-wrenching stories that will never get to be heard are the ones of those in the images from Bucha. Based on available data, her delegation determined that the Russian forces committed war crimes in Ukraine. Describing how the Russian Federation is sending Ukrainians to its “filtration camps”, she condemned Moscow’s literal disrespect for human rights. The United States seeks suspension of the Russian Federation from the Human Rights Council as that country uses its membership as a platform for its propaganda.
Albania’s representative, also backing the call for the Russian Federation’s suspension from the Human Rights Council and noting this is the fourteenth meeting on Ukraine since 31 January, said the Russian Federation’s imperial dreams have gone nowhere. Kyiv has proved “too hard to swallow”. Describing Bucha as “an open-air graveyard”, he said it is impossible to convince anyone that the destroyed tanks cluttering the roads or the civilians killed in arbitrary executions are staged scenes. “You may muzzle media back home, but you cannot fool satellite images,” he said. “These are facts, hard and sickening proof of the atrocities committed.” The Russian Federation has cancelled itself from international law, “but the law will pursue it”, he assured, deploring that the Russian Federation has become the world’s most sanctioned country in history and an international pariah to the point it is forced to seek support from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Syria.
Likewise, the Head of the European Union delegation, in its capacity as observer, welcomed the International Court of Justice’s provisional steps ordering Moscow to immediately suspend military operations, as well as the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the work of the independent Commission of Inquiry. He described the European Union’s assistance to Ukraine’s Prosecutor General in the collection and preservation of evidence of war crimes, assuring: “It is clear, there will be accountability.” The bloc has adopted sanctions against Moscow, its financial and defence sectors and those individuals enabling and financing the aggression.
The Russian Federation’s representative retorted that Ukraine’s President is laying blame at the feet of the Russian military, criminally staging events when, in fact, Ukrainian civilians were killed by their own radicals. As it turns out, Russian forces should not have withdrawn from Bucha. Describing flagrant inconsistencies being promoted by Ukraine and the Western media, he cited recordings of Ukrainian radicals shooting civilians. To the video presented by the Ukraine delegation to the Council, he responded that the corpses “in no way” resemble those who reportedly had been on the ground for four days.
The only dilatants who could fall for this fake are Western countries, who, in fact, do not care about Ukraine, he said, imploring Ukraine’s President to recognize that his country is only a pawn in the geopolitical game against the Russian Federation. President Zelenskyy should find a solution, because “we came to Ukraine to bring long-awaited peace to the blood-soaked land of Donbas”. He called for cutting out the malignant Nazi tumour that is consuming Ukraine and would, in time, consume the Russian Federation, urging Mr. Zelenskyy not to allow the West to achieve its goals.
China’s delegate said that the disturbing images from Bucha must be verified before jumping to conclusions and accusations. Citing the negative impact of sanctions against the Russian Federation on developing countries, he said such measures are not effective and only expedite the spillover effects. Indiscriminate sanctions are tantamount to weaponizing the world economy, he pointed out, adding that smaller countries should not be caught between the great Powers and must not be forced to take sides. He urged the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members to engage with the Russian Federation head-on to establish a balanced, effective and sustainable security framework in the region. Beijing will play a constructive and responsible role in that regard.
Kenya’s representative recounted that, in April 1994, even as genocide engulfed Rwanda, there were members of the Council contesting the horrifying truth that a million people were being murdered. “We should stand warned that the inability of the Council to establish the facts and attribute responsibility may enable the risk of escalation into far worse crimes,” he stressed.
In a similar vein, Brazil’s delegate warned against the Council becoming “a bystander of the shocking consequences of the conflict”. So far, the organ is failing in its role to foster a constructive dialogue between the parties, with the aim of brokering an effective peace settlement to this conflict. “We deeply regret that the Security Council has not been able to speak with one voice throughout this crisis,” he said.
The United Arab Emirates’ delegate urged the Council not to forget the impact of war on a nation’s cultural heritage and identity, expressing concern over the dozens of cultural sites that have been damaged and calling on all sides to refrain from such wilful destruction. She also expressed alarm over how the war is affecting the 1.2 billion people in 47 developing countries who are at risk due to rising food prices and looked forward to efforts by the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Gabon, Ireland, Mexico, India, France, Norway, Ghana and the United Kingdom.
The meeting began at 10:05 a.m. and ended at 1:10 p.m.